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.