Perfectionist-aggressive type (PA)

From:  "NPA Theory of Personality"
©  2008 A.M. Benis

Non-sanguine perfectionistic aggressive type

     PA types tend to a non-sanguine complexion. Individuals of low temperament can be well-adjusted stodgy, dutiful, socially conscious "solid citizens". Higher temperament individuals can be somewhat stern or haughty extroverts. If they come to absolute power, then more overt sadistic trends may come to the fore. The PA type is relatively uncommon in the USA and Western Europe but common in the Middle East, the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Western Russia. 

Phenotype: PA

Genetics: based on P trait and non-sanguinity (lack if N trait), both being Mendelian dominant

Animal Model: baboon

Inheritance Pattern: PA types must have at least one parent who is either an A or a PA type.

Infertility: Increased probability of miscarriages and stillbirths when mated with either an N or an NP type.

Rage: Aggressive-vindictive “A rage” (mass discharge of sympathetic nervous system).

Also known as: Reserved aggressive personality. Austere melancholic or paranoid personality. Pseudo-narcissistic extrovert. "The sardonic wit". "The suspicious manipulator". "The Power behind the throne". "The brooding non-sanguine autocrat".

Complexion: Non-sanguine. Tending toward sallow, pallid or milky white in individuals with light skin color. Does not blush easily.

Smile: Non-symmetric grin or grimace. Mona Lisa "smile". Sardonic smirk. Frozen, toothy but non-gingival grin. Half-open mouthed grin. Grin with short repetitive laugh. Raised eyebrow with half-smile ("Robert Mitchum look").

Photograph: Usually looks at camera. May pompously look away from camera. Not relaxed. No smile, half smile, tight-lipped sardonic smile, non-symmetric grin or grimace. Non-gingival "frozen smile" showing teeth. Laughs or tries to laugh, showing expressive extroverted countenance.

Voice: Confident, contentious, measured, dispassionate.

Gestures: Upraised clenched fist, the haughtily cocked jaw, the furrowed brow, the strained tight-lipped mouth and the intimidating glare.

Handwriting: Variable. Usually perfectionistic in female. Often slurred or bold illegible scrawl in males. Sometimes messy corrections. Sometimes bold flourishes.

Sexuality: Tendency to promiscuity: moderate. Tendency to LGBT in sexual orientation: moderate.

Color preference: Muted, blue, dark or white. Conservative, even drab color choices. Active disdain for red, bright colors and multicolors.

Population genetics: "The Authoritarian Habitancy", having a high prevalence of PA types, moderate prevalence of A and NPA types, and few N and NP types. Examples: Eastern Europe, Western Russia, Balkans.

Susceptibilities: Obsessive paranoia. Pathological "Power behind the throne". Paranoid personality disorder. Covert sadism. Sadomasochistic "morbid dependency" as the dominant or dependent partner.

Pitfalls: High temperament PA types can mimic non-sanguine A types, or even zany NA types. Disciplinarian NP types can resemble PA types. Unusual adornment may lead to mistaken conclusion of the N trait (pseudo-narcissism).

From Chapter 5:  A model of human behavior

Perfectionist-aggressive type (PA)

      Here we have an individual who attempts to streamline both his aggressive and perfectionistic qualities into a cohesive unity. How can he possibly do this? His aggressive behavioral complex tells him to forge ahead, to gain power over all others, to achieve vindictive triumph after triumph, to intimidate, and to be first. However, from his behavioral complex of perfectionism comes the subliminal voice, "Do it carefully, slowly, perfectly." Thus, perfectionism modulates aggression, and here we realize that we have discovered the passive-aggressive personality of the psychiatric literature. However, this character is not so much passive-aggressive as perfectionist-aggressive.

In a life situation where he has attained a relative equilibrium, or has achieved success in circumstances where he is not threatened, this type may appear as a quiet or fairly outgoing, well mannered, somewhat stern individual. He may, like all other types, go through life uneventfully, although his relationships with others may be rather tenuous and distant. He may appear as a relatively content, careful, reliable worker who is persistent and pays attention to detail.

This individual, despite his basic passive-aggressive tendencies, may feel a strong need to interact with people, according to the dictates of the gregariousness that modern society demands of him. He may find himself, in fact, in a life situation where he is constantly interacting with others in more or less stressful circumstances. He may then appear in one of two different forms. In one form, he is an individual who sees himself as a perfectionist worker, but whose aspirations are constantly being thwarted by the imperfections or malevolence of others. He, thus, becomes the "chronic complainer" or "chronic criticizer." In a second form, he appears as a fairly gregarious individual with a cutting, sarcastic sense of humor  the "sardonic wit."

