Understanding the Aggressive Personalities

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Aggressive personalities are fundamentally at war with anything that stands in the way of their unrestrained pursuit of their desires.

When it comes to matters of character, the aggressive personalities are among the most disturbed. Researchers in the areas of personality and character disturbance have long recognized that there is a fairly substantial group of highly disturbed characters at the center of most abusive relationships and who pose the greatest threat to social order. Yet, the official diagnostic manual of mental disorders recognizes only one small subtype of these personalities as disordered. The manual confers the “disorder” status basically to career criminals and even fails to distinguish or recognize the most severely disturbed character — the psychopath (alt: sociopath) as a distinct personality type. In the next several posts, I’ll be exploring the defining characteristics of a group of personality types that I call the aggressive personalities. Not all of the aggressive personalities engage in criminal behavior, but all pose problems for relationships and society. I’ll explain what character traits the aggressive personalities have in common that make them so problematic as well as outline the defining characteristics the various aggressive personality subtypes possess that make each subtype a uniquely disordered character.

In a prior post, I made the point that it is erroneous to equate human aggression with violence (see “When Passive-Aggression isn’t Very Passive”). I also described the many modalities of aggressive behavior. In yet another prior post, I presented some definitions and a framework for understanding both personality and character (see “What is a Character Disorder?” and “What is a Character Disorder? Part 2: Questions and Comments”). Using these posts as a backdrop, we can begin a discussion about the aggressive personalities.

As stated in an earlier post, personality can be defined as an individual’s preferred “style” of perceiving, thinking about, and interacting with others and the world at large. Factors that contribute to the development of personality include biological predispositions, environmental factors, and the dynamic interplay between biology and the environment. Those aspects of an individual’s personality that reflect their capacity for and commitment to virtuous and meritorious conduct define a person’s character. The aggressive personalities are individuals whose overall “style” of interacting involves considerable, persistent, maladaptive aggression expressed in a variety of ways and in a wide range of circumstances.

All of the various aggressive personalities possess characteristics common to narcissistic personalities. Indeed, there are some theorists who tend to view the aggressive personalities as merely aggressive variations of the narcissistic personality. One of the aggressive personality subtypes is principally defined by the fact that they are narcissistic to the most pathological extreme. But the principal distinguishing characteristic of the aggressive personalities is not so much their narcissism, but rather their penchant for aggression. The various aggressive personality subtypes have more in common with one another than they have differences between them. Their common characteristics are:

  • They actively seek the superior or dominant position in any relationship or encounter. There is a saying in the real estate business that there are three things that really matter: location, location, and…location. With aggressive personalities, there are three things that really matter regardless of the situation they’re in: position, position, and…of course, position!
  • They abhor submission to any entity that one might view or conceptualize as a “higher power” or authority. They are fundamentally at war with anything that stands in the way of their unrestrained pursuit of their desires. That often means the rules, dictates and expectations of society. Some will accede to or give assent to demands placed on them when it is expedient to do so, but in their heart of hearts they never truly subordinate their wills.
  • They are ruthlessly self-advancing, generally at the expense of others. They actively and deliberately seek to exploit and victimize others when to do so will further their own ends. Whereas the narcissist simply doesn’t consider the rights or needs of others, the aggressive character tramples the rights and needs of others to satisfy their own desires.
  • They have a pathological disdain for the truth. Aggressive characters don’t just disregard the truth, they’re actively at war with it. Truth is the great equalizer, and the aggressive personality always wants to maintain a position of advantage. So, they deliberately play very loose with the truth when they’re not flat out lying to con or dupe you. They don’t want you to “have their number.” That upsets the balance of power.
  • They lack internal “brakes.” They don’t arrest themselves when they’re on their missions. Like a rolling train with no means to stop, they exercise little control over their impulses.

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They view life as a combat stage, with every event in life having only four possible outcomes:

  1. I win, you lose.
  2. You win, I lose.
  3. I win, you win.
  4. I lose, you lose.

Their greatest desire is for the first possible outcome. They like it best when they win and you lose. For them, this is the clearest indication that they have emerged the victor in a contest and have secured the dominant position. Contrarily, they abhor the notion that you might win and they will lose. They will resist this potential outcome with every fiber in their body. Such an outcome puts them in the inferior or subordinate position, which they detest. Aggressive characters will reluctantly but not so graciously accept win-win outcomes. That is, they’ll stop warring with you if they think they’ve achieved some sort of victory out of the encounter, even if you also get something you want. Tragically, if it becomes clear that they are most certainly headed for defeat, aggressive characters often won’t go down easily. They often want to take someone else with them. It takes some of the sting out of defeat.

There’s a lot more that can be said about the aggressive personalities. I hope this post stirs some good discussion. It would be helpful to have a much deeper understanding aggressive personalities in general before moving into a discussion about the various subtypes and their unique characteristics.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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