have a client who is the epitome of self-destructing. By
self-destructing, I mean bent on a path that will lead to death
eventually, not just self-destructing in an emotional or psychological
As a result of my interactions
and observations while in session with this client, I’m bringing
you—straight from the trenches—a glimpse into the mind-set of a
self-destructing person. I’ve noticed some general characteristics that
will definitely help make your self-destructing characters more
1) They will have an
obsession, and it will be their Achilles’ heel.
The characters live and breathe
for a particular person, achievement, desire. It usually consumes them,
and reality fades as a testament to how unbalanced they are becoming in
their quest for this obsession. More than likely, this obsession will
stem from an unmet need in childhood or young adulthood.
2) They will put their
welfare below their desire for the obsession, even if it means their
Whether they are addicted to
drugs or a person (think Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction),
the means to the end are always justified. They can’t see beyond the
trees to the forest, so consequences are minimized or they are
completely blind to them. This is perhaps the most infuriating trait,
because rational people can’t understand this mind-set.
3) They likely will
have a personality disorder or serious mental disorder.
This one is on my list by
default. Anyone who exhibits the first two will probably qualify for
something like borderline personality disorder, bipolar, schizophrenia
. . . something major.
4) Their families and
close friends (if they have any) are worn out and unable to cope with
people take and take and take, completely overwhelming and exhausting
everyone around them, emotionally and physically. (Yes, this includes
therapists, which is why we stress self-care in our training so much.)
In general, though, family members can’t or won’t deal with the
“craziness” that comes with the obsession and recklessness.
5) Attempts to reason
with a self-destructing person fall on deaf ears.
mentioned before, reality
takes a backseat to the self-destructing person. As a therapist, I am
obligated to do what I can to help my client see a different,
better way. A more healthy way. I usually receive a blank
stare or feel like I’m talking to a wall. But writers should give one
or two scenes over to someone trying to talk sense to this character.
6) Their demise
probably will not be satisfactory to any involved, because it’s more
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes
the bad guy has to die, and I know this. But if you’ve done your
homework and included the above, the end to a self-destructive
character will resonate with the reader in more of a reflective way,
not necessarily an “awesome, he/she is dead!” way.
I recommend Stephen James
(author of The Pawn, The Queen), who has some of
the best examples of self-destructing characters I’ve read. I usually
end up feeling sympathy for the villain, no matter how awful he or she
is, given his masterful way of writing.