My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
Abusive conduct is not a uniform homogenous phenomenon.
Abuse stems and emanates from multiple sources and manifests in myriad ways.
Following are a few useful distinctions which pertain to abuse and could serve as organizing taxonomical principles, dimensional topologies, in a kind of matrix of pain.
First, there is overt versus covert abuse.
Overt abuse is the open and explicit, easily discernible, clear-cut abuse of another person in any way, shape or form, verbal, physical, sexual, financial, legal, psychological, emotional, etc.
Covert abuse revolves around the abuser's need to assert and maintain control over this victim. It can wear many forms, not all of which are self-evident, unequivocal and unambiguous.
Second distinction is between explicit versus stealth or ambient abuse, gaslighting.
It is a very useful distinction between explicit, manifest, obvious, indisputable, easily observable, even by a casual spectator or interlocutor, and stealth or ambient abuse, also known as gaslighting.
And this is the fostering, propagation and enhancement of an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability and predictability and irritation.
There are no acts of traceable, explicit abuse. There are no manipulative settings of control, but it's there in the air, in the atmosphere, in the environment.
Then we have projective versus directional abuse. Projective abuse is the outcome of the abuser's projection defense mechanism.
Projection is when the abuser attributes to other people feelings and traits, motives and behaviors that he himself possesses but deems unacceptable.
He is disconcerted by these ill-fitting attributes that he finds in himself.
So instead of saying, I am actually like this and that, he attributes it, he projects it to other people.
This way he disowns these discordant features and secures the right to criticize and chastise others for having or displaying them.
Such abuse is often cathartic. We'll talk about it later.
Directional abuse is not the result of projection. It is a set of behaviors aimed at a target, the victim, for the purpose of humiliating, punishing or manipulating her.
Such abusive conduct is functional. It's geared toward securing a favorable and desired outcome.
We have cathartic versus functional abuse.
While the aforementioned pair, directional versus projective abuse, deals with the psychodynamicals of the abuser's misbehavior, the current pair of categories, cathartic versus functional, is concerned with the abuser's consequences.
Some abusers behave the way they do because it alleviates their anxieties. It enhances their inflated, granular self-image, or it purges impurities and imperfections that they perceive either in the victim or in the situation, for instance, in their marriage.
So this kind of abuse is cathartic. It is aimed at making the abuser feel better.
Projective abuse, for instance, is always cathartic.
The other reason to abuse someone is because the abuser wants to motivate his victim to do something, to feel in a certain way, to refrain from committing an act.
And this is functional abuse, in the sense that it helps the abuser to adapt to his environment and operate in it, however it is functional.
Then we have pattern or structured abuse versus stochastic or random abuse.
Some abusers heap abuse all the time on everyone around them, spouse, children, neighbors, friends, bosses, coworkers, authority figures, and underlings.
So their abuse is diffuse. It's mitted out to everyone.
Abusive conduct is the only way they know how to react to a world in which they perceive to be hostile and exploitative.
The behavior of these abusers is hardwired. It's rigid. Ritualistic. It's structured.
Other abusers are less predictive. They are explosive. They are impulsive. They have a problem of managing their anger.
They respond with temper tantrums to narcissistic injuries and real and imaginary slights. They have ideas of reference. They think that everyone is talking about them, mocking them behind their back, ridiculing them.
These abusers appear to strike out of the blue, chaotic and random men, which cannot be attributed to any external trigger.
Then we have monovalent versus polevalent abuse. The monovalent abuser abuses only one party, one person or one group of people, repeatedly, viciously and thoroughly.
Such abusers perpetrate their acts in well-defined locations or frameworks, for instance at work or at home or in the workplace. They take great care to hide their hideous exploits and they present as socially acceptable things or rather facile in public.
Their acts are driven by the need to annihilate the object of their maltreatment or the source of their frustration, pathological injury.
In contrast, the polevalent abuser casts his net wide and far. He does not discriminate in choosing his prey. He is an equal opportunity abuser with multiple victims who often have little in common. He is rarely concerned with appearances. He regards himself above the law. He calls everyone, especially authority figures, in contempt. He is usually antisocial, psychopathic and narcissistic.
There is another distinction in the typology of abuse between characteristic personal style abuse and atypical abuse.
Abuse amounts to the personal style of most patterned or structured abusers.
Demeaning, injurious, humiliating and offensive behavior is their modus operandi, their reflexive reaction to stimuli and their credo.
Stochastic or random abusers act normatively and normally most of the time. Their abusive conduct is an aberration, a deviation perceived by the nearest and dearest to be atypical and even shocking.
Finally, there is normative versus deviant abuse.
We all inflict abuse on other people from time to time. Some abusive reactions are within the social norms and they are not considered to be indicative of a personal pathology or social or cultural anomaly.
In certain circumstances, abuse as a reaction is called for and is deemed actually nothing, socially commendable.
Still, the vast majority of abusive behaviors should be regarded as deviant, pathological, antisocial and perverse, ignoring for a minute the moral aspect.
It is important to distinguish between normative and deviant abuse. The total lack of aggression is unhealthy.
A cultural context is critical in assessing when someone crosses the line and becomes a deviant abuser, when it becomes pathological.