We all know people who seem to want everyone to know they are a power to be reckoned with. Folks with little regard for anyone they perceive to be less tenacious and goal-driven as they are, There’s something about such people that goes beyond healthy assertiveness. And living or working with them can be a truly stressful experience. Such are the folks that in my books Character Disturbance and In Sheep’s Clothing I label channeled-aggressive personalities.
We’ve all had experience with the tough-minded, callous, driven people I’m talking about. Folks who are determined to prosper, generally at someone else’s expense. As is true for all aggressive personalities, all that matters to these individuals is taking care of number one. Stay out of their way, and you might never even have a problem with them. Get in their way, and you are likely to quickly learn some painfully hard lessons. Insensitivity, disregard for boundaries, extreme competitiveness, and intolerance for weakness are the core attributes of channeled-aggressive personalities. They’re ruthless in their bid for the dominant position in all encounters and relationships, and are determined to win at all costs. They also don’t mind brandishing their aggressive styles openly and proudly (unlike covert-aggressives who do their best to conceal it). They’re very different from healthy assertive personalities because they don’t particularly care about the potential impact of their behavior on others. They have no compunction about trampling on others and don’t mind it at all if others fear or even loathe them. They might even regard someone’s nervousness when around them as a sign of respect. They are proud of their tenacity and lack of apprehension when it comes to taking on the challenges of life, and they firmly believe that the spoils of life’s conflicts rightfully belong to those willing to do what it takes to be victorious. While they don’t generally lead lives of crime or engage in frequent major social norm violations, they don’t really have much respect for limits and boundaries. But instead of brazenly transgressing the major rules, these folks generally direct their energies into social pursuits in which traits like the determination to win, tough-mindedness, fierce competitiveness, etc., are not only tolerated but often prized. Still, it’s very important to remember that the self-restraint they generally exercise over openly criminal behavior does not spring from a well-developed conscience or a high degree of regard for human welfare. Rather, it arises out of a more pragmatic desire to avoid the possibility of social sanction and loss of freedom or power. Channeled aggressives restrain and channel their aggressive behavior simply to help ensure that they’ll get all they want, not because they have a real respect for the rules. That’s why, when they feel reasonably confident they can get away with it, they have no compunction about breaking the rules. Winning, that’s what really matters.
As I outline in my books, channeled-aggressive personalities:
- are as ruthless and heartless on an interpersonal level as any other aggressive character;
- generally confine their aggressive interpersonal conduct to non-criminal, socially acceptable activity;
- place limits on their aggressiveness. Still, their self-restraint is not so much based on social conscientiousness or a felt obligation to subjugate their wills to a higher authority, but rather a practical desire on their part 1) to avoid social sanctions that might potentially restrict their freedom and 2) to maintain a favorable social image;
- will abort all controls (and consequently will break the law) when they are convinced they can successfully avoid detection or sanction or have amassed sufficient power, influence, and control in their relationships that they will not be challenged;
- share the same narcissistic characteristics (e.g., sense of superiority, feelings of entitlement, self-centeredness, etc.) as the other aggressive personality sub-types.
Channeled-aggressive personalities reveal their true character when they sense they’re likely to avoid detection and/or sanction for breaking the rules. When they feel reasonably assured that they will get away with it, they will not hesitate to cross an important boundary or exceed a crucial limit. Convinced that their latest laser and radar detector is the best on the market, they will take to the highway with reckless abandon, weave between cars, and prove to the world that they can shave at least 4 minutes off the time that other hapless commuters spend getting to work. Convinced that their corporate books are “cooked” so well that even the best accountants can’t find fault with them, they’ll exploit and pillage their companies, looking good in the process. So, it’s not that these types are really devoted to the rules. They are as much at odds with them as is any other aggressive character. And when they think it’s a sure bet that they won’t be detected or suffer, they won’t hesitate to break the rules. This remarkable lack of social conscience marks their principal character defect.
Two high-profile figures in the news lately demonstrate the truth of what I’ve been saying for years about channeled-aggressive personalities. First, there’s the case of Lance Armstrong (for a more in-depth look examination of this case, see my article: Lance Armstrong and the Character of Our Times). Few would doubt Armstrong’s tenacity as a sports competitor and many admired his seeming ability to overcome incredible odds to win. And he simply did not look like a habitual rule-breaker. But in fact he was. And he was convinced he could get away with the charade he perpetrated for years. In his own words, he never wavered in the belief that he could always “control the outcome” of any situation. And when folks got in his way, or attempted to expose the truth about him, they quickly found themselves on the defensive or even destroyed. Now, of course, Lance claims he’s sorry and fully expects that he’ll be forgiven and one day again be regarded as a hero. But the lack of repair work he’s done in the lives of those he’s injured testifies to his continued conscience impairment and the lack of any meaningful character change.
From the lying (especially the manner of lying) to the win at all costs mentality, cases like Armstrong’s demonstrate just about everything I’ve ever said about aggressive personalities in general, and especially about channeled-aggressives. There’s also the case of Oscar Pistorious, the South African runner now facing trial for murdering his girlfriend (for a more in-depth look at this case, see my article: A Sportsman’s Instinct). Interestingly, Pistorious’ father blamed his son’s shoot first and think about who you might be shooting at later mindset on “a sportsman’s instinct.” That is, his father was suggesting that in competitive sports, one should expect to find personalities who are instinctively “wired” to aggress first and think later. And while I’d be the last to assert that all competitive sportspeople are aggressive personalities, I think we need to pay attention to what folks are willing to tell us about themselves and why some personality types seem to gravitate to certain kinds of pursuits. Once you fully understand the aggressive personality types in their various manifestations and what motivates and drives them, it will never again surprise you when some sports star or corporate mogul gets caught doing the unthinkable.
Next week, I’ll be talking about a rare but particularly troubling aggressive personality sub-type, the sadistic personality.