The nature of the “abusive personality”

Unfortunately clinicians and researchers often tend to interact with a specific segment of our society and to develop their own ways of describing the problems of the people they work with. For example, there are professionals who work with clients who have “personality disorders”, there are professionals who work with criminals in the justice system and there are professionals who work with perpetrators of domestic abuse/violence.

Each of these three groups of professionals has their own lingo for describing very similar people with very similar patterns of behavior. Each group also has a different “theoretical orientation” or view of the problems of humanity.

Because those who work with family abusers often lack experience with sociopaths in other settings they do not know that family abusers are sociopaths.

Where does that leave you, a victim or family member of a disordered, abusive individual?

To spare you the task of sorting through these three distinct ways of looking at the person who created havoc in your life, with the help of The Abusive Personality, I will present here more on the work of Dr. Dutton a psychologist who understand the personality profile of abusers.

First of all, I can say with confidence that individuals who abuse and victimize lovers, friends and family members are personality disordered. As Dr. Dutton points out on page 8 of The Abusive Personality, “Because IPV (intimate partner violence) occurs in a minority of relationships it cannot be explained by social norms. In fact, normative acceptance of IPV is low in North American populations. .. When people act in a chronically dysfunctional manner that violates the norms of their culture, their behavior is attributable to a personality disorder.”

Dr. Dutton makes a compelling argument that the “abusive personality” stems from what is known as borderline personality organization. According to psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg, adult and adolescent patients with antisocial personality possess an underlying borderline personality organization. Attachment theorists also suggests an association between borderline personality disorder and antisocial behavior or even antisocial personality disorder. Dr. Dutton acknowledges that many perpetrators are violent and antisocial outside the family and many appear to completely lack empathy and remorse. All chronic perpetrators have an extreme inability to empathize with their victims and seem to only express remorse as a means of maintaining the relationship. These emotional deficits are considered to be diagnostic of sociopathy.

According to Dr. Dutton, both male and female abusers experience cyclical changes in personality that relate to abuse perpetration. These cycles, have interfered with understanding the personality of abusers. The cycles happen because abusers experience a great deal of negative emotion and they blame this negative emotion on those closest to them. After they “blow off steam” by abusing loved ones, they experience a temporary relief from these negative emotions. During the time they “feel better” they may seem like model spouses and parents.

In my opinion, there are four other characteristics of men and women who perpetrate partner/family abuse that have interfered with our understanding that these abusers are psychopathic and are truly sociopaths. These are:

1. The degree to which they cling to those whom they abuse.
2. Their high level of anxiety and other negative emotions.
3. Lack of abuse of strangers and non-family members.
4. Lack of criminal arrest for other offenses.

I want to address each of these characteristics by asking then answering the related questions people have asked me over the years.

Question #1 Does the fact that my ______________ keeps calling and doesn’t want to lose me mean that deep down he/she really loves me?

Answer#1 NO! Although sociopaths are not capable of love they are very social and most often want to count themselves in as part of a family, extended family and friendship network. If they are alone how will they be able to do what they do best which is abuse and control people? Also if they are alone, how can they use people to get the other things they want. Especially as sociopaths get older and their ability to charm others declines they tend to want to stick with those they have taken advantage of in the past.

Question #2 My poor _________ is just depressed/anxious/angry about being mistreated and abused as a child. Won’t my love and reassurance help him/her get over it?

Answer #2 NO! If your______ has a long standing pattern of abusing you and/or other family members it means something very important so listen. It means he or she equates abuse with being in a relationship, just like you equate love and caring with being in a relationship. Since that is true, your love will only make the person more abusive.

Question#3 My ___________ only abuses me and no one else so it must be my fault. Right?

Answer #3 NO! Your __________ would abuse others if he/she thought he/she could get away with it and will abuse anyone else he/she feels close ties with. An intimate relationship brings out abusive behavior in people who have a borderline personality organization.

Question#4 My _____________ has never been arrested can he/she still be a sociopath?

Answer #4 YES! Antisocial behavior is behavior that hurts other people. When this hurtful behavior is perpetrated by someone who lacks empathy or remorse it reflects psychopathy/sociopathy.

In summary, I recommend that all mental health professionals who work with the victims and family members of sociopaths read Dr. Dutton’s book The Abusive Personality. I also recommend another of Dr. Dutton’s books, The Batterer a Psychological Profile for victims of domestic violence. Order it through Amazon today with these links:

The Abusive Personality
The Batterer a Psychological Profile

Does anyone want me to try to explain what “borderline personality organization” is?

