The Volatile Primary Aggressor

A primary aggressor with a volatile, (or cyclical) style tends to act very differently based on internal feelings at any given time. He is capable of high quality work, but often has had to change jobs because of interpersonal conflicts. It is with this style that the phrase "being triggered" has much meaning. Combined with betrayal-oriented attachment, intimate relationships become very chaotic and argument-filled. Attitudes toward the survivor can change instantly. He is not usually gracefully spontaneous because he has learned to distrust his reactions on some  level. However, emotions, when they occur, tend to occur with very strong arousal, and are not, or cannot be, held back for long.

In this style, internal bad feelings tend to accumulate apart from external events. Tension mounts followed by an outburst which is followed by some relief. Combined with angry attachment, this cyclical behavior, leads to abuse very unpredictable in outcome but predictable in the sense it does not go away. This style of primary aggression leads to the 'cycle-of-violence.' Living with a man of this style is extremely crazy-making, because survivors never know 'what they will get' and are walking on eggshells continuously.

Clients in treatment with this style find the abuse ego-dystonic, and are desirous of change. However, they tend to externalize their triggers, and attribute their behavior to massive provocation by their partner. It is very difficult to advance the belief that internal feelings need not be managed by managing the partner's behavior. Also any skill learned at a low level of arousal tends to be less available at a higher level of arousal, where most of the abuse occurs.