By far the most limiting aspect of official diagnostic conceptualizations (i.e. the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association) of the most character-disturbed individuals among us is that the purely behavioral criteria used to delineate the various personality types don’t capture the essence of what is unhealthy and problematic in them. So, early in my work I found it necessary to devise a more useful conceptual scheme. And over the years, sharing this conceptual scheme has seemed to benefit those who struggle with various difficult people in their lives.
For a long time, the professional community paid little attention to personality dysfunction, preferring to focus on clinical syndromes (i. e. mood disturbances, anxiety disorders, eating and substance use disorders, etc.). Most clinicians not only regarded personality disturbance as simply too difficult or impossible to treat, but also unnecessary to treat if you attended to any clinical syndromes present. But while clinical conditions can and do afflict otherwise healthy personalities, these days the difficulties many people experience in their lives are intimately connected to the problematic aspects of their personality or the personality of others. And today, more professionals have come to recognize and appreciate this reality. Some have even begun to recognize that the fact that those aspects of personality that reflect a person’s ability to function in a socially responsible way (i.e. their character) have a lot to do with the problems presented in their lives and relationships. That’s why I felt safe in asserting in my second book (Character Disturbance) that character dysfunction is indeed “the phenomenon of our age.”
The group of personalities I label “aggressive” are among the most character-impaired of all the personality types. As I mentioned in my prior post (see: Aggressive Personalities: An Upcoming Refresher Course), for a long time the official diagnostic manual (DSM) recognized only one sub-type of these personalities as clinically disordered, applying the term Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) basically to persons who consistently led lives of crime since mid-adolescence. A relatively recent revision of the manual has de-emphasized the criminal conduct aspect of this personality type but still fails to clearly delineate the many different sub-types, suggesting instead that persons qualifying for the APD diagnosis may have either a varied smattering or clustering of other disturbing traits. This classification system does not recognize the distinctly pathological traits that define at least five very different, sometimes dangerous, and always problematic personalities.
As I mentioned earlier, the most limiting aspect of traditional approaches to understanding the most character-disturbed individuals among us is that purely behavioral descriptions don’t capture the essence of what is unhealthy and problematic in them. It is my assertion that the inordinate predisposition for aggression lies at the heart of some individuals’ character disturbance and influences every aspect of their growth and development. At their core, the personalities I’m talking about are under-inhibited and unrelenting fighters who would be entirely different characters if they could more easily bring themselves to concede, back down, or submit at times, especially when it is in their long-term best interest to do so. But some individuals have great difficulty with this, fighting indiscriminately and unnecessarily, while even others flatly abhor the notion of subordination of their fighter instinct. This can create all sorts of problems in relationships. This aggressive predisposition can combine with other problematic traits to create some very disturbing personality styles, which is why I find it helpful to categorize 5 basic aggressive personality sub-types:
- The first type I call the unbridled aggressive.
- These are the individuals we have traditionally called “antisocial” (the colloquial use of the term “antisocial” to describe aloof or asocial individuals is an incorrect use of the term) in their behavior pattern because they so frequently violate major social norms and end up running afoul of the law. Unbridled aggressives go through life as hapless “palookas,” swinging wildly at every obstacle in their path and with seemingly no awareness about the ultimately defeating aspects of their behavior. They see rules and norms only as barriers and are wont to break them down. They’re at war with authority figures of any type and resist acceding to expectations imposed by others.
- The second type I label the channeled aggressive.
- Individuals with this personality type frequently channel their aggressive energies into socially sanctioned outlets such as competitive sports, military careers, tough corporate enterprises, etc. They generally don’t break the major rules and exercise a degree of control over their aggression. But they exercise their restraint for pragmatic purposes primarily and will violate norms and cross boundaries when they feel assured they can do so without sanction.
The type I label covert-aggressive are the more deceptive and manipulative.
These personalities do their best to appear benign on the surface and to veil all their aggressive agendas. They use clever tactics to overcome their adversaries and to get others to bend to their wishes. They are the primary subject of my book In Sheep’s Clothing.
Another sub-type is one that I label the sadistic aggressive.
Aggressive personalities almost inevitably hurt other people. But for most aggressive personalities, inflicting pain is not their principal aim. Aggressive personalities generally simply want what they want and if they have to run roughshod over someone else to get it, they have no compunction about doing so. Sadistic personalities are different. For them, inflicting pain and demeaning others is not only something they actively seek but also enjoy.
- Lastly, I apply the label predatory-aggressive to the most severely disturbed of all characters, the psychopath (alt: sociopath).
