counseling, psychology, self-help

Beware of Aggressive Personalities: The Wolves Who Feast on Sheep in Our Increasingly Narcissistic Society

Have you ever felt something was just not right with someone? You can’t quite put your finger on it but something feels off.

Yet outwardly this person seems benign enough. So you let it go.

Then as time passes little things start to happen. An inappropriate remark here. A cutting comment there. Repeatedly doing things that just don’t sit right with you.

You know this behavior isn’t normal but you scratch your head trying to figure out the motive for the behavior. Knowing you did nothing to harm this person, you can’t understand why they are behaving and acting in this unsettling way.

Meanwhile, you can’t quite put your finger on it but you recognize things in your relationship are being done subtlety. In an underhanded way. Against you. You can tell something is not right about this person but they have a way of appearing good but not truly being good.

It is also hard because as a person with a good conscience, you WANT to make excuses and justifications for other people’s bad behavior and not think the worst of them. I know I am guilty of this. You cannot understand why these people are unprovoked, not being threatened, yet are acting in an aggressive manner.

And oh, the excuses, the lengths we will go to, just to not have to face down an unpleasant truth.

OH, the rationalizing. You probably have heard the same justifications tossed around. Psychologists used to have many go to justifications for poor behavior: A bad childhood. Bad parenting. Bad relationships. Insecurity. Or as a defense mechanism.  We look to make excuses for others because we don’t want to believe that some people just aren’t good people. For someone with a good conscience it may not even feel fathomable that someone in their life may have a disturbed character. Therefore, many of us try to rationalize away other people’s inappropriate behavior.

But this strategy does not work in the long-term.

Because this does not explain the people who treat others poorly for no reason other than to gain advantage over them. Something that is becoming increasingly common in our ME first society.  The reality is there are people who mistreat others just because they enjoy the act of dominating others they interact with. These people are not in a defensive posture but are posturing to gain advantage. 

These are people who are not neurotic or on the defensive, but victimize or try to dominate others just for their sheer pleasure in doing so. These people need to be at the top of the hierarchy. They want others to know they are a force to be reckoned with. This is the basis of much literature by George Simon who wrote in great detail about the increasingly disturbed characters in our everyday lives.

It is very similar to the ways cat behave. (Got to love cat analogies–because who doesn’t love cats-unless you are a dog lover). When a cat is threatened, it displays “reactive” aggression. It’s tail puffs up, its back arches. It doesn’t want to fight, but it is willing to if it must. It is trying to scare away the threat. This is the category many of us fall into. We hate conflict, but if someone mistreats us, we will be forced to speak up.

But then there are the aggressive personality types this post is about. These people are more like a cat that spots a mouse. The mouse isn’t aware, it is unsuspecting. The cat isn’t provoked. The cat simply wants to eat the mouse without knowing it is coming. This isn’t about fear. This is about a pure desire to victimize or dominate, a concept hard to wrap our mind around to most of us.

As people of good conscience, we do not like to think other people can be social predators. We like to think it is anger or fear motivating bad behavior.

This simply isn’t true with these aggressive personalities.

As time passes, you slowly start to see this person does not seem to adhere to the same social boundaries all the rest of us follow. They cross lines most of us would be mortified to cross.

Later you may start to feel, this person does not seem to care how their words and actions impact others. 

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I am not talking about the passive disregard you may experience from a self-absorbed person, a person who is not against you, but is simply living their life for themselves. If they hurt you, it wasn’t intentional, but a byproduct of their own pursuit of their self-interests.

What I am talking about is different. A person who is actively, not passively,  disregarding you. A person who goes beyond not simply caring but actively wants to manipulate, hurt, and DOMINATE those who they come in contact with.

These types of people are becoming commonplace in the current social and political landscape we are living in. Narcissism in on the rise, aggressive behavior is being rewarded, and overstepping the boundaries of others is seen as righteous. In many ways, it almost seems to get ahead in this world, you need to behave aggressively.

I read a book in graduate school called, “In Sheep’s Clothing” which centers around these predatory personality types. It changed the way I approach my role as a clinician and how I conceptualize the why behind maladaptive behavior.

Social dominance is real and it is a concept that is often misunderstood by therapists and the general population alike.

Dominance is a characteristic of having power or influence over another.  It is the desire to win over others, even at great cost.

A person with an aggressive personality type looks at life as a game-where there are winners and losers. (Even our current President preaches this philosophy). These aggressive personality types approach relationships that in order for them to win, you must lose. And they are determined to be the winner even at your expense. Most of us who are not this way find this hard to understand. We do not look at relationships as competitions and may find it hard to grasp this mindset.

A book written in the 1960s by Thomas Harris on transactional analysis touched on 4 personality types:

~I am okay, you are okay (ideal)

~You are okay, I am not okay

~I am not okay, you are not okay,

~I am okay, you are not okay

It is this last perspective I am touching on here as it has become so prevalent in modern-day society.

The unsettling reality is many of these aggressive types walk among us in our day-to-day life. Aggressive personalities see themselves as superior to others and entitled to treat others as less than. For them life is a game, which they are determined to win, at all costs.

