Not all abusers are dysfunctional. Many of them are pillars of society. Abusers come in all shapes and sizes: successful professionals, or peripatetic con-artists, affluent or poor, young or old, well-educated or dropouts. There is no profile of the "typical abuser".
Yet, abusive behavior often indicates serious underlying psychopathologies, such as personality disorders (Narcissistic, Borderline, Paranoid, or Antisocial are the most common among abusers). Abuse is often associated with alcoholism, drug-use, and other reckless, addictive, or compulsive behaviors.
Denying the Abuse
Abusers deny the abuse or rationalize it. They tend to shift blame or avoid the topic altogether.
Types of Denial
1.Total outright denial
"It never happened, or it was not abuse, you are just imagining it, or you want to hurt my (the abuser's) feelings"
2. Alloplastic defense
"It was your fault, you, or your behavior, or the circumstances, provoked me into such behavior"
3. Altruistic defense
"I did it for you, in your best interests"
4. Transformative defense
"What I did to you was not abuse - it was common and accepted behavior (at the time, or in the context of the prevailing culture or in accordance with social norms), it was not meant as abuse"
Abusers are concerned with their reputation and image in the community - neighbors, colleagues, co-workers, bosses, friends, extended family.
Forms of denial in public
5. Family honor stricture
"We don't do dirty laundry publicly, the family's honor and repute must be preserved, what will the neighbors say?"
"My spouse/ partner is a wonderful person."
(supposedly the victimized person who exposes them should be an AWFUL person in comparison. NOTE: Usually this is after the abuser has told the victim for MONTHS how horrible, cold, nasty, etc. their spouse/ partner is!)
6. Family functioning stricture
"If you snitch and inform the authorities, they will take me (the abusive parent) away and the whole family will disintegrate"
"You are hurting my/ our -- family/ spouse/ friends by telling"
How to Identify an Abuser
Abusers have alloplastic defenses. They tend to blame every mistake, failure, or mishap on others, or on the world at large. They do not assume personal responsibility, do not admit to having faults and miscalculations, keep blaming others for their predicament. "Look what you made me do!" is an abuser's ubiquitous catchphrase.
The abuser is hypersensitive, picks up fights, feels constantly slighted, injured, and insulted. He rants incessantly, treat animals and children impatiently or cruelly and expresses negative and aggressive emotions towards the weak, the poor, the needy, the sentimental, and the disabled.
Abusers often have a history of battering or violent offenses. They use vile language and infused with expletives, threats, and hostility.
Abusers appear at first to be too eager. They push others to marry him, to conclude a partnership with him having dated or met only once or twice. They immediately embark on detailed and grandiose plans of having children, or making millions, or becoming famous. In a romantic encounter, the abuser casts his date in the role of the love of his life and presses her for exclusivity, instant intimacy, and sex. He acts jealous when she as much as casts a glance at another male and informs her that she should abandon her studies or resign her job and, thus, forgo her autonomy.
Abusers do not respect boundaries and privacy. They ignore other people's wishes, choices, and preferences and are the sole decision makers, not bothering to consult anyone beforehand. They treat their nearest and dearest as objects or instruments of gratification.
Many abusers are compulsive control freaks.
Abusers are patronizing and condescending, overly critical and devaluing. But this behavior alternates with idealization - exaggerating others' talents, traits, power, intellect, wealth, and skills. Abusers, in other words, are unrealistic in their expectations and emotionally labile.
Some abusers are sadists-masochists. They find sadistic sex exciting and have fantasies of rape or pedophilia. They forceful during the sexual act and like inflicting pain or find it amusing. Others "merely" abuse (usually their closest) verbally - curse, demean, call ugly or inappropriately diminutive names, or persistently criticize. Typically, they then switch to being saccharine and "loving", apologizing profusely and trying to appease their victims by buying them gifts.
Many abusers have a specific body language.
"Haughtiness – Physical posture which implies and exudes an air of superiority, seniority, hidden powers, mysteriousness, amused indifference, etc. Some abusers maintain sustained and piercing eye contact but refrain from physical proximity (observe personal territory). The abuser takes part in social interactions – even mere banter – condescendingly, from a position of supremacy and faux "magnanimity and largesse". But even when he feigns gregariousness, he rarely mingles socially and prefers to remain the "observer", or the "lone wolf".
Entitlement markers – The abuser immediately asks for "special treatment". This way, he shifts responsibility to others, or to the world at large, for his needs, failures, behavior, choices, and mishaps ("look what you made me do!"). The abuser reacts with rage and indignantly when denied his wishes and if treated the same as others whom he deems inferior. Abusers frequently and embarrassingly "dress down" service providers such as waiters or cab drivers.
Idealization or devaluation – The abuser instantly idealizes or devalues his interlocutor. He flatters, adores, admires and applauds the "target" in an embarrassingly exaggerated and profuse manner – or sulks, abuses, and humiliates her.
