Mental Illness: No Excuse for Abuse

Uploaded 2/26/2023, approx. 13 minute read

And like a bad coin, here I am again, your blue professor of psychology.

My name is Sam Vaknin and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and countless other books which no one, myself included, has ever read.

So today we're going to discuss psychopaths and narcissists under the radar, masquerading and camouflaged as something else.

But in order to understand how this works, we first need to discuss defenses.

Alloplastic defenses versus autoplastic defenses.

You can't say that I'm not exposing you to twenty dollar words recently.

Autoplastic defenses simply means blaming oneself for the consequences and outcomes of one's own choices and decisions, as well as blaming oneself for the outcomes of the choices that other people make, and even for circumstances beyond one's control.

In other words, blaming myself or blaming yourself for everything and for everyone.

Whatever other people do, it's your fault. Whatever mishaps and misfortunes occur must have been you.

Even when circumstances change, I don't know, natural disasters, you should have taken greater care and you should have been more careful to avoid the unfavorable consequences.

Autoplastic defenses are a common type of defense in neurosis, and they are contrasted with alloplastic defenses.

Alloplastic defenses is the opposite, blaming other people, blaming other people for the predictable consequences and outcomes of your own choices and decisions.

You make bad choices, bad decisions, you're never guilty, you're never to blame, you're never ashamed, you never accept responsibility, it's never your fault, you're never wrong, you never apologize.

Other people are to blame, they made it happen, they conspired, they were lazy or indolent, they were stupid, they underestimated or overestimated or did not estimate or something.

Always blaming other people, institutions, the weather, God, universe, destiny and of course the Chinese Communist Party.

Autoplastic defenses are a feature of cluster B personality disorders, especially narcissistic, borderline and psychopathic, antisocial, personality disorder.

Examples of alloplastic defenses?

It is their fault, they made me do it, they should have been more careful, they should have been less gullible.

Frequently you talk to a psychopathic corner artist and he says they had it coming, they had it coming, they should have been more cautious, they should have been more wary, they should have done their due diligence, they should have done some research, it's not my fault that they are naive, bumbling fools, indeed.

But there are situations where autoplastic defenses mix with alloplastic defenses, this is especially true where cognitive distortions are involved, cognitive distortions such as grandiosity.

Example, there are many people who are for example, people pleasers, there are many people who are emotionally dysregulated or delusional or paranoid or narcissistic or passive aggressive or depressive or anxious or egodystonic. There are many people with problems in functioning, problems, flaws in character and pathologies of the self.

But all these psychopathologies sometimes serve as excuses, as covers for psychopathic, immoral, antisocial and narcissistic acts and misconduct.

And this is a unique combination of both alloplastic and autoplastic defenses.

Similarly, mentally ill people would say I am the victim of my own proclivities, my own weaknesses, my own lack of mental health, my own character defects. I am a victim, all these things are me, of course, I am the one who is having the flawed disorder, I am the one with the personality disorder, I am the one whose anxiety drives him to act impulsively and recklessly, I am the one whose emotional dysregulation causes him to be aggressive and hurtful to other people. I am the one, but these things overpower me, they overwhelm me, I can't help it, it's stronger than me.

So in a way, it's me, autoplastic defense, but it's not my fault, alloplastic defense.

In this case, internal structures, internal constructs, internal introjects, internal processes serve as some kind of outside influence.

It's as if you were to say in the Middle Ages, "Unpossessed, I have demons inside me." These demons are responsible, yes, they're inside me, my body is there abode, my mind is the shrine of these demons, that's where they reside, but these demons are not me.

In some way, they're not who I am.

So they're responsible for my misbehavior and misconduct.

Personal illness is the new demonology, psychiatry is the new form of demonology.

So instead of demons, we say personality disorders.

So it's blaming your illness for your misbehavior, blaming your character for your misbehavior, your parents, your upbringing.

So it's a combination of autoplastic and anaplastic defense.

People are leveraging the excuses that people are leveraging and taking advantage of my frailties.

I never do wrong, I never to blame, I'm never responsible for my actions, there are higher internal forces at work.

I'm as much a victim as the people I victimize.

They need to believe, there's a need to believe on both parties, in both sides of the abyss, both sides of the equation.

The abuser needs to believe that he is essentially a good person, a good person who is imperfect, owing to his or her mental illness and personality constitution.

So the messages or the underlying signal is, it's a form of virtue signaling, the underlying signal is I'm a good person but I hurt people and I hurt people because I cannot help it.

I'm the victim of these forces which are stronger than me.

Please forgive me, please help me to help myself, please restrain me somehow.

So this is on the abuser side.

On the victim side there's also a need to believe.

