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The Abuser's Mind

Uploaded 7/14/2011, approx. 4 minute read

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

To embark on our exploration of the mind of the abuser, we first need to agree on the taxonomy of abusive behaviors.

Methodically observing abuse is the surest way of getting to know the perpetrators of their psyche.

Abusers appear to be suffering from dissociation, kind of a mild form of multiple personality.

At home, abusers are intimidating and suffocating monsters, but when they go outside, outdoors, they are wonderful, caring, giving, and much admired pillars of the community.

So why this duplicity? Why this dichotomy?

It is partly premeditated, intended to disguise the abuser's acts.

But more importantly, this division between indoors and outdoors reflects the abusers' inner world, where the victims are nothing but two-dimensional representations.

They are objects, devoid of emotions and needs, mere extensions of the abuser's self.

To the abuser's mind, his horrors, his prey, his victims do not merit humane treatment, nor do they evoke empathy because they don't exist as human beings, full-fledged and three-dimensional.

Typically, the abuser succeeds to sort of convert the abuse, convert the victim into his, the abuser's, worldview.

The victim and the victimizes don't realize that something is wrong with the relationship. They think the relationship is okay.

This denial is common and all-pervasive, permeates other spheres of the abuser's life as well. It's not limited to his relationships.

Abusers are often narcissists. They are steeped in grandiose fantasies, divorced from reality, besotted with their false self, consumed by feelings of omnipotence, omniscience, entitlement, paranoia.

But contrary to stirrup, stereotypes, both the abuser and his prey, his victims, usually suffer from disturbances, problems in the regulation of their sense of self-worth.

Low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence render the abuser and his confabulated self vulnerable to criticism, disagreement, exposure and adversity, whether real or imagined.

So abuse is bred by fear, fear of being mocked or betrayed, abandoned.

It is the child, abuses the child of emotional insecurity, anxiety, panic and apprehension.

It is a last-ditch effort to exert control, to reassert oneself, for instance, over one's spouse by annexing the victim, possessing her and punishing her for being a separate entity with her own boundaries, needs, feelings, preferences and dreams.

In her seminal tome, the verbally abusive relationship, Patricia Evans lists the various forms of manipulation which together constitute verbal and emotional or psychological abuse.

So there's withholding, a silent treatment, countering, refuting or invalidating the spouse's statements or actions, discounting, putting down the spouse's emotions, possessions, experiences, hopes and fears, sadistic and brutal humor, blocking, in other words, avoiding a meaningful exchange, diverting the conversation, changing the subject. I call it disintimation, the ruination of intimacy.

Then there's blaming and accusing, judging and criticizing, undermining and sabotaging, threatening, name-calling, forgetting and denying, ordering around, denial and abusive anger.

But this is not an exhaustive list. We can safely add the following.

Wounding honesty, ignoring, smothering, dotting, unrealistic expectations, invasion of privacy, tactlessness, sexual abuse, physical maltreatment, humiliating, shaming, insinuating, lying, exploiting, devaluating and discarding the victim.

Being unpredictable is a form of abuse, reacting disproportionately, dehumanizing, objectifying, abusing confidence and intimate information, engineering in possible situations, controlled by proxy in what I call stealth or ambient abuse, better known as gaslighting.

All these forms of abuse. In his comprehensive essay, Understanding the Batterer in Custody and Visitation Disputes, Lundy Bancroft observes, because of the distorted perceptions that the abuser has of rights and responsibilities in relationships, he, the abuser, considers himself to be the victim.

Acts of self-defense on the part of the battered woman or children or efforts they make to send up for their rights or even to protect themselves. The abuser defines as aggression against him.

He is often highly skilled at twisting his descriptions of events to create the convincing impression that he has been victimized.

He thus accumulates grievances over the course of a relationship to the same extent that the victim does, which can lead professionals to decide that the members of the couple abuse each other and that their relationship has been mutually hurtful.

Yet whatever form of ill-treatment and cruelty the abuser meets out, the structure of the interaction and the roles played by abuser and victim are the same.

Identifying these patterns and how they are influenced by prevailing social and cultural mores, values and beliefs is a first and indispensable step towards recognizing abuse, coping with it and amirating its inevitable and excruciatingly agonizing aftermath.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


Why Childhood Abuse Victims Hate And Are Hated

Victims of childhood abuse tend to hate themselves and provoke others to hate them as well, as they feel more comfortable when despised and rejected. This self-destructive behavior is influenced by the reactions of adults in their environment, shaping their self-states and molding their brains. Abused children develop trauma and post-traumatic conditions due to the reactions of the adults around them. Narcissists, in particular, love to be hated and hate to be loved, fearing intimacy and seeking punishment through provoking negative reactions from others.


Narcissistic Abuser Cons System

Abusers are often able to deceive mental health and social welfare workers, even when the diagnosis is unequivocal. There are four types of mental health and law enforcement professionals and practitioners who can be co-opted by abusers: adulators, ignorant professionals, self-deceivers, and those who are actively deceived. Mental health professionals are often egocentric and emotionally invested in their opinions, and they may pathologize the behavior of victims who disagree with them. Victims of abuse may need to stage a well-calibrated performance to convince therapists that they are the victim.


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.


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.


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.

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