Abuser-Victim Bond: Emotional Processing and Object Inconstancy

Uploaded 9/24/2018, approx. 9 minute read

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

The strange thing is happening.

When I started my work in 1995, no one knew about narcissism.

I had to coin the phrase narcissistic abuse to describe what narcissists and psychopaths do to the victims which was different to what other abusers did.

But today, 23 years later, narcissistic abuse is a household phrase. Everyone knows about it.

Victims are now fully aware of narcissistic abuse. They know the details.

Why do victims keep falling for it? Why don't victims resist, recoil, regroup, retreat, and every other read in the book? Why do they keep teaming up with narcissists and psychopaths just to be abused over and over again?

And that's because repeat victims are actually images, the spitting images of their own abusers as far as some psychodynamic processes are involved.

Both victims and abusers have very strange ways of processing information.

Some people call it latent pathways of mental processing. Other people call it emotional processing.

But in any case, we are talking about unusual ways of absorbing information from the environment and then processing it as raw material for decision making and choices.

And the second thing that victims and abusers share is impaired object constancy.

Of course, there are other things that they share.

For example, they need to be involved in a shared psychosis.

And the fact that most victims become abusive under certain circumstances and most abusers come from a background of trauma and early childhood abuse.

So victims and abusers are not as different from each other as they would like to think and believe.

They come from a similar background, but they have made different choices in terms of coping strategies and in terms of their attitude to a people.

Back to the topic of this video.

A healthy person reacts to someone they have just met on a gut level. You know the feeling.

You meet someone and say, well, there's something wrong with this guy or I like this girl or, you know, there's a gut reaction, something beyond consciousness, beyond analytical processing.

It's very akin to intuition. It's a biochemical, emotional exchange, followed by cognitions, a layering of cognitions.

So it starts with exchanging biochemical molecules and then it continues with an emotional reactions to the absorbed molecules.

And then almost immediately there's a series of thoughts, a train of thoughts. And these thoughts is what we call cognitions.

And these thoughts build up as layers. They nest. And the whole phenomenon is called cognitive nesting.

They nest and it's like archaeological layers.

These cognitions lead to one or two outcomes, either the deepening of the initial reactions.

In other words, they sustain the initial gut level reaction or they enhance the emotions that follow or they negate them.

They eliminate them or suppress them or turn them off.

And indeed we use terms like it turned me off or she turned me on.

But victims, repeat victims, habitual victims and their abusers do not react to each other the same way.

Their reaction to each other is almost exclusively visceral.

In other words, they confine themselves to the gut reaction and the emotions that follow.

They react to each other emotionally. They resonate emotionally. They suppress any subsequent condition, cognitions.

Actually, they experience subsequent analysis or cognitions as threats.

They tend to rely on their gut instincts. They tend to uphold their intuition and then they tend to run away with their emotions.

Both of them, both abusers and victims, abusers use cold empathy to scam the victim.

And the minute they find a vulnerability, they have an enormous well-spring of emotional resonance in reaction.

They are like predators or hunters, like sharks, which smell the blood in the water.

But this is an emotional reaction. A vulnerability triggers a whole array of emotions in the abuser.

And similarly, the abuser's qualities, lack of empathy, a bit of psychopathy, ruthlessness, these provoke in the victim a similar array or cascade of emotions.

The victim needs to be consumed. The victim wants to be a victim, the victim's comfort zone.

The abuser provides this comfort, provides this familiarity, provides the rules of the game, which the victim is used to.

So there is a very strong bonding, very strong attachment of pathologies and cognitions threaten this.

If the victim were to stop and say, what the hell am I doing? Who is this guy? You know, I should keep away, I should stay away.

I recognize all the signs. I know that he's an abuser. I know that he's going to abuse me.

If the victim were to say these things, if the victim were even to think these things, the bond would never materialize.

And the victim needs the bond. The victim depends on the bond.

Actually, bonding between victims and abusers can be very amply and perfectly described and captured using terms of addiction.

Bonding between victims and abusers is actually an addiction. It's an addictive behavior and it is very strong addictive components.

I've written an academic paper recently about it.

So this addiction is threatened by too much thinking.

And indeed, when you try to talk to habitual victims, when you try to analyze things with them, when you try to go deeper, they resent it. They explode. They say, you know, don't fuck up my mind. Leave me alone. I don't want to go that deep.

I succeeded to bury my pain. I don't want to revive it or resuscitate it or take it up.

