Having to Win: The Combative Thinking of the Disturbed Character

This post continues a series on the distorted thinking patterns displayed by disordered or disturbed characters.  Earlier posts have dealt with the distubed character’s penchants for thinking in distorted ways (see: What Were They Thinking – Pt. 2), thinking of others as objects to possess and control (see: The Possessive Thinking of the Disturbed Character), thinking of themselves to the exclusion of others (see: Egocentric Thinking) and paying attention to only what they want (see: The Innatentive Thinking of the Disturbed Character).

Disordered characters, most especially the aggressive personalities, also tend to view the world as a combat stage. They see most situations as a contest that they have to win. They expend a lot of mental energy thinking about the battles they want to wage and stances they want to take against the demands of the world. Right from the first minute they think someone is asking something from them, they start planning how they will resist acceding to those expectations. They do battle so readily because they detest the idea of backing down, conceding, or giving ground, even when it would be in their long-term best interest to do so.

Habitual combative thinking is what primarily leads to the unnecessarily hostile, confrontational, and defiant attitudes that underlie antisocial conduct. The undisciplined, destructive fighters among us are who they are because of how they think about life and the world around them. Determined to win at all costs, and finding no value in concession, they end up resisting the many efforts of their parents, other authority figures, and society to socialize (i.e., civilize) them.

One of the ways I advise people to deal with this combative mindset is to be constantly on the lookout for win-win scenarios. Because they see life as a contest and they always have winning on their minds, finding a way to give diturbed characters some of what they want as a fair exchange for securing something you want can be a helpful strategy and makes living or dealing with them a lot easier. It should be said, however, that no aggressive personality has ever matured into a more pro-social being until they have dealt directly with their abhorance of submission of any kind and overcome their penchant for thinking too combatively.  At some point they have to accede to the notion that winning in the long-run sometimes means conceding or giving ground in the short run.  Because to internalize one of society’s prohibitions is necessarily an act of submission, they have to learn to be more at peace with the notion that caving-in sometimes is not the end of the world.

20 thoughts on “Having to Win: The Combative Thinking of the Disturbed Character

  1. Dr. Simon, I have been married for 30 years to my husband who is now 58 years old. For all our lives together he has fit this description of “combative.” I had never heard of this disorder which astounds me because I’ve studied many disorders with a fine tooth comb. This is because I have myself been bi-polar since I was 21. I have been determined to manage my disorder rather then it managing me. My medications as needed and treatment have helped me to live a nearly normal life. My husband tells people that my bi-polar has been the least of problems we’ve seen through. I work in security (which requires yearly background checks) and have no drug or alcohol problems, which my Dr.s tell me is remarkable for a bi-polar person. I am hooked on coffee and cigarettes however. All these years I expected our lives would be more difficult because of my disorder. But my husband’s abusive behavior and vicious mouth have been far more traumatizing to our family (we have 5 children). I wasn’t a spanker, using more the PET parenting style, while my husband was raised in a family where what parents call discipline is more akin to abuse. I am desperate for help as he retired 2 yr.s ago and his behavior seems to be growing worse with age. A family thearpist recommended I attend Women in Abusive relationships support groups but I couldn’t. I could only work third shift because of his temper with the children, and I did manage over the years to protect them physically, although he came right to the line with them, being feircily intimdating. I did have to call the state police once but getting arrested or losing his job would make him relent only marginally.

    What can I do? He has given me permission at the VA to discuss his medical issues. Should I call them? Thank you for this service you provide.

    1. Rosemarie,

      If you’ll permit me, however, I’d like to respond to some of the points you elude to that relate to principles I advocate in my books and other writings:

      “Combative thinking” is a type of thought process whereby a person sees too many life situations as “contests” that have to be won. A combative thinker does not allow themselves the benefit of knowing when it’s in their interest as well as everyone else’s to back down or give ground. This kind of thinking is common to aggressive personalities.

      My article and my classification of these problems do not define a particular “disorder,” which is probably why you’ve never heard of such a thing. Still, I find the framework I advance helpful in understanding what makes certain personalities behave and think as they do.

      Therapists who have solid training in personality or character disturbance and who adopt a cognitive-behavioral approach to treatment (especially if they use cognitive-behavioral strategies of anger management and aggression replacement) offer you the best hope of dealing effectively with such problems. And, naturally, the motivation for change must come from the person who has the problems. But if you do your homework, you’re likely to find someone with the expertise to help you out. More and more therapists have become familiar with my work and perspective. Some have even been given my books by their clients. But in any case, locating someone with the kind of expertise I outlined above should prove to be of help.

