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You know them by the swirl of dust around their feet. This CrazyMaker kicked up dust on the playground like a child bully and continues to do so in adult life. Stirring up trouble, the Aggressor still uses intimidation to get their way. They insist on things going their way, and will stop at little to get what they want. They are not above bullying you into going along with them. In the process, you feel manipulated, maneuvered and small.
As with their friend the Egotist, it's all about their needs - what you want means little to them. While you may be in a relationship with an Aggressor, they know little about mutuality---"give and take" is not in their vocabulary. It's all about them, and they make no bones about it.
The second in five of our parade of CrazyMakers is the Aggressor. The Aggressor lives life boldly. With more than a hint of egotism, they will make things go their way. They know no limits, and will use you to get what they want.
Like the self-centered egotist, it is natural to shrink when in the presence of an Aggressor. Their use of intimidation causes many of us to freeze. Through the use of threats, many of us fold rather than take them on. Although we may resent them, too often we get sucked into doing things their way.
So, are you getting anxious yet? Is this bringing someone special to mind? If so, you're not alone. There are many Aggressors in the world, and most of us have one or more in our family. You may be married to one.
Listen to this email from a woman married to an Aggressor.
Dear Dr. David. I've been married to a man who sounds like an Aggressor from your book, "Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life." While he swept me off my feet during our dating, now that we're married he is insensitive to my needs. In fact, if I confront him in any way he blows up at me. He can be mean-spirited, angry and acts like a bully.
I am very discouraged because my husband never apologizes, blames me for everything, and rarely takes responsibility for his wrongdoing. I have insisted many times that we go to counseling, but he refuses. He says the problems are all my fault and that if I would change, everything would be fine.
Dr. David, he turns everything around on me. When he does something to hurt my feelings, even intentionally, he turns it around on me, saying it was my fault or that I had it coming.
What really confuses me is that he says he is a Christian. He can be so nice in front of others, but no one has any idea of how mean he can be. He thinks everyone admires him, and all that he has accomplished—which is a lot—but can't see that many tiptoe around him.
Is there anything I can do to get him to consider my feelings? Is there a way for him to think more of others and less about himself? Can people change? Help. I'm scared for my marriage.
You're right, it sounds like you are married to an Aggressor. The bad news is the problems you describe sound like character problems and those with such traits are very resistant to change. The good news is that one person can make a difference in a marriage—so now it's up to you. Let's consider some practical action steps that will help you feel less like a powerless victim, and more in control of your life.
First, you must decide not to allow your husband to bully you. Every bully/ Aggressor gains energy by bullying others. As you take this power away from him, his behavior may change. Without a victim, the bully has no one to push around.
Second, tell your husband you will interact with him only when he treats you with respect. Define exactly what that means: that he lower his voice; that he speak respectfully to you; that he listen to what you think. Tell him exactly what he does that is offensive.
Third, share the impact of his bullying. While you're not holding anything over him, remind him that when he bullies you in any way, this behavior impacts your feelings toward him. Help him see the effect his behavior has on you and on others.
Fourth, share with him, repeatedly, your need for mutuality. Let him know repeatedly that you need him to be sensitive to your point of view. Practice saying "no" or "yes" or that you disagree. Practice telling him that you need him to care for your needs in return to you meeting his needs. You can even use language such as "When you scratch my back, and treat me nicely, I want to do more nice things for you."
Fifth, practice setting boundaries in other areas of your life. As you practice voicing your opinion, disagreeing with others and generally asserting yourself outside the marriage, you will begin acting differently with your husband. Don't expect him to automatically accept your boundaries; he may resist at first. However, as you stay firm, he will come to see that he must treat you differently if he wants a relationship with you.
Finally, make a point of dancing differently with him—and talking about the changed dance. Let him know that things are going to change in how you talk. Remind him that you're going to set limits on any behavior that feels aggressive, intimidating, or threatening.
Do you have an Aggressor in your life? A spouse, boss, employee? Start noticing how you naturally shrink in their presence. Notice the resentment you feel when everything revolves around them. However, don't stop there. Use your resentment to change the dance. Insist on being "bigger" and asking for what you need.
For more information, watch Dr. David Hawkin's Vidoe on the Aggressor:
I'd love to hear other suggestions for how you've coped with the Aggressor in your life. Next week will talk about dealing with the Borderline in your life.
Updated article posted April 27, 2010
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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