All of us have done harm to others, and most of the time such harm is done inadvertently or unintentionally. But there are some among us who do harm maliciously. Just what is malice anyway? The word has its roots in the Latin, Old French and Spanish word for “evil” or “bad.” And from a legal perspective, malice is defined by the conscious intent to do harm. For some, such malevolent intention is the very definition of evil. But what, you might wonder, would make a person deliberately want to hurt someone else?
Traditional psychology paradigms suggest that people behave maliciously as a defense against perceived hostility or anticipated injury. In other words, as anxious, insecure people, to some of us the best defense appears a strong offense. Traditional paradigms also suggest that people lash out only when they’re angry and that anger is always a response to feeling wronged. But time and ample research has not been kind to these antiquated notions. We now know that people hurt others for reasons other than merely defending themselves against perceived threats or the anxiety associated with anticipated injury. And the abundant research on predatory or instrumental aggression indicates that people who intentionally harm others can be motivated by many factors other than anger.
Now none of us is immune to causing harm. Sometimes we can inflict pain on others out of sheer ignorance or even carelessness. But this is not the same as intentionally doing something to injure someone. And disturbed and disordered characters are unfortunately among those who hurt people intentionally and for a variety of nefarious reasons. While it’s almost unfathomable to most folks (especially the “neurotics” among us), some of major reasons disturbed and disordered characters engage in malicious behavior include:
- To punish. Disturbed and disordered characters don’t like it when you don’t see things their way, do the things they want you to do, or give them what they want from you. And they’re more than willing to make your life miserable as a way of coercing you to comply. They’re particularly vindictive fighters whose cardinal rule of engagement is simple: Give me what I want and you won’t get hurt. Defy me, and there’ll be some sort of hell to pay.
- To feel powerful. Some characters just want to feel one-up and on top of you. And they’ll do whatever it takes to make you knuckle-under or remain in a one-down position. They hurt you because they can, and knowing they can makes them feel big and strong. Disturbed characters often build themselves up at the expense of others.
- To take advantage. As I point out in In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance, and The Judas Syndrome (as well as in many of the blog articles), for disturbed and disordered characters, it’s always about position. And when they seek personal gain, it’s generally at someone else’s expense. Succeeding at the task of interpersonal exploitation also helps confirm for them their already problematic (inflated) sense of self-worth and perpetuates their attitudes of superiority and entitlement.
- For the thrill of it. For the some of the most seriously disturbed characters, doing harm to others is a source of great amusement. It’s a most sordid type of fun. It actually gives them joy to relish in the suffering and misfortune of other. And there are some disordered characters (see also the three articles on the Sadistic Personality) who are particularly prone to this.
- They lack the attributes of character that might motivate them to do otherwise. Some folks don’t have the kind of conscience or inner controls that might keep them from doing things that might hurt others. So when something happens that they don’t like and they feel like lashing out, they simply do so because there’s nothing in their makeup that makes them give pause or hold back. Some even have such deficits in empathy that simply doesn’t bother them enough to think twice when it comes to harming someone else. They’ll do what others generally wouldn’t dare simply because they don’t care.
Unfortunately, many folks have remained in highly toxic, abusive relationships because they misjudged the motivations their relationship partner had for doing the harm they did (and, therefore, also misjudged the character of the person inflicting the abuse). In the next few articles, I’ll present some examples of this. And hopefully, in the discussion, others will share experiences that together with the articles will help those in troubled relationships better understand both the character and the motivations of the person acting with malice.