Abusers are polite only in the presence of a potential would-be victim - a "mate", or a "collaborator". But they are unable to sustain even perfunctory civility and fast deteriorate to barbs and thinly-veiled hostility, to verbal or other violent displays of abuse, rage attacks, or cold detachment.
The "membership" posture – The abuser always tries to "belong" while also maintaining his stance as an outsider.
Most abusers always prefers show-off to substance. They are shallow, though claim to have talents and skills bordering on genius. They never admit to ignorance or to failure in any field – yet, typically, they are ignorant and losers. The abuser's self-proclaimed omniscience, success, wealth, and omnipotence as well as his name dropping and false autobiography are easily debunked. His actual condition is evidently and demonstrably incompatible with his claims.
Emotion-free language – The abuser likes to talk about himself and only about himself. He is very impatient, easily bored, with strong attention deficits – unless and until he is the topic of discussion. He is not interested in others or what they have to say. He is never reciprocal. He acts disdainful, even angry, if he feels an intrusion on his precious time.
Abusers are divorced from their emotions. The abuser intellectualizes, rationalizes, or speaks about himself in the third person. Most abusers get enraged when required to delve deeper into their motives, fears, hopes, wishes, and needs. They use violence to cover up their perceived "weakness" and "sentimentality". They distance themselves from their own emotions and from their loved ones by alienating and hurting them.
Seriousness and sense of intrusion and coercion – No matter how good his sense of humor, the abuser is never self-deprecating. This is the outcome of the abuser's sense of grandiosity, his fantasies and delusions, and his confabulation.
The abuser is easily hurt and insulted (narcissistic injury). Even the most innocuous remarks or acts are interpreted by him as belittling, intruding, or coercive slights and demands. His time is more valuable than others' – therefore, it cannot be wasted on unimportant matters such as social intercourse, family obligations, or household chores. Inevitably, he feels constantly misunderstood.
Any suggested help, advice, or concerned inquiry are immediately perceived by the abuser as intentional humiliation, implying that the abuser is in need of help and counsel and, thus, imperfect. The abuser is both schizoid and paranoid and often entertains ideas of reference.
Finally, abusers are sometimes sadistic and have inappropriate affect. In other words, they find the obnoxious, the heinous, and the shocking - funny or even gratifying. They are sexually sado-masochistic or deviant. They like to taunt, to torment, and to hurt people's feelings ("humorously" or with bruising "honesty").
While some abusers are "stable" and "conventional" - others are antisocial and their impulse control is flawed. These are very reckless (self-destructive and self-defeating) and just plain destructive: workaholism, alcoholism, drug abuse, pathological gambling, compulsory shopping, or reckless driving.
Yet, these – the lack of empathy, the aloofness, the disdain, the sense of entitlement, the restricted application of humor, the unequal treatment, the sadism, and the paranoia – do not render the abuser a social misfit. This is because the abuser mistreats only his closest - spouse, children, or (much more rarely) colleagues, friends, neighbours. To the rest of the world, he appears to be a composed, rational, and functioning person. Abusers are very adept at casting a veil of secrecy - often with the active aid of their victims - over their dysfunction and misbehavior.
Psychological Testing of Offenders
In the court-mandated evaluation phase, first it is established whether the offender suffers from mental health disorders at the root of the abusive conduct. A qualified mental health diagnostician administers lengthy tests and personal interviews.
The predictive power of these tests - often based on literature and scales of traits constructed by scholars - is hotly disputed. Still, they are far preferable to subjective impressions of the diagnostician which are often amenable to manipulation.
The Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III (MCMI-III) tests for personality disorders and attendant anxiety and depression. The third edition was formulated in 1996 by Theodore Millon and Roger Davis and includes 175 items. The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is used to spot narcissistic traits in abusers.
The Borderline Personality Organization Scale (BPO) was designed in 1985. It sorts the responses of respondents into 30 relevant scales. It indicates the existence of identity diffusion, primitive defenses, and deficient reality testing.
To these one may add the Personality Diagnostic Questionnaire-IV, the Coolidge Axis II Inventory, the Personality Assessment Inventory (1992), the excellent, literature-based, Dimensional assessment of Personality Pathology, and the comprehensive Schedule of Nonadaptive and Adaptive Personality and Wisconsin Personality Disorders Inventory.
The next diagnostic aim is to understand the way the abuser functions in relationships, copes with intimacy, and responds with abuse to triggers.
The Relationship Styles Questionnaire (RSQ) (1994) contains 30 self-reported items and identifies distinct attachment styles (secure, fearful, preoccupied, and dismissing). The Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) (1979) is a standardized scale of the frequency and intensity of conflict resolution tactics - especially abusive stratagems - used by members of a dyad (couple).
The Multidimensional Anger Inventory (MAI) (1986) assesses the frequency of angry responses, their duration, magnitude, mode of expression, hostile outlook, and anger-provoking triggers.
Yet, even a complete battery of tests, administered by experienced professionals sometimes fails to identify abusers and their personality disorders. Offenders are uncanny in their ability to deceive their evaluators.
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