Good People Ignore Abuse and Torture: Why?

Uploaded 10/20/2010, approx. 5 minute read

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

Why do good people, churchgoers, pillars of the community, salt of the earth, why do these good people ignore abuse and neglect, even when it is on their doorstep, in their proverbial backyard?

Do they overlook abusive conduct in hospitals, orphanages, shelters, prisons, and families?

Well, a major reason is that it is very difficult to tell apart the abuser and his victim.

In a seminal essay titled Understanding the Badger in Visitation and Custody Disputes, Lanti Bancroft summed it up.

Bathers adopt the role of a hurt, sensitive man who doesn't understand how things go so bad and just wants to work it all out for the good of the children.

The abuser may cry and use language that demonstrates considerable insight into his own feelings. He is likely to be skilled at explaining how other people have turned the victim against him and how she is denying him access to the children as a form of revenge. He commonly accuses her of having mental health problems and may state that her family and friends agree with him, that she is hysterical and that she is promiscuous.

The abuser tends to be comfortable lying, having years of practice, and so can sound believable when making baseless statements. The abuser benefits when professionals believe that they can just tell who is lying and who is telling the truth, and so fail to adequately investigate his claims.

Because of the effects of trauma, the victim of battering will often seem hostile, disjointed, and agitated, while the abuser appears friendly, articulate, and calm. Evaluators are thus tempted to conclude that the victim is the source of the problems in their relationships.

So this is the first reason why people overlook abusive conduct. They simply don't know who is the abuser and who is the victim, but there are other reasons.

First, there is a lack of clear definition. The word abuse is so ill-defined and so open to culture-bound interpretation that no one really understands where it starts and where it ends.

We should distinguish functional abuse from the sadistic variety. The former is calculated to ensure outcomes or to punish transgressors. It is measured, impersonal, efficient, and disinterested. The latter, the sadistic variety of abuse, fulfills the emotional needs of a perpetrator and is very passionate.

This distinction is often blurred. People feel uncertain and therefore reluctant to intervene. The authorities know best, they lie to themselves.

Then there is a general human propensity to avoid the unpleasant. People, even good people, tend to avert their eyes from certain institutions which deal with anomalies and pain, death and illness. They tend to skirt the unsavory aspects of life which no one likes to be reminded of.

Like poor relatives, these institutions and events inside them are ignored and shunned. There is a common guilt. Even good people abuse others habitually.

Abusive conduct is so widespread that no one is exempt. Ours is a narcissistic and therefore abusive civilization.

People who find themselves caught up in the grip of narcissism, for instance, soldiers in war, nurses in hospitals, managers in corporations, parents or spouses in disintegrating and dysfunctional families or incarcerated inmates, tend to feel helpless and alienated. They experience a partial or total loss of control over their lives. They are rendered vulnerable, powerless and defenceless by events and circumstances which they feel are beyond their influence.

So abuse amounts to exerting an absolute and pervasive domination of the victim's existence. This is a coping strategy employed by the abuser. He wishes to reassert control over his life and thus to re-establish his mastery and superiority and abuse is the way to do that.

By subjugating the victim, the abuser regains his self-confidence and regulates his sense of self-worth.

So abuse is a catharsis. Even perfectly normal and good people, for instance, witness the events in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Even perfectly good and normal people channel their negative emotions, pent-up aggression, humiliation, rage, envy, diffuse hatred and they displace these emotions onto the victim.

The victims of abuse become symbols of everything that's wrong in the abuser's life and the situation he finds himself quoting.

The act of abuse amounts to misplaced and violent venting.

There is also the wish to conform and to belong, the ethics of peer pressure.

Many good people perpetrate heinous acts or refrain from criticising or opposing it all. Why do they do that? They behave this way in order to conform.

Abusing others is their way of demonstrating, of serious obeisance to authority, to affirm their group affiliation, their colleagueship and adherence to the same ethical or unethical code of conduct and common values.

Such good people who become abusers bask in the praise that is heaped on them by their superiors, fellow workers, associates, teammates or collaborators.

We have seen that during the Holocaust when perfectly normal accountants, lawyers, musicians, middle class, average, normal people became SS guards and exterminators in the gas chambers. They wanted to belong, they wanted to conform, they wanted to be praised. Their need to belong is so strong that it overpowers ethical, moral or legal considerations. They remain silent to face a neglect of use and atrocities because they feel insecure and they derive their identity almost entirely from the group.

Abuse rarely occurs where it does not have the sanction and blessing of the authorities, whether local or national.

The permissive environment is sine qua non. The more abnormal the circumstances, the less normative the milieu, the further the sin of the crime is from public scrutiny, the more is egregious abuse likely to occur.

This acquiescence is especially true in totalitarian societies where the use of physical force to discipline or eliminate dissent is an acceptable practice. In many cultures, this is also the practice in families, in family units.

Unfortunately, such behavior is also rampant in democratic, civilized, progressive, liberal societies.

Abuse is everywhere, averting our eyes, ignoring it only makes it worse and all pervasive.

One or later, it comes to haunt us, even the good people.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like the following:

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.

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.

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.

Abuse: Inevitable and Normal?

Abuse is a phenomenon that can be explained by three theories: emergent, hardwired, and as a strategy. The first theory suggests that abuse is learned and acquired behavior that is embedded in social and cultural contexts. The second theory suggests that abuse is a universal phenomenon that is hereditary and associated with mental illness. The third theory suggests that abuse is an adaptive and functional behavior that is used to control and manipulate victims. Understanding the roots of abuse can help society cope with its perpetrators.

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.

The Abuser's Mind

Abusers suffer from dissociation, a mild form of multiple personality, and often have a dichotomy between their behavior at home and in public. They view their victims as two-dimensional representations, devoid of emotions and needs, and convert them into their own worldview. Abusers are often narcissists with low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence, and abuse is bred by fear of being mocked or betrayed. There are various forms of manipulation that constitute verbal and emotional abuse, including withholding, countering, discounting, blocking, blaming, and accusing.

It's All My Fault: I Provoked Him

Abusers tend to blame others for their misfortunes, mistakes, and misconduct, and believe that the world is a hostile place out to get them. Victims of abuse often adopt the abusers' point of view and begin to feel guilty and responsible for the abusers' reprehensible behaviors. Shared psychosis is a complex phenomenon with numerous psychodynamic roots, and victims may fear abandonment, grew up in dysfunctional families, or are simply masochistic. Victims should realize that abuse is never a form of expressing love and should analyze their relationship to determine if they can reframe their roles or if they need to plan a getaway.

Deja-vu: Fight Back Gaslighting, Messing with YOUR Mind

Gaslighting is a manipulative form of communication where a power differential exists, often involving invalidation of emotions, twisting reality, and coercion. It can lead to lower self-worth, feelings of insecurity, depression, and anxiety. To combat gaslighting, it is important to recognize the situation, document events and feelings, assert oneself, seek support from others, and consult a professional if necessary. Gaslighting is a dangerous form of emotional abuse that can have long-lasting effects on mental health.

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.

Abuse Victims Fear Holidays, Birthdays

Holidays can be a nightmare for victims of family violence and abuse, especially when the offender has narcissistic or antisocial psychopathic personality disorders. Holidays provoke a particularly virulent strain of pathological envy in abusers with these disorders. The narcissistic and psychopathic abuser feels deprived and wants to spoil the party for everyone else. It is important to set boundaries and punish misbehavior and maltreatment.

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