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:
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?