WAPLT? Assertive, Denigrating, Sadistic: The ADS Spectrum

In contrast with the AAM spectrum, this variant of pleasure-pain reversal is paradoxical and discordant, as it views pain (such as stress, fear, and cruelty) as the preferred way of actively relating to others, rather than pleasure.

The intrapsychically conflicted personality spectra include the RCC compulsive, DRN negativistic, ADS sadistic, and AAM masochistic personalities. These personalities experience both ends of the pain-pleasure and the self-other polarities, which sets them apart from emotionally extreme and interpersonally imbalanced personality spectra. However, they have conflicting primary motives that guide their lives, causing them to be double-minded and at war with themselves. For example, RCC compulsives take pride in controlling their lives but also play multiple roles, leading to internal conflicts. Masochists hold high expectations of others but unconsciously wish retribution, causing them to feel like they can’t win for losing.

In the ADS sadistic and AAM masochistic spectra, the conflict between the pain-pleasure polarities results in a transposition, where pleasurable experiences are viewed as painful and painful experiences are felt as pleasurable. In the RCC compulsive and DRN negativistic spectra, there is an ambivalence between the survival functions of the self-other polarity, causing individuals to reverse themselves and turn toward the second component of the polarity pair. There is a marked discordance between the basic survival functions of enhancing and preserving life.

The DSM-IV deleted the characterization of a violence-prone personality, which has become increasingly prevalent in our society. The decision to delete the sadistic disorder from the nomenclature appears to have been politically motivated, despite the growing problem of violence and abuse. This is likely to be viewed as a significant personality problem in the future. (617-618)

Sadistic behavior is not exclusive to violent psychopaths confined to state prisons. It exists within everyday society, often manifested through sublimation. Nationalists, for instance, display belligerent patriotism and justify their hostility toward “alien” immigrant groups. This behavior is also seen in politicians who hide their lust for power behind a façade of good intentions, leading to oppressive legislation. More commonly, sadistic individuals participate in ordinary life, such as the harshly punitive and abusive father, the fear-inducing puritanical minister, the vengeful dean, and the irritable, shame-inducing mother. (618)



The spectrum centers on the pain (preservation) and active (modifying) polarities. At first glance, one may note that the polarity focus is similar to that seen in the SRA avoidant personality spectrum, where pain and active polarities are also prominent. However, the SRA avoidant actively avoids and escapes from abuse, while the ADS sadist actively assaults and degrades others. Both are active, but one inflicts pain, while the other avoids it. The reversal sign in the ADS sadistic figure implies that sadists engage in behaviors that are intrinsically at odds with the aims of the pleasure polarity, which seeks joy, optimism, and pleasure in relating to one’s environment. Instead, the sadist behaves in a hostile and malevolent manner, actively pursuing harmful and ruinous ends. Rather than uplifting and preserving life, the sadist is actively evil, violent, and deadly, assaulting and demeaning others instead of encouraging and enhancing them. (627)

Trait Domains


Expressive Emotions: Precipitate: Precipitate personalities are often viewed as intimidating due to their brusque and belligerent manner, leading many people to shy away from them. They are perceived as cold and callous, insensitive to the feelings of others, and gain pleasure from competing with and humiliating anyone and everyone, according to Porter and Woodworth (2006). These personalities tend to be argumentative, contentious, abrasive, cruel, and malicious. They insist on being seen as faultless, are dogmatic in their opinions, and rarely concede on any issue, even when presented with clear evidence negating their arguments. They avoid expressions of warmth and intimacy and are suspicious of gentleness, compassion, and kindness, often doubting their genuineness.

Precipitate individuals have a low tolerance for frustration and are highly sensitive to reproachful or deprecating comments. They are likely to respond quickly and become furious and vindictive when pushed on personal matters or faced with belittlement. They are easily provoked to attack, and their first inclination is to demean and dominate. In summary, sadists are prone to sudden and abrupt reactions, showing unexpected and unwarranted outbursts. While not true of all ADS spectrum individuals, some tend to be recklessly reactive and daring, unflinching and undeterred by pain, as well as undaunted by danger and punishment. (627-629)

Interpersonal Conduct: Abrasive: Sadistic personalities derive satisfaction from intimidating, coercing, and humiliating others. Some excel in verbally abusive and derisive social comments, while others exhibit physically vicious and brutal behaviors. Some enjoy sexually abusing members of their own or opposite gender.