Even in a situation where sitting back and taking a more subordinate position would be beneficial to these types, they just can’t will themselves to do it. They aggress at the expense of others but also at the expense of themselves. 

People like this are openly at war–with themselves and most people around them.

Domination to them is second-nature. Even if they have a civil facade they show to most of the world at their core is a ruthlessness that lacks any empathy.

Empathy is the cornerstone of any authentic relationship. You cannot have a genuine relationship with someone who lacks empathy.

The thing is these people will openly defy social norms—-even though they know what is expected of them. They don’t care to abide by the rules the rest of us play by because they feel they are above them. They can’t stand to acquiesce to anyone else’s demands or expectations.

Now, we all, from time to time, will slip up and violate social norms. A slip of the tongue here or doing something without thinking–we are human after all. What I am talking here is patterns of behavior.

We all know such tough, callous people. It is hard to maintain relationships with these types unless you are willing to completely set aside your needs and values.

An example of this would be if you were dealing with someone who has been mistreating you–making rude comments, asking inappropriate questions, not respecting your boundaries, not carrying their share of the workload, whatever the situation may be. You decide to speak to them about their behavior in hopes it would help better the relationship.  You think by bringing their behavior to their awareness, things might get better. You may say, “I have experienced you doing xyz to me. It makes me feel hurt and disrespected. I do not treat you with disrespect and I would appreciate if you would treat me with the same respect I bestow upon you.” Maybe you cite examples of behaviors that led you to this point (note you are discussing the behaviors and actions, not attacking the person-i.e. separating the behavior from the person). This is an example of being assertive, not being aggressive.

Now in this example, with a healthy functioning person with normal levels of empathy, they would feel bad that you have felt hurt and disrespected by their behavior. They would feel bad if they did something wrong to you. But this is not the case with these aggressive, predatory types.

aggressive

The thing is with these types of people it is not awareness that is the problem. You see many of us make the mistake that therapists do–thinking lack of awareness is the problem. Yet with these aggressive personalities they ARE aware, they just don’t care. 

In fact, they are now most likely going to be committed to treating you even worse for calling them out on their bad behavior. For them, having their way is all that matters. They will be furious at you for having the audacity to call attention to their behavior. They will think you are cruel for pointing out their behavior. They will think if you really care you would accept them for how they are and not make a big deal about their actions–that they are not as bad as you are making them sound. They will say things to you with such conviction, you start to doubt yourself.

You see these types of people do not want to be accepted for who they are. These personality types want to be excepted for who they are. They want to be the exception to the rule. They don’t care if you love them or loathe them as long as you overlook their behavior–so they can continue to act however they want to act–rude, inconsiderate, disrespectful but without any consequences.

If you won’t allow this you are the evil, bad one.

If you stay out of their way, you may never have a problem with them.

These people can be coworkers, family members, in our extended friendship circle.

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The thing to realize is people with good consciences want to make fair, honest judgments. Thus when a person with impaired conscience is called on their behavior they know that you don’t want to see them as evil or bad. They will distort, deny, and rationalize their behavior knowing we want to buy into what they are selling.

These people can talk the talk and walk the walk to get out of a tight spot.

The problem is their behavior will NOT change because they do not want to change.

These people want to be in control, to be top dog, the alpha–anyone who gets in the way of this pursuit will experience the scorched earth these people will go to in pursuit of winning (I am sure a certain politician is coming to mind here).

However, submission of any type to an aggressive personality is impossible, even if it would benefit them in the long-run. Most healthy functioning people recognize sometimes we need to humble ourselves to losing a battle to win the war. With these aggressive personality types they cannot give an inch. These people submit to no one, but expect others to subordinate themselves to them, no questions asked.

These people want their way, regardless of who gets hurt, and will fight to the end, regardless of the cost to themselves and those around them.

What is most dangerous about these types of people is we often do not recognize them as such until after the damage is done.

While these are people who can be very brazen, they can also be very charming and likable, as long as you do not openly speak out against their my way or the highway attitude.

As the title of this article references the increasingly narcissistic society these types operate in, one such problem with these dominant personalities is there are social benefits to behaving in such a manner. It seems in a society that emphasizes wealth and power, these personalities that must win at all costs are increasingly likely to be found. We can see this playing out daily in the current political and economic landscape.

The fact is we live in an increasingly narcissistic society that fosters character disturbed behavior.

What are the characteristics of a narcissistic society?

~Focus on self and the individual, instead of a communal focus

~Excessive striving for status, position, superiority

~Overvaluing externals: stereotypical beauty, money, power, success

~Undervaluing people who work in less lucrative professions that benefit society (teachers, police officers, public service)

~Valuing money and power at the expense of all else

~Instilling a sense of entitlement in children

~Lack of gratitude

~Greed

We can see these values playing out clearly in politics. But it is harder to accept in our day-to-day lives.

Too many are people in our society are not insecure at all, not hung up enough, or shamed by their poor behavior towards others.

My hope is that being armed with this knowledge you can better protect yourself from the people who can and will harm you and you never saw it coming.

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