April 29, 2004
Dear Readers, and one more
excellent submission from Dr. Sam... Dr. Irene
Violence in the family often follows other forms of more
subtle and long-term abuse: verbal, emotional, psychological sexual, or
It is closely correlated with alcoholism, drug consumption,
intimate-partner homicide, teen pregnancy, infant and child mortality,
spontaneous abortion, reckless behaviors, suicide, and the onset of mental
Most abusers and batterers are males - but a significant
minority are women. This being a "Women's Issue", the problem was swept
under the carpet for generations and only recently has it come to public
awareness. Yet, even today, society - for instance, through the court and
the mental health systems - largely ignores domestic violence and abuse in
the family. This induces feelings of shame and guilt in the victims and
"legitimizes" the role of the abuser.
Violence in the family is mostly spousal - one spouse
beating, raping, or otherwise physically harming and torturing the other.
But children are also and often victims - either directly, or indirectly.
Other vulnerable familial groups include the elderly and the disabled.
Abuse and violence cross geographical and cultural
boundaries and social and economic strata. It is common among the rich and
the poor, the well-educated and the less so, the young and the middle-aged,
city dwellers and rural folk. It is a universal phenomenon.
Abusers exploit, lie, insult, demean, ignore (the "silent
treatment"), manipulate, and control.
There are many ways to abuse. To love too much is to abuse.
It is tantamount to treating someone as an extension, an object, or an
instrument of gratification. To be over-protective, not to respect privacy,
to be brutally honest, with a sadistic sense of humour, or consistently
tactless - is to abuse.
To expect too much, to denigrate, to ignore - are all modes
of abuse. There is physical abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse,
sexual abuse. The list is long. Most abusers abuse surreptitiously. They
are "stealth abusers". You have to actually live with one in order to
witness the abuse.
There are three important categories of abuse:
The open and explicit abuse of another person. Threatening,
coercing, beating, lying, berating, demeaning, chastising, insulting,
humiliating, exploiting, ignoring ("silent treatment"), devaluing,
unceremoniously discarding, verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse
are all forms of overt abuse.
Covert or Controlling
Abuse is almost entirely about control. It is often a
primitive and immature reaction to life circumstances in which the abuser
(usually in his childhood) was rendered helpless. It is about re-exerting
one's identity, re-establishing predictability, mastering the environment -
human and physical.
The bulk of abusive behaviours can be traced to this
panicky reaction to the remote potential for loss of control. Many
abusers are hypochondriacs (and difficult patients) because they are afraid
to lose control over their body, its looks and its proper functioning. They
are obsessive-compulsive in an effort to subdue their physical habitat and
render it foreseeable. They stalk people and harass them as a means of
"being in touch" - another form of control.
To the abuser, nothing exists outside himself. Meaningful
others are extensions, internal, assimilated, objects - not external ones.
Thus, losing control over a significant other - is equivalent to losing
control of a limb, or of one's brain. It is terrifying.
Independent or disobedient people evoke in the abuser the
realization that something is wrong with his worldview, that he is not the
centre of the world or its cause and that he cannot control what, to him,
are internal representations.
To the abuser, losing control means going insane. Because
other people are mere elements in the abuser's mind - being unable to
manipulate them literally means losing it (his mind). Imagine, if you
suddenly were to find out that you cannot manipulate your memories or
control your thoughts ... Nightmarish!
In his frantic efforts to maintain control or re-assert it,
the abuser resorts to a myriad of fiendishly inventive stratagems and
mechanisms. Here is a partial list:
The abuser acts unpredictably, capriciously, inconsistently
and irrationally. This serves to render others dependent upon the next
twist and turn of the abuser, his next inexplicable whim, upon his next
outburst, denial, or smile.
The abuser makes sure that HE is
the only reliable element in the lives of his nearest and dearest - by
shattering the rest of their world through his seemingly insane behaviour.
He perpetuates his stable presence in their lives - by destabilizing their
Refuse to accept such behaviour. Demand reasonably
predictable and rational actions and reactions. Insist on respect for your
boundaries, predilections, preferences, and priorities.
One of the favourite tools of manipulation in the abuser's
arsenal is the disproportionality of his reactions. He reacts with supreme
rage to the slightest slight. Or he would punish severely for what he
perceives to be an offence against him, no matter how minor. Or, he would
throw a temper tantrum over any discord or disagreement, however gently and
considerately expressed. Or, he would act inordinately attentive, charming
and tempting (even over-sexed, if need be).
This ever-shifting code of conduct and the unusually harsh
and arbitrarily applied penalties are premeditated. The victims are kept in
the dark. Neediness and dependence on the source of "justice" meted and
judgment passed - on the abuser - are thus guaranteed.
