Are ALL Abusers Also Narcissists or Sociopaths? A Few Answers, and A Survival Guide

My Ex exhibited extremely narcissistic behavior. Meaning that he was extremely verbally and emotionally abusive. But was he diagnosed with any disorder? No. Those diagnoses are difficult to make or obtain because not many narcissists or sociopaths would ever submit to an evaluation unless it was mandated by a prison system if they’re in one, and most of them are not.

Dan had NO empathy or ability to empathize with others. He rarely showed remorse, and little or no conscience about the emotional damage he wrought. He was pretty good at faking it publicly/socially and in the beginning of my involvement with him – in the “romance” phase, where he drew me in. This behavior is typical traits of narcissists/sociopaths.

Being in Mensa and very manipulative, he had the smarts to outwit / outcharm / outmanipulate most anyone. EXCEPT our counselor, whom he accused of “twisting things around”. Actually what she was doing was UNtwisting things and he didn’t like that. He didn’t want to use a REAL example of some more recent abusive behavior we’d been discussing when he made that accusation. He wanted to use a different one – one he’d made upone he could control, so he could manipulate the scenario to his advantage. This is how abusers often work in a clinical or therapeutic setting.  They are experts at manipulation.

Though he APPEARED in the beginning of our relationship and in public to have normal human emotions and the ability to empathize normally and to form lasting emotional attachments to people, once I got to know him a little and he had me thoroughly drawn in to the relationship, he gradually began to exhibit behavior that indicated to me me that emotionally, there was nobody at home behind that facade.

Besides the harsh criticisms and odd outbursts both in private and in public, the death of his father “didn’t affect him” he said, he refused to use the word “love” with anyone under any circumstance, and he called his own mother by her first name.

It was a painful case of emotional whiplash for me when he began to behave in abusive ways. His verbal and emotional abuse was often so strangely sudden, inexplicable, and inhuman that I wasn’t sure how to interpret it. As for him, he hardly noticed it. It was as if nothing happened or as if he had not done or said anything cruel or hurtful – after all it didn’t hurt HIM!  He either thought them normal or was hoping I would not call him out on these behaviors.  And I didn’t, at first.  But eventually, I began bringing them up because these incidents increased in severity and frequency as time went on. They destroyed our friendship – and thus, our entire relationship. It would have destroyed ME had I not gotten out because his abuse had gone on so long and gotten so severe that it began to make me depressed.

Dan most likely STILL does not understand why or how his abusive behavior was THE mitigating factor in the destruction of that relationship. And, he never will. Frankly, I doubt he ever gave it a fleeting thought. He’s no doubt well moved on to his next N-supplier now.

It was THREE years before I started reading and realized what I was dealing with — an abuser – maybe even a narcissist if not an outright sociopath, and that it was NOT normal. This man had little no conscience, never showed any remorse or apologized for his abuse and could not empathize with the pain his words and actions caused within our relationship. He first idealized me — but that oddly and gradually changed into me being constantly treated as if I were an inferior human being to him – that is, he held me in utter contempt. Because to a narcissist, everyone is inferior. I was constantly “walking on eggshells” trying to avoid his criticism of everything I did, said and wrote, and his constant attempts to define me – to replace ME with HIS mental image of me and then to abuse me based on that image (a sort of mental rape).

In stark contrast (Jekyll/Hyde fashion), he was VERY conscious of how he “looks” socially to other people and was a supremely nice person – to everyone else. He was FANATIC about his social appearances and social life. Because that’s his COVER. He could feign care and empathy pretty well – with other people – but with ME (except for the very beginning of our relationship during the “romance” phase) he had NONE.

Zilch.

He’d ‘stab’ at me emotionally with verbal jabs, insults, derogatory jokes, public humiliation, head-spinningly inconsiderate, unreliable, oddly inexplicable behavior and remarks based on one of his whims or secret complaints of the moment, and often but not always involving other women. He would then blame me and denigrate me because I was bleeding (ie: hurt about it). It’s typical for abusers to keep their victims off-balance and never knowing what to expect, because this keeps the abuser in control and control is very important to them.

To say he was cruel is an understatement. The man was an emotional wrecking ball. After almost four years of this, I could take no more.

According to latest figures, about 1% of the population have NPD (75% are male), and about 4% of the population have AsPD or SPD (3% male and about 1% or less female).

I recently read The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, PhD. It’s a great book and I’d highly recommend it. I just lent my copy to a friend who was a victim of a narc/sociopath. This type of reading and research can be helpful in learning to recognize and understand narcissists and sociopaths — or just people who consistently and repeatedly exhibit narcissistic and sociopathic patterns of behavior.

There are links here on EscapeAbuse.com to online books about both NPD and Psychopaths, as well as numerous other articles, resources and links. I encourage anyone in an abusive relationship to learn as much as possible about these disorders, whether the abuser has been diagnosed with them or not. Because some of the patterns of behavior are likely there if you’re entangled with an abuser, and it helps to know the nature of what you’re dealing with.

Now to answer the question: No, all abusers aren’t narcissists or psychopaths. However, I personally believe that abusive people habitually and consistently exhibit a LOT of narcissistic/sociopathic behaviors (MORE than “normal” people). The biggest of those are: the lack of ability to truly empathize with other people; the lack of ability to form lasting or substantial emotional attachments to other people (ie: to love) ; denial, blame and projection when confronted with their hurtful and abusive behavior towards others, refusal to take responsibility for their damaging behavior or its consequences.