The strategy of assertion and domination not only provides a release from past injustices but also proves successful in achieving current psychological rewards. Because most people are intimidated by hostility, sarcasm, criticism, and threats of physical violence, the aggressive demeanor of these personalities is a powerful tool for coercing others and for frightening them into fearful respect and submission, as noted by Holt, Meloy, and Strack (1999). In addition, some ADS sadistic personalities often find themselves in roles where their hostile and belligerent behaviors are not only allowed but admired. These roles include the ruthless and cleverly conniving businessperson, the intimidating and brutalizing sergeant, the self-righteous and punitive headmistress, and the demanding and dominating surgical chief. All of these illustrate how Sadistic personalities can find outlets for their vengeful hostility while being cloaked in the guise of socially responsible and admirable functions. (629)

Cognitive Style: Dogmatic: Many individuals on the ADS spectrum possess a keen awareness of the subtle elements of human interaction despite their seemingly crude and callous actions. Although some within this group may be constitutionally gross and insensitive, the majority appear to be coarse and unperceptive but are, in reality, intentionally manipulative and callous, taking advantage of others’ weaknesses to upset their equilibrium. It is not uncommon for sadistic individuals to be strongly opinionated and closed-minded about their beliefs and values, unwilling to change their point of view. Additionally, these individuals tend to be obstinate and intolerant of a broad range of social groups, often exhibiting prejudice towards ethnic, racial, or other envied or derogated groups.

Of particular note is the sadist’s heightened sensitivity to signs of derision and derogation from others. They tend to perceive even neutral or incidental remarks or looks as belittling and disparaging due to their expectation of such treatment. If unable to vent their rage, they may discharge it towards the first vulnerable target, often a family member, after a few drinks.(629-630)

Self-Image: Combative: The majority of sadistic personalities tend to view themselves as assertive, energetic, and self-reliant. They may also see themselves as hard-boiled, honest, strong, and realistic, but often justify their malevolent behaviors as necessary in a dog-eat-dog world. They may take pride in characterizing themselves as competitive, vigorous, and militantly hardheaded. Some may even value aspects of themselves that present a pugnacious, domineering, and power-oriented image, which enhances their sense of self and justifies their abusive behavior (May & Bos, 2000).(630)

Intrapsychic Content: Pernicious: The sadistic personality is primarily guided by aggressive feelings, memories, and images that revolve around harsh relationships and malicious attitudes. As a result, they perceive their experiences through the lens of hostility and the need to preempt it. Additionally, they have a limited capacity to develop tender and sentimental objects or images that evoke feelings of shame or guilt. Their worldview is heavily influenced by a philosophy with the notion that might makes right, leading them to act in a bold, critical, assertive, and ruthless manner.

The ADS sadistic personality’s negative attitudes and behavior are evident in various ways: They may criticize so-called do-gooders, denouncing their hypocrisy and ineffectuality. They also condemn international appeasement and use it to justify their own toughness and cunning. Often contemptuous of the weak and underprivileged, they care little about being disliked or ostracized. Their guiding principle is that only the strong can survive in this world and that domination and control are necessary for survival.(630)

Intrapsychic Dynamics: Isolation/Projection/Sublimation: The inner world of sadistic personalities is characterized by intrapsychic dynamics such as isolation, projection, and sublimation. Many of these individuals are detached and insensitive to the impact of their destructive behavior, perceiving their victims as objects devoid of human feeling. They keep the painful consequences of their actions out of their minds. Those who engage in group scapegoating view their victims impersonally, merely as symbols of a devalued people.

Although they may express their thoughts and feelings openly, some sadists have learned to restrain and redirect their aggressive urges using rationalization, sublimation, and projection. Rationalization involves finding a plausible and socially acceptable excuse for their aggressive impulses. The blunt directness of their social behavior is rationalized as honesty, realism, and lack of hypocrisy. They may sublimate their impulses in highly competitive careers such as business, military, or law. They project their own hostility onto others, enabling them to justify their aggressive actions by perceiving themselves as the object of unjust persecution. (630-631)

Intrapsychic Architecture: Eruptive: The sadist’s inner world is characterized by a structure that includes adequate modulating controls, reasonable defensive operations, and multiple expressive channels. However, the powerful energies of aggression and sexuality can sometimes become so overwhelming that they overpower these otherwise competent restraints, resulting in periodic eruptions of cruel and harsh behavior.