      Thanks for taking the time to write. I hope you secure the help you seek. Perhaps other readers will have some helpful comments as well.

      1. The long and short of my post is this: You’re wrong about us having to win, that situations are contests we have to win. It’s about not coming up short, not losing, not being ignored, trampled, abused, taken advantage of or forgotten. Not winning. Winning is just a natural solution to the fear hidden inside, but it is not the goal, refusing to be a victim any longer is our goal.

        I am one of those combative people. I’ve struggled with it a long time and I’ve found ways to as you’ve mentioned, ‘Find those middle grounds’ where both can win. I seek them out in social situations to position myself so that I can ‘win’ and others can win too, creating a equal, friendly situation for all things.

        I’ve learned to compromise and doing that is probably the most important skill I’ve developed with this. And here’s the part where I guess I come off ‘combative’. Your whole take on this is a bit off, it has very little to do with winning. It’s more about not losing, not being a doormat, not getting ran over by life, because we feel like that happens to us constantly. We have flaws, but your identification of them is off by a bit, the motivation behind the negative behavior is misunderstood here in this article.

        It’s not about winning, it’s about not losing, because we’ve lost our whole lives we feel like(Wether true or not). A lot of this for me personally deals with abuse as a child and struggles growing up with Academia despite my apparent high ‘aptitude’ according to others. I’m so used to ‘coming up short’, losing, or being trampled by my life that yes, I’ve become combative. I refuse to give up a fight easily and the depiction really fits myself and many others well, but you’re really demonizing people that are suffering with the way you’re misunderstanding the motivation.

        Please re-evaluate your thinking.
        Best Regards,

        1. Thank you “Combative Use” for your self analogy of this behavior. I’m dealing with a spouse with those attributes and proclivities and it’s driving me crazy. I totally agree because I can see those experiences in my husband. The only thing I’m confused about though is you telling Dr. Simon that it’s not about winning but it’s about not losing. Now isn’t that the same thing? Of course, no one wants to lose at anything not even living life the way we’re intended to but I believe that the combative personality takes the “not losing” to the extreme which causes the behavior to become magnified. I’m just saying. Thanks though for sharing your introspective. You’ve confirmed some things I already knew.

  2. haha I actually find myself relating to most of those traits and take them all as a complement and a further step in winning the future to an America that wont back down at any cost! I don’t think I possess anyone but I sure do think its all right to feel somewhat possessive of whats rightfully yours at present. Thank you for your endorsement!

    1. There are clearly times when one has to be willing to go to the mat, especially for an important principle. But I make it clear there’s a big distinction between tenacious assertiveness and maladaptive combativeness, and it’s the latter this article references.

  3. I know somebody who, I think, has a combative personality disorder, except they don’t have to mearly “win” they need to completely annihilate tenfold their perceived adversary. And can never ever say one nice thing about anybody, except their dog.

    1. huh. sometimes this person would rather die in a burning house than loose a war and admit they need help.
      with much respect to dr. simon i advocate a hardline stance and extreme un coperativeness to socially disturnbed. i aint their mother.

  4. Just a thought on loss-loss scenario of murder-suicide.

    I remember reading in “In Sheep’s Clothing” that in extreme cases a character disturbed person so abhor loss-win scenario that it sometime results in loss-loss case of murder-suicide.

    If we separate out the two act, we see different picture. Facing a loss (especially loss-win) situation, a character disturbed aggressive person impulsively goes only for “win-loss”. Once deed is done, and then picture of societal system of police & justice kicks in, causing easy way out of “loss-loss”. Guaranteed an amnesty scheme, we will see a serious drop in murder-suicide.

    Sad & disturbing but potentially true. Or, am I simply depressed. 🙁

    1. Andy,
      I have a difficult time finding and getting into parts of the archives.
      A murder/suicide for the CD might well be justified in their twisted brains to be a Win-Win. If they can’t enjoy or fear they have lost everything they might as well take you along. Therefore, a thought of suicide for them would be a
      win- win if you accompanied them.

      Never, ever, underestimate their sick twisted minds. You see it as a loss -loss, to them it is the opposite.

      1. Andy and BYOV
        I read that article and found it highly disturbing and worrisome, wondering if the Jerk would reach that level of dysfunction and take me out with him.