This is why I have read about and post so much about these disorders – it helps me understand what was likely behind the behaviors of my Ex. I want to AVOID these types of people in the future if at all possible.

So, even though abusers haven’t been clinically diagnosed with these disorders, my experience has been that they have more tendency towards the behaviors inherent in those disorders than other people – whatever their particular individual internal issues or pathologies might be.

And regarding those generally-accepted percentages, who knows any narcissist OR psychopath who will ADMIT they have a problem or willingly go for help?

If you confront a narcissist/sociopath/abuser with incidents of their abusive behavior, what happens?

They blame someone ELSE. To them, in their mind, they are nothing less than PERFECT and they will never EVER say or believe otherwise. They will ALWAYS blame their victim for THEIR behavior. In a clinical setting, they will often try to charm the clinician/therapist and/or try to blame their partner for their abusive behavior – often accusing the victim of being “the crazy one” or “the angry one”, NOT him. Furthermore, he will try to make himself out to be the “victim” in the relationship who is “attacked” by his partner. “You’re attacking me!” is commonly heard from an abuser who is confronted with an incident of his abuse.

I just wonder if there are many abusers out there who are undiagnosed narcissists or undiagnosed sociopaths/psychopaths. I think it’s probably likely that there are given the fact that verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse is so prevalent. And others of them may just be angry, controlling, self-centered people who have a lot of the TRAITS of those disorders but who can’t really be formally diagnosed with them.

Nevermind diagnosing them. But do endeavor to protect yourself from them by learning to recognize the dangerous patterns of behavior.

In that spirit, I offer this Survival Guide from Psychology Today, by Robert Hare, PhD, about how to recognize and protect yourself from a narcissist/psychopath (even if the person you’re dealing with just exhibits some of the behaviors of one):

Survival Guide

Although no one is completely immune to the devious machinations of the psychopath, there are some things you can do to reduce your vulnerability.

  • Know what you are dealing with. This sounds easy but in fact can be very difficult. All the reading in the world cannot immunize you from the devastating effects of psychopaths. Everyone, including the experts, can be taken in, conned, and left bewildered by them. A good psychopath can play a concerto on anyone’s heart strings.
  • Try not to be influenced by “props.” It is not easy to get beyond the winning smile, the captivating body language, the fast talk of the typical psychopath, all of which blind us to his or her real intentions. Many people find it difficult to deal with the intense, “predatory state” of the psychopath. The fixated stare, is more a prelude to self-gratification and the exercise of power rather than simple interest or empathic caring.
  • Don’t wear blinders. Enter new relationships with your eyes wide open. Like tile rest of us, most psychopathic conartists and “love-thieves” initially hide their dark side by putting their “best foot forward.” Cracks may soon begin to appear in the mask they wear, but once trapped in their web, it will be difficult to escape financially and emotionally unscathed.
  • Keep your guard up in high-risk situations. Some situations are tailor-made for psychopaths: singles bars, ship cruises, foreign airports, etc. In each case, the potential victim is lonely, looking for a good time, excitement, or companionship, and there will usually be someone willing to oblige, for a hidden price.
  • Know yourself. Psychopaths are skilled at detecting and ruthlessly exploiting your weak spots. Your best defense is to understand what these spots are, and to be extremely wary of anyone who zeroes in on them.

Unfortunately, even the most careful precautions are no guarantee that you will be safe from a determined psychopath. In such cases, all you can do is try to exert some sort of damage control. This is not easy but some suggestions may be of help:

  • Obtain professional advice. Make sure the clinician you consult is familiar with the literature on psychopathy and has had experience in dealing with psychopaths.
  • Don’t blame yourself. Whatever the reasons for being involved with a psychopath, it is important that you not accept blame for his or her attitudes and behavior. Psychopaths play by the same rules—their rules—with everyone.
  • Be aware of who the victim is. Psychopaths often give the impression that it is they who are suffering and that the victims are to blame for their misery. Don’t waste your sympathy on them.
  • Recognize that you are not alone. Most psychopaths have lots of victims. It is certain that a psychopath who is causing you grief is also causing grief to others.
  • Be careful about power struggles. Keep in mind that psychopaths have a strong need for psychological and physical control over others. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stand up for your rights, but it will probably be difficult to do so without risking serious emotional or physical trauma.
  • Set firm ground rules. Although power struggles with a psychopath are risky you may be able to set up some clear rules—both for yourself and for the psychopath—to make your life easier and begin the difficult transition from victim to a person looking out for yourself.
  • Don’t expect dramatic changes. To a large extent, the personality of psychopaths is “carved in stone.” There is little likelihood that anything you do will produce fundamental, sustained changes in how they see themselves or others.
  • Cut your losses. Most victims of psychopaths end up feeling confused and hopeless, and convinced that they are largely to blame for the problem. The more you give in the more you will be taken advantage of by the psychopath’s insatiable appetite for power and control.
  • Use support groups. By the time your suspicions have led you to seek a diagnosis, you already know that you’re in for a very long and bumpy ride. Make sure you have all the emotional support you can muster.