Is there anyone who still has trouble accepting that partner abusers are sociopaths?

Comment on this article

235 Comments on "The nature of the “abusive personality”"

Notify of

So glad your NOT in the C club! It’s a sucky club to belong to and one none of us join willingly!
BUT……S’s sure don’t give a shit about Cancer or anything else……
The S was a horrid mess to me during my battle……also to his father……who wasn;t as lucky as me….
He took all his fights to the family during his fathers battle….it was all about HIM…..always is! the last time he saw his father….he went to the hospital sat with him, and then called me….to schmooze me……up……I nailed him, because at this point…..WTF was I to do…..He wanted ME to find a specialist for his father…..he sat next to his dad and unloaded what a bitch i was etc…blah, blah…..THIS MAN WAS DYING…..and all he could do was talk about himself or HIS marital problems…..from there he went to his mothers home, who was devastated with her husbands illness and the S started total shit with her and his aunt……she asked him to leave her home……….
This was about 1.5 years ago…….father passed, S refused to show up at funeral…..so he could draw attention to himself AGAIN……They just hate anyone else getting attention……dead or alive!!!!

He exploited me during my illness…….same sort of shit…..but did it under my nose in my community…..when one sort of attention bored him, he turned up the heat….turned it into I was dying…..then I faked it…..WTF????
NO NORMAL PERSON would EVER exploit concern for a ‘loved one’.

Cancer was the best gift I ever ‘didnt’ want’……
I’m cancer free…..walking, talking, fighting, and raising awareness…..and I am FREE……

It’s mind boggeling how they are so callouse. Don’t expect anything less from them!!!!

Congrats on your 5 weeks…..by now you should be feeling the empowerment of “I can do this’…..and also noticing the power you have over him by going NC!

NC is a wonderful choice!!!!!
Congrats again!!!!

who pulled up this old thread? I can’t believe I told that joke here..

Sorry to hear your battle but if we’re here at LB we’ve had one. It’s so difficult tio believe like you said “it was all about HIM.” Glad to hear you are cancer free too. NC is good and finally I do feel the empowerment. Hoping the empowerment will stay around, I’m NEVER going back to a relationship with these traits in it. I know I could relapse because I do believe I had/have an addiction to these personalities so by working on me maybe I will stay healthier.

I pulled it up and ummm…… hope you are doing good today and have found many of your posts helpful.

gotta run, never have enough time to stay here very long and then I lose my spot 🙁

Haven’t seen your reply here until now. Thank you for telling me about your son.

My husband says he KNOWS that his actions have hurt me, says he is SORRY that he’s hurt be, he admits that I couldn’t have helped fix marriage because he wouldn’t HEAR me years ago and wouldn’t LET me. Sounds good.

But when I tell him that the old behaviors may have different packaging today, but the core issue is still here, and I list the past behaviors “punching holes in walls, kicking file cabinets, breaking down door jambs” he gets angry and says it’s in the past, or justifies himself that he did this BECAUSE he was afraid I’d blind the baby by exposing the crib to sunlight, or BECAUSE I said I’d jump off the bridge with the baby (which I never said and it’s totally out of character for me to say). So then, the above apologies seem totally phoney because since I separated from him and brought up these violent behaviors, he has looked for a rationalization.

I have such a hard time getting over “magical thinking” about his good side, being smart, loyal, funny, devoted, reliable. I FORGET the inexcusable behaviors that have made me alone, hurt, unhappy.

I am having a real hard time letting go of him, and taking care of myself.


Dear DW,

That’s the thing, they create their own “reality” which is NOT real at all, but their excuses, their lies to make you crazy, this is called “gaslighting” and that’s what it means, it is from and old movie where a guy tried to convince his wife she was crazy.

This gaslighting thing is just that, it is their twisting of reality. Saying you said or did something that is not true, acting like they believe it.

Read steve’s lastest article about a “defense mechanisim”–the thing is that the PAST IS BEING REPEATED NOW, so the past IS IMPORTANT because he wants to focus on ONE item and not on the WHOLE PICTURE.

That’s what I was doing with my son C, who is NOT a psychopath like my other son, but unfortunately, was not acting responsibly and I kept focusing on the “now” and ignoring the REPEATED PATTERN. I asked him to leave my house and he can fend for himself. I am only responsible for raising him once, but for continuing to do it. He is 40 years old, time to grow up, guy. It breaks my heart, he has many good qualities, and not everyone who acts irresponsibaly is psychopathic but if it is a question of LIES OR TRUTH, vote for believing the trust, believing what you SEE not what excuses they give! It is difficult because we WANT to believe the best about those we love. But the thing is if someone keeps on repeating the same behavior over and over and doesn’t take responsibility for his/her actions they are not going to.