If this individual aspires to high ambition, his lack of the narcissistic trait means that his ambition must be vested entirely in his aggressive drive. Since his perfectionist trait does not permit the overt use of force, he must use it quietly, unobtrusively, insidiously, obstructively. To a casual observer it may not be noticeably visible. He becomes a manipulator, quietly accumulating relevant information, pondering over it, collating it, putting it into place, using it for insidious, obstructive attacks on others and using it to batten his defensive perimeter. As he becomes manipulative, he becomes more and more mistrustful of others, including his superiors, his colleagues and his subordinates. And in the general mistrust of others he becomes suspicious, cynical and paranoid. Hence, we believe that any study of the paranoid personality type might begin with the study of this character structure.

Continuing with a poorly adjusted individual who has developed a sense of motivation, what emerges is a moody, brooding character who isolates himself within his self-created magic circle of manipulation, suspicion, cynicism and paranoia. And whatever power he attains, and whatever recognition he actually receives from others, do not mask the fact that he is essentially a loner. If circumstances of life allow him to become a political or military strategist, a concentration camp director, a prison guard, a lieutenant in charge of a group of civilians, or a world leader with a nuclear trigger within the reach of his finger, then the road that he paves may lead directly to hell. To the extent that such an individual considers himself above others, he becomes their master and they become his slaves without rights. And since we gradually come to the realization that aggression is the root of sadistic acts in man, in a master-slave situation, we gradually realize that the perfectionist-aggressive individual in a position of power has all the potential for becoming a perfectionist-sadist, whether his acts be directed at a single person, ten million people, or an entire ethnic group.

Here we discover an important facet of sadism in man. Diffusely directed aggressive activities whose aim is, to subjugate people into submission and to cause them physical or psychic pain is rooted not only in the open aggression of an A, NA, or NPA type, but also in the perfectionist aggression of a PA type. Thus, we might ask ourselves if the danger to the world lies not so much in an arrogant steamroller as in a cynical, brooding loner. It should not escape us that here we have identified a personality type of another tyrannical despot who has time and time again throughout history caused the deaths of countless innocent people. And we must examine whether he is inherently a self-destructive type.

No less harrowing, on a smaller scale, is a PA individual who has been subjected to unfortunate circumstances during his years of nurturing and growth, and finds himself a suspicious loner at maturity. One of his inner voices is telling him, "Be strong. Be powerful. Achieve triumph over others." Another voice is telling him, "Direct your efforts. Choose carefully. Do it slowly, perfectly, over and over again until it is just right." It does not take much imagination to surmise that here we have identified one type of a ritualistic criminal, the quiet individual who chooses his victims carefully and is driven to perpetrate a series of stereotyped criminal acts. This is an individual who cannot, of course, show remorse. He is, in fact, following the inner dictates of his very soul.

The reader will appreciate that the implications of sadistic trends in the human character are of utmost importance. Chapter 8 considers this topic in detail.

The PA character structure, we propose, may also be the source of other "character disorders" that have been described by psychiatrists. First, it is probable that the condition known as folie à deux is based on the symbiotic involvement of two individuals having the PA character structure. This condition is a psychotic disorder in which two schizoid persons, usually members of the same family, mutually share similar paranoid delusions. Second, it is probable that many litigious individuals described under the category of compensation neuroses are of the PA character type.

On a personal level, the PA type, of course, "plays the game" of dominance and submission, becomes involved in subjugation dependencies, and is subject to incitement from a quiet state to the perfectionist-aggressive rage. This begins as a period of outwardly directed seething, and then with the slightest provocation bursts into a directed aggressive-vindictive rage.

When dominated, this individual enters a PA state of perfectionistic schizoid behavior, since he lacks any narcissistic component of ambition. He must thus attempt, almost at all costs, to maintain a position of dominance. Finally, if he is dislodged from his position of dominance, and hopelessness sets in, then he is subject to a deep abject state of schizoid depression.

The PA type can be a member of an interesting symbiotic relationship, called "the power behind the throne," and this will be discussed later in Chapter 9.

From Chapter 6:  Character caricatures

          As with all the character types, the PA type includes a wide spectrum of individuals who may be enormously successful, and greatly admired, in their societies.

With regard to the physiognomy of the PA individual, his complexion tends to be dull rather than sanguine. It is often swarthy, pale, pallid, dusky or sallow. In a fair individual it may be milky white. His countenance is usually one of a deadpan poker face. In his choice of dress and cosmetics he tends not to adorn himself in an outlandish manner. He may present himself as a "strong silent type," exhibiting a courteous reserved charm and a well-mannered gallantry. Thus, in unstressed circumstances he may have the quiet personal magnetism of the NP type. He may be greatly admired for his proud bearing, his undemonstrative low-key manner, and his dry humor, often providing others a welcome relief from the madding hysteria of modern society.

