The Abuser in Denial

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

Emotional, Verbal, and Psychological Abuse, Domestic and Family Violence and Spousal Abuse

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Abusers regularly deny the abuse ever took place – or rationalize their abusive behaviors. Denial is an integral part of the abuser's ability to "look at himself/herself in the mirror".

There are many types of denial. When confronted by his victims, most abusers tend to shift blame or avoid the topic altogether.

Total Denial

1. Outright Denial

Typical retorts by the abuser: "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

Common sentences when challenged: "It was your fault, you, or your behavior, or the circumstances, provoked me into such behavior."

In other words: abusers blame the world - circumstances, other people - for their defeats, misfortune, misconduct, and failures (alloplastic defenses). The abuser firmly believes that his life is fully controlled by currents and persons over which and whom he has no influence whatsoever (external locus of control.) Ironically, narcissistic abusers who grandiosely consider themselves superior, invincible, infallible, and in control also sport alloplastic defenses and an external locus of control. This discrepancy forces them to devalue the very people, institutions, and circumstances that they blame for their mishaps and for the consequences of their egregiously bad judgment.

Sometimes, the abuser would say: "I made a mistake because I am stupid", implying that his deficiencies and inadequacy are things he has no control over and cannot change. This is also an alloplastic defence because it abrogates responsibility.

Many abusers exclaim: "I misbehaved because I lost my temper." On the surface, this appears to be an autoplastic defence with the abuser assuming responsibility for his misconduct. But, it could be interpreted as an alloplastic defence, depending on whether the abuser believes that he can control his temper.

An individual's alloplastic and autoplastic defences should not be confused with blame and guilt which are social constructs for social control.

3. Altruistic Defense

Usual convoluted explanations: "I did it for you, in your best interests."

4. Transformative Defense

Recurring themes: "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 frequently have narcissistic traits. As such, they are more concerned with appearance than with substance. Dependent for Narcissistic Supply on the community – neighbors, colleagues, co-workers, bosses, friends, extended family – they cultivate an unblemished reputation for honesty, industriousness, religiosity, reliability, and conformity.

(continued below)

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Forms of Denial in Public

1. Family Honor Stricture

Characteristic admonitions: "We don't do dirty laundry publicly, the family's honor and repute must be preserved, what will the neighbors say?"

2. Family Functioning Stricture

Dire and ominous scenarios: "If you snitch and inform the authorities, they will take me (the abusive parent) away and the whole family will disintegrate."

Confronting the abuser with incontrovertible proof of his abusive behavior is one way of minimizing contact with him. Abusers – like the narcissists that they often are – cannot tolerate criticism or disagreement (more about it here).

Other stratagems for making your abuser uncomfortable and, thus, giving him a recurrent incentive to withdraw – here and here.

About the grandiosity gap that underlies the narcissistic abuser's inability to face reality – here and here.

Other tactics of avoiding contact are the subject of the next article.

Continue ...


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