An authoritarian personality can be a complicated, multi-faceted challenge to deal with. It is often a deeply ingrained set of beliefs that take a great deal of time to break down and address.
Here we explore what an authoritarian personality means, how you can recognize it, and what you can do if somebody in your life falls into this category.
Defining an Authoritarian Personality
This type of personality is the subject of a great deal of study and learning throughout the field of psychology, often in the context of understanding why damaging belief systems have been dominant in some parts of the world, at a staggering cost.
Authoritarianism derives from believing in a static, unwavering set of rules about power and control, submission, and obedience.
Behavioral scientists often link this to fascism and a genuine perception that some people are weak, and others are strong – that some should rule, and others should follow.
Some of the overriding ‘tests’ to identify authoritarianism come from Theodor Adorno’s F-scale, published in the last century. In this case, the ‘F’ represents fascism and was created to understand how people become racist.
Signs of An Authoritarian Characteristic
This type of personality is often learned behavior and refers back to a set of rules and standards learned in the early years, thus becoming prevalent as an adult.
It sounds intimidating, but often a person who is caught in this cycle of limiting beliefs can find it extremely difficult to speak about it, try to relearn their perspective of the world, and train their brain to perceive people in a new light.
While it is easy to feel distrust and dislike towards authoritarian people, we must also consider why they think the way they do and be prepared to be a part of changing their mindset for the better.
Signs you might identify include:
A dominant, aggressive, and intolerant person who cannot accept people different from themselves – whether in the way they work, their lifestyle, or their own belief systems. Individuals who must be in control at all times and crave power and authority.
Cynical people who view the world through a veil of discord and discontentment.
3. Superiority Complex
Those who genuinely believe themselves to be superior to others without having a tangible or quantifiable reason for this superiority complex.
This can manifest in terms of discrimination, racism, and extreme offense towards others – for example, a person who doesn’t look like them, or lives a lifestyle they consider unacceptable.
4. Unwavering beliefs
An authoritarian person believes in a fixed set of rights and wrongs and cannot look beyond those rules or see the grey areas between the black and white boundaries they have established.
People who think in this way will be very fast to judge and condemn anybody who disagrees, are intolerant of other ideas, or less rigid ideologies.
An authoritarian person is trapped inside their beliefs, and for many, it seems impossible ever to be able to relax their mindset.
They thrive on fear, power, and control – deeming anybody of whom they do not ‘approve’ to be a threat that should be eliminated.
People who think like this tend to lack emotional intelligence and, therefore, the maturity to appreciate other perspectives.
Consequently, they struggle with empathy and may become angry and frustrated very quickly.
Prejudice is a crippling thought process and one that can be extremely difficult to break down. Authoritarian people cannot listen to any opinion other than their own.
9. Inability to Reason
If you have a fixed mindset that cannot be changed, you can also not listen to reason, explain your thought processes, or rationalize your belief systems coherently.
They are merely there, and no amount of reasoning will help you break out of it.
How to Deal with Authoritarian People
All in all, an authoritarian personality is rarely pleasant to be around. However, what can you do if you encounter somebody like this, or have a personal relationship with them, and need to find a way to counter their destructive mindset or help them to see another perspective?
Here are a few tips to make the relationship more manageable:
Don’t take it personally
They can’t help but abide by the stringent set of rules in their head; never let it get to you.
Try to understand their way of doing things
Try to see things from their perspective even if you disagree with it. You can quickly make peace by trying to get to grips with what things act as a trigger, much as you would with a person struggling with a mental health condition.
Build a relationship over time
This is mainly true if you are in a workplace environment. If there are specific tasks that must be done in a particular way, learn how to do them, and don’t challenge their requirements unless it is fundamentally against your own belief system.
Stand your ground when you need to
Gather allies who understand the challenge that an authoritarian personality presents. While you can adopt techniques to accept and appreciate their limiting nature, you don’t have to bend to it.
And if the authoritarian person is someone you are close to? They almost certainly need professional support to try and unpick their thought processes.
That isn’t something that can happen quickly or painlessly, so if you know an authoritarian person who is willing to change, they will need all the help they can get to do so.
Remember – most of our belief systems are taught and learned, and often not a conscious choice. Try to be understanding and help them work through the unlearning of this toxic mindset. It will definitely be worth it.
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