The psychic organization of ADS sadists is also marked by intense and explosive emotions that stem from their early life experiences. Rather than restraining these internalized experiences and objects, they are quickly and persistently displayed in overt actions. Additionally, these personalities fear vulnerability, deception, and humiliation, assuming that they will receive no greater kindness from others than they have in the past. They view others as potentially threatening and feel that they must be aggressive to defend themselves, gaining power over others before they can be outmaneuvered or dominated. Personal feelings are seen as a sign of weakness and sentimentality, which cannot be allowed to interfere with one’s ability to succeed in life. (631)

Mood/Temperament: Hostile: Sadistic individuals often display an easily provoked hostile mood and an irritable temperament, frequently leading to contentious arguments and physical violence. They are also inclined to be mean-spirited, willing to harm or persecute others to achieve their goals. In addition to their disregard for the rights of others, they may lack the capacity to share tender feelings, experience genuine affection or love, or empathize with others’ needs. The more vicious types derive pleasure from both the thought and process of hurting others, and seeing them suffer. Such sadistic personalities not only lack guilt or remorse for their malicious acts, but also derive a perverse satisfaction from them. To achieve their malevolent ends, they may intentionally intimidate and harm others, relishing not only the tangible benefits of their abusive behavior but also the distress and misery it causes.(631)


The ADS personality shares some similarities with the paranoid, schizotypal, and borderline personalities, in that their range of normal expressions may be limited, making it difficult to adapt to social situations. However, when this range is properly restrained, transformed, and directed, it can be used effectively in social and vocational settings.

Unlike others who aspire to leadership, ADS individuals naturally gravitate towards leadership positions. Their powerful, commanding personality style makes them born leaders, capable of handling immense responsibilities without fear of failure. They exude confidence, and never shy away from a challenge. When this style is harnessed for the greater good, the sadistic personality type can inspire both men and women to become great leaders, especially in times of crisis.

Individuals with sadistic personalities enjoy the power to control and intimidate others, eliciting obedience and respect. They tend to be tough, unsentimental, and gain satisfaction from manipulating the lives of others. Although many redirect their power-oriented tendencies into socially acceptable roles and professions, their coercive behaviors, intransigence, and stubbornness can occasionally become evident. Despite these negative tendencies, controlling personalities typically make effective leaders, possessing the talent to supervise and motivate others towards achieving common goals. (631-633)

Revengefully Assertive Personality: The Revengefully Assertive Personality is characterized by a strong desire to “get back” at those who are believed to have mistreated them, often seeking to humiliate others in order to achieve life’s rewards. They find satisfaction in being dominant and controlling in their interactions and tend to organize their social, emotional, and intellectual energies around the pursuit of derogating and dominating others. They are optimistic about their chances of achieving retribution and believe that good things are likely to come their way by virtue of their blunt and autocratic behavior.

This personality type is typically aggressive in taking charge of their life, actively pursuing the things they want and modifying their environment and relationships to suit their needs and desires. They are comfortable with their willful contrariness and are able to function as a successfully confrontational and self-directed person. They may be logical, organized, and concerned with the tangible and the present, seeking to impose a secure structure upon their life and make what they judge to be objective decisions.

The Revengefully Assertive Personality tends to be overly assertive socially and power-oriented, and may be a good organizer of others. They know when and how to be deceptively charming and affable, and when to decisively supervise and firmly direct. They enjoy the authoritative role of leader or executive and will act in a willfully forceful and decisive manner, especially in situations characterized by ambiguity or uncertainty.

While they may restrain their revengeful feelings at times, they will seek to ensure that their own behaviors and those of others conform with what they judge to be valid rules and self-satisfying principles. They prefer activities and tasks that have visible, quick results and perform such tasks themselves to ensure effectiveness and efficiency. They set priorities and are often viciously demanding, confrontational, and overbearing if others fail to meet their expectations.