Demand a just and proportional treatment. Reject or ignore
unjust and capricious behaviour.
If you are up to the inevitable confrontation, react in
kind. Let him taste some of his own medicine.
People have a need to believe in the empathic skills and
basic good-heartedness of others. By dehumanizing and objectifying people -
the abuser attacks the very foundations human interaction. This is the
"alien" aspect of abusers - they may be excellent imitations of fully
formed adults but they are emotionally absent and immature.
Abuse is so horrid, so repulsive, so phantasmagoric - that
people recoil in terror. It is then, with their defences absolutely down,
that they are the most susceptible and vulnerable to the abuser's control.
Physical, psychological, verbal and sexual abuse are all forms of
dehumanization and objectification.
Never show your abuser that you are afraid of him. Do not
negotiate with bullies. They are insatiable. Do not succumb to blackmail.
If things get rough- disengage, involve law enforcement
officers, friends and colleagues, or threaten him (legally).
Do not keep your abuse a secret. Secrecy is the abuser's
Never give him a second chance. React with your full
arsenal to the first transgression.
Abuse of Information
From the first moments of an encounter with another person,
the abuser is on the prowl. He collects information. The more he knows
about his potential victim - the better able he is to coerce, manipulate,
charm, extort or convert it "to the cause". The abuser does not hesitate to
misuse the information he gleaned, regardless of its intimate nature or the
circumstances in which he obtained it. This is a powerful tool in his
Be guarded. Don't be too forthcoming in a first or casual
meeting. Gather intelligence.
Be yourself. Don't misrepresent your wishes, boundaries,
preferences, priorities, and red lines.
Do not behave inconsistently. Do not go back on your word.
Be firm and resolute.
The abuser engineers impossible, dangerous, unpredictable,
unprecedented, or highly specific situations in which he is sorely needed.
The abuser makes sure that his knowledge, his skills, his connections, or
his traits are the only ones applicable and the most useful in the
situations that he, himself, wrought. The abuser generates his own
Stay away from such quagmires. Scrutinize every offer and
suggestion, no matter how innocuous.
Prepare backup plans. Keep others informed of your
whereabouts and appraised of your situation.
Be vigilant and doubting. Do not be gullible and
suggestible. Better safe than sorry.
Control by Proxy
If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues,
mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbours, the
media, teachers - in short, third parties - to do his bidding. He uses them
to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince,
harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate his target. He controls these
unaware instruments exactly as he plans to control his ultimate prey. He
employs the same mechanisms and devices. And he dumps his props
unceremoniously when the job is done.
Another form of control by proxy is to engineer situations
in which abuse is inflicted upon another person. Such carefully crafted
scenarios of embarrassment and humiliation provoke social sanctions
(condemnation, opprobrium, or even physical punishment) against the victim.
Society, or a social group become the instruments of the abuser.
Often the abuser's proxies are unaware of their role.
Expose him. Inform them. Demonstrate to them how they are being abused,
misused, and plain used by the abuser.
Trap your abuser. Treat him as he treats you. Involve
others. Bring it into the open. Nothing like sunshine to disinfest abuse.
The fostering, propagation and enhancement of an atmosphere
of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability and irritation. There
are no acts of traceable explicit abuse, nor any manipulative settings of
control. Yet, the irksome feeling remains, a disagreeable foreboding, a
premonition, a bad omen. This is sometimes called "gaslighting".
In the long term, such an environment erodes the
victim's sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Self-confidence is shaken
badly. Often, the victims adopts a paranoid or schizoid stance and thus
renders himself or herself exposed even more to criticism and judgment. The
roles are thus reversed: the victim is considered mentally deranged and
the abuser - the suffering soul.
Run! Get away! Ambient abuse often develops to overt and
You don't owe anyone an explanation - but you owe yourself
a life. Bail out.
ADDITIONAL ONLINE RESOURCES
with Abusive Narcissists
and Verbal Abuse Resources
and Emotional Abuse on Suite101
(Domestic) Abuse and Violence on Suite101
Site Family Violence
Guntrip, Harry. Personality Structure
and Human Interaction. New York, International Universities Press, 1961
Horovitz M. J. Stress Response Syndromes: PTSD, Grief
and Adjustment Disorders. 3rd Ed. New York, NY University Press, 1998
Jacobson, Edith. The Self and the Object World. New York, International
Universities Press, 1964
Millon, Theodore. Personality Disorders in Modern Life. New York, John
Wiley and Sons, 2000
Vaknin, Sam. Malignant Self-Love – Narcissism Revisited. Skopje and
Prague, Narcissus Publications, 1999, 2001, 2003