Covert-aggressive conduct less resembles the “startled cat” and more resembles the “cat on the prowl.”
How we utilize our human aggressive tendencies to satisfy our needs and satisfy our wish fulfillment follow established lines of conduct prescribed by society in relation to its different environmental needs. All things being equal, normal object relations with its capacity to empathize with others is the desired personality constellation wished for by society. But just like Christmas gifts at Christmas time we don’t always get what we hoped for.
Envy, loss, anger, hate are feelings typically embodied in the human condition. At the heart of abnormal narcissism in personality disorders we find wounds that reflect these feelings. From these we see manifest the various forms of psychopathy. In studying aspects of human aggression, covert aggression and overt aggression, submissive personality or aggressive personality, we learn to distinguish between personality and character:
“The aspect of someone’s personality that reflects how they accept and fulfill their social responsibilities and how they conduct themselves with others have sometimes been referred to as “character.” Character are those aspects of an individual’s personality that reflect the extent to which they have developed personal integrity and a commitment to responsible social conduct.” (For example, how we adhere to the Social Contract).
Persons of sound character temper their instinctual drives, moderate important aspects of their conduct, and especially, discipline their aggressive tendencies in the service of the greater social good.
“Personality can also be defined as the unique manner that a person develops of perceiving, related to an interacting with others and the world at large. Within this personality, biology plays a part (ie: genetics, hormonal influences, brain bio-chemistry), as does temperament, and of course, the nature of a person’s environment and what he or she has learned from past experiences are big influences, also. All of these factors dynamically interact and contribute to the distinctive “style” a person develops over time in dealing with others and coping with life’s stressors in general. A person’s interpersonal interactive “style” or personality appears a largely stable characteristic that doesn’t moderate much with time and generalizes across a wide variety of situations.”
Within the society at large are a vast array of personality constellations we may come in contact with everyday. Some of these constellations can be dangerous to interact with and many may operate outside the established laws of society. These personality constellations frequently violate the social contract of conduct but cannot be incarcerated for doing so. They are tedious aggravations and annoyances. Another aspect that contributes to the continued victimization by these individuals is the fact that these transgressions although not criminal, may be considered civil matters and the responsibility of civil matters are to be taken on by the individuals who are being victimized themselves. Many people do not want to go through the hassle of filing court papers, arguing their argument, just to be told they may not receive their compensation. Some just walk away from the matter completely and choose to avoid individuals like these all together.
Take for example covert aggression. This character trait is said to comprise the largest segment of society. The covert aggressive is good at concealing overt displays of aggression while simultaneously intimidating others into backing-off, backing-down, or giving in is a very powerful manipulative maneuver. That’s why covert-aggression is most often the vehicle for interpersonal manipulation. When someone is being covertly aggressive they’re using calculating, underhanded means to get what they want or manipulate the response of other while keeping their aggressive intentions under cover.
The psychodynamic theorist Alfred Adler noted many years ago that we also forcefully strive to assert a sense of social superiority. Fighting for personal and social advantage, we jockey with one another for power, prestige, and secure social “niche.” Indeed, we do so much fighting in so many aspects of our lives I think it fair to say that when human beings aren’t making some kind of love, they’re likely to be waging some kind of war.
When we fight for what we truly need while respecting the rights and needs of others and taking care not to needlessly injure them, our behavior is best labeled assertive, and assertive behavior is one of the most healthy and necessary human behaviors.
Distinguishing Between “Submissive” Personalities vs. “Aggressive” Personalities
Running into obstacles or barriers to what we want is the essence of human conflict. Now, there are fundamentally two things a person can do when running up against an obstacle to something they want. They can be so overwhelmed or intimidated by the resistance they encounter or so unsure of their ability to deal with it effectively, that they fearfully retreat. Alternately, they can directly challenge the obstacles. If thy are confident enough in their fighting ability and tenacious enough in their temperament, they might try to forcefully remove or overcome whatever stands between them and the object of their desire.