  5. I’ve met someone 5 mos ago and did not understand why they expressed turbulence in many of their relationships ( church, school, family, marriages etc). This Combative, contentious personality I believe stems from abuse in childhood and had caused them to experience rejection and loss which stems from a root of bitterness. This individual does not like to back down . They tell you they love people, they love God BUT, they are not a punk either. They feel the need to always defend themselves and feel that they are misunderstood. We have talked about their sharp abrasive responses and their outspokenness. Then they apologize for the way their words came across , and then proceed with their justification of their statements. This person will say I ‘m not perfect nobody’s perfect, and they soften their voice tone and posture ( which usually appears combative, unless they approach you and they are in control or the authority in a situation) otherwise they proceed with justifying their original statement. This person does have some good character traits don’t get me wrong, it’s just this personality disorder that springs up like a weeds in the midst of a beautiful garden. Dealing with this personality can be exhausting. I watched it happen while we were in a group setting with others and saw the draining effect hit members of the group. I’m praying for healing and deliverance for my friend, and believe that only by the Power of God will this person be set free! They want loving relationships and this person desires to be used by God to help others, that shows that their heart is in the right place. However, it’s like this, when you fly the stewardess tells you in case of emergency put your own oxygen mask on first and then help others. We have to be stabilized first and their become the hero. Then truly it can be a Win-Win Scenario for all.

    1. TJ,

      “Only by the Power of God will this person be set free.” They have to want the healing with their whole heart, mind, and soul. You answer many of your own questions.

      I think many of us in our relationships with the CD can say they had or have redeeming qualities, that doesn’t make the dysfunctional and twisted thinking more palatable. In fact concentrating on the positive qualities puts one in the position of ignoring bad behavior.

      This can be a fatal mistake as one can become to emotionally involved to make good judgement calls and before you know it you have invested so much in the relationship if becomes difficult to break away.

      I am not suggesting your breaking off this relationship but would urge you to read your post from a different standpoint, that being from the outside. What you have said thus far doesn’t sound good, nor does the fact that you are googling information on this topic.

      Perhaps, the best thing you could do for your friend is to direct them to a professional versed in this field. Another good source is to read though the archives of this blog and purchase Dr. Simons books.

      I would also encourage you to keep posting on the blog, there are very good commenters here that are more than willing to give input.

  6. I am dealing with this type of character type right now in my husband. I am at a breaking point and feel like an abused wife who cannot open her mouth about anything, in an argument or otherwise because it sets him off or escalates the situation/argument. I shoild have known what i was in for when right after we got married he started accusing me of cheating, he would accuse me of looking at cars, saying things like “I saw you looking at that car, old boyfriend?” He accused me of messing around with people at work, i could not even talk to or say hello to male coworkers without having to face my husbands rath. It got so bad he said he wished i would just admit to cheating even if it didn’t happen, so he could feel better. BTW, I never cheated and to this day can say this is still the truth. I cannot tell him when i am stressed, when i dont agree with him, etc because again he turns it on me, puffs up his chest and yells in my face that I’m a shitty person. And now he is doing this in front of my family and the kids and he recently insulted them about how a funeral for a recent deceased family member was being held. I have asked him before why he is so hostile and angry, but again it is always my fault and now it’s my families too, apparently. Everything is my fault and it is very frustrating, being married to someone like this. He makes it impossible to be a team because anything i may be feeling or need to say to him, i cant unless i am willing to deal with his anger. We have a 3 year old and I have asked him time and time again not to be hostile in front of her. This has now happened three times in front of her and last night she asked me why daddy said those mean things and made me cry. I really do not want a divorce, but I cannot keep going through this and now it’s getting worse as he is dragging my family into it and our 3 yo daughter. She loves him and loves to run around and play with him, but she is afraid of him. He will insult her, he is often times insensitive to her, and he is very controlling over her. She wants a cup cake after eating all her dinner – no way. She doesn’t feel like going to dance or swimming one day- too bad. She is tired and crying, he yells at her and tells her to quit acting like a baby or does she want a diaper or a bottle? Thank you for allowing me to rant a bit about this. Being able to do so has really helped me see what i have to do. It will never get better because he is not willing to see how he is and reading about others experiences on this forum and a couple others has shown me I really only have one choice.

    1. Annonymous

      You should re-read your comments few times and then re-ask yourself, do you want a divorce, do you want some peace of mind from this man, and be able to provide your daughter with a healthy environment.

