An abrasive personality is a type of harsh, blunt, and aggressive personality. People with abrasive personalities are mostly considered unfriendly, egotistical, cold, and domineering.
What Is An Abrasive Personality?
An “abrasive personality” is a form of unsocial personality, bordering on aggression, authoritarian approaches, and insensitivity. The term is not clinically recognized, unlike “narcissistic personality” or “antisocial personality”. It is rather a layman’s connotation to describe people who are opinionated, overbearing, and unempathetic.
The relatively obscure and unexplored clinical counterpart of abrasive personality is termed “abrasive personality disorder” (AbPD). An early study 1 Litvak, S. B. (1994). Abrasive personality disorder: Definition and diagnosis. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 24(1), 7-14. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02306580 refers to AbPD as a cognitive and behavioral disorder that makes people obnoxious, overbearing, compulsive, manipulative, etc. People with AbPD are frequently dubbed as “sandpaper people”, among other things.
Authoritative and domineering, these people can often be “control freaks”. They tend to stir up awkward and uncomfortable situations and put people “on the spot” without any regard for their actions and their consequences. They are frequently seen handing out unsolicited advice or criticism and interfering in matters that do not concern them.
Harboring the belief that they are perfectionists and can do no wrong, abrasive people frequently weld a self-righteous, “holier-than-thou” approach in life. However, despite lacking empathy for others, they have a strong and intense idea of self-identity, self-empathy, and emotional wellbeing.
Abrasive people often experience stress, anxiety, and insecurity and end up projecting this insecurity on others around them.
Signs Of Abrasive Personality
According to an older study 2 Litvak, S. B. (1994). Abrasive personality disorder: Definition and diagnosis. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 24(1), 7-14. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02306580 , abrasive personality traits are somewhat similar to those in Axis II personality disorders 3 Widiger, T. A., & Frances, A. (1985). Axis II personality disorders: diagnostic and treatment issues. Hospital & community psychiatry, 36(6), 619–627. https://doi.org/10.1176/ps.36.6.619 such as borderline personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. They often tend to be disrespectful of the unspoken rules of social discourse.
Characteristics of an abrasive personality are:
- Analytical and perfectionistic
- Commanding and authoritative
- Cold, harsh, curt, and excessively honest
- Matter-of-fact and self-righteous
- Outspoken and opinionated
- Lacking empathy
- Narrow-minded and inflexible
- Volatile to criticism
- Pushy and impatient
- Intolerant of failure and incompetence
- Highly competitive
- Emotionally and materially self-centered
John was a district manager in a very well known national company. He had been in the industry for 10 years, and had had steady growth. He was known to be a go-getter and a perfectionist.
He was however not the easiest person to be around. His subordinates were always complaining amongst themselves about his rude and undermining behavior but nobody dared confront him in fear of their jobs being affected.
Even his colleagues were well aware of his intolerant attitude towards the smallest of mistakes and knew him to be extremely competitive. In office parties, John could often be seen engaged in very intense debates and would easily get aggressive if people did not agree with him.
Although John managed to receive several accolades and appreciation for his results in the workplace, his personality could best be described as “abrasive” or “sandpaper” by the people around him.
Types Of Abrasive Personality
According to research 4 Fariba KA, Gupta V, Kass E. Personality Disorder. [Updated 2022 Apr 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556058/ , there are two types of abrasive personality:
1. The unconscious abrasive personality
People with unconscious abrasive personality are not aware of their aggressive nature and commanding behavior. They tend to think that their harsh conduct and competitiveness are natural. Therefore, they seldom apologize for hurting others.
2. The self-conscious abrasive personality
People with this type of abrasive personality are aware of their personality traits and behavioral patterns. They derive pleasure in showing off their aggressive characteristics and hurting others.
Read More About Personality Traits Here
Causes Of Abrasive Personality
- A history of emotional abuse
- Experiencing emotional neglect
- Childhood trauma
- Negative developmental experiences
- Personality traits, such as narcissism
- Low self-esteem and insecurity
- Excessive fear of failure
- Other negative psychosocial experiences
Read More About Emotional Abuse Here
How To Change Your Abrasive Personality
If you have received feedback that you have the signs of an abrasive personality, it may be time to reconsider your thoughts and conduct. The following ways can help you change your abrasive behavior:
1. Consider the feedback that you have received about your behavior
Acknowledge the fact that you may have an abrasive personality, Do not feel guilty, but empathize with yourself. Positively approach the feedback and try to work on improving yourself.
2. Reflect on your behavior
Try identifying your personality traits that might come across as brash, aggressive, boastful, or intimidating to some people. Reflect on how you can change your behavior and mannerisms. Remember, recognizing the need to change is an essential first step toward modifying your attitude.
3. Try self-help strategies
Studies 6 Balsis, S., Eaton, N. R., Cooper, L. D., & Oltmanns, T. F. (2011). The Presentation of Narcissistic Personality Disorder in an Octogenarian: Converging Evidence from Multiple Sources. Clinical gerontologist, 34(1), 71–87. https://doi.org/10.1080/07317115.2011.524821 mostly attribute the causes of abrasive personality to stress, emotional abuse, and negative developmental experiences. Try reflecting on your unresolved emotional issues and look for strategies to address and cope with the mental distress.
For example, if you think you are acting out aggressively because of stress and anxiety, try stress-management and mindfulness techniques like meditation, yoga, etc.
