My past two posts (See: Abuse and Exploitation Can Take Many Forms and Narcissism and Relational Abuse – Both Active and Passive) have dealt with various aspects of relational abuse, especially the kinds of abuse narcissistic characters are prone to display. Most narcissists are so centered on their own interests that they don’t pay much attention to the wants or needs of others. But there’s a big difference between this relatively passive disregard and the very active disregard the more malignantly narcissistic and various aggressive characters display. Their disregard goes far beyond simply not caring very much to purposely wanting to hurt, exploit, manipulate, and most especially, to dominate those with whom they come into contact, and that makes this group capable of the most serious kinds of relational abuse.
I’ve written before about malignant narcissism and what differentiates it from the garden variety egotism of narcissists (See, for example: Malignant Narcissism and Malignant Narcissism: At the Core of Psychopathy). All of the various “aggressive personalities” (More information on this group of disturbed characters can be found in In Sheep’s Clothing pp. 40-54, Character Disturbance pp. 96-129 and The Judas Syndrome pp. 17-29) have this more malignant narcissism at the core of their personality (The most seriously disturbed aggressive personalities, such as the sadistic-aggressive and predatory-aggressive or psychopathic personalities have the most virulent form of this narcissism). Aggressive characters not only see themselves as above others and therefore entitled to treat them as inferiors, but also are determined to dominate in all situations. It’s not just that they don’t respect any “higher power,” it’s that they always strive to be the highest power. They’re determined fighters who try to dominate in all situations, even when taking a more subordinate position would actually better serve their interest. And each of the various aggressive personality sub-types is prone to unique forms of abuse and exploitation in relationships.
I give the label “unbridled aggressive” to those disturbed characters who have often been called “antisocial personalities,” (and sometimes also called, although erroneously, “sociopaths”). These are individuals who have been openly “at war” (See also: Character Disturbance, p 114, In Sheep’s Clothing, p. 42, The Judas Syndrome, pp. 17-18 and the articles Antisocial Personalities: The Unbridled Aggressive Pattern and The Unbridled Aggressive Personality) with authority, the established rules, and even sometimes with God (if in fact they profess a belief in God) for much of their lives. They know what most of the world expects from them but resist conforming. They can’t stand to accede to anyone else’s expectations or demands. Submission of any type is anathema to them, even if it would mean winning in the long run. To them, any kind of capitulation is tantamount to personal annihilation. Such folks are very prone to all forms of abuse, including physical violence. They want their way and are determined to have it regardless of cost and no matter who might get hurt. For them, life is a contest and they must always emerge the victor. They always want to be on top, in control, and in charge. And while they submit to no one, they expect everyone else to be subject to them. Many break the major rules of society and often spend a lot of time incarcerated as a result. But not all antisocial personalities are criminals. And while they’re prone to violating the major rules, not all get caught or sanctioned. Still, they go through life as undisciplined thugs. They’re also among those who, despite occasional sanction (e.g., police visits, arrests, restraining orders, confinement, probation, etc.) are generally undeterred in their aggressive, abusive ways.
Because their aggressive styles are so brazenly open and self-evident, and because mounds of trouble seems to follow them wherever they go, it’s always been baffling to me why and how anyone would even consider getting involved with unbridled aggressive personalities (many times, poor self-image or some degree of character deficiency is to blame). And it usually takes no time at all before a person who’s become involved with such a character begins getting abused in some way. Unbridled aggressives are also like parasites in relationships, letting the more responsible party pay all the bills, carry all the burdens, etc. And when things don’t go to their satisfaction, they can never accept the idea it might be at least partly their fault, so they readily blame and take their frustration and hostility out on everyone else. While they’re a big societal problem to be sure, and while many of them even know this at some level, everyone else somehow pays the price.
It’s far more understandable to me how someone might fall prey to a slightly different variant of the “antisocial” type: the disturbed character and aggressive personality sub-type I call the “channeled aggressive” personality (For more on this type see: (The Channeled-Aggressive Personality, Powers to Be Reckoned With: The Channeled Aggressors as well as the chapters in my books on aggressive personality sub-types). Not to be mistaken for assertive personalities (For more on the distinction between assertive and aggressive behavior and personality types see: Aggressive Personalities – Part 1 and Assertive and Aggressive Behavior), channeled aggressives run roughshod over others while generally keeping their aggression within legal limits and channeling it into socially acceptable endeavors. They modulate their overt aggression so as not to invite social or legal sanction but they are very different from healthy, assertive personalities in that they don’t really discipline themselves out of respect for the rights and needs of others (or as the result of a mature conscience). So they will cross boundaries, violate limits, and even transgress major norms if they feel confident they can get away with it. These individuals are often tyrants in their own home, capable of immense cruelty whenever their dominance is challenged. Because on first impression they can appear as persons who are merely strong, determined, and geared for success, they can seem the ideal partner early on in a relationship. Only when it becomes clear that daily life with them is a “my way or the highway” proposition does their abusive nature become more evident. While there’s usually little trouble when all the troops know their place and fall into line, when someone fails to heed one of their dictates or worse, challenges their dominance, there will generally be some kind of hell to pay. While these folks know how to rule the roost without crossing the major lines that might invite social sanction, when they sense their grip slipping, or when they think they can successfully avoid adverse consequence, they can easily become more openly brutal.
Next week I’ll have some more to say about the aggressive personalities and the abuse they inflict in relationships. And I’ll be talking about the dire need we have for a psychology that adequately addresses the pathology of these folks at the end of this series as well as on Character Matters, Sunday at 7 pm Eastern Daylight Time.