Abusive Relationships: From Disregard to Dominance

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.

36 thoughts on “Abusive Relationships: From Disregard to Dominance

  1. Dr. Simon,

    I’ve read most of your posts and it would be nice for you to compile a book on these.

    Thank you

    1. Actually, Julieann, a company is working on a proposal for such a project. I appreciate your suggestion and interest in this. I actually think the company that’s proposing the project was steered to the site by some folks like yourself who thought it might be a good idea.

    2. There is wealth of detailed information in the posts. It will be even better to include some relevant comments that elaborate the main points with personal stories. Hopefully this idea of making book is still on. 🙂

    3. I also think it would be a good idea to compile your posts into a book. Even if it’s a free report. I personally enjoy having that personal interaction with men and women on my email list. Just a thought 🙂

  2. This would open a whole new can of worms, but I have often thought that a brain scan should be given each person before a marriage license is issued. At least people would have some sign that there would be trouble ahead. I suppose that would be an invasion of privacy, but it sure would help people like me who married and had children with a disordered character. Maybe if caught soon enough some help could be given to them.

    1. Noel, I think a pre-nup should be required as well. An binding agreement. Yeah, right…..
      So many things can sound like a good idea but education is the answer in my opinion. Once a person KNOWS what these people are and how they operate, the inherent danger involved with becoming involved with one, etc, etc, etc……. like I do now? It almost becomes a game……Spot The Spath. A fellow survivor friend is doing this now in her dating. She has the benefit of knowledge and experience behind her and is sitting back watching these contestants eliminate themselves.
      Also, marriage is not the only vehicle a Spath uses to trash someone. Mine didn’t.

  3. Dr. Simon……I was thinking yesterday and again this morning, Maybe a chart of some type would be helpful? Something actually showing the continuum and how the different PD, CD’s, etc, interplay and how they relate to each other. Just a thought.

    1. Hi Puddle — just on a hunch,I googled (click on images first)for diagrams of symptoms of character disorders. Looks like there are hundreds of diagrams and charts, Venn diagrams, flowcharts, all sorts of stuff which I didn’t take time to fully browse. You might find something useful, either as is, or as a starting point for further development. Cheers from Elva

      1. Claire, thanks! Does it go along with Dr. Simons newer understandings about aggressive or is in keeping with the older paradigm?

        1. Hi again Puddle — from what little I saw, I would guess the diagrams, etc., are all over the spectrum (old, new, and in between). You will have to search to see what all is there. I read fast, but I can’t take time right now (heavy work load, impatient customers, etc.) Cheers from Elva

    2. I guess what I’m looking for is a recommendation from Dr. Simon……if there is a particular chart he would recommend that is in line with his concepts. I am very visual and i think it would help.

    1. Yeah, I’ve got business to do. I may not post all that frequently.

      Also, if I were asked, I think Juliette’s absorbed in that book. I recommended it to her. It’s that Moore’s Facing the Dragon.

  4. Great post & I have shared on facebook 🙂
    Thank you for your knowledge & insight.
    I have recently aligned with the other women in my Ex Disordered Minds life that he has shamed & beaten & humiliated for many years. Together we are supporting each other & no longer are we alone. Your blog & others has given me the strength to reach out & find these women & they have gratefully reached back.

