Abuse: Inevitable and Normal?

Uploaded 7/14/2011, approx. 3 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

Is abuse an anomalous phenomenon? Is it abnormal, exceptional, unusual? Or is it an inevitable part of human nature?

If the former, if it is an anomalous phenomenon, is it the outcome of flawed genetics, nurture, environment, upbringing, or both?

Nature and nurture. Can abuse be cured or merely modified, regulated and accommodated?

There are three groups of theories regarding abuse, three schools regarding abuses, the conduct.

The first one is that abuse is an emergent phenomenon.

The precipitous drop in intimate partner abuse in the last decade, especially in the West, seems to imply that abusive behavior is emergent and that its frequency fluctuates under given circumstances.

Abuse seems to be embedded in social and cultural contexts and to be a learned and acquired behavior.

People who grew up in an atmosphere of domestic violence, for instance, tend to perpetuate and propagate this kind of behavior by abusing their own spouses and family members.

Social stresses and anomie in their psychological manifestations foster domestic violence and child abuse.

Example, war, civil strife, unemployment, social isolation, single parenthood, prolonged or chronic sickness, unsustainably large families, poverty, persistent hunger, marital discord, a new baby, a dying parent, an invalid to be cared for, the death of one's nearest and dearest, incarceration, infidelity, substance abuse, all these stressors have proven to be contributing factors to abuse.

And then there's the second theory, and it says that abuse is hardwired.

Abuse cuts across countries, continents and disparate societies and cultures.

Abuse is common among the rich and the poor, the highly educated and the less educated, people of all races and all creeds and all socioeconomic strata.

In other words, abuse is a universal phenomenon, always has been throughout the ages.

More than half of all abusers do not come from abusive or dysfunctional households where they could have picked up this offensive compartment.

Rather, abuse seems to run in their blood.

Additionally, abuse is often associated with mental illness, now fashionably thought to be biological, medical in nature.

Hence the hypothesis that abusive ways are not learned but hereditary.

There must be a complex of genes which controls and regulates abuse, goes the current thinking.

Turning these genes off may well end the maltreatment.

Then there's the third theory, abuse as a strategy.

Some scholars postulate that all modes of behavior, including abuse, are goal oriented or result oriented.

The abuser seeks to control and manipulate his victims and develop strategies aimed at securing these results.

These strategies are what we call abusive conduct, abusive behaviors.

Abuse is therefore an adaptive and functional behavior.

Hence the difficulty encountered by both the offender and society in trying to modify and contain his odious demeanor.

Yet studying the very roots of abuse, social culture, genetic, psychological, and as a survival strategy, teaches us how to effectively cope with its perpetrators.

This is what psychologists, social caseworkers and others are trying to do.

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Good People Ignore Abuse and Torture: Why?

Good people often overlook abuse and neglect because it is difficult to tell the abuser and victim apart. The word abuse is ill-defined and open to interpretation, leading to a lack of clear definition. People also tend to avoid unpleasant situations and institutions that deal with anomalies, pain, death, and illness. Abuse is a coping strategy employed by the abuser to reassert control over their life and regain self-confidence. Abuse is a catharsis, and even good people channel their negative emotions onto the victim.

Types of of Abusive Behaviors: A Proposed Classification

Abusive conduct is not uniform and can be categorized in various ways. Overt versus covert abuse, explicit versus stealth or ambient abuse, projective versus directional abuse, cathartic versus functional abuse, pattern or structured abuse versus stochastic or random abuse, monovalent versus polevalent abuse, characteristic personal style abuse versus atypical abuse, and normative versus deviant abuse are some of the distinctions that can be made. It is important to distinguish between normative and deviant abuse, and a cultural context is critical in assessing when someone crosses the line and becomes a deviant abuser.

Gaslighting and Ambient Abuse

Ambient abuse, also known as gaslighting, is a subtle and insidious form of abuse that is difficult to identify. It is the fostering of an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability, and irritation. There are five categories of ambient abuse: inducing disorientation, incapacitating, shared psychosis, abuse or misuse of information, and control by proxy. The abuser uses these tactics to manipulate and control their victim, often leaving them with low self-esteem and a sense of isolation.

Narcissist's Victim: NO CONTACT Rules

Professor Sam Vaknin advises victims of narcissism and psychopathy to maintain as much contact with their abuser as the courts, counselors, evaluators, mediators, guardians, or law enforcement officials mandate. However, with the exception of this minimum mandated by the courts, decline any and all gratuitous contact with the narcissist or psychopath. Avoiding contact with the abuser is a form of setting boundaries, and setting boundaries is a form of healing. Be firm, be resolute, but be polite and civil.

Bullying as Art, Abuse as Craftsmanship

Abuse is about control and is often a primitive and immature reaction to life's circumstances. The abuser's primary colors include unpredictability, disproportionality of reaction, dehumanization, objectification, and abuse by proxy. The abuser engineers situations in which he is solely needed and generates his own indispensability in the victim's life. The abuser fosters an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability, and irritation, which erodes the victim's sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Intimacy and Abuse

Abuse often occurs in intimate relationships, despite it being easier to abuse a stranger. Abusers often believe that their abusive behavior fosters intimacy and equate violence with enhanced intimacy. Many abusers were raised in environments where abuse was condoned, and they perceive intimacy as a license to abuse. Abusers are often scared of real intimacy and use abuse as a way to fend it off.

Body Language of Narcissistic and Psychopathic Abuser

Abusers emit subtle signals in their body language that can be observed and discerned. They adopt a posture of superiority and entitlement, and they idealize or devalue their interlocutors. Abusers are shallow and prefer show-off to substance, and they are serious about themselves. They lack empathy, are sadistic, and have inappropriate affect. They are adept at casting a veil of secrecy over their dysfunction and misbehavior, and they succeed in deceiving the entire world.

Victim! System is Against You? Tips and Advice

The system is stacked against abuse victims, who are often re-abused by law enforcement officers, judges, guardians, evaluators, and therapists. Therapists are conditioned to respond favorably to specific verbal cues and behaviors, and the paradigm is that abuse is rarely one-sided. Victims are often labeled uncooperative, resistant, and even abusers if they refuse to participate in a treatment plan or communicate with their abuser. To navigate the system, victims should adopt the slick mannerisms of their abuser, use key phrases, attend every session, participate in a long-term treatment plan, and emphasize the welfare and well-being of their children.

The Shock of Abuse

Abusers are skilled at hiding their abusive behavior from the rest of the world, often with the help of their victims. A study of 30 women who survived attempted homicide by their intimate partners found that half of them were completely surprised by the attack, despite having been victims of previous episodes of abuse. Victims often rationalize the abuser's behavior and feel guilty, believing they are to blame for the misconduct. Classic risk factors for attempted homicide by an intimate partner include escalating episodes of violence, threats with or use of weapons, alcohol or drug use, and violence to children.

False Hope of Hot and Cold: Intermittent Reinforcement, Trauma Bonding, Approach-Avoidance

Intermittent reinforcement is a pervasive phenomenon that involves two or more people, and it is not always abusive or dysfunctional. It involves regular signals, messages, and treatment that are cruel, abusive, and disempathic, interspersed with displays of extreme affection. Intermittent reinforcement can be attributed to four types of schedules: fixed interval, variable interval, fixed ratio, and variable ratio. These behaviors wear down the victim and make them more amenable to manipulation, which is the idea behind intermittent reinforcement.

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