Fighting Fairly Defines Decent Characters

Fighting Fairly

Fighting fairly and with principle bespeaks decency of character. Now, when I speak of fighting, I’m not meaning violence. Rather, I’m referring to a behavior that’s an integral part of life. We human beings do a lot of fighting. It pervades an incredible number of our affairs. It characterizes our politics, business dealings, and many of our relationships. It’s simply part of living. We fight to survive and prosper. So it’s never a question of whether we do or don’t fight. Rather, the bigger question is how we fight. And that’s largely what defines our character.

The Heart of Assertiveness

Fighting fairly, with principle, and with care not to injure, is the heart of assertiveness. Assertive behavior is non-violent, constructive fighting. I talk about this at length my book Character Disturbance. Here’s an excerpt:

Aggression in human beings is not synonymous with violence. Human aggression is the forceful energy we all expend to survive, prosper, and secure the things we want or need. We reflect a deep-seated awareness of this fact in our linguistics: We say things like, “if you really want something, you have to fight for it.” We encourage those who are sick or infirmed to do battle with their cancers, infections, or other diseases. As a society, we even launched a “war on poverty.”

Fighting is a huge part of life…and it’s fair to say that when we’re not making some kind of love, we’re waging some kind of war. But how we fight is another matter entirely. And there are big differences between aggression and assertion. Assertive behavior is fighting for a legitimate purpose. It’s fair and it’s principled. It’d done with deliberately imposed and observed limits. And the rights and boundaries of others are always respected. Violence is rejected, and the overall goal is constructive one (to make a situation better).

By contrast, aggressive behavior is fighting for a purely selfish interest and to simply gain advantage over another. No care is taken to impose limits or restraints, and the rights and boundaries of others are of little concern. The goal is inherently destructive because the intention is to weaken or incapacitate an opponent, and this can often involve violence.

(See also: Aggressive and Assertive Behavior)

How Disturbed Characters Fight

Disturbed characters are unscrupulous fighters. They fight readily. And they fight with little justification. They don’t stand on true principle. They fight because they want something. And, most of the time they feel entitled to what they want. Moreover, they’ll do whatever they think they must do to win. It’s all about having their way. And generally, it’s about having it right away.

Disturbed characters will claim victim status to justify their aggression. And they’ll offer a host of other justifications, too. But they don’t wage truly necessary fights.

Fighting fairly is anathema to many disturbed characters. They believe in a take no prisoners approach to life. For them, life is a series of contests. And they’re determined come out the victor in each. Now, that would be so bad if they were committed to fighting fairly took care not to needlessly injure. But they don’t care who they hurt. And they don’t have compunctions about the kinds of blows they throw. All that matters is that they win.

Covert Fighting: The Heart of Most Manipulation

As a seasoned practicing therapist, it didn’t take me long to realize how often people fight. But it did bother me how some folks preferred to fight. Some fighters were subtle, clever, underhanded, covert. They knew how to appear benign, even likable. But behind the facade lie a ruthless determination to win. And their arsenal of weapons consisted of tactics that made it hard to see they were merely fighting. When they were making their partner out the villain and casting themselves as a victim, for example, it wasn’t obvious they were fighting for advantage – to get their partner to back down or cave in. So I started studying this kind of behavior in depth. And that’s what led to In Sheep’s Clothing.

Fighting Fairly in Relationships

I’ve seen many relationships become toxic because of the way someone fights. Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship. But how we address those conflicts is a matter of character. You have to be able to stand up for yourself. And you have every right to advance a point of view. Moreover, if your goal is to know the truth or preserve an important principle, sometimes yous simply have to fight. But you never need to fight for the sake of fighting. And fighting purely to secure a position of power, dominance, and control inevitably destroys.

Fighting fairly and constructively can help relationship partners grow. It can help them grow themselves emotionally and in character. And it can help them develop their relationship. Disagreements are inevitable. So are contests of will. But if a relationship is to thrive, all fighting must be fair, disciplined, and focused on building instead of tearing down. I’ve rarely seen a relationship fail when partners are committed to fighting fairly. But I’ve seen many relationships destroyed by covert warfare and other forms of unscrupulous fighting. When it’s all about position, and not really about principle, destruction is inevitable.

Most traditional psychology paradigms focused on people’s fears and the ways people run from conflicts. Only recently do we have a psychology that addresses all the fighting we do and how and why we do it. So I’ll have more to say about this topic in some future posts.


