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Are Abusers Narcissistic, Sociopathic or Plain Abusive?

Labeling abusers as narcissists or sociopaths is hurtful to the victim of abuse and a waste of the abuse victim's time. Find out why.

I struggle with using the words “narcissist” and “sociopath” and the like in my descriptions of abusers. The words get a lot of online attention and would draw in abuse victims trying to solve the mystery of their lover’s nasty behaviors. However, “abusers” do not fall into any specific category in the DSM-IV (the guide psychiatrists use to diagnose mental illnesses). By and large, abusive people are not mentally ill – even though to us normal folks, it sure appears that they are insane.

Due to some of the comments this post received, I want to clarify that I am talking about cases of domestic violence and abuse – two adults who chose to be together initially until one found out the other was abusing them. There is some peace in “diagnosing” your abuser as a sociopath, narcissist, or whatever as a layperson because your research will also show you these people DO NOT CHANGE and IT ISN’T YOUR FAULT they behave the way they do. This helps you to detach from them.

However, if you are a victim of abuse in a domestically violent relationship, then it does no good to wait around out of “loyalty” or “marriage vows” or any other reason if your abuser happens to actually go to a therapist and receive such a diagnosis. You will become disordered if you live with someone with a mental disorder that science has no way to treat or cure.

Labeling Abusers As Mentally Ill Hurts Victims of Abuse

sociopathIn fact, there is no more, no less mental illness in the abusive population than in the general population. Therefore, pigeon-holing abusers as narcissists, sociopaths, or any other disordered type can hurt the victims of abuse. As a victim of intimate partner violence (IPV, the psychological term for domestic violence), I searched for reasons why my husband acted the way he did. Going through the checklists online for different disorders left me empty-handed. Yes, he was somewhat of a narcissist and somewhat of a sociopath…but he didn’t quite meet the qualifications for ANY disorder. According to psychiatry and the DSM-IV, my husband was “normal”.

This was actually a GOOD thing for me to discover because, at the time, I was looking for an excuse for his nastiness (and a reason for me to stay). I mean, if he had a disorder (like my depression), then I “should” stick with him – he can’t help his brain chemicals, right? That’s what I would have thought . . . and I would have tried to get him into counseling for a diagnosis so he could accept what he’d been doing and change into a nice guy. You see where that thinking leads, right? Straight to more reasons to blame myself for not accepting him as he is and loving him unconditionally.

To complicate matters, stroke victims and those with traumatic brain injuries can emerge from their traumas as very different, very abusive, people. For example, one man’s wife suffered a stroke and changed into an abusive jerk. Part of it is due to depression and the stress of learning to deal with life after a stroke, but part of it is much more ominous. For example, she told her husband that she acted out a dream while he was at work one day. In the dream, she took a kitchen knife and killed him as he watched television. She acted this out by herself, home alone, pretending it was real! She felt compelled.

Is she reaching out for help by telling her husband? Or is she purposefully inflicting emotional abuse? The husband doesn’t know. I don’t know. And if she did it on purpose, would she really tell that truth? There is no way to know what is in her mind. The man must decide for himself when he has had enough of the abuse (intended or not). Labeling his wife as a “stroke victim” doesn’t help him at all.

Labeling your abuser as a narcissist, sociopath, or even an addict doesn’t help you at all, either.

Trying to Figure Out the Abuser Doesn’t Help You

On the flip side of the research, we have to consider this, too: most sociopaths, narcissists, and other similarly disordered people DO NOT seek counseling because they see nothing “wrong” with what they do. By and large, they’re happy with themselves – it is the rest of the world that is screwed up. So, it is possible that abusers DO have a higher percentage of disorders than the general public, but we can’t prove it. We don’t know it for sure and blanketing “abuser” under other disorders hurts their victims more than it helps.

If you struggle to answer the question “Why does she abuse me?” you will