4. Consult a therapist
Abrasive personality disorder (AbPD) is a relatively new form of personality disorder and research is still underway to determine its causes, effective diagnosis, and successful treatment.
Current clinical practice 7 Coolidge, F. L., Valenzuela, I., Segal, D. L., & Feliciano, L. (2018). An empirical investigation of a new measure to assess abrasive personality disorder traits. Psychology, 09(01), 114-123. https://doi.org/10.4236/psych.2018.91008 states that abrasive personalities and their pathological forms can be of varying degrees and their ‘treatment’ is customized according to the symptoms observed.
However, it should be noted that having an abrasive personality does not necessarily mean that you have a mental disorder. Seeking professional help can go a long way in addressing, and even correcting behavioral issues. Therefore, to manage your abrasive personality traits, consider talking to a therapist or a behavior coach. Therapy may help you successfully reorient yourself 8 Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 865–878. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.001 with your thoughts, feelings, and value systems.
Read More About Online Therapy Here
How To Deal With An Abrasive Person?
People with abrasive personalities seldom accept that they have behavioral problems. Consequently, they would be quite opposed to reacting positively to feedback or changing their conduct.
They may even enhance their aggression towards you and make things difficult for you. However, experts 9 Litvak, S. B. (1994). Abrasive personality disorder: Definition and diagnosis. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 24(1), 7-14. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02306580 have claimed that certain reverse psychology ‘tricks’ can help ‘convince’ abrasive people to reflect on their conduct.
The imperative need for self-recognition and self-transformation must come from the abrasive persons themselves. Once they say out loud that they need help, support, and care, you can reflect it back to them using their own words. If the abrasive person is convinced that they need to rectify their behavior, they will work on it.
We all may have encountered ‘sandpaper people’ with abrasive personalities. Examples can often be found within our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. We may face extreme negativity and other difficult issues when we deal with such people.
To maintain a successful relationship, consider the following tips to deal with an abrasive person:
1. Dealing with an abrasive person in relationships
It can be very difficult to be in a relationship with an abrasive person. Consider the following tips to cope with an abrasive personality in relationships:
- Figure out the type of abrasive personality the concerned person has.
- Have a direct conversation with the person, explaining kindly how their behavior affects you and the others around them.
- Convince the person that they need to change their behavior and attitude.
- Avoid confrontation.
- If they ask for feedback, help them formulate self-help strategies to cope with their behavioral inadequacies.
- Encourage them to seek professional help.
- Understand them and help them cultivate an empathetic value system.
However, if the relationship starts affecting your mental health, you should not have to continue to tolerate their behavior, trying to make them a better person.
In such situations, it might be better to cut such people off. Understand that you have done your part but they are not willing to change for the better. You can make peace with the fact that you did your best to help them.
2. Dealing with an abrasive person at work
As in personal relationships, it can be equally challenging to deal with people with abrasive personality at work. The following measures can help you establish a better interpersonal and professional dynamic with them:
- Maintain your own sense of decorum.
- If the person is open to having a face-to-face conversation, explain how their behavior is affecting you—without going into a confrontation.
- Observe office dynamics and move at your own pace.
- Be guarded while communicating with the person, like maintaining an email trial or a communication file.
- Try not to let their toxicity affect you personally. Instead, strive to keep the energy at work uplifting.
- Restore yourself outside of work and reset new boundaries with the respective person.
Dealing with an abrasive personality is stressful. When interacting with them, chances are that you may end up getting into trouble or creating more issues for no fault of your own. Therefore, it is important that you set boundaries and take care of your mental and physical health.
Limit your interactions with abrasive people to the bare minimum. Understand that there are some things that you can’t control or take responsibility for and let things go and move on.
At A Glance
- An abrasive personality is a type of harsh, blunt, and aggressive personality.
- People with such personalities tend to be unfriendly and difficult to interact with.
- It is of two types: unconscious and self-conscious abrasive personalities.
- The causal factors for such a personality include emotional neglect, negative life experiences, stressful situations, personality traits, etc.
- Abrasive personalities can be rectified with therapy and behavior coaching.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is a caustic personality?
A caustic person is someone who is very harsh and critical of others.
2. What is an aloof personality?
An aloof personality refers to a person who remains cold and detached from people around them. They are not very warm or interactive.
3. What is a direct personality?
A person with a direct personality tends to be pushy, decisive and often imposes their opinions on others.
- 3Widiger, T. A., & Frances, A. (1985). Axis II personality disorders: diagnostic and treatment issues. Hospital & community psychiatry, 36(6), 619–627. https://doi.org/10.1176/ps.36.6.619
- 4Fariba KA, Gupta V, Kass E. Personality Disorder. [Updated 2022 Apr 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556058/
- 5Hicks, R., & McCracken, J. (2009). Coaching the abrasive personality. Physician executive, 35(5), 82–84.
- 6Balsis, S., Eaton, N. R., Cooper, L. D., & Oltmanns, T. F. (2011). The Presentation of Narcissistic Personality Disorder in an Octogenarian: Converging Evidence from Multiple Sources. Clinical gerontologist, 34(1), 71–87. https://doi.org/10.1080/07317115.2011.524821
- 7Coolidge, F. L., Valenzuela, I., Segal, D. L., & Feliciano, L. (2018). An empirical investigation of a new measure to assess abrasive personality disorder traits. Psychology, 09(01), 114-123. https://doi.org/10.4236/psych.2018.91008
- 8Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 865–878. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.001