Every Republican presidential debate gives us an excellent opportunity to watch the punishing personality type in action. The “punishing personality type” is the name I am giving to a person who organizes his life around punishing others. Such people have existed by the tens of millions and continue to exist by the tens of millions. They love to punish and they need to punish. Right under the surface, whatever that surface may look like, rages tremendous hatred and an unquenchable desire to inflict pain on others.
You can’t reason with a punishing personality type any more than you can reason with an armed intruder. Their energy is the energy of intrusion. They will always want things like identify cards, surveillance, wiretaps, and anything else that helps them intrude into the lives of the people they are determined to punish. They want you in jail; they want their country to resemble jail. If they could turn whole states into concentration camps they would. That is their ideal: barbed wire; prison guards; punishment.
Their rhetoric is the rhetoric of us versus them. It is always us versus them. There are those entitled to do the punishing, the people who look, act, and connive the way that they do, and then the people who ought to be punished, them. Them may be their own wives, their own children: everybody and anybody can be identified as needing punishment. You punish that identified multitude any way you can, you rain down your god’s loving hate, you spend ecstatic nights crafting bills of punishment, you tirelessly access your sadistic soul and return with new embellishments.
It is easy enough to spot punishing personality types. They will be busy punishing. They will be spending amazing portions of their day and their life looking for ways to punish. If they could beat you with a bat, they would: that is what they really want to do. If they can’t get away with that, they will do the sorts of things they are expert at doing: they will vilify you, exclude you, rob you, and probe you. Want some pleasure? Punish that! Want some rights? Punish that! What a piece of the pie? Punish that!
They may look more like a Santorum, more like a Romney, or more like a Gingrich, they come in all shapes, sizes, and weights, but differences aside they agree on one thing: nothing feels as good as punishing. If they could punish all day long and not take breaks for other activities and other emotions they would punish continually. It is their sweet spot, the thing they most love to do, their heaven. If the human race had somehow, through a cataclysmic epidemic of love, managed to eradicate punishment, they would re-invent it and re-introduce it.
Some punishers live on the left where Stalin had his home. Some punishers live on the right where Hitler had his. All of that “left” and “right” has no real meaning to them. They just want to punish. If he is a Christian white male, the poster boy for the punishing personality type, then he wants to punish his particular litany of hated objects: women, blacks, Latinos, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, women twice, blacks three times, and so on.
The French existential writer Albert Camus ended The Plague, his allegory about the Nazi scourge, with the following lines: “He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.” The punishing personality type is a rat that always returns.
The punishing personality type never leaves and always returns. You can bet on him, you can count on him, and you had better prepare for him. He would punish you for a nickel; he would punish you for free; he would pay to punish you. Go ahead and give him an inch. Go ahead and try to appease him. See how well that works. He is completely obsessed with punishing you and he will not rest until he has punished you to his complete satisfaction.
This post was previously published on psychologytoday.com.
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