The individual of this character type may present himself as something of a high-strung extrovert. More often than not, he tends to keep to himself and may lead a fairly quiet life as a somewhat wary, withdrawn but coolly efficient perfectionist achiever. But with his aggressive drive frustrated to a muted level by his perfectionist behavioral complex, what may emerge is a laconic individual who displays an imperfectly concealed deep dissatisfaction with life. This will not go unnoticed, and his acquaintances will sometimes accuse him, behind his back, of having an air of haughty superiority.

If this individual is constantly interacting with others in a fairly competitive or stressful setting, he may become the classic passive-aggressive personality, who will not accede to the desires of others except in the most grudging manner. If he is a bit more of an extrovert, then he too may appear as a "chronic complainer" or "chronic criticizer."

Alternatively, this moody personage may find that an effective link with humanity can be made only through the medium of dry humor. In this case, he appears in public as something of a gregarious individual who relies, compulsively and almost exclusively, on his sardonic wit to gain the favor of others. Such an individual may display a real talent for creative, albeit sarcastic, humor, and he may be immensely popular with his colleagues for this quality.

In the description that follows, we will present a caricature of one particular PA subtype when he is thrown into the throes of a stressful competitive society, into a position of leadership, or when he is involved in a love relationship.

When this individual is encountered in a stressful setting, one finds oneself picturing him alternately as either an introvert or extrovert. Basically, he appears as a moody extrovert in whom one senses an undercurrent of deep hostility toward the outside world.

He tends to isolate himself, to be introspective and to be basically unfriendly. He is usually coldly calm, but when he is involved in a stressful ambitious venture, a directed task, or a situation of conflict with people, he may become mildly or severely agitated. His pallid face will blanch even more. His normally even voice will rise and have a cutting quality to it. It may barely hide a snarl. His eyes will flash and his brow will furrow.  And in his voice one senses not only anger, but also the contempt and disdain of others, and a thinly veiled threat of vindictiveness.

His face in calmer circumstances usually shows the deadpan look of an austere poker-faced perfectionist. Although he is usually at ease before a group of people, to the extent that he believes that he dominates over them, he does not smile easily. What usually emerges is an odd grimace or a grin. He is usually aware of the fact that he cannot at will break out into a natural smile, and in compensation he has developed a short, repetitive laugh accompanied by a closed or half-open mouthed grin, which for him takes the place of the smile that his modern society demands of him. If he tries to smile for a photograph, the result is usually a broad "false smile," a non-symmetric frozen grin, or a sardonic smirk, and often he will not even try.

His handwriting may reflect either his perfectionist or aggressive tendencies. The handwriting may be neat and well formed, especially in the female. In contrast, it may be a slurred illegible scrawl, signifying at the same time his instincts of repressed physical aggression and his disdain of others.

In relations with people he pictures himself as a superior person and would not see himself as isolated. However, his view of life may be seen by his usual physical posture, which is sometimes slightly stooped, with the head dropped slightly down and his eyes directed to the ground before him. He may have, in fact, an amazing capacity to ignore people around him in familiar surroundings, almost to the point of obliviousness. When encountering a subordinate, or in a social setting, his normally stooped posture may change to one of erect, pompous rigidity. His basic unfriendliness may be reflected in obligatory but only cursory greetings to acquaintances or colleagues.

In a stressful social situation where strangers are present he gives the impression of being decidedly uncomfortable and will adopt either a posture of defensive rigidity or will be somewhat agitated. When meeting people in public, he has the roving eyes of suspiciousness, as if scanning the horizon for the possible approach of enemy aircraft. He instinctively evaluates a new arrival for his strengths and weaknesses, as his eyes move in frequent saccades of critical examination. What he is looking for, of course, is the new arrival's particular weakness, his soft underbelly, for in his isolation he senses himself vulnerable, and the only way to conquer his vulnerability is to dominate all others and to be stronger than them.

To the extent that he feels above his fellow humans, he does not make good eye contact with them. If challenged, however, he is the master of staring down his opponent to submission with a steely-eyed intimidating glare or glower. It is a glower that says, "You had better do what I, the perfectionist, expect, or else my vindictive rage may be activated with a hair trigger." His general demeanor, then, may be austere and dour, and may have a sinister aspect to it. His lips may take the form of a fixed smirk. He is the past master of the short derisive laugh.

Is he sarcastic and pessimistic? Yes, he certainly is. But he may be more than that. He may be deeply cynical, and one senses that behind the cynicism of the disasters to come lies the wish for a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And in his cynicism and his brooding nature, which exudes the gloom of the basic hopelessness of the human condition, we find the roots of his defensive paranoia and his offensive sadistic potential.