Abuses similarly, when you try to go deeper, when you try to analyze what they're doing and why they're doing it, they become very aggressive or passive aggressive. They reject the therapy. They resent the therapist. They attack.

So both victims and abusers avoid cognitions at all costs. They regard them as threatening the foundations of a possible bond or attachment.

So victims and abusers bond, as I said, via their resonating pathologies.

Sometimes this bonding or attachment are beyond their awareness or consciousness. They just feel this inexorable push and pull. They feel this magnetic field, which sort of doesn't let them go, captures them.

They develop repetition compulsions. They keep coming back to the scene of the crime or the scene of a perpetration. They keep begging for more abuse in a variety of ways, using projective identification and projective interjection.

So victims and abusers are deluded.

In some respects, they are a shared psychotic disorder because they exclude a lot of reality and reality test is impaired. They fend off intervening information. They avoid analysis and avoid thinking.

That's one thing.

But why do victims refuse to face their abuses down? Bond is bond, attachment is attachment. But why not restore some semblance of a power matrix? Why don't they fight off the abuse? Why don't they kind of stand on their rise, demarcate their boundaries, defend and protect their integrity as an individual and their sovereignty? Why do victims give in to abuse? What do they stand to lose?

The fact is that most abusers and victims are simply lonely.

Psychologists don't like words like lonely because they're not very precise and because psychologists like to feel very important.

So they don't say lonely. What they say is that abusers and victims fail to internalize or interject significant others.

In other words, when the abusers and the victims nearest are far away, they cease to be their dearest. You are dearest only when you are nearest. When you are further away, you are neither.

Healthy people interact with internal representations of their loved ones. When the originals are absent, healthy people continue the dialogue and the interaction and the relationship with internalized representations, kind of avatars.

Healthy people cognitively recall the absentees. And once they get cognitively recall them, once they think about missing loved ones, they're flooded with emotions. And these emotions evoke and elicit memories of the departed.

Habitual victims and their abusers also start by cognitively dwelling on the missing persons. If the abuser's spouse is away or lover is away, if the victim's loved ones are away or abuser is away, both abusers and victims start by thinking about the people they miss.

But then something strange happens.

Instead of resorting to emotions, you remember in a healthy person, thoughts, cognitions evoke and elicit emotions.

But in victims and abusers who are not healthy people by definition, thoughts, cognitions do not evoke emotions. Instead, they evoke memories.

So here's the sequence.

In a healthy person, cognition, thought, emotion, memory. In an abuser or a victim, cognition, memory, thought. Emotions are mediated via memories.

Once the cognitions generate the memories, both abusers and victims experience dim and diffuse nostalgia. And they call this nostalgia emotion.

Naturally, it's not. They stop at memories.

Memories, again, evoke in them some kind of nostalgia.

But that's where, as far as it goes, there are no emotions, evoke. There is a void where an avatar of the ostensibly beloved shouldn't be. There's an emptiness there.

And this emptiness substitutes for the missing loved one.

It's as though once you are out of the victim's or abuser's sight, you're out of mind.

You, the memories attended to you, the feelings, all of this is gone. And what's left behind is a huge lacuna, a huge void.

Indeed, many victims with borderline personality disorder describe this emptiness, this void.

In recent studies of narcissistic personality disorders, which I'm proud to say that I was the one who started them, also discovered this void. Where the narcissist should have been, there's an emptiness.

There's no one there. Only howling winds. It's eerie. It's like a haunted house.

Abuses and victims fulfill each other's voids. That's what they do. That's what they're good at. That's why they become indispensable to each other. And that's why victims and abusers are highly specific. They are not interchangeable. It's very difficult for the victim to find another abuser.

And abusers like their victims. In some way, there is a strange affinity. One could even say, sick and distorted love between victims and abusers.

And that's why traumatic bonding is extremely difficult to break, literally impossible.

These two idiosyncrasies, processing everything via the gut level and via emotions, not via cognitions, and the lack of object constancy, these are at the heart of trauma bonding.

These are at the heart of dysfunctional attachment styles, and they usually culminate in a shared psychosis.

The victim feels that only the abuser can truly understand her. The victim feels that the abuser is her soulmate, her twin, and the abuser feels the same about the victim.

And in these two ways, they really are. They fulfill each other's need for object constancy, and they both process everything via emotions, banishing cognitions and eradicating.

The abuser provides object constancy and simulated emotions, and like his target, the abuser agrees to suspend introspection and judgment.

It is an intoxicating offering of merger and fusion that is not mediated nor is it scrutinized, cerebrally, and no victim and no abuser can resist.

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