Cruelty is the fifth of the six hellish negativities that I’m looking at in this “character change” series. If you haven’t read the earlier ones, you might want to scroll down and start with “Character Change – Detachment”. Each type of negativity gets a little darker. I believe it will be easier to visualize getting your character out of the negativities more easily if you begin with those that have more hope. The negativities I’m discussing now may be hopeless. At best, those at war with the world may be able to change from attacking reality to a form of escape from reality. Whether you have time to take them one step further in your story and get them completely free depends on the length and type of story you are writing.
While this is a worse negativity than anger, the cruel person can appear reasonable and calm. They attack the world by demeaning the values that others hold dear, sometimes shattering their illusions.
Cruelty is everything from telling someone they, or cherished possessions, are ugly to attacking others’ religion, career choice, or choice of mate or friends. At its extreme, cruelty is physical but then we are talking about a villain character who probably spends more time in prison than out. I will focus mainly on the intellectually and emotionally cruel personality.
We all have a central core of values and possessions that defines who we are so we can live happy fulfilled lives. The intentionally cruel attack all that, causing much more harm than the angry person who is often just ranting at whatever comes along.
People become cruel as a way to combat a reality that doesn’t agree with them. You will most often see cruel ideas coming from members of marginalized social groups. Even religious leaders can be cruel when a society moves away from religion. Atheists are in a growing minority but some still feel the need to attack organized religion. If they were truly atheist, religion would be irrelevant. No matter what field the cruel person is in, they are trying to turn it into a life’s work and it isn’t popular enough for that. Their revenge against this reality is to attack their “enemies”.
Other mentally cruel people are that way to keep others away. This may be to hide a personal or family secret. One evil spawning more evil. This kind of cruel person is abusive to every “outsider” who gets close to them. Hope you never have a boss like this. It’s common for this type of person to go after power, so if you work long enough you will meet one of these people in a supervisory position at some time.
While this may seem like a problem that could only come up later in life, that’s not the case. The “enemy” is often a lifestyle or belief system that was forced on the cruel person in childhood. They perceived it as abusive, and perhaps it was, and now they are taking revenge with their new belief system.
Cruel people don’t usually want any help with their problem. What problem? Their way of understanding is right. All opposing views are wrong. End of story. They’ve fallen into a very deep kind of negativity from which there may be no escape. The only way out is if their belief system fails them. Since they only get close to those with the same beliefs, the odds of that happening are low at best.
The only way to pull the cruel person out of their belief system is to force them into situations where they must work with people who hold opposing beliefs. It almost needs to be a life or death adventure to get their cooperation. Once the problem is resolved, they can easily slip back into their old beliefs. Some people never change. This is especially true when their bad behavior gives them a sense of power over reality.
Consider saving this personality type for a villain. If you must use it for a hero type, they will need to be the type that is promoting a cause most of your readers can get behind. No matter how good the cause, the attack on others is still going to look malicious to many people. We’re all individuals and have our unique belief systems. Live and let live isn’t a motto of the cruel person even when they work for a good cause.
I can’t end this topic without a bit about physical cruelty. Cruelty at its most extreme becomes physical. These are the sociopaths and psychopaths that spend their lives causing pain for others. Unlike the angry person in extremis, they don’t choose law abiding professions that let them cause pain. There are none that would allow them to do enough damage.
They might choose a life with organized crime, breaking debtors legs and killing the competition. Even that requires some cooperation with others. The loner hitman is their most likely profession. If they must work a normal job, they satisfy their sadistic desires in their free time. Eventually they find their way into the prison system, usually until they die.
The physically cruel were made this way by growing up in a violent environment. It may have been violent parents or gaurdians who just didn’t care about them or who explicitly hated them. It could also be the intentionally cruel masters of a child soldier training camp. Even some parents will train their children to be violent in the belief it will protect them from the world. Children can be trained to be almost any kind of person if the training begins early enough.
The next installment in this series will examine the darkest and most negative psychopathology in this six article series, betrayal.
Article by Ivan Izo.