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.

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.

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.

Spot a Narcissist or a Psychopath on Your First Date

There are warning signs to identify abusers and narcissists early on in a relationship. One of the first signs is the abuser's tendency to blame others for their mistakes and failures. Other signs include hypersensitivity, eagerness to commit, controlling behavior, patronizing and condescending manner, and devaluing the partner. Abusers may also idealize their partner, have sadistic sexual fantasies, and switch between abusive and loving behavior. Paying attention to body language can also reveal warning signs.

Narcissist's Reactions to Abandonment, Separation, and Divorce

Narcissistic abusers often resort to self-delusion when faced with the dissolution of a meaningful relationship. They may adopt a masochistic avoidance solution, punishing themselves for their failure, or construct a delusional narrative in which they are the hero. Some may become antisocial psychopaths, while others develop persecutory delusions and withdraw completely from social contact, becoming schizoids. Finally, some abusers resort to an aggressive stance, becoming verbally, psychologically, and sometimes physically abusive towards loved ones.

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.

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.

Abuse Victim as Hostage: Stockholm Syndrome and Trauma Bonding

Abusive relationships require two people to sustain, and the abuser and the abused form a bond and dependence. Society often refuses to tackle this phenomenon, and people, mostly women, remain in abusive households for various reasons. The abuser treats their spouse as an object, devoid of a separate existence and denuded of distinct needs, preferences, wishes, and priorities. The abuser exploits the vulnerabilities in the psychological make-up of their victim, and abusive behavior often indicates serious underlying psychopathologies.

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.

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.

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