The Shock of Abuse

Uploaded 6/21/2011, approx. 3 minute read

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

Abusers mistreat only their nearest, dearest and closest. Spouse, children, or more rarely, colleagues, friends and neighbors.

To the rest of the world, the abuser appears to be a composed, rational, functioning and even benign person.

Abusers are very adept at casting a veil of secrecy, often with the active connivance and aid of their victims, over their dysfunction and misbehavior. They cloak it.

This is why the abuser's offending behavior comes as a shock, even to people who are acquainted with him or her.

In the October 2003 issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Dr Christina Nicolaitis of the Oregon Health and Science University of Portland studied 30 women between the ages of 17 and 54. All these women, us, have been survivors of attempted homicide by their intimate partners. Half of these women, 14, confessed to have been, quote, completely surprised, unquote, by the attack.

They did not realize how violent their partner can be and the extent of risk that they were continuously exposed to.

Yet all these women were the victims of previous episodes of abuse, including of the physical kind. They could easily have predicted that an attempt to end a relationship would result in an attack on body and property.

It should not have come as a surprise to them.

Yet even the author of the research confesses to having been surprised.

She says, if I had talked to some of these women before the attack, the attempted homicide, I would have counseled them about the domestic violence, but I would not have necessarily felt that their lives were in danger.

Nicolaitis told Reuters, now I am more careful to warn any woman who has experienced intimate partner violence about the risk to her life, especially around the time that their relationship is ending.

Secrecy is a major weapon in the abuser's arsenal.

Many batterers maintain a double life and keep it a well-guarded secret. Others show one face benign or truistic to an admiring world and another face hideous, ominous and aggressive at home.

All abusers insist on keeping the abuse confidential, safe from crying eyes and ears. Dirty laundry should stay at home.

The victims collaborate in this cruel game through cognitive dissonance and traumatic bonding. They rationalize the abuser's behavior, attributing such misconduct to incompatibility, mental health problems, temporary setbacks or circumstances, their relationship, substance abuse and even an abusive childhood.

Many victims actually feel guilty. They have been convinced by the offender that they are to blame for the misconduct.

The famous sentence, You see what you made me do? Other victims relabel the abuse and attribute it to the batterer's character idiosyncrasies.

The abuse is explained away as the said outcome of a unique upbringing, childhood abuse or passing events.

Abusive incidents are recast, is for rarities, the exceptions, not the rule, abnormalities, few and far between and not as bad as they appear to be.

Some victims even justify the abuse. They say that the abuser's outbursts are understandable, justify temper tantrums, childish manifestations, a tolerable price to pay for an otherwise wonderful relationship.

When is a woman's life at risk?

Nicolaitis told Reuters, classic risk factors for an attempted homicide by an intimate partner include escalating episodes or severity of violence, threats with or use of weapons, alcohol or drug use and violence to children.

Yet this list leaves out what I call ambient abuse, the stealth, subtle underground currents of maltreatment that sometimes go unnoticed even by the victims themselves, atmospheric abuse.

Until of course it is too late.

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