- These individuals are first and foremost characterized by their senseless, remorseless, and empathy-devoid use, abuse, manipulation, and exploitation of others. Some of these individuals also lead parasitic, antisocial lifestyles. But others can appear quite civil and even charming. They are the “snakes in suits” and “sociopaths next door.” The key thing about them is that they are so lacking in empathy that they can’t form a mature conscience. Some have no conscience or empathy whatsoever. And they have a special kind of malignant narcissism that makes them especially prone to prey on others. They are the only known intra-species predators.
Now, all of the aggressive personalities are also narcissists. In fact, one could easily say the personality type we call narcissistic is simply a non-aggressive variation of the aggressive personality type. And how narcissism is expressed in each of the different aggressive personality sub-types is unique. In the next series of posts, I’ll be exploring each of the aggressive personality types in much greater detail and illustrating through examples. I’ll also be discussing the pitfalls of attempting to intervene with such personalities using traditional approaches. And because I’ve gotten four email requests to say something about two of the likely psychopathic women who have made news headlines in high-profile trials over the past year and a half (including a trial being concluded currently), I’ll be sharing a lot of observations about these cases that should invite substantial discussion when the article on predatory aggressives is posted.
Next post: The unbridled aggressive (or “antisocial”) personality.
7 thoughts on “Aggressive Personalities: The Sub-Types”
Hi Dr. Simon,
I have read your books and it is wonderful that I now have a proper name for the behavior I am dealing with. I have always known that they were manipulative and compulsive liars but your books were a light bulb moment! I am remarried (2 years) and have 2 step daughters. Every holiday when they come, there are horrific arguments that they start with their father, always at the end of the visit, after they have gotten everything they want from their father (new phones, computers, manicures, sky diving and trips for the weekend to the beach, etc.,) Cursing, screaming, name calling while my husband tries to shush them so that the neighbors don’t hear. It made me pull away from them because they do it to their grandmother, aunt, and their father for any thing that they don’t like. I knew that it would be only a matter of time before it was my turn and it came. She came home late one night I was sleeping and when I woke up and went into the den she was laying there in a thong and bra. I told her dad that I would talk to her about wearing a nighty or T-shirt as she is 22 years old and not a child and that is wrong. He agreed. When she was alone in the kitchen alone I said, we have to get you a nighty or a t-shirt. She went mad, screaming Who the f*#k are you? Shut the f*^k up. I told her I am the lady of the house and you will not do it period. She went on and on. I just watched her telling her she would not do that in my house. She threatened to hit me and to kill me and when her dad came home she told him that I threatened to kill her in a baby voice. Her father knows her and didn’t believe her and told her that she will have to behave or not come any more. I know that she will not change, ever. She is covert and predatory at the same time. It depends on who she is dealing with.
Thank you for writing these books and helping society identify and deal with this issue. There are so many of them out there nowadays.
Thanks so much for your comments. And indeed, character disturbance is the phenomenon of our age.
Sometimes the best way to deal with manipulative people is to not deal with them at all . When it comes to adults. You just have to end some relationships. I had to end my relationship with my father. I never had a relationship with my father as a kid but as an adult I tried to peruse a relationship with him . In three months time I had to end it. My father personality wise has always been a big liar and a manipulated all of his life . He is in a ten year relationship with a woman who is manipulative also. In the beginning he seemed glad to hear from me and know that I would be coming around he even made plans for him and I to go out. At that point he had not seen me in ten years. We met up outside an restaurant he brought his girl friend of ten years with him . I had never met her till then. As he was talking to me she all of a sudden told him to go warm up the car . He walked away . As soon as he did she said to me ‘ yeah we have been dating for ten years and I knew he had a daughter and that she lived in town and I never met her , I thought you where too good for me to meet. She said this . I said nothing back to her. She then said to me ‘ Your standoffish . I did not responed to that. As soon as he came back she put on a nice face and said to me ‘ It was nice meeting you. She said to him ‘ It was nice meeting your daughter ‘ as they were walking away. I knew right then that I had to try to stay away from this woman as much as possible . My father planned a dinner for me at his home that next weekend. Two weeks passed by and no word from him . He would not even pick up his phone. I called and she answed . I told her I had been looking for him for the past two weeks and that I was disappointed that the dinner never happened. She was not interested in hearing anything I had to say. But she began to talk about her self and the trip she took out of town where she apparently had loss money and that she was angry about it. She ended up giving me a number where I could reach him because he was working out of town. Ten minutes later I called him and he was angry. I asked him about the weekend we were supposed to spend together . His response was that he would never take me any were until I apologize to her. I said ‘apologize for what? He said that she