Two new radio/TV programs are in the works. One will be relationship and character-centered, just like Character Matters. And I will be hosting that one solo. The other will be more spiritually-centered, and my wife of 37 years will co-host. We will be piloting that program as a podcast for Mental Health News Radio Network early next week.

I’ll also be producing some new videos sometime early next year. And you’ll be able to access them on my YouTube channel.


20 thoughts on “Fighting Fairly Defines Decent Characters

  1. Dr Simon ,
    Had a heated debate with someone who insists narcissism is a mental illness and that it’s a disability they can’t help . She even went so far as to use the DSM 5 to make her point .

    She was critical of me for being negative about narcissists ….( my father , and two exs ) and turned it around that I was discriminating against people who had disabilities.

    Can you please give me your take on this ?

    1. Stephanie,

      I cannot help but chime in… 🙂

      How about following:
      – You may be cripple in legs, but stop breaking mine.
      – You may be blind in eyes, but stop throwing sand in mine.
      – You may be sick in mind, but stop f**king with mine.

      The idea is that you are not discriminating against anyone. You are just protecting yourself against an aggressor whether his/her reasons are under his/her control or not. The exact label (narcissist, BPD, paranoid, or some combination) does not matter that much, and label will be bit hard to defend. What matters is the aggressors’ actual behaviour and how it negatively impacted you.

      1. Andy ,
        THANK YOU ! You articulated this perfectly .
        I haven’t spoken to my father in almost 2 years after he told me it was my fault my then husband hit me .
        Both my father and ex husband are abusers and take no accountability for their behavior . They blame everyone else and think they are entitled to say and do whatever .
        When this person told me i should “ forgive and forget “ since they have “ mental illness “ and basically give them a free pass , I felt my head was in a blender .
        I lost both my then husband and father the same week and honestly I have never had so my peace .
        I have now went NC with this person too . Trying to rebuild my life while she is attempting to send me back to the abuse . Not gonna happen

        1. Stephanie, the person criticizing you is not being consistent. If she really believed that “forgive and forget” was the right thing to do, she would not be criticizing you. Instead, she would follow her own advice by “forgiving” you for taking a stance that she doesn’t agree with, and “forget” about it. She is committing a fallacy called “special pleading” where she exempts herself from the criterion she applies to others. She seems to be manipulating you into taking an action that she herself is not willing to take.

          1. Grace,
            OHHHH MY GOODNESS!!! Thank you for saying that! I have been saying this about the abusive brother in my life who insists I haven’t forgiven others whom I literally don’t even think about.
            He’s so entitled. He’s just mad because I wouldn’t help him get a job with someone who hurt me decades ago. So he keeps telling all my relatives I haven’t forgiven this person.
            I told him I forgave that person so long ago it’s not even funny. He is the one who never forgives.

    2. How convenient. Going “no contact” isn’t discriminating anymore than refusing to date somebody of the opposite sex s “discrimination.”

      She’s slippery, so keep it short, direct and sweet. Obtaining the upper hand through illogic can take a great deal of time and effort for a narcissist and it is draining for you. Walk away.

  2. I think the main reason you have to go No Contact with people in this world is when they just keep fighting with you or just plain fighting you and there really is no valid reason for the fight. The unfair fighting is so terminally destructive to relationships that often times the person thats fighting needs to be left in the past.
    I’m getting the feeling that I have another person in my life is going to get that memo from me in the very near future. This person posted on social media that some people just can’t be forgiven. Fact is…they are forgiving all the idiots in their life and taking us for granted. I won’t be held in disdain so this person can be in their imaginary one up position.
    I’m not looking forward to having to do it, but I’ve already experienced much freedom in having to go No Contact with others in my life. Sick of the abuse of others!
    Hope my posting this helps someone who reads it.

  3. Priscilla,

    I don’t follow your reasoning here. Maybe you left something out? Was the Facebook remark directed at you?

    1. LisaO,

      Yeah I think so. This relative is so overt but thinks they’re covert if you know what I mean. They’ll have a conversation with you about something and then use a totally different situation in their life to get their covert meaning to you. It’s lame! This person also uses others to say things to me that they would like to get across to you.
      I’m pretty sure if you ever have to use others to get your point across to someone you’re probably manipulating and NOT relating. Don’t ya think?