    Thank you very very much 🙂

  5. DESPERATELY needing help in Charlotte NC. Hello everyone. This is my first post, although I’ve been reading Dr. Simon’s enormously helpful blogs for about six months now, after purchasing In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance. I sincerely apologize for this off topic post but I just don’t know WHAT TO DO ANYMORE. I’ve been living with a man for almost six years now and there have been numerous problems during this time. My “gut” told me years ago that “something” just was wrong – was not right with him and unfortunately I did not listen to it. Everything he said sounded so good, all the promises that have NEVER COME TO FRUITION. I believe with all that I am and everything I have, after six months of reading this brilliant mans (Dr. Simon) books and blogs, that I am living with a man that is Covert Aggressive. A few months ago we went to a therapist to learn how to “communicate” more effectively – EVERYTHING WAS/IS AN ARGUMENT. My partner is still going to this therapist because he “likes” her. I stopped long ago because she was making more “excuses” for his behavior than he does, which I NEVER thought was possible. Oh be gentle with him she’d tell me, “He has low self esteem.” (The HELL HE DOES!) But in front of this “therapist” even to ME he sounds believable! He’s co-dependent go easy on him. Co-dependent on what and or who is MY question. The therapist even had the audacity to tell me that she’s harder on me because I can “handle it” and he can’t. This was AFTER I told her I was devastated, confused, angry grieving etc. My partner if NOTHING ELSE is a COMPLETE EXPERT at impression management and I even told her this on the phone before our first appointment, nonetheless he got over on her. My feeling was that I was getting enough emotional abuse at home, albeit EXPERTLY and benignly disguised, why the heck would I PAY TO GET THE SAME FROM HER! I am BEGGING Dr. Simon or anyone who reads these blogs to PLEASE help me find a therapist in or near Charlotte N.C. who “gets it.” A therapist that doesn’t frame EVERYTHING as a defense mechanism. I am overtly and respectfully assertive and my partner covertly aggressive – THAT IS WHY EVERYTHING IS AN ARGUMENT. Plus he takes EVERYTHING PERSONALLY and I do mean everything. I am so sorry for sounding so angry in my first post – it also sounds terribly selfish of me upon reading it back to myself. If the community here will have me, I’d certainly love to join you guys. It’s only been recently that I’ve been reading the responses to Dr. Simon’s blogs and my heart aches and goes out to EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU that are experiencing the same pain. I’ve told my partner recently to to with me as he will but DO NOT! cross the line and start getting into MY son’s head, who has a pretty severe learning disability. He did not heed my warning and did something to this innocent child that was an abomination. I’m not proud of how I handled the situation but I did stop him dead in his tracks from interfering DIRECTLY with my son. Again, my apologies for the terribly long and selfish post – novel. I do look forward to relating to everyone better in future posts. Best wishes and love to all that are struggling to be whole again! DIDI

    1. Of course we will have you.

      You describe wonderfully how ghastly it is that some people see EVERYTHING as a defense mechanism. For all I know, next some people claim rape to be an aggressor beating up his projected inner masochist, harassment to be someone trying to master what they fear to be in their subconscious or something. Really, in some theories it must be so easy to fall in love with how everything fascinating and complex must be going on under the surface.

    2. Hi DiDI, My first question is, do you want to stay with this man? I’m asking because i’m not clear about if you are still with him.
      Regardless, if you are looking for a therapist who is familiar with these types you will more than likely only find one if you look for a Domestic Abuse councilor. I would start by contacting the local Domestic Violence Hotline in your area and also the victims advocate department (not sure what it’s called). get busy on the phone, computer, etc,,,,,looking with those terms and your county of residence. Women’s shelters are also a place to try. It really has to be someone who understands what abusers are all about…….trust me! I went through some c*ap in the counceling stage with spathtard. You will not find the help you are looking for from a traditional therapist unless you get VERY lucky. Have you read Lundy Bancroft’s book, “Why Does He Do That?”. He actually recommends not to go to couples counceling with an abuser!

    3. Hi DIDI. Very sorry to read of your personal experience. He sounds truly awful. Though I cannot help with finding a suitable therapist, what I can tell you (and in noticing you’ve been around for approx 6 months) is that there are some extremely wise and informed posters who with the sum total of their experiences, will be a great source of help and support. So do stick around…..you’ll be made to feel very welcome. I know that because many of been of help to me.
      I wish you all the very best:)

      1. Hi DiDi — you are most welcome here. This is a safe place to vent when you need to, to occasionally encourage others, all of us here have gone through something similar or have close friends who are struggling with flawed relationships. I pray daily for Dr. Simon, that God will give him wisdom and strength. I also pray for all readers (I don’t know everyone’s name, but God does) that God will help each one to work through their problems. Again, welcome, you will be heard, encouraged, and loved. “Friends are the family you chose.” Peace be unto you, Best wishes from Elva

    4. DiDi, The best thing you can do for your son is to seek help for yourself separately from this “man”. These “relationships” can be devastatingly depleting and damaging and the more damage done to you, the less available you will be to your son. Don’t underestimate this, it’s easy to do if you have never fully experienced one of these situations. I have never even come close to the nightmare that knowing him caused me and we were only “involved” for two years.
      I’m encouraged for you that you have found Dr. Simon and this blog and assure you that you have come to a good place to find solid information, advise and encouragement.
      Be careful on some of the other sites about Socio/ Psychopathic relationships though. Read the articles but be warned that some of them are sketchy.

    5. Hi Didi…

      I’m no expert, but I do have decades of experience with that type.
      The bottom line is, he won’t change.
      You have a child to raise and this man should not be a part of it. Break-up with him and ask him to leave.
      If that’s not an option then contact a woman’s shelter and maybe they can help you get out.
      If you love him or you’re too attached to him, then find a way to get over it…there are ways to do it!
      I did it myself…it took me about 4 years to finally break-up with him, but I’m so happy being with my “new and improved” husband….no one has to suffer at the hands of these types of men.
      Good luck to you…I’ll keep you in my prayers.

