The following information is from the website of Sam Vaknin. Of all the research I've
done concerning abuse - Mr. Vaknin's is the most complete and accurate. I can easily identify with his writing because I experienced
many types of abuse throughout my life.
The Gradations of Abuse
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
Is sexual abuse worse than emotional abuse? Is verbal abuse less deleterious than physical abuse (beatings)?
Somehow, the professional
literature implies that there is a hierarchy with sexual mistreatment at its nadir. It is rare to hear about a dissociative
identity disorder ("multiple personality") that is the outcome of constant
oral humiliation in early childhood. But it is thought to be a common response to egregious sexual molestation of infants
and to other forms of deviance and perversions with minors.
Yet, these distinctions
are spurious. One's mental space is as important to one's healthy development and proper adult functioning as one's body.
Indeed. the damage in sexual abuse is hardly corporeal. It is the psychological intrusion, coercion, and the demolition of nascent boundaries of the self that
inflict the most damage.
Abuse is a form
of long-term torture usually inflicted by one's nearest and dearest. It is a grievous violation of trust and it leads to disorientation,
fear, depression, and suicidal ideation. It generates aggression in the abused and this overwhelming
and all-pervasive emotion metastasizes and transforms into pathological envy, violence, rage, and hatred.
are deformed by the abuser both overtly – many develop mental health disorders and dysfunctional
behaviours – and, more perniciously, covertly. The abuser, like some kind of alien life form,
invades and colonizes the victim's mind and becomes a permanent presence. Abused and abuser never
cease the dialog of hurt, recrimination, and glib denial or rationalization that is an integral part of the act.
1. injurious to health: deleterious gases.
2. harmful; injurious: deleterious influences
the lowest point; point of greatest adversity or despair.
extraordinary in some bad way; glaring; flagrant: an egregious mistake; an egregious liar
beginning to exist or develop
In a way, psychological abuse – emotional and verbal –
is harder to "erase" and "deprogram". Words resonate and reverberate, pain resurfaces, narcissistic wounds
keep opening. The victims proceeds to pay with stunted growth and recurrent failure for his own earlier degradation and objectification.
Social attitudes don't
help. While sexual and physical abuse are slowly coming to the open and being recognized
as the scourges that they are – psychological abuse is still largely
ignored. It is difficult to draw a line between strict discipline and verbal harassment. Abusers find refuge in the general
disdain for the weak and the vulnerable which is the result of suppressed collective guilt. The "good intentions" defence
is still going strong.
The professional community
is no less to blame. Emotional and verbal abuse are perceived and analyzed in "relative" terms
– not as the absolute evils that they are. Cultural and moral relativism mean tat many aberrant
and deplorable behaviour patterns are justified based on bogus cultural "sensitivities" and malignant political correctness.
Some scholars even
go as far as blaming the victim for his or her maltreatment (the discipline is known as
victimology). Is the abused guilty – even partially
– for the abuse? Does the victim emit a "come-on" signal, picked up by would-be abusers? Are
certain types of people more prone to abuse than others?
The Guilt of the Abused Pathologizing the Victim by Sam Vaknin
It is telling that
precious few psychology and psychopathology textbooks dedicate an entire chapter to abuse and violence. Even the most egregious manifestations –
such as child sexual abuse – merit a fleeting mention, usually as
a sub-chapter in a larger section dedicated to paraphilias or personality disorders.
did not make it into the diagnostic criteria of mental health disorders, nor were its psychodynamic, cultural and social roots
explored in depth. As a result of this deficient education and lacking awareness, most law enforcement officers, judges, counselors, guardians, and mediators are worryingly ignorant about the phenomenon.
Only 4% of hospital
emergency room admissions of women in the United States are attributed by staff to domestic violence. The true figure, according to the FBI, is more like 50%. 1 in 3 murdered women was done
in by her spouse, current or former.
The US Department of Justice
pegs the number of spouses (mostly women) threatened
with a deadly weapon at almost 2 million annually. Domestic violence erupts in a mind-boggling 1/2 of all American homes at least once a year. Nor are
these isolated, "out of the blue", incidents.
Mistreatment and violence
are part of an enduring pattern of maladaptive behavior within the relationship and are sometimes coupled with substance abuse.