The Revengefully Assertive Personality tends to resist listening to views contrary to their own and may lack sensitivity to the feelings and wishes of those with whom they interact. In cultures with a deep and prolonged sense of victimization and humiliation, there is a foundation for the development of numerous revengeful asserters. They may justify their actions as just retribution for past wrongs but may also act on personal compulsions of revenge.(633-635)

Intimidatingly Assertive Personality: Intimidators are individuals who assert their dominance by putting others down with their assertive style, often cutting them off mid-sentence and placing their own thoughts and goals at the forefront. These individuals are motivated by a desire for self-fulfillment and are stimulated by the pursuit of dominating others. They exhibit a strong will and thick skin, viewing their chances of success as excellent.

The Intimidating Assertive Personality is characterized by a tendency to control affairs in their environment, taking charge of the lives of others and making things happen as they wish them to be, rather than waiting for others to determine them. They are engaging and confidently dominating, viewing their experiences as being determined by their own actions rather than by forces outside their control.

These individuals typically make their own decisions with little formal advice from others and are not overly concerned about pleasing others, insisting on doing things their own way. They are comfortable with themselves as well as with the world they have created by virtue of their energy and dominating will, allowing them to function as optimistic, strong-willed, and self-directed people.

Unlike revengeful asserters, who are confrontational and belligerent in their dealings with underlings, intimidating asserters control via bullying or cleverly managing with talent and charm, rather than in a vicious manner. They are highly competitive, often energetic, outgoing, and gregarious, gravitating towards leadership roles and quickly acting on a take-charge tone. Their rigorous desire for control is balanced by a strong tendency to think things through and develop a logical and systematic plan.

Enjoying challenges, intimidating asserters are quite resourceful and can readily stand their ground with well-reasoned analyses. They are willing to forego short-term gains in favor of long-term goals, taking their responsibilities seriously, often to the point of appraising their own self-worth in terms of the competence and success with which these tasks are fulfilled. Ambitious and valuing achievements highly, they are constantly alert to opportunities that might foster their advancement.

Although these individuals rely primarily on objectivity and logic in forming opinions and making decisions, their orientation may often be intuitive, with speculations prominent and the exploration of the unknown playing a major role as well. In their desire to strike out in new directions, they may act prematurely and with little forethought, trying novel approaches before adequate appraisals have been done. Similarly, if progress on a project is slowed or otherwise complicated, their investment is often so high as to precipitate feelings of intense frustration, followed by a strong emotional response, most typically anger.(635-636)

Enforcing Denigrating Personality: Military sergeants, cops, university deans, and judges are often enforcing denigrators. These individuals believe they have the right to control and punish others and know how to deal with rule-breakers, even if it means using violence and destructive means. They operate under the guise of sanctioned roles, such as protectors of the weak and arbiters of disputes, but the deeper motives behind their actions are of questionable legitimacy due to the excessive force with which they mete out punishment.

Enforcing denigrators have some of the major features of the compulsive personality. They are sticklers for rules and openly discharge their deeply repressed anger against those they consider weak and condemnable. Throughout history, societies have empowered individuals to control and punish their fellow members for straying from the customs deemed proper. While some exercise their powers fairly and with balance, others take advantage of their positions to exert vicious and unjustified control over others.

When encountering an enforcing denigrator, one does so at their own peril, as these personalities have permission from society to exert any and all forms of control over others. Some swagger about as prideful enforcers of the law, becoming more prideful the more they dominate and discharge their venom. They feed their derogating urges, dehumanizing their victims and becoming increasingly opportunistic and manipulative. Some even seek to usurp whatever they can from others. Beneath their ostensible good intentions lies a growingly deceptive viciousness that produces the very destructiveness they have been authorized to control. (637)

Spineless Denigrating Personality: Not everyone with an Antisocial Personality is inherently powerful and malicious. The spineless denigrating personality in particular only exhibits sadistic behavior periodically and may feel troubled and remorseful about the negative consequences of their actions. This personality type is not the typical sadistic and enforcing variant of ADS but rather deeply insecure and irresolute. They often struggle with low self-esteem, have minimal life achievements, and are located near or at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. Their aggression and denigration towards others are often a response to their fears and weaknesses. They commit violent acts as a means of overcoming their anxiety and securing revenge, acting out of a counterphobic tendency to show others that they are not intimidated or weak.