  4. Dear Dr Simon,
    I am in my mid 60s & I had a life with constant blockades since childhood, at this stage of my life i would like to know if I could find an answer to my blockades.I have seen some of your clips on You tube, & I feel that your answers are very encouraging. Please tell me if you could help ? I would really like to know if I myself am responsible for my own blockades.
    Dr Shakti MAJUMDAR

  5. I am going to say this again



    1. Yes, its hard to know the motive of the gift giver unless you know them well, and even then it can be hard to know if it is sincere or manipulative. Problem is, its hard to trust people.

  6. ” When it’s all about position, and not really about principle, destruction is inevitable.”

    I will take this Quote to my Grave

  7. My decades of arguing, fighting, yelling with the X have affected how I respond now to conflict. I go from zero to 10 in no time. I guess it’s because I’m still carrying baggage of all the arguing and conflict that took place in the marriage. Therefore, I’ve got a lot to work on when it comes to conflict and argument.
    Dr. Simon is spot on when he states:

    “Disturbed characters are unscrupulous fighters. They fight readily. And they fight with little justification. They don’t stand on true principle. They fight because they want something. And, most of the time they feel entitled to what they want. Moreover, they’ll do whatever they think they must do to win. It’s all about having their way. And generally, it’s about having it right away.”

    To add to this, the X would take however long he needed to win, to get what he wanted from me, and he did win. He got what he did not deserve because I ran out of the financial means to continue the fight.

    Due to all the turmoil I went through I now realize work needs to be done on resolving conflicts. Recently I’ve had issues in long-term friendships that I feel I just cannot tolerate. Now I tend to just want to shut them out, not work on the conflict because I’m just so frustrated with the person and have realized I really no longer want to be around them. It’s a mix of moving away from what were once good friends because I no longer enjoy their company, their character traits, and just choosing not to spend my time with messed up people. I’m tired of it and had done it for too long.

    1. In my statement “work needs to be done in resolving conflicts” what I meant was I need to work on how to effectively argue.

    2. Lucy,

      I wouldn’t have the stomach for much conflict if I were you either. And if former friends just plain get on your nerves now, it seems fair to tactfully disengage…if that’s possible.

      An issue that comes up for me now is how deeply I distrust other women and how easily annoyed I can become with them. And although I loved my mother, I realize now her death a few years ago allowed me to feel anger and resentment for the first time.

      I never fought with her or even argued with her much when I was a child. But she didn’t protect us from our father, loved to party and just kind of quit being a mother to us when we were young teens.

      I think many women have a saintly view of themselves, or at least project this image when they are just as flawed as any man.

      Who is more to blame– a man who beats his kids or the mother who doesn’t do everything in her power to make it stop.

      Anyway…I tend to be dismissive when I should be more understanding, at times. That’s where it comes from. It’s not a fair way of fighting but in its own way it is a fight.

      We all have our triggers and after what you have been through its no wonder you put your foot on the gas. I’d be in jail and I am not exaggerating.

      1. LisaO

        I’d be in jail and I am not exaggerating.

        I nearly was,It is not at all funny. They will harasse you,antagonize you.
        Your stress levels go through the roof, you lash out to protect myself and my dog.
        I now see so clearly what was going on. I will post what I have learned later
        Their aggression is never ending, an inexhaustible source of energy.
        The only thing you can do is GOODBYE

      2. Lisa O,

        I can relate to what you said about your mother. Mine didn’t protect us either (or herself). She actually rejected us once our father got custody…gotta love the screwed up patriarchal legal system at the time. I think she blamed us for “abandoning her”. Not sure what she expected a 9 year old to do about the situation.

        I see now, neither of my parents were trustworthy.

        It’s great that you’re able to feel your anger and resentment now. I know what you mean about being able to feel it once they pass. When my dad died I felt sadness then almost immediately, rage. It surprised me, but I’m so grateful to have access to it.

  8. Healing, LisaO

    I’m a big believer in feeling and embracing whatever emotion is happening while it’s happening. To suppress it makes you suffer longer. I say feel it, embrace it and it will pass through. But we can’t pretend it isn’t happening. If you feel like crying, cry till they run dry. If you fee like screaming, get in the shower and scream till you’re exhausted.

    I’m sorry you both had to experience troubles with the parents growing up.

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