Abusers are possessive, pathologically jealous, dependent, and, often, narcissistic. Invariably, both the abuser and his victim
seek to conceal the abusive episodes and their aftermath from family, friends, neighbors, or colleagues.
This dismal state of things
is an abuser's and stalker's paradise. This is especially true with psychological (verbal and emotional) abuse which leaves no
visible marks and renders the victim incapable of coherence.
Still, there is
no "typical" offender. Maltreatment crosses racial, cultural, social, and economic lines. This is because, until very recently,
abuse has constituted normative, socially-acceptable, and, sometimes, condoned, behavior.
For the bulk of human history, women and children were considered no better than property.
Indeed, well into
the 18th century, they still made it into lists of assets and liabilities of the household. Early legislation in America – fashioned after European law, both Anglo-Saxon and Continental – permitted
wife battering for the purpose of behavior modification. The circumference of the stick used, specified the statute, should
not exceed that of the husband's thumb.
victims blame themselves for the dismal state of affairs. The abused party may have low self-esteem, a fluctuating sense of self-worth, primitive defense mechanisms, phobias, mental health problems, a disability, a history of failure, or a tendency to blame herself, or to feel inadequate (autoplastic neurosis).
She may have come
from an abusive family or environment – which conditioned
her to expect abuse as inevitable and "normal". In extreme and rare cases –
the victim is a masochist, possessed of an urge to seek ill-treatment and pain. Gradually, the
victims convert these unhealthy emotions and their learned helplessness in the face of persistent "gaslighting" into psychosomatic symptoms, anxiety and panic attacks, depression, or, in extremis, suicidal ideation and gestures.
From the Narcissistic Personality Disorders list – excerpt from my book "Toxic Relationships – Abuse and its Aftermath" (November 2005):
Therapists, marriage counselors, mediators, court-appointed guardians, police officers, and judges are human. Some of them are
social reactionaries, others are narcissists, and a few are themselves spouse abusers. Many things work against the victim
facing the justice system and the psychological profession.
Start with denial.
Abuse is such a horrid phenomenon that society and its delegates often choose to ignore
it or to convert it into a more benign manifestation, typically by pathologizing the situation or the victim –
rather than the perpetrator.
A man's home is
still his castle and the authorities are loath to intrude.
Most abusers are
men and most victims are women. Even the most advanced communities in the world are largely patriarchal. Misogynistic gender
stereotypes, superstitions, and prejudices are strong.
Therapists are not immune to these ubiquitous and age-old influences and biases.
They are amenable
to the considerable charm, persuasiveness, and manipulativeness of the abuser and to his impressive thespian skills. The abuser offers a plausible rendition of the events and interprets them to his favor. The therapist rarely has a chance to witness an abusive exchange first hand and at close quarters. In
contrast, the abused are often on the verge of a nervous breakdown: harassed, unkempt, irritable, impatient, abrasive, and
Confronted with this contrast
between a polished, self-controlled, and suave abuser and his harried casualties –
it is easy to reach the conclusion that the real victim is the abuser, or that both parties abuse each other equally. The prey's acts of self-defense, assertiveness, or insistence on her
rights are interpreted as aggression, lability, or a mental health problem.
propensity to pathologize extends to the wrongdoers as well. Alas, few therapists are equipped to do proper clinical work, including diagnosis.
Abusers are thought by practitioners of psychology to be emotionally disturbed, the twisted outcomes of a history of familial violence
and childhood traumas. They are typically diagnosed as suffering from a personality disorder, an inordinately low self-esteem, or codependence coupled with an all-devouring fear of abandonment. Consummate abusers use the right vocabulary and feign the appropriate "emotions" and affect and, thus, sway the evaluator's judgment.
But while the victim's
"pathology" works against her – especially in custody battles –
the culprit's "illness" works for him, as a mitigating circumstance, especially in criminal proceedings.
In his seminal essay,
"Understanding the Batterer in Visitation and
Custody Disputes", Lundy Bancroft sums up the asymmetry in favor of the offender:
"Batterers ... adopt the role of a hurt, sensitive man
who doesn't understand how things got so bad and just wants to work it all out 'for the good of the children.' He may cry
... and use language that demonstrates considerable insight into his own feelings. He is likely to be skilled at explaining
how other people have turned the victim against him, and how she is denying him access to the children as a form of revenge
... He commonly accuses her of having mental health problems, and may state that her family and friends agree with him ...
that she is hysterical and that she is promiscuous. The abuser tends to be comfortable lying, having years of practice, and
so can sound believable when making baseless statements. The abuser benefits ... when professionals believe that they can
"just tell" who is lying and who is telling the truth, and so fail to adequately investigate.