said . O THIS IS A REACURRING EVEVT HE SAID . SHE SAID. She said that I was rude to her and that she did not like the tone of my voice and that I was jelouse of her . I said ‘jelouse of what. He didn’t respond . I tried to explain to him . He did not want to hear anything I had to say. He told me that he believed everything she said . And that of course he would believe everything she have to say because she is his woman and that they are going to be together and she will be his wife . With that type of statement he must really believe I am jelouse , I thought to myself. This is something that turned ugly so quickly . I was confused by the thing. I could not believe she had said those things. I wanted to see if she actually said those things. I called her. She was in a rage . The first thing she said to me is ‘ yeah I told your dad that you where jelouse, you better be glad you are his daughter , I told him I would beat your ass, she was saying other things and talking off the wall in a angry voice . And all of a sudden she changed her voice calmed down and she ask me out for dinner. I thought this woman is really off. I told my dad the things she said to me. He tied to justify every word. I indored this because I wanted to have a relationship with my father. About her . She has had drug abuse problems most of her life and still does . She is known to as they say be a little bit off the throbes . Because of her drug problem she has had some of her kids taken away . She has been homeless . She has never worked. But has lived off of hard working men. My dad has no kids with her . But he takes care of her and kids financially . My dad has other kids that he wanted to start a relationship with. But because of her jelouse and manipulative personality he was unable to. I hold him responsible for his actions and the things he let her get away with. She has basically ran his children away. She uses manipulation as a way of control . This is how she controlled my relationship with my dad. She tried to play the role of disrespected stepmom. She tried to play the victim in that role. According to her nobody likes her,Everyone is jelouse of her, everyone is disrespecting her, and everyone is looking at her strange like they do not want her round, these are the things that she says. And I wonder do drugs play a part. Also that addicts have very manipulative personalities . How she controlled my relationship with my father through manipulation . She would plant seeds of contempt againt me by saying things like ‘She does not deseve a father like you. She is derespectfull to me. And if I were you I would not take her any where. She would tell him that a said bad things about him. She would tell me he said bad things about me. He said. She said. Which so childish and immature . He would become angry with me for no reason . He began to argue with me over the things she said about me. He evened talked about wanting to beat me up. Over something she said to him. I had to end my relationship with him. He even began bragging to me about how he would beat my mother and laugh. I found out he also has a drug problem but is an functioning addict. He constantly lies and manipulates for no reason just to be deceptive it’s entertaining to him. He laughs about it. You never know when he is telling the truth he even lies about little unimportant things. This is a man in his 50’s and he has the maturity of a child. He is so much of a liar that when I confronted him about some of the bad things he has said to me, he totally flips it around and says that no he never said thoses things to me he says I said those things to him. He actually tries in gave me a
timeline to when I supposedly said those things to him. He tries so hard to convince me. It is the same way with the things he has done. He even goes so far as to break out in tears . He tries to play on emotions and gain sympathy by crying. Yes I have been through a lot . But sometimes the best thing to do is to not deal with manipulative people at all unless you desire to be manipulated . It’s a relationship you have control to end.
It’s terrible you went through this. I hope you can heal now, you deserve a loving father, not one is incapable of real love. They can’t love each other, they are just using each other. Good decision to detach, who needs that? It will only tear you down to allow them into your life. I too would cut my losses and move on, you deserve so much better than that.
Hi Annie……….what a sad story. I don’t have a GREAT relationship with my father but it is not toxic like the one you are describing with yours and this monster of a stepmother, if you could even call her that. It hurt ME to even read it.
I’m sure drugs are a huge part of it but it does become one of those chicken or the egg questions. No matter, the way they both treated you is horrible and you are best to stay away. Good for you to make that choice even though it must be very painful and disappointing to make.
It’s not always so easy to end things although in some situations it is. It sounds like your father made it painfully clear that he is someone to step (run) away from.
Yes it is not easy to end a close relationship, but there comes a time when it is better for you and for them unless they find someone else to take your place, which they surely will. Step away and realise they are incapable of what you need from a mature relationship. I am having to do this with my only son 26 and still playing the same old games. So I’m out of the game. You cannot have a relationship with immature naval gazing adults. Sad but true.
“These personalities do their best to appear benign on the surface and to veil all their aggressive agendas. They use clever tactics to overcome their adversaries and to get others to bend to their wishes. ”
So true…some act, cry, and nag you into bending to their wishes. I didn’t realize before that this was actually “aggressive” because no physical force was used. Thanks to this article, I now understand covert-aggressive is a subtype.