inquiries from victim people ask about the prognosis of their abuser.
Often readers specifically ask about antisocial personality traits (a.k.a.
sociopathy): the lack of empathy and remorse they perceive in their loved
one. They wonder if their abuser is "fixable". Here is an example of this type of email.
Here's an interactive email from someone with Antisocial
an Antisocial Personality?
Please refer to the accepted
diagnostic criteria of the American Psychiatric Association for Antisocial Personality Disorder. But
before you diagnose your loved one, hold still and don't jump the gun!
It is important to note that an individual may have antisocial
traits, but does not meet criteria for the Personality Disorder, which
is more serious. The same source (DSM-IV)1 qualifies what
is meant by the term, "Personality Disorder" as opposed
to "personality trait:"
"Personality traits are
enduring patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the
environment and oneself that are exhibited in a wide range of social and
personal contests. Only when personality traits are inflexible and
maladaptive and cause significant functional impairment or subjective
distress do they constitute Personality Disorders." (p. 630)
Word of caution: Use this
information as a guideline. Do not make lay diagnoses. You don't have
the background. You will not be able to determine the difference between a
"trait" and a "disorder." Also, be aware that other
disorders may mimic or account for the phenomena. For example, situational
stress and transient mental states resulting from Mood or Anxiety
Disorders or Intoxication may mimic, but do not constitute a Personality Disorder.
the Antisocial Personalities "Bad Guys"?
Ok, with all that out of the way,
what does all this mean? We've all heard about the rotten criminals who
kill people for profit or malice, and who feel no remorse. We think of
this group as suffering from antisocial personality disorder. Unless
otherwise crazy (e.g.,. psychotic), in all likelihood they are antisocial
Nevertheless, antisocial personality
types, without getting into the fine points of traits vs. disorder, are not always "bad guys". Sometimes they are
"good guys." Many antisocial types are very successful and
productive citizens. They are CEOs,
Presidents, famous people, etc. Antisocial types accomplish lots of good
Antisocial type who are very, very
smart are often very, very good at what they do. The really, really,
ones never get caught! They seamlessly manipulate their way to whatever,
and no one is the wiser. The pretty good ones may get to where they aspire,
but they eventually slip up and are found out. In my blatantly unhumble opinion, even though I have
never met the person, I can think of one such President whom I think fits
the Bill...but my mouth is zipped.
Remember, abuse occurs behind
closed doors. You know your spouse, Roger or Sally, is Satan in disguise -
but everyone else thinks they're The Best. While these people are not
necessarily "bad guys" to the world, they make your life Hell.
That's because they "love" you.
What About My Abuser?
In general, the
"sicker" the individual, the worse the prognosis. The same is
true with any disorder. This generalization is heavily qualified by the
individual's motivation for recovery
typically have antisocial qualities. Antisocial qualities detract from
motivation to fix the underlying problem. There is no reason to change
when one is getting the stuff they think they want - like the
frustration-reducing "satisfaction" of blaming/beating up their
victim; the "satisfaction" of an affair, substance abuse,
gambling, etc. The victim's withdrawal and insistence that they
recover may be the only motivation they have.
Unlike the victim who
spends so much time in a place of guilt, questioning the self, the
abusive-antisocial doesn't. This person blames the other. The
antisocial person's problems are perceived as originating from
outside the self, often from the "withholding" other who should
give them X, Y, and Z. Funny thing, the victim-codependent doesn't give X,
Y, and Z because they don't want to, but because they can't! What
is being asked for can only be given by the self.
variable, in my opinion, is the key that separates the "true"
victim from the "true" abuser. I'm speaking broadly. The
antisocial variable is certainly a factor in sociopathy, but it is also
found in narcissism, in BPD, and elsewhere. It's the part of the
individual that simply does not care...
Even though both victims and
abusers have suffered childhood abuse and both can appear abusive,
only the truly abusive (i.e., antisocial) person expects that which
can't be given. This individual, deep down, thinks the problem is with
YOU (That the problem is outside the self is what essentially defines
"personality disorder.") The victim, deep down, thinks the problem is with THEMSELVES.
Want to get even more
confused? There is an interaction between the victim and the abuser. Since
there are no absolutes, if Alice is 70% codependent and 30% abusive and is
dating Benny, who is 80% abusive and 20% codependent, Alice will be
"the victim." If Benny leaves Alice and starts dating Joe, who
is 60% codependent and 40% abusive, Alice is likely to be "the
abuser." Go figure...
About MY Abuser?
about your abuser? What about yourself for that matter?
Well, for those of you who are old enough to understand, lets put it this
way: "Only your hairdresser knows for sure". For the young 'uns:
who knows? Your guess is almost as good as mine.
The clearest description of the
underlying thinking inherent in the various personality disorders is found
in Beck & Freeman et al. Cognitive
Therapy of Personality Disorders.
1The Diagnostic and
Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). American
Psychiatric Association, 1994.