  6. Didi, you may be able to find a therapist who “gets it” but that isn’t going to change anything unless he wants to be helped….knowing the type, that is EXTREMELY unlikely.

    You have two choices, stay and accept a relationship that is not only unsatisfying, but makes you miserable; or make plans to leave, heal, and go on to a beautiful life filled with peace and happiness.

    Don’t be a victim of malignant hope. Read the blogs, and try to wrap your mind around what – and who – you are facing. But be quick about it….the longer you stay, the more damage that will be done to your psyche.

    1. Didi, sorry to hear what you’re going thru but glad you found Dr. Simon and company. The first and crucial step you’ve taken is that you now understand who and what you are dealing with thanks to Dr. S and our posters. Sounds like you are correct that your therapist is no help to you so leave her behind immediately and turn to the supporters here for what is missing. If you find a decent therapist all the better, but you can do what’s needed now with just your own resolve, some more reading, and turning to our bloggers here. The second crucial step is to remember that your son’s well being is paramount, and your well being will lead to his. Your strength and purpose can come from choosing to no longer respond to the traps set for you by this CA and remaining undeterred in your pursuit of well being for you & son. This CA will never stop and thrives on your response so you must deprive him the fuel he seeks to continue. See this person as someone who has nothing to offer. I hope leaving safely is not an issue for you but seek out every possibility that leaves you in a safe situation and don’t give up until you have it. And read the blog every week for fortitude. If you seek a therapist you may be better off by finding someone who can help you leave the situation rather than trying to improve the relationship. You have time later to work through the rebuilding of trust and understanding the human race and yourself but now it’s probably best to get as much space from the CA as possible. I hope this doesn’t sound too scary but I also hope you can see that you can do this on your own if necessary.

      1. Didi, one more thing is that when we tell the CA not to cross the line the first they do is cross it. Covertly probably but maybe overtly or both depending on how they’re feeling that day. Telling them what not to do is like giving them a map for how to do it. Let the real you become invisible or like a machine until you make it to a safer place on your own.

        1. Yes, this is true. At any point I used to say “please don’t do….[x, y or z]”…….my wife would plot to do exactly that, either covertly or openly. The answer is to put a stop to those things only YOU can control. For example, provocation to persist in conflict discussions that she would start just for the sheer hell of it would be curtailed by me…..whereas prior to which I would have been endlessly trying to convince her, sometimes literally begging (she absolutely loved that) that I was not guilty of whatever was this weeks accusation. Or for example, unreasonable demands that she would once place upon me, in which I was browbeaten into agreeing, I would now say “….please let me think about that”, then decide in my own time without the pressure of her standing over me awaiting an immediate answer.

          1. Danny….don’t forget goading you into arguments so that they can claim you love drama and conflict. When I got wise, I would sit there and watch him pick, pick and insult — ever upping the ante to try and get a rise out of me. Once you figure out what’s going on, they are SO predictable.

            I do NOT miss those days!

          2. OR instead of not doing x,y,z, they will DO d,e,f and give x, y, z to create false hope.
            These are really wise replies to DiDi.

          3. Agree with you both – Einstein and Puddle. They are incredibly predictable once you realise the games they play – and that is all it is – one big silly game they play to feed their own ego. It has nothing whatsoever to do with you. Nothing infuriates them more once they realise that you realise what they are doing.

          4. I just wish I would have known exactly what he was while we were still together. I would have turned the tables on him and called his bluff. As it is there is absolutely little I can do legally to champion my self and the whole notion about living well being the best way to get back at them is BS in my opinion. It’s not my nature go turn the other cheek when someone does something intentionally cruel to anyone or anything. I remember confronting a friend of mine one time because he kicked this beautiful clump of moss off a tock for no reason at all, that really wasn’t even intentional cruelty but mindlessness and thoughtlessness.
            But I have that fight for justice instinct and its very hard to keep it in check and in between the lines sometimes……….but I do.

  7. Hi Didi So sorry to hear your pain. It sounds like a desperate situation and it is never easy when children are involved. But i urge you to take care and agree with Puddle’s sound advice about contacting a DV counsellor if possible and if it is safe. I know it is difficult but the safety of yourself and your son is paramount and never ignore your gut. I do hope you find a safe haven and I wish you strength to get through this terrible time. Stay safe.

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