Narcissism has come to be recognized as a dimension of personality (see also: Personality and Character Disorders – The Narcissistic Dimension and Narcissism’s Sometimes Strange Allure). It is also a cardinal feature of several other personality and character disturbances. But there’s a class of personality types I haven’t talked about in a while whose character pathology goes far beyond narcissism. Such are the personality types I refer to in my books Character Disturbance, In Sheep’s Clothing, and The Judas Syndrome as the “aggressive personalities,” perhaps the most character-impaired of all the personality types.
The disregard some narcissists have for others is a rather passive disregard in that they don’t actively seek to victimize so much but rather are simply so self-centered that they don’t particularly think enough or care enough about the impact of their behavior on others. So whereas they might well do something that victimizes, they might not necessarily necessarily intend to victimize. Now some of you who have been victimized by narcissistic individuals might take issue with this notion because there are plenty of narcissists (e.g., narcissists of the more “malignant variety”) who in their sense of entitlement exploit, prey upon and otherwise abuse others. But that’s precisely because such folks are more than just narcissitic. And that’s one of the reasons why (in addition to the fact that “mere” narcissism is a relative rarity) the legitimacy of a classification like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has been called into question in recent years. Make no mistake, however, the aggressive personalities are narcissists through and through. But they’re far more than simply egocentric, vain, grandiose, etc. It’s not so much that they simply don’t care about you. Rather, they fully intend to exploit or get the better of you, and that’s why they’ve always belonged in a different category. As those familiar with my work may already know, I believe there are 5 common varieties of these types and I think it’s worth looking at how narcissism expresses itself in each of the major aggressive personality subtypes (for more information on the various aggressive personality subtypes see pp. 96-129 in Character Disturbance, pp. 40-47 in In Sheep’s Clothing and the articles Aggressive Personalities: Part 1 and Aggressive Personalities: The Sub-types).
The folks I refer to as “unbridled aggressive” personalities are those who’ve been traditionally thought of as dissocial or antisocial (sometimes also referred to as “sociopathic”). These are the folks who are at odds with the major norms of society (the word “anti-social” literally means “against society” or against the social order – not as some mistakenly believe as referring to shy or socially-avoidant people) and who frequently find themselves in trouble with the law. In their narcissism, they feel perfectly entitled to break the rules. But whereas the pure narcissist recognizes no higher power, these personalities are aware of but simply refuse to respect the higher powers in their lives. In fact, they pit themselves solidly against anyone or anything that would dare hold power over them or tell them what to do. They afford no one authority over them. Where the pure narcissist already feels superior, these folks actively seek to be on top and in control. They will set the rules, period! Such folks are indeed narcissists to the core. But they’re far more pathological than that. They abhor submission in any form or degree. And as I mention in my books, that abhorence is the single biggest reason they have trouble forming a healthy conscience (for more on this see the article: Conscience Development in the Aggressive Character). They simply will not subordinate their will to another’s, and for that reason many times they simply have to be segregated from the rest of society and confined so that the rest of us can be safe.
The “channeled-aggressive” folks I talk about in my books are quite prevalent these days. But unlike their “unbridled” counterparts these folks are rarely in such open, obvious conflict with the major rules that they find themselves in trouble or behind bars a lot. That doesn’t mean they have respect for the rules or willingly surrender themselves to them for the greater good. As narcissistic as they are, they still consider themselve “above” the rules, but they generally conform their conduct enough to stay out of open conflict with authorities. And they do so for practical reasons – they don’t want their freedom curtailed. You find them in business, professional sports, various other competitive enterprises, the military, police force, and all sorts of occupational endearvors where tough mindedness is rewarded and a minimal level of self-imposed restraint is tolerated. The fact that such folks actually see themselves as above the rules and restrain themselves only for practical purposes is born out by how readily they trample proper limits and boundaries when they think they can get away with it. And the fact that we see so many folks in professional sports, business, law enforcement, etc. actually getting in trouble for major social norm violations is a testament to how tenuous the self-retraint these personalities typically impose on themselves is.
I’ll have more to say about the aggressive personalities and their inherent narcissism in a couple of weeks. Next week’s post will be a special Christmas post.
Character Matters will again by a live program this Sunday evening at 7 pm EST (6 pm CST) so I can take your phone calls.
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