Because of the effects of trauma, the victim of battering will
often seem hostile, disjointed, and agitated, while the abuser appears friendly, articulate, and calm. Evaluators are thus
tempted to conclude that the victim is the source of the problems in the relationship."
There is little
the victim can do to "educate" the therapist or "prove" to him who is the guilty party. Mental health professionals are as
ego-centered as the next person. They are emotionally invested in opinions they form or in their interpretation of the abusive
relationship. They perceive every disagreement as a challenge to their authority and are likely to pathologize such behavior,
labeling it "resistance" (or worse).
In the process of mediation,
marital therapy, or evaluation, counselors frequently propose various techniques to ameliorate the abuse or bring it under
control. Woe betides the party that dares object or turn these "recommendations" down. Thus, an abuse victim who declines
to have any further contact with her batterer – is bound to be chastised by her therapist for
obstinately refusing to constructively communicate with her violent spouse.
Better to play ball
and adopt the sleek mannerisms of your abuser. Sadly, sometimes the only way to convince your therapist that it is not all
in your head and that you are a victim – is by being insincere and by staging a well-calibrated
performance, replete with the correct vocabulary. Therapists have Pavlovian reactions to certain phrases and theories and
to certain "presenting signs and symptoms" (behaviors during the first few sessions). Learn these –
and use them to your advantage. It is your only chance.
Why Good People Ignore Abuse
Why do good people - church-goers, pillars of the community, the salt
of the earth - ignore abuse and neglect, even when it is on their doorstep and in their
proverbial backyard (for instance, in hospitals, orphanages, shelters, prisons, and the
I. Lack of Clear Definition
Perhaps because the word "abuse"
is so ill-defined and so open to culture-bound interpretation.
We should distinguish
functional abuse from the sadistic variety. The former is calculated to ensure outcomes or to punish
transgressors. It is measured, impersonal, efficient, and disinterested.
- the sadistic variety - fulfils the emotional needs of the perpetrator.
is often blurred. People feel uncertain and, therefore, reluctant to intervene. "The authorities know best" - they lie to
II. Avoiding the Unpleasant
good people, tend to avert their eyes from certain institutions which deal with anomalies and pain, death and illness - the
unsavory aspects of life which no one likes to be reminded of.
Like poor relatives,
these institutions and events inside them are ignored and shunned.
III. The Common
even good people abuse others habitually. Abusive conduct is so widespread that no one is
exempt. Ours is a narcissistic - and, therefore, abusive - civilization.
find themselves caught up in anomic states - for instance, soldiers in war, nurses in hospitals, managers in corporations,
parents or spouses in disintegrating families, or incarcerated inmates - tend to feel helpless and alienated. They experience
a partial or total loss of control.
rendered vulnerable, powerless, and defenseless by events and circumstances beyond their influence.
IV. Abuse as Catharsis
Abuse amounts to exerting an
absolute and all-pervasive domination of the victim's existence. It is a coping strategy employed by the abuser who wishes to reassert control over his life and, thus, to re-establish his mastery and superiority. By subjugating the victim - he regains his self-confidence and regulate his sense of self-worth.
Even perfectly "normal" and good people
(witness the events in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq) channel their negative emotions - pent up aggression, humiliation, rage, envy, diffuse hatred - and displace them.
The victims of abuse
become symbols of everything that's wrong in the abuser's life and the situation he finds himself
caught in. The act of abuse amounts to misplaced and violent venting.
V. The Wish to Conform & Belong - The Ethics of Peer Pressure
Many "good people"
perpetrate heinous acts - or refrain from criticizing or opposing evil - out of a wish to conform. Abusing others is
their way of demonstrating obsequious obeisance to authority, group affiliation, colleagueship, and adherence to the same
ethical code of conduct and common values. They bask in the praise that is heaped on them by their
superiors, fellow workers, associates, team mates, or collaborators.
