Character is one’s emotional world.
Traditionally, in psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis, the term “character” has been used to refer to constellations or configurations of behavioral traits: “Anal characters” are said to be compulsive and perfectionistic; “hysterical characters” are described as histrionic; “passive-aggressive characters” show anger covertly by withholding; “narcissistic characters” are excessively self-centered; “borderline characters” form chaotic and primitive relationships; and so on. How might character be understood from a perspective like mine that takes organizations or worlds of emotional experiencing as its principal focus (Stolorow, Atwood, & Orange, 2002)?
I have long contended that such organizations of emotional experiencing always take form in contexts of human interrelatedness (Stolorow, 2007, 2011). Developmentally, recurring patterns of emotional interaction within the child-caregiver system give rise to principles (themes, meanings, cognitive-emotional schemas) that recurrently shape subsequent emotional experiences, especially experiences of significant relationships. Such organizing principles are unconscious, not in the sense of being repressed, but in being pre-reflective. Ordinarily, we just experience our experiences; we do not reflect on the principles or meanings that shape them. The totality of a person’s pre-reflective organizing principles constitutes his or her character.