It's the need to believe in the essential goodness of people.

It's the need to believe that the world is essentially just and structured.

It's a naive kind of belief of course, but it's essential for daily functioning.

We need to believe that people will not act maliciously for no reason at all or even when there is a reason. We need to believe that the world has some kind of underlying order which is intimately connected with a sense of justice.

We need to believe all this.

And another need is to not feel like a victim.

We don't want to feel stupid.

No one wants to believe that his judgment is wrong.

No one wants to suspect that he misapprehends people.

No one wants to think that she can and do fall in the hands of predators or con artists.

People don't want to believe that they have been victimized.

And these needs, they need to believe in some kind ofsome quiddity of goodness in people.

They need to believe that the world is structured and just.

They need to not feel like a victim.

These needs coalesce.

They come together and they result in a cognitive dissonance when people we have trusted and role models misbehave, when they betray us.

There's a great break in the order of the world.

The unease is extreme. The anxiety is profound.

There's a sense of all pervasive discomfort and inner conflict that ruptures usasunder, tears us apart.

And we need to get to grips with thislest we lose it.

Lest we sleep over the edge and crash way down below.

And so to allay this, to mitigate, to ameliorate this, we deceive ourselves.

In order to overcome this internal upheaval, this inner upsetwhen we are confronted with the truth, we lie to ourselves.

We refrain.

So, for example, we say, well, maybe she hurt me. Maybe she did me wrong.

But she's flawed. She's weak. She's human. She means well.

She's just, unfortunately, mentally ill. And she's so in need of love.

Or we say she's a people pleaser. She's emotionally dysregulated. She's merely being depressed or anxious. She's delusional. She's labile.

In short, she didn't hurt me. She is not the one who hurt me. She is not the one who devastated me. It's her disorder. It's her mental illness. It's her character flow. It's her personality in disarray.

Whoops! The dissonance is gone.

Now, you don't blame yourself for having misjudged another person. You don't blame the other person, even.

There's this mysterious third essence, mysterious entity, ectoplasm of a ghost, the ghost of mental illness in the air.

She didn't do anything to me. Her borderline personality did.

He didn't abuse me. His people-pleasing tendency did.

So no one is to blame. And there's no dissonance.

But in reality, of course, she did victimize you. He did damage you. They did prey on you.

She, to say that she did not mean it, it is not her fault, it was stronger than her, you see, this is to deceive yourself, because everyone has a choice, ultimately. And everyone can tell right from wrong unless they are severely psychotic.

The thing is that this need to deny that you had become a victim, that you had been victimized, this need is coupled with grandiose, autoplastic defenses.

The tendency to blame yourself for anything that had gone wrong, because you need to feel in control. Your grandiosity tells you, you should be supreme, you should be above, you should be in charge, you should be the puppet master.

And so, if you are in control, you made it happen. If she acted immorally and hurt you to the quick, and ruined you and devastated you with her actions, it was all your fault. You made her do it. You caused it to happen. You're not the victim, you're the victimizer, you're the abuser, so everything is fine. You're the one who took advantage of the character flaws and the mental illness of other people.

And so, if you made it happen, if you orchestrated the whole thing, if you took charge and if you were in control, then you're still safe.

To restore this sense of safety, you need to reframe everything in terms of control.

And this is, again, an auto-plastic defense.

So as you can see, auto-plastic defenses and alloplastic defenses intermingle, are very often entwined. They very often interact with each other.

And in quite a few cases, they coexist, they are co-extant.

It is wrong to say that people have only auto-plastic defenses or only alloplastic defenses.

I gave you an example that if you're grandiose, you're likely to deploy auto-plastic defenses in order to restore your sense of control.

And if you are mentally ill or believe yourself to be mentally ill, you're likely to deploy alloplastic defenses directed at yourself. You're likely to say, "My mental illness made me do it, not me," as if your mental illness was not you. As if your mental illness is not a part of you.

And this is, of course, fiction, but very useful fiction, allowing you to split auto-plastic defenses from alloplastic defenses and also to split yourself in the middle.

There is you and you're all good and there is your mental illness. And your mental illness is all bad. And it is this bad part of you, your mental illness, that is responsible for your abusive misconduct and egregious misbehavior.

This part of you, this dark side, this shadow, whatever you want to call it, it is to blame, not you. It's kind of self-directed, self-splitting, which allows you to entertain simultaneously alloplastic and auto-plastic defenses.

So the field is a lot more murky than Freud had believed and others later.

It seems that we all deploy multiple arrays and cascades of alloplastic and auto-plastic defenses intended to preserve cognitive distortions and to reframe reality in a way that will not cause us undue trauma and will not push us to decompensate and act out.

Thank you.


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