Submissive personalities habitually and excessively retreat from potential conflicts. They doubt their abilities and are excessively afraid to take a stand. Because they “run” from challenges too often, they deny themselves opportunities to experience success. This pattern makes it hard for them to develop a sense of personal competence and achieve self-reliance.
In contrast, aggressive personalities are overly prone to fight in any potential conflict. Their main objective in life is “winning” and they pursue this objective with considerable passion. They forcefully strive to overcome, crush, or remove any barriers to what they want. They accept challenges readily. Whether their faith in their ability to handle themselves in most conflicts is well-founded or not, they tend to be overly self-reliant or emotionally independent.
Some Personality Traits Worthy To Distinguish From In An Individual’s Conduct
The following is a list of problematic ways of thinking and character traits that are exhibited by disordered characters:
Self-Focused (self-centered) thinking. Disordered characters are always thinking of themselves. They don’t think about what others need or how their behavior might impact others. This kind of thinking leads to attitudes of selfishness and disregard for social obligation.
Possessive thinking. This is thinking of people as possessions to do with as I please or whose role it is to please me. Disturbed characters also tend to see others as objects (objectification) as opposed to individuals with dignity, worth, rights and needs. This kind of thinking leads to attitudes of ownership, entitlement and dehumanization.
Extreme (all-or-none) thinking. The disordered character tends to think that if he can’t have everything he wants, he won’t accept anything. If he’s not on top, he sees himself at the bottom. If someone doesn’t agree with everything he says, he thinks they don’t value his opinion at all. This kind of thinking keeps him form any sense of balance or moderation and promotes an uncompromising attitude.
Egomaniacal thinking. The disordered character so overvalues himself that he thinks that he is entitled to whatever he wants. He tends to think that things are owed him, as opposed to accepting that he needs to earn the things he desires. This kind of thinking promotes attitudes of superiority, arrogance and entitlement.
Shameless thinking. A healthy sense of shame is lacking in the disturbed character. He tends not to care how his behavior reflects on him as a character. He may be embarrassed if someone exposes his true character, but embarrassment at being uncovered is not he same as feeling shameful about reprehensible conduct. Shameless thinking fosters an attitude of brazenness.
Quick and easy thinking. The disturbed character always wants things the easy way. He hates to put forth effort or accept obligation. He gets far more joy out of “conning” people. This way of thinking promotes an attitude of disdain for labor and effort.
Guiltless thinking. Never thinking of the rightness or wrongness of a behavior before he acts, the disturbed character takes whatever he wants, no matter what societal norm is violated. This kind of thinking fosters an attitude of irresponsibility and anti-sociality.
Some Different Personality Constellations To Consider In Regard To Psychopathy
The Unbridled-Aggressive. These personalities are openly hostile, frequently violent and often criminal in their behavior. These are the people we commonly label antisocial. They tend to be easily angered, lack adaptive fearfulness or cautiousness, are impulsive, reckless, and risk-taking, and are overly prone to violate the rights of others. Many spend a good deal of their lives incarcerated because they simply won’t conform, even when it’s in their best interest. Traditional thinking on these personalities has always been that they are the way they are because they grew up in circumstances that made them mistrust authority and others and were too scarred from abuse and neglect to adequately “bond” to others. My experience over the years has convinced me that some of these overtly aggressive personalities have indeed been fueled in their hostility by an inordinate mistrust of others. An even smaller number appear to be biologically predisposed to extreme vigilance and suspiciousness (ie: have some paranoid personality traits as well). But my experience has taught me that most unbridled aggressive personalities are not so much driven by mistrust and suspicion, but rather an excessive readiness to aggress, even when unnecessary, unprompted, or fueled by anger. They will aggress without hesitation or regard to consequence either o themselves or others. And a fair number of these individuals do not have abuse, neglect, or disadvantage, in their backgrounds. Indeed, some were the beneficiaries of the best circumstances. So, many of our traditional assumptions about these personalities are being re-evaluated. One researcher has noted that about the only reliable common factor he could find among all of the various “criminal personalities” he had worked with was that they all seemed to enjoy engaging in illicit activity.