In a position of power, being aloof and suspicious, he is almost unapproachable to his subordinates or colleagues. His door is usually closed, and telephone calls are made in an atmosphere of secretiveness and suspicion. To the extent that he is secretive and mistrustful of others, so are others mistrustful of him. And if they do not trust him, they are intimidated by him, and they are ill at ease with him.

He is an individual who is above all self-righteous, and absolutely convinced that his position of dominance over others is not only right, but inevitable. He may develop a sense of invulnerability. When the going gets tough, and the weaklings scatter in all directions, he will stand firm, tall and proud, with his back to the wall if necessary, and he will survive over, nay conquer, all of his adversaries.

Is he a perfectionist? Yes, he certainly is. He has a sense of duty, but he lacks a broader sense of devotion to others that is often present in the NP and NPA types. His perfectionism lies in the area of pacifying his aggressive tendencies, so that they operate smoothly with maximum efficiency, which means that they are insidious and almost unseen. His modus operandi may be summarized by the expression "manipulation with care."

As he discovers, consciously or unconsciously, that his relationships with people are distant, he may attempt to invert his aloofness from time to time. As a perfectionist, an inner voice tells him that he should be warm, loving, sympathetic and gregarious. He will, then, from time to time descend to the level of the lower minions to mingle with his subordinates and colleagues, banter with them, "smile" with them, and attempt to prove to them, and to himself, that at the core he is a down-to-earth humane person. And he must, almost invariably, have at least one "exception that proves the rule" in a cause, or in a person to whom he shows, openly, care and devotion.

He, of course, "plays the game," and here we will only briefly mention the implications of this tendency rooted in his aggressive drives. If he is subjugated in marriage or in a love relationship, then he may find himself in a helpless schizoid state and may be reduced to achieving dominance only in occasional vindictive rages. In the dominant role he is, of course, much more successful, provided that his partner is not completely helpless or too tolerant of abuse. Finally, his love relationship may assume a stable symbiotic form in which he adopts the role of what we call the "power behind the throne." As the "power," he protects his mate, who is his sole source of security in life, with all the perfectionist-aggressive talent that his personality type can muster. This type of relationship, the dynamics of which are not consciously perceived by either individual, will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 9.

The possibility of harrowing sadistic behavior by a PA type has been mentioned previously and will be considered further in Chapter 8. It goes without saying that a motivated PA type is no less committed to success in life through the vindictive triumph over others than is the aggressive (A) type. The difference lies in the muted way that he goes about it: by manipulation, by conniving, by holding grudges, by begrudging others amenities that they desire or recognition that they deserve, by withholding information from them, and in short, by an always ongoing process of perfecting a multitude of interrelated offensive and defensive actions, so that the final result is a fine tapestry of interwoven vindictive triumphs.

As is the case with all of the personages, this type is one who arouses pathos, for he too is a prisoner of his character structure. He is a prisoner of his aggressive tendencies, for if they were to be suppressed he would be left with only an aimless perfectionistic drive, with no ambition to perfect, and he would thus become schizoid or schizophrenic.

       In Maugham's novel Christmas Holiday we find a masterful characterization of a high-temperament, non-sanguine PA type: Simon is a young reporter who dreams of revolution and of becoming the head of a Gestapo-like police force. Charley is his former school companion:  

« Charley had a sudden fear that his visit to Paris was going to be a failure and he awaited Simon's arrival with a nervousness that annoyed him. But when at last he walked into the room there was in his appearance at least little alteration. He was now twenty-three and he was still the lanky fellow, though only of average height, that he had always been.  

« He was shabbily dressed in a brown jacket and gray flannel trousers and wore neither hat nor great coat. His long face was thinner and paler than ever and his black eyes seemed larger. They were never still. Hard, shining, inquisitive, suspicious, they seemed to indicate the quality of the brain behind. His mouth was large and ironical, and he had small irregular teeth that somewhat reminded you of one of the smaller beasts of prey. With his pointed chin and prominent cheek-bones he was not good-looking, but his expression was so high-strung, there was in it so strange a disquiet, that you could hardly have passed him in the street without taking notice of him. At fleeting moments his face had a sort of tortured beauty, not a beauty of feature but the beauty of a restless, striving spirit.  

« A disturbing thing about him was that there was no gaiety in his smile, it was a sardonic grimace, and when he laughed his face was contorted as though he were suffering from an agony of pain. His voice was high-pitched; it did not seem to be quite under his control, and when he grew excited often rose to shrillness... »


Benis A.M. (1985, 2nd edition 2008: NPA Personality Theory): Chaps. 5 & 6, in Toward Self & Sanity: On the genetic origins of the human character. Psychological Dimensions Publishers, New York, pp. 57-60, 109-116. 

Maugham W.S. (1939): Christmas Holiday, Bantam Books, New York.