The spineless denigrator’s overt hostility and abuse conceal a covert pattern of avoidant personality characteristics. They have fantasies about powerful and aggressive enemies and feel precariously undefended, gaining moments of peace by counteracting the dangers they perceive around them. These personalities cope with their fears not by withdrawing but by preemptively attacking. They may learn to employ physical brutality and intimidation against others who now seem threatening and abusive, becoming a fearful and spineless variant of the ADS spectrum.

Aggressive hostility is a message to others that the spineless denigrator is not anxious or intimidated, and serves intrapsychically to diminish and control their real inner feelings. It also serves to impress the public by projecting a false sense of confidence and self-assurance. However, this behavior is not a sign of genuine confidence and personal strength but rather a desperate attempt to feel superior and self-assured. Spineless denigrators may join groups that search for a shared scapegoat to hate, typically outsiders who embody the weaknesses that these individuals feel within themselves. By assaulting the scapegoat, they also assault the elements within themselves that they seek to deny or destroy, in a perverse twist of psychic logic. (637-640)

Explosive Sadistic Personality: The explosive sadistic personality is characterized by sudden and unpredictable outbursts of hostility, which differentiates it from other forms of sadistic behavior. These outbursts manifest as adult-like tantrums, uncontrollable rage, and violent attacks, often directed at family members. Explosive behaviors occur rapidly, with a sudden escalation of fury and the use of abusive language and physical violence. The sadist’s explosive behavior is not primarily instrumental but serves to discharge pent-up feelings of humiliation and degradation.

These individuals feel frustrated and disappointed with their lives and seek revenge for perceived mistreatment and deprecation. Their limited controls can be quickly overrun by deeply felt and undischarged resentments, which draw on memories and emotions from the past. Explosive sadists are hypersensitive to feelings of betrayal and may be deeply frustrated by the futility and hopelessness of their lives.

The violence of the attack serves to release accumulated tensions, and the identity of the victim is often incidental and arbitrarily selected. However, the sadist has established “safe partners” for abuse, individuals who have come to symbolize their failures and frustrations. These symbols must be obliterated, as they block all venues of escape, and explosive sadists may be provoked into panic and blind rage.

Physical assaults during these periods are often the product of verbally unskilled individuals seeking to terminate an altercation in which they feel incapable of responding effectively. The violence is a desperate lashing out against symbols rather than reality. Once another person has come to symbolize their frustrations and life’s impossibilities, little is required to prompt an explosive reaction. (641-642)

Tyrannical Sadistic Personality: The tyrannical sadistic personality is one of the most terrifying and cruel subtypes of personality disorders, along with the malevolent antisocial. They relate to others through attacking, intimidating, and overwhelming behavior, often being accusatory and abusive, and almost always destructive. The attacks can be either physically assaultive or verbally scathing and demeaning, but they all share an overbearing and uncontrolled character. The tyrannical sadists seem to relish in the act of menacing and brutalizing others, deriving deep satisfaction from forcing their victims to cower and submit.

What sets the tyrannical sadist apart from other sadistic personalities is their desire and willingness to be unmerciful and inhumane in their violence. They take pleasure in creating suffering and seeing its effect on others, and they derive a mean-spirited satisfaction from abandoning universally held constraints that limit the viciousness of one’s personal actions. They intentionally use violence as an instrument to inspire terror and intimidation, and they can observe and reflect on the consequences of their violence with a deep sense of satisfaction.

Tyrannical sadists are often calculating and cool, choosing victims who are not likely to react with counterviolence. They employ violence to secure cooperation and obedience from their victims, and they often display a disproportionate level of abusiveness and intimidation to impress not only the victim but those who observe the sadist’s unconstrained power.

The primary driving force behind the tyrannical subtype is their fear that others may recognize their inner insecurities and low sense of self-esteem. To overcome these feelings of inadequacy, they have learned to feel superior by overwhelming others through physical power and brutal vindictiveness. They have deep fantasies of cruel and unmitigated revenge, with no internal brakes to constrain them until their fury is spent. They have little remorse for the fury of their violence and the destructive consequences they create, and the subjugation or elimination of others has become their primary goal. (642-645)

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