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.
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
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.
This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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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."
Sex Withholding and Bullying Denied
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If a man is incapable of having sex or refuses to make love to his intimate partner, even if it is owing to psychological or medical problems, he should be considered an ABUSER if:
1. He refuses to acknowledge the existence of the problem and forces his partner to deny its existence as well;
2. He refuses to receive treatment of any kind;
3. He does not allow his spouse to have sex with other partners;
4. He refuses to let his spouse divorce him and find her happiness with another, fully functional man;
5. He does not provide his partner with sex substitutes such as love and intimacy;
6. He rejects his partner and humiliates her, thus ruining her self-esteem and self-confidence, also in order to isolate her and prevent from finding an alternative to him.
Sex withholding can be construed as a private case of intermittent reinforcement (“hot and cold”, “approach and then avoidance or rejection”).
Intermittent reinforcement is actually rarely conscious. Many bullies are NOT aware of their misbehavior and deny it. Many bullies even claim to be the victims. Manipulation is the OUTCOME of intermittent reinforcement but it is rarely intentional. The Internet and the media confuse psychopaths with bullies. Psychopaths are DELIBERATELY manipulative. But only a few bullies are psychopaths. So, a typical bully is not a psychopath, is not self-aware, and would deny that he is a bully (would claim that he is the victim).
When confronted with their egregious and hurtful misconduct ("how could you?"), narcissists and psychopaths (and many trauma victims) react by citing RULES, never emotions. They experience guilt or shame only because they have breached their normative framework and thus undermined their laboriously cultivated, often grandiose, self-image (as a "good person" in self-control, rational, and so on).
A psychopath or narcissist
(or post-traumatic victim) is likely to say:
It was WRONG, what I did (followed with elaborate excuses and hairsplitting as to the exceptional circumstances of that particular wrongdoing) – not horrible, but wrong;
In my society/culture/country these are the RULES and NORMS of behavior (so my misbehavior is OK where I come from);
I have PRINCIPLES (I follow my own rules and feel bad only when I break my personal edicts). Of course, the "principles" contain so many loopholes and exceptions that they legitimize disinhibited and impulsive conduct, however hurtful to others;
I never did this before (implying that the misconduct was the outcome of special circumstances, not of personality or character flaws).
Narcissists and psychopaths as well as sufferers of PTSD and CPTSD have an external locus of control and attendant alloplastic defenses: they explain their actions by referring to outside - often ill-intentioned or unfortunate - influences, events, and circumstances. They are also deprived of an inner compass as to right and wrong because they lack emotional empathy.
In a desperate attempt to orient themselves in an alien world, replete with empathy and emotions, they resort to a highly structured, formalized, and ritualized hermeneutic framework with rigid organizing principles - and then they ignore it and do as they please ("I just needed to do that").
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 tactics of avoiding contact are the subject of the next article.
"Trauma Bonding" and the Psychology of Torture
Case Studies on the Psychopath and Narcissist Survivors Support Group
Ask Sam on the Psychopath and Narcissist Survivors Support Group
Ask Sam on the Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Forum
Domestic Violence and Abuse statistics - Click here
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