      There is a lot going on here. You do know that if you stay this man will not change for the better, and most probably will worsen, as will your emotional state of being.

      We can help you get through a transition. Many of us are/have left the one who brings us constant source of upheaval. I’m in the process of divorcing a CDN (character disordred narcissist) whom I refer to as SB (shitbag).

      Stick around here and you’ll get support and help, and read Dr. Simon’s articles. You will prevail.

    2. Annonomys,

      Have you tried setting boundaries? In my opinion, it really helps to set a particular boundary and hold that to death (well not literally). This sometime really help to figure out the depth of problem in other person. Just keep in mind that sometime an overt aggressive may simply switch to covert aggression when facing stiff resistance from the target.

      I am not optimist, and I think at best you will get a long-running project in your husband rather than a real sharing caring partner.
      Finally you really need to think long term. There is no point in keeping a old man with 5 year old brain whose primary modus operandi is to gain complete control over other by isolating socially, and then shouting them to submission.

    3. Annonomys,
      I was married to a very similar man and share very similar experiences. With three young boys I struggled with the idea of divorce. The constant anger, jealousy, manipulation and alienation from friends and family became too much. He drained me of my happiness, joy of motherhood and self-assurance.
      It has been 5 years since I left and filed for divorce. The “narcissistic disturbed character” does not change after divorce, and if you have to share children you will still deal with him. But you wont be living under the same roof walking on egg shells in your own home! My ex has tried to turn the boys against me, defames my character in the community and accuses me of being an awful person. All because I left him! They don’t change. Find your inner strength. Find your inner peace. KNOW that you did nothing wrong. Understand that he is a narcissistic disturbed character. This is what will allow you to keep going and to continue to be a loving parent and human. Read Dr. Simons books/blog.
      Good Luck.

  7. Keep in mind the polluted accusation they accuse you of are usually what they are up to, it may not be current but they have been dishonest in the past. What they accuse you of tends to be a reflection of themselves.

    It appears he is also working on alienating your family from you. Eventually, he will be successful at this as they won’t or can’t tolerate him anymore. Next your daughter will learn it is acceptable to see mommy treated badly. What is worse here is he is not treating your little girl we..

    In every major metropolitan area are Womens Resource Centers. They offer group meeting and usually, have a counselor you can talk to at no charge and many offer child care while you are in counseling is you haven’t any money. Can you go see a counselor without him. Even your family doctor, pastor or priest.

    What I am afraid of if he is this bold now and you all seem young the next step usually comes the pushing, shoving, blocking stage and then physical issues arise. Be very careful, he seems to have taken ownership, the signing of the wedding document. You in essence become his property. Be careful as he may have other metal health issues too.

    I hope you keep reading the postings on this blog and see if you can get some outside support and not from his family. Be careful and do not tell him what you are reading and have deduced, he will use it against you. Read the archives of this blogs there are literally hundreds of stories like yours.

    I can only say I wished I knew what I know today 20 years ago, with one child. I should had divorced and believed what my gut told me was true rather than listening to my heart and everyone else. I would save every dime I could without him knowing it, read everything you can get your hands on, set up a strong support system with your family and get as far away as possible.

    Believe me he is not the only guy you will have in your life. Seek out a good mate, get an education, believe in yourself and be the best you can be. No one, but no one should ever be treated this way.

    I welcome you and encourage you to keep posting for guidance and support, whatever, you may choose to do we will support you. Take care of you and your little one and God be with you.

  8. My sister has a combative personality. She literally snaps at you on every issue. It’s impossible to have a conversation with her. She’ll counter whatever you say, no matter how benign. She seems to save most of this for men. She’s grown worse post-menopause. Most everyone ignores it and now avoids talking around here, especially if you’re one-on-one. I imagine it must be exhausting for someone to be this way, to always need to take on when there’s nothing to take on. Meanwhile she doesn’t work and has many friends. She’s actually rather sociable. I stay away.

    1. Exactly. Here is how it works. Spouse asks, why don’t you say much anymore? I say because when I do you often disagree with what I say and I don’t want to argue. Spouse says, no I don’t! Then we have a “discussion” where I listen until she proves herself right. This view encompasses everything, every conversation, thoughts, opinions even taking out the garage. It’s exhausting. Everything boils down to control and turning everything into a battle you can win, even if only knowing your attitude can back others down means you win and are in control. Truth is you’ll never have it and you’re driving people away.

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