Their need to belong is so strong that it overpowers ethical, moral, or legal considerations. They remain silent in the face of neglect, abuse, and atrocities because they feel insecure and they derive their identity almost entirely from the group.
Abuse rarely occurs
where it does not have the sanction and blessing of the authorities, whether local or national. A permissive environment is
sine qua non. The more abnormal the circumstances, the less normative the milieu, the further the scene of the crime is from
public scrutiny - the more is egregious abuse likely to occur. This acquiescence is
especially true in totalitarian societies where the use of physical force to discipline or eliminate dissent is an acceptable practice. But, unfortunately, it is also rampant in democratic societies.
source: click here
- this website is an invaluable tool in understanding abuse. If you are in an abusive
situation, please click the link and educate yourself concerning abuse. You may want to do this research/reading at a computer
at your neighborhood library or use a friend's computer.
You may put yourself in danger if your abuser is computer literate and checks your computer's history.
The words that Sam Vaknin uses are sometimes difficult to understand, so you can open a window to dictionary.com to be able
to type in words and get a definition while you are reading the articles.
Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self
Love - Narcissism Revisited
and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Global Politician, Central Europe Review, PopMatters,
Bellaonline, and eBookWeb, a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health
and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com
Why does abuse seem to be a "generational situation?"
If you read the information in the left column written by Sam Vaknin, you'll see that abusers
are often abusing their victims in a sense of "rage" - blaming the victim through their abuse of "everything that is wrong"
in the abuser's life.
If you look into "rage" you'll find the following from another
one of my favorite sites: coping.org
What are the roots of my rage?
My fits of rage are rooted in:
never learning to ventilate my anger appropriately as I experienced it.
role modeling I received from my parents.
way anger was shown in my family of origin.
my being physically, mentally, verbally, or sexually abused in my family of origin or later by a significant
trying to get people's attention.
trying to control a situation or to get my way.
stuffing anger until I can't take it anymore and I explode.
need to "look good'' when I am angry.
need to blow up when it's a case of one time too many.
not making systematic efforts to "work out'' my pent up anger.
denial of the intensity of my unresolved anger.
insecurity and lack of self-confidence.
being overly sensitive to the actions and comments of others.
"chip on my shoulder,'' the grudge I hold against those who I believe have treated me unfairly.
problem solving where I react to situations in the same way no matter who is involved.
click here to visit coping.org
site: click here
Sexual & Other Abuse May Alter a Brain Region
"Many women and men who
have been subjected to severe physical or sexual abuse during childhood suffer from long-term
disturbances of the psyche. They may be invaded by nightmares and flashbacks - much like survivors of war - or, conversely,
may freeze into benumbed calm in situations of extreme stress.
Two recent studies find
that survivors of child abuse may also have a smaller hippocampus relative to control subjects.
If substantiated, the discovery could fill out the profile of an abuse survivor and help
define what constitutes abuse."
"Changes in the
hippocampus - the part of the brain that deals with short-term memory and possibly the encoding and retrieval of long-term
memory - could, researchers suggest, be wrought by hormones flooding the brain during and after a stressful episode."
"Dissociation and PTSD are not sharply separated and often alternate in the same individual. Dissociation,
often employed by children who cannot escape from the threat of abuse, is a means of mentally
withdrawing from a horrific situation by separating it from conscious awareness. The skill allows the victim to feel detached
from the body or self, as if what is happening is not happening to her or him."
Foy of Pepperdine University notes that within days or weeks of a traumatic experience, therapy seems beneficial in
dispelling PTSD. This period, Bremner speculates, could reflect the timescale over which the hippocampus organizes experiences
into a person's worldview. Although some functions of the hippocampus are known, its mechanics are poorly understood."
"Psychiatrists contend that if repeatedly invoked in childhood, dissociation prevents memories
from being integrated into consciousness and can lead to an altered sense of self.
Many normal children play
with imaginary companions; abused children can use such creative resources to a pathological
extent, in extreme cases falling prey to multiple personality disorder (MPD). Adults may continue to use dissociation as a
coping mechanism. Once dissociation or PTSD develops, the majority of psychological symptoms and the hormonal profile are
very resistant to treatment."
Reference: Scientific American, N.Y., (273: 4) 10/95, page 14.