Bad Therapy for Abuse Victims and Survivors

Uploaded 8/24/2010, approx. 3 minute read

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

Ideally, after a period of combined tutoring, talk therapy, and anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications, the survivor of abuse and the victim of abuse will self-mobilize, emerge from the experience more resilient and assertive, less gullible and self-deprecating.

The therapy for victims and survivors of abuse is not always a smooth ride.

Victims of abuse are settled with emotional baggage which often provokes, even in the most experienced therapies, reactions of helplessness, rage, fear and guilt.

Counter-transference is common. Therapists of both genders identify with the victim and resent her for making them feel impotent and inadequate in their role as social protectors.

Female therapists, for instance, say to themselves, it could have been me sitting there, and so to fend off anxiety and a sense of vulnerability, they involuntarily blame the spineless victim and her poor judgment for causing their abuse.

Some female therapists concentrate on the victim's childhood rather than her harrowing present or accuse her of overreacting.

Male therapists, on the other hand, may assume the mantle of the chivalrous rescuer, the knight in the shining armor, thus inadvertently upholding the victim's view of herself as immature, helpless, clinging, needy, need of protection, vulnerable, weak and ignorant.

The male therapist may be driven to prove to the victim that not all men are beasts and that they are a good specimen by himself. If his conscious or unconscious overtures are rejected, the therapist may identify with the abuser and re-victimize and pathologize his victim.

Many therapists tend to over-identify with the victim and rage the abuser at the police and at the system. They expect the victim to be equally aggressive, even as they broadcast to her how powerless, unjustly treated and discriminated against she is.

If she fails to externalize aggression and show assertiveness, these therapists feel betrayed, disappointed.

Most therapists react impatiently to the victim's perceived codependence, unclear messages and none of relationship with her tormentor.

Such rejection by the therapist may lead to a premature termination of the therapy, well before the victim has learned how to process anger and cope with her low self-esteem and learned helplessness.

Finally, there is the issue of personal security.

Some ex-lovers and ex-spouses are paranoid stalkers and therefore dangerous. The therapist may even be required to testify against the offender in a court of law.

Therapists are human, well at least some of them, in fear for their own safety and the security of their loved ones. This affects their ability to help the victim.

This is not to say that therapy invariably fails. On the contrary, most therapeutic alliances succeed to teach the victim of abuse to accept and transform the negative emotions into positive energy.

They succeed to completely draw and implement realistic plans of actions for the survivor of abuse. And they succeed to avoid the pitfalls of the past.

Good therapy is empowering, restores the victim's sense of control over her life. Yet it is crucial to find a match therapist that is compatible with a specific victim of survivor of abuse.

Thinking about finding a good therapist is a crucial step.

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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.

Victims of Abuse: Recovery and Healing

Sam Vaknin discusses the process of healing and recovery for victims of abuse. The therapist's first task is to legitimize and validate the victim's fears and make it clear that the victim is not responsible for the abuse. Facing, reconstructing, and reframing the traumatic experiences is crucial for healing. Education is an important tool in the recovery process, and the victim should be made aware of the prevalence and nature of violence against women, warning signs, legal redress, coping strategies, and safety precautions. The therapist should emphasize the survivor's strengths and help the victim regain control of her life.

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.

Stalked: Get Help

Victims of abuse should seek help from family, friends, and colleagues. However, the legal system may not be effective in dealing with stalking and domestic violence. Victims should document the abuse and report it to the police and building security. They should also hire a security expert if the threat is credible or imminent and rely on professional advice from attorneys, accountants, private detectives, and therapists. Joining support groups and organizations for victims of abuse and stalking can also be validating and empowering.

Coping Styles: Narcissist Abuses "Loved" Ones Despite Abandonment Anxiety

Narcissists abuse their loved ones to decrease their abandonment anxiety, restore their sense of grandiosity, and test their partner's loyalty. Abuse also serves as a form of behavior modification, as it signals to the partner that they need to modify their behavior to avoid abuse. Coping styles for dealing with abuse include submissiveness, conflicting, mirroring, collusion, and displacement, but some of these styles can be harmful and should be avoided.

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.

Test Yourself: Mortification, Hoovering, and Attraction Scales

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses two tools he has developed based on his database of people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. The first tool, the Heartbreak and Recovery Scale, helps gauge mortification and predicts how long it will take a narcissist to recover from a traumatic breakup or infidelity. The second tool, the S1-S2 score, measures promiscuity and self-efficacy, and helps identify traits that make a potential partner irresistible to a narcissist. These tools are not peer-reviewed or vetted but are based on Vaknin's extensive research and analysis of his database.

Staring Into Abyss: Failed Healer's Confession

Therapists, psychologists, counselors, and coaches can be traumatized by their work, especially when they encounter patients who are beyond help. These patients have minds that are tangled messes, and therapists can be drawn inexorably deeper into their primordial jungle, knowing that it could spell their own doom. When a therapist comes across a patient like this, they are liable to lose their mind, and it is a terrifying experience. Therapists can burn out, melt down, act out, decompensate, and dysregulate, and they can react very badly.

Contract with Your Abuser - Part II

To negotiate with an abuser, it is best to co-opt their prejudices and pathology by catering to their infantile emotional needs and complying with their wishes, complex rules, and arbitrary rituals. It is useless to confront the abuser head-on to engage in power politics. To move the abuser to attend couple or marital therapy, tell them that you need their help to restore your relationship to its former warmth and intimacy. Gradually, try to free the rigid edges of your sex rules.

Abuse By Proxy

Abusers often use third parties to control, coerce, threaten, stalk, tempt, seduce, harass, communicate, or manipulate their targets. They use the same mechanisms and devices to control these unaware instruments as they plan to control their ultimate prey. The abuser perverts the system, and therapists, marriage counselors, mediators, court-appointed guardians, police officers, and judges end up upholding the abuser's version and helping him further abuse his victims. The victim's children are the abuser's greatest source of leverage over his abused spouse or mate.

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