Channeled-Aggressive. These personality types are overtly aggressive personalities who generally confine their aggression to socially acceptable outlets such as business, sports, law enforcement, the legal profession and the military. These people are often rewarded for being tough, headstrong, and competitive. They may openly talk about “burying” the competition or “crushing” their opponents. They don’t usually cross the line into truly antisocial behavior but it really shouldn’t surprise anyone when they do. That’s because their social conformity is often more a matter of practicality rather than a true submission to a set of principles or higher authority. So, they’ll break the rules and inflict undue harm on others when they feel justified in so doing. Or when they think they can get away with it.
Sadistic Aggressive. These personality types are a overtly aggressive subtype. Like all other aggressive personalities, they seek positions of power and dominance over others. But these individuals gain particular satisfaction from seeing their victims squirm and grovel in positions of vulnerability. For the other aggressive personality types, inflicting pain or injury on anyone standing in the way of something they want are seen as merely hazards of the fight. Most of the aggressive personalities don’t set out to hurt, they set out to win. The way they see it, if someone has to get hurt for them to have their way, then so be it. The sadist, however, enjoys making people grovel and suffer. Like the other aggressive personalities, sadist want to dominate and control, but they particularly enjoy doing that by humiliating and denigrating their victims.
Predatory (psychopathic). They are the most dangerous (also referred to by some as the psychopath or sociopath). Their group is relatively uncommon. These characters are radically different from most people. Their lack of conscience is unnerving. They tend to see themselves as superior creatures for whom the inferior, common man is rightful prey. They are the most extreme manipulators or con artists who thrive on exploiting others. They can be charming and disarming. As highly skilled predators, they study the vulnerabilities of their prey and are capable of the most heinous acts of victimization with no sense of remorse or regret. Because the various aggressive personality types have so much in common, it’s not unusual for one subtype to possess some of the characteristics of another. So, predominantly antisocial personalities may have some sadistic as well as cover-aggressive features and covert-aggressive may have some antisocial tendencies.
Covert-Aggressive. As an aggressive personality subtype, one might expect covert-aggressive to share some of characteristics of narcissist as well as the other aggressive personalities. But covert-aggressive have many unique attributes that make them a truly distinct type of aggressive personality. These personalities are mostly distinguished from the other aggressive personality types by the way that they fight. They fight for what they want and seek power over others in subtle, cunning and underhanded ways. On balance, they are much more character disordered than neurotic. To the degree they might have some neurosis, they deceive themselves about their true character and their covertly-aggressive conduct. To the degree they are character disordered, the more thy actively attempt to deceive only their intended victims.
Key phrases to listen for when trying to determine if someone is dealing with a covert-aggressive personality:
People will often describe a covert-aggressive with the following key phrases:
“He/she stops at nothing.” (a strong determination to win)
“He/she fights dirty.” (lack of empathy and highly narcissistic)
“He/she is a ‘bitch.'” (is the person consistently makes other people’s lives miserable in the course of getting what he/she wants without any consideration to the other parties you may be dealing with a cover-aggressive personality or another type of disordered character.)
Approaches to Clinical Therapy
When a cat is stalking a mouse for lunch, it would be ridiculous to assume that it is doing so out of fear of the mouse, is angry with mouse, has “unresolved anger issues” in general, or is “acting-out” past trauma of victimization by a mouse, etc. Yet, these are precisely the kinds of assumptions many mental health professionals and laypersons alike make when they march predatory aggressors into anger management classes or fear of intimacy groups. It’s hard for some people to understand the simple underpinnings of predatory aggression and equally hard for them to accept that all creatures are capable of this type of aggressive conduct. The cat is stalking the mouse because it want‘s to eat it for lunch!
It is also the reason why psychoanalysis does little with regards to therapy and recovery for these personality types. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the preferred approach for therapy and recovery for these individuals.
Covert-aggressive conduct less resembles the “startled cat” and more resembles the “cat on the prowl.”