Contracting with Your Abuser
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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How can one negotiate with an abuser without incurring his wrath? What is the meaning of contracts "signed" with bullies? How can one motivate the abuser to keep his end of the bargain for instance, to actually seek therapy and attend the sessions? And how efficacious is psychotherapy or counseling to start with?
It is useless to confront the abuser head on and to engage in power politics ("You are guilty or wrong, I am the victim and right", "My will should prevail", and so on). It is decidedly counterproductive and unhelpful and could lead to rage attacks and a deepening of the abuser's persecutory delusions, bred by his humiliation in the therapeutic setting. Better, at first, to co-opt the abuser's own prejudices and pathology by catering to his infantile emotional needs and complying with his wishes, complex rules and arbitrary rituals.
Here a practical guide how to drag your abuser into treatment and into a contract of mutual respect and cessation of hostilities (assuming, of course, you want to preserve the relationship):
1. Tell him that you love him and emphasize the exclusivity of your relationship by refraining, initially and during the therapy, from anxiety-provoking acts. Limiting your autonomy is a temporary sacrifice under no circumstances make it a permanent feature of your relationship. Demonstrate to the abuser that his distrust of you is misplaced and undeserved and that one of the aims of the treatment regimen is to teach him to control and reduce his pathological and delusional jealousy.
2. Define areas of your common life that the abuser can safely and without infringing on your independence utterly control. Abusers need to feel that they are in charge, sole decision-makers and arbiters.
3. Ask him to define preferably in writing what he expects from you and where he thinks that you, or your "performance" are "deficient". Try to accommodate his reasonable demands and ignore the rest. Do not, at this stage, present a counter-list. This will come later. To move him to attend couple or marital therapy, tell him that you need his help to restore your relationship to its former warmth and intimacy. Admit to faults of your own which you want "fixed" so as to be a better mate. Appeal to his narcissism and self-image as the omnipotent and omniscient macho. Humour him for a while.
4. Involve your abuser, as much as you can, in your life. Take him to meet your family, ask him to join in with your friends, to visit your workplace, to help maintain your car (a symbol of your independence), to advise you on money matters and career steps. Do not hand over control to him over any of these areas but get him to feel a part of your life and try to mitigate his envy and insecurity.
5. Encourage him to assume responsibility for the positive things in his life and in your relationship. Compliment the beneficial outcomes of his skills, talents, hard work, and attitude. Gradually, he will let go of his alloplastic defences his tendency to blame every mistake of his, every failure, or mishap on others, or on the world at large.
6. Make him own up to his feelings by identifying them. Most abusers are divorced from their emotions. They seek to explain their inner turmoil by resorting to outside agents ("Look what you made me do" or "They provoked me"). They are unaware of their anger, envy, or aggression. Mirror your abuser gently and unobtrusively ("How do you feel about it?", "When I am angry I act the same", "Would you be happier if I didn't do it?").
This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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7. Avoid the appearance or the practice of manipulating your abuser (except if you want to get rid of him). Abusers are very sensitive to control issues and they feel threatened, exploited, and ill-treated when manipulated. They invariably react with violence.
8. Treat your abuser as you would like him to behave towards you. Personal example is a powerful proselytizer. Don't act out of fear or subservience. Be sincere. Act out of love and conviction. Finally, your conduct is bound to infiltrate the abuser's defences.
9. React forcefully, unambiguously, and instantly to any use of force. Make clear where the boundary of civilized exchange lies. Punish him severely and mercilessly if he crosses it. Make known well in advance the rules of your relationship rewards and sanctions included. Discipline him for verbal and emotional abuse as well though less strenuously. Create a hierarchy of transgressions and a penal code to go with it.
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10. As the therapy continues and progress is evident, try to fray the rigid edges of your sex roles. Most abusers are very much into "me Tarzan, you Jane" gender-casting. Show him his feminine sides and make him proud of them. Gradually introduce him to your masculine traits, or skills and make him proud of you.
This, essentially, is what good therapists do in trying to roll back or limit the offender's pathology.
"Most therapists try to co-opt the narcissistic abuser's inflated ego (False Self) and defences. They compliment the narcissist, challenging him to prove his omnipotence by overcoming his disorder. They appeal to his quest for perfection, brilliance, and eternal love and his paranoid tendencies in an attempt to get rid of counterproductive, self-defeating, and dysfunctional behaviour patterns.
By stroking the narcissist's grandiosity, they hope to modify or counter cognitive deficits, thinking errors, and the narcissist's victim-stance. They contract with the narcissist to alter his conduct. Some even go to the extent of medicalizing the disorder, attributing it to a hereditary or biochemical origin and thus 'absolving' the narcissist from guilt and responsibility and freeing his mental resources to concentrate on the therapy."
But is therapy worth the effort? What is the success rate of various treatment modalities in modifying the abuser's conduct, let alone in "healing" or "curing" him?
These are the topics of our 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
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