What You Can Expect From an Authoritarian


In this three-part series for Psychology Today, Dr. Eric Maisel describes 30 personality traits that are common among authoritarians, and how these traits can lead to abuse and trauma.

“There has never been a more important time to understand authoritarianism and its effects on each of us. As individuals, we are seriously harmed by the authoritarians in our life. As citizens, we are likewise harmed by authoritarianism in high places. What can we expect in dealing with an authoritarian? In this series of posts, I want to share what I’m learning from my analysis of the authoritarian personality and authoritarian parenting literatures and from my extensive primary research into the effects of authoritarian wounding.”

Click below to read the series:

What You Can Expect From an Authoritarian, Part 1

What You Can Expect From an Authoritarian, Part 2

What You Can Expect From an Authoritarian, Part 3


  1. He missed the element- the Hierarchy of Stupidity- of the hierarchical authoritarian, where everyone must be (or at least seem) dumber than their superiors and smarter than their own flunkies. Such leaders are disasters to self and others, being incapable of self-correction and impervious to advice from others, particularly the rare capable individual who actually knows what’s going on.

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    • The other element is that while authoritarians are required to be submissive to those above them in the hierarchy, the payoff is that those below them must be submissive to them or face punishment. It’s a weird tradeoff where you trade in your personal freedom for the unquestioned right to abuse those who you deem beneath you.

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    • I was surprised to see Eric Maisel cover this subject which is a necessary and needed one indeed. (He’s not an authoritarian himself, or such an authoritarian?) It’s definitely a very good thing that he got it in there.

      “Well, when you come into close contact with an authoritarian because he or she is your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your mate, your adult child, or someone else in your immediate sphere, like the leader of your church or your boss at work”… or your therapist?!

      I imagine it a good thing that therapists anyway would be delving into people’s experience with authority and authority figures, and perhaps confronting the potential for damage and detriment in their own authoritarian roles.

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      • I do think that’s what good therapy is all about – understanding when and why you had to submit to the irrational and unreasonable wishes of an authoritarian authority figure and how that may have altered your life, as well as coming up with plans as to how to deal with future authoritarians one might meet. Alice Miller does a great job talking about this, though she is rather pessimistic about whether we can really break the cycle and not pass on our own authoritarian reactions to the next generation.

        To me, the most unfortunate thing about the DSM (though there are many unfortunate things about it) is that it makes it easy for the “helper” to assume the authoritarian role and to “help” their client become a “good authoritarian” and submit properly to higher authority. Any therapist worth his/her salt is an anti-authoritarian.

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  2. Dr. Maisel: I read all 3 parts of your article, linked to here. But I didn’t read all 3 parts *carefully*. I only skimmed them. Sorry, but I don’t need the stress and re-triggering of my own personal trauma. I’m doing OK today, and that’s good enough. But I DO have a serious comment to add. In your list of traits for authoritarians, you seem to present the persons described as if they somehow just “happened” to be that way. As if they just became that way as adults. What I’m not seeing, is a more detailed and nuanced description of how the authoritarian’s own childhood set them up to be that way. I can see bits and pieces of *some* of the traits in *most* people, and I shudder to think there’s somebody who embodies ALL the traits.
    I’m seeing a kind of “either/or” happening. Either so-and-so *IS*, or is *NOT* an “authoritarian”. I just don’t think people are usually so cut-and-dried. I’m hoping you don’t see this critique as a negative comment, or criticism. I’m hoping to ADD to your work, not detract from it. (And thank-you for not using the “T” word. He can toot his own “trumpet”, right?) Reader’s Digest had it right: “Laughter is the Best Medicine”!
    Thnks, ~Bill

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