David Shapiro’s Characterology and Complex Systems Theory

  • Craig Piers


David Shapiro’s work, most notably Neurotic Styles (1965), has influenced ­generations of psychologists, psychiatrists, and other students of the mind from diverse theoretical orientations. His broad appeal is typically thought to rest in his rich phenomenological description of various character styles. While true, careful reading of Neurotic Styles and Shapiro’s (1981, 1989, 2000) subsequent body of work reveals a holistic, systemic theory of character that has theoretical and clinical importance. Shapiro describes neurotic character as a self-regulating dynamic system that diminishes the individual’s conscious experience of autonomy (sense of separateness from the external world) and self-direction (sense of acting in accord with conscious aims or intentions). From within this framework, Shapiro then sees symptoms as consequences, and defenses as conspicuous expressions, of these same restrictive, self-regulating dynamics.


Adaptive System Cellular Automaton Stable Organization Optimal Coordination Complex System Theory 
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My thanks to Mindy Greenstein and Everett Waters for their very helpful comments on earlier drafts of this chapter.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Thompson Health Center, Williams CollegeWilliamstownUSA

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