They are toxic and don’t do you any good at all. You can’t fix him, and he won’t fix himself.

Good luck, sweetie, be strong. You are. I just fell apart for 48 hours this week, but I am working on getting back to where I was, peaceful, chaos-free life and my home is a LIE-FREE ZONE. No liars allowed. You are my son/friend/mother/lover etc. and you LIE, well now you are a GONE SOB! BYE!

Lets not get the genuine mental illnesses (based on an imblance in brain chemistry) confused with personality disorders, based on behaviour.
Biploar is classed as a brain chemistry imbalance, a ‘true’ mental illness, as is schizophrenia, depression, anxiety etc. The person with it has little control over it until a successful medication treatment is found. Behavioural change comes into play certainly (from habits developed druing non treatment) but the most initial improvement comes from medication. Most people with genuine ‘classic’ mental illnesses turn on themselves before on others and have an overdelveloped sense of guilt.
The personality disorders on the other hand – antisocial, borderline, histrionic etc – are all behaviourally based and can be very much in the control of the person experiencing it. The most successful treatment is focused more on behaviour than medication, though some medication can play a part. Those with personality disordered tend to lash out and blame everybody else.
This is the difference and i feel we have to be careful not to unwittingly insult those suffering against their will with brains that do not work properly to put them in the same category as those who are so self centred they have chose to opt out of society and flout every decency rule there is.
I just feel we need to be really clear on this. Nine times out of ten the personality disordered individual knows exactly what they are doing and has chosen this way of life very early on in their development in response to their early environment. I’d even go so far as to say that some are that way before they are born lol, if you believe in that sort of thing!
The genuinely mentally ill individual can’t help their behaviour and deep down (some hide it very well though pride) feels genuine distress, embarrassment and empathy for those around them upon whom they are a burden.
Conversely the personality disordered individual, right from the tiniest hint of borderline up to the most callous psychopath couldn’t give a crap.
I know because I have worked in mental health before and also I have suffered with chronic depresson for many years. Believe me it is like looking at myself from the outside when I have a bad day because it isn’t ‘me’ it’s my crazy brain chemistry! It’s a physical problem treated well with medication, I’m probably producng too much or too little of a neurochemical or two, and I feel deep distress for the burden I am on my loved ones and friends when I have a bad day and can’t take part in normal life with them.
Personality disorders? The problem is not their brain, it is ‘them’!! It is who they are, who they have allowed themselves to become and only they can change it.
It’s amazing how many personality disordered individuals fool doctors and society into putting them into the same category as those of us with genuine mental illnesses. I have a family member like that – bltatantly personality disordered, every antiscoical trait in the DSM IV and yet her psychiatrist suspects she is schizophrenic! Nooooooo!!! I feel like yelling, She’s a Sociopath!! It’s obvious!! They are not the stuff of Hollywood!! Wakey wakey!!!
My reality check for sociopaths is this – my IQ has been tested as being in the top 2%/2.5% of population. Sociopaths are thought to make up as much as 4% of the population right? So get this – you have double the chance of meeting one of them as you have of meeting me, for every one of me there is roughly two of them. And I’m sitting here typing to you right now…you’ve ‘met’ me right?
Go figure hehe!!!! Sobering thought huh! =D
Genevieve xxx

Can a sociopath also suffer from mental illness, such as paranoid schizophrenia or clinical depression?


I think so. My ex is mentally ill, besides being a spath. I wish he would get diagnosed a spath too, but I don’t need that to KNOW he IS one. He is not very functional either but uses his spathiness to maneuver thru life, barely.
I think he is a rarity tho, to be truthful. Most spaths are just subhuman, period. They choose to be and remain spawns of hell. They will never choose to change.
Someone with physiological illness/injury may be able to do things to help themselves be better or inversely, stay ill. They often choose to get better. There are therapies, physical and cognitive, that may help.
There is no help for the disordered.

Absolutely. It’s called “co-morbidity.” People who are both schizophrenic and psychopathic are called “schizopaths.” They are really dangerous, because they are both delusional and have no conscience.

Dr. Liane Leedom estimates that about 10% of sociopaths are also bipolar.

Yes Pinow I think the difference between one end of the personality disorder spectrum and the worst end is the level of callousness they’re capable of. It goes up the closer to APD you go in my view =) xx

1 24 25 26

Send this to a friend