From Normality to Abnormality

Many readers will be surprised that some of their best and most admired qualities express characteristics associated with the antisocial personality, though certainly in a muted form. Adaptive traits of the more normal style include a capacity for self-sufficiency, ambition, competitiveness, and a constructive pursuit of individuality and self-determination. Oldham and Morris (1995, p. 217) describe adventurers, intrepid individuals who pushed the frontiers by crossing oceans, breaking records, and even walking on the moon. Adventurers live on the edge, these authors state, challenging boundaries and restrictions. Risk and discovery are their rewards. Real-life examples likely include famous explorers such as Christopher Columbus, as well as John Glenn and other test pilots. For such persons, adventure provides a route to freedom that is socially acceptable, even admired as stereotypically masculine. According to Oldham and Morris, they are nonconformers with their own internal value system, they love challenges, they assume people can take care of themselves, and they are interpersonally persuasive and reluctant to settle down. Though mischievous as children and adolescents, they are courageous and tough as adults.

The dissenting personality (Millon, Weiss, Millon, & Davis, 1994) represents a somewhat different and slightly more pathological normal-range variant of the antisocial. Dissenting personalities are unconventional; they do things their own way and are willing to take the consequences, regardless of how others might judge them. Inclined at times to finesse the truth, they sometimes flirt with legal boundaries in pursuit of their own goals and desires. Rather than accept customary responsibilities, they see themselves as independent or creatively autonomous. Authority is viewed contemptibly as belonging to Big Brother, that part of society charged with replacing individuality with a socially acceptable identity. Such individuals dislike daily routine and are often criticized by others as being impulsive and irresponsible. In general, they are action-oriented, independent thinking, enterprising, and confrontational. They stretch the limit of established social standards and push forward by means of sheer will, overturning obstacles with clever maneuvers or an aggressive and intimidating posture. Self-motivated and often extremely resourceful, they seize the initiative to make matters work toward their own ends. Many make masterful leaders, ready to take charge with confident, decisive action.

At the very boundary of normality and pathology, we find persons who have never come into conflict with the law, but only because they are very effective in covering their tracks. Although these individuals share with most antisocials a guiltless willingness to deceive and exploit others, they are not overtly physically cruel. Instead, their premeditated restraint often makes them seem more sadistic than antisocial. Stereotypes include industrialists and entrepreneurs who flourish in the gray area of legal technicalities, as well as savvy corporate executives who exploit some market position, monopoly power, or regulatory loophole for huge advantage, even at great costs to others. Individuals who systematically dismember corporations for their own self-gain through hostile takeovers, for example, cannot be regarded as completely normal, much less altruistic.

Similarly, for many politicians, the deception of doublespeak is a talent necessary for survival. Skirting the edge of deceitfulness, they "spin" objective events by minimizing negatives and exaggerating positives. When cornered, they focus attention on mitigating circumstances and lie by omission by failing to report the total circumstances and full motives of their actions. Moreover, they deliberately create public policy so complex that any particular aspect might be singled out to impress the special interest of the moment. All are "premeditating antisocials." In everyday life, they flourish in the form of the smooth-talking businessman and the less-than-forthcoming used-car salesman. Their damage to society is not as vivid as that of the murdering psychopath, but it is more common and just as great and constitutes an important reminder than any scientific theory of the antisocial personality must span both normality and pathology.

Characteristics of an antisocial personality style rather than disorder can also be developed by normalizing the diagnostic criteria of DSM-IV (see Sperry, 1995). Whereas the disorder consistently violates social norms through illegal activities (see criterion 1), the style puts its own value system above that of the group and is occasionally caught up in conflict thereby. Whereas the disorder uses various forms of deceit to achieve its own ends (see criterion 2), the style is "slippery," tending to finesse critical points and spin objective events to its advantage without engaging in outright deception. Whereas the disorder is too impulsive to consider the consequences of its actions (see criterion 3), the style is naturally spontaneous and self-indulgent, but knows when failure to delay gratification would violate social norms or lead to substantial harm to self or others. Whereas the disorder is irritable and aggressive to the point of repeated fights or assaults (see criterion 4), the style is assertive in creating a felt physical presence.

For each of these applicable contrasts, in Case 5.1, Toni falls more toward the pathological side. Her arrest record argues that she readily shortcuts accepted social norms for her own ends, whatever they might be. Her conflict with the public interest has nothing to do with an internal value system that might direct behavior through principle in an individualized fashion. Instead, her moral code is summarized succinctly as, "Do unto others before they do unto you," a proactive pursuit of self-gratification at the expense of society. Moreover, Toni's use of deception goes far beyond simply slanting an interpretation of the facts. For example, she has already invented an alibi for her possession charge: Her boyfriend was dealing; she was simply on the scene and feared what would happen if she refused the undercover cop, who she thought was a dangerous drug addict. Outside the context of her own previous arrests and behavior, her rationale has plausibility; inside that context, however, its deceptive purpose is clear. Finally, instead of being simply assertive and physically imposing, Toni uses aggression interpersonally to cow opposition to her will. A charge of peace disturbance is one reason she is being seen in therapy.

The remaining diagnostic criteria of the antisocial personality can also be put on a continuum with normality. Whereas the disorder recklessly disregards the safety and welfare of both self and others (see criterion 5), those with the style simply see themselves as being more resistant to risk than the average person but are not impulsively careless or foolhardy. Whereas the disorder is consistently irresponsible as to work and financial obligations (see criterion 6), the style prefers to remain free of external

Break Free From Passive Aggression

Break Free From Passive Aggression

This guide is meant to be of use for anyone who is keen on developing a better understanding of PAB, to help/support concerned people to discover various methods for helping others, also, to serve passive aggressive people as a tool for self-help.

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