NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Falling In Love With Charisma Instead of Character

An attraction between two people is made of many different aspects, most of which are unconscious (see my article: Confusing Sexual Attraction With Love).  You can be drawn initially to someone's looks, personality, and intelligence.  You might also be bowled over by his or her charisma.  But, beyond charisma, it takes a while to really see who a person is in terms of his or her character and, in the long run, character is much more important than charm (see my article: Are You Ignoring Early Warning Signs in Your Relationship?)

Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

What Does It Mean to Have a Good Character?
Having a good character includes, among other things:
  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Kindness
  • Empathy
  • Loyalty
  • Good judgment
  • Strong Values
How Do People Build Character
Character building usually takes place from an early age when parents teach children morals like "following the Golden Rule" (treating others the way you want to be treated), having a sense of empathy for others, having integrity and being honest.

Character Building Usually Starts at an Early Age

These lessons, which start at a young age, continue on for a lifetime because character building is a lifelong process.

How Do You Assess a Romantic Partner's Character?
As I mentioned before, it takes time.  You need to see this person in many different situations to see how s/he behaves.  As with anything, actions speak louder than words (see my article: Falling In Love With Mr. Wrong Over and Over Again).

Everyone looks good in candlelight.  And when life is going well, you don't necessarily get to see someone's true character.

But when there's a challenging situation in your life or in your partner's life that requires more than just intelligence or charm--that requires honest, integrity, empathy, loyalty or having a sense of values--you're more likely to see if your partner behaves in a way that shows good character.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario which illustrates these points:

Ina met John at her friend's party and she was drawn to him immediately.  He was the handsomest, funniest, most charming man in the room.  Everyone was drawn to him, men and women.

Once they started talking, Ina and John only had eyes for each other.  Within a week, they began dating and spending a lot of time together.

Ina was impressed with how knowledgeable John was about so many interesting topics:  art, movies, languages, real estate, and cooking.

Relationships:  Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

He always complimented her on how she looked and what she wore.  He was attentive to her, and he seemed to hang onto her every word.

He seemed to be the perfect gentleman, and so different from many of the men that she dated before.

Their sex life was exciting and passionate, and Ina felt adventurous in a way she never felt before.

They had many of same interests, including music, art, and a love of dancing.
Relationships: Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

When Ina introduced him to her close friends, her friends liked him instantly, and found him to be very engaging and charming.  She felt so happy to be with John and that he fit in with her friends.

After several months, Ina had fantasies of spending the rest of her life with John.

Then, about six months later while Ina and John were on vacation, she overheard him having a conversation with a friend about his real estate business.

She was stunned to hear him laugh and say, "Those old geezers who are selling that apartment don't even know what it's worth.  They're selling it way below market rate and they're too stupid to know it."

At first, Ina was so stunned that she couldn't believe what she had heard.  So, when he got off the phone, she asked him about it, and he tried to brush it off and tell her not to worry about it--he was just chatting with a friend.

But Ina grew up learning to respect others, especially the elderly, and she told him that she was surprised at what he said.  She told him that it sounded like he was doing something that was unethical and he was knowingly taking advantage of these older people and enjoying it.

John got defensive and told her he didn't want to talk about it, but when Ina persisted, he exploded, "How do you think I make money?  I make money by investing in properties and then flipping them.  I don't make money by worrying if I'm 'taking advantage of people.'  If you don't understand that, then you're very naive.  Everyone has to look out for himself, and that's what I'm doing--I'm looking out for Number One--me.  There's nothing wrong with what I'm doing."

They argued about this back and forth with John giving her many other examples where he made "good deals" because people didn't understand the value of their property.  This even included family members.

Relationships: Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

As Ina looked at John and listened to him talk, she felt she was no longer looking at the man that she fell in love with several months ago.  He no longer seemed good looking and charming to her.  He just looked ugly to her inside and out.

She knew it was over between them, and she left feeling broken hearted and betrayed.  She thought to herself, "How could I have been fooled by someone who turned out to be so self absorbed, dishonest, uncaring and unethical?"

Relationships: Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

A few weeks later, Ina began therapy to understand how she had been so misled by someone who seemed so wonderful at first.

One of the things that she learned in therapy was that it takes a while to really get to know someone.  She learned that she would need to see someone in good times and bad to really understand what that person is made of and if he is someone with whom she would want to make a long term commitment

People are often attracted to good looks, charm or affluence.  But those are superficial qualities and they're not good predictors of happiness in a relationship.

It takes time to really get to know someone, and you usually get to truly know someone when either you or they are going through a challenging time.

While everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect, you can often discern someone's integrity and values when s/he is faced with a moral dilemma or a situation that requires ethical behavior.

Does this person behave with honesty and integrity?  Does s/he have empathy for others?

The two of you might not agree about how to proceed in a particular situation, but if you discover that your partner tends to behave in ways that are selfish, uncaring and dishonest, you would do well to question whether this is someone you want to commit to in a long term relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've had a bad experience in a relationship because you were initially taken in by a charismatic person who turned out to be someone very different from the person you thought he or she was, this can be very confusing and you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional to help you through it (see my article:  Learning From Past Romantic Relationships).

Rather than feeling ashamed or guilty about having been taken in by this person, seek help to understand yourself in this situation and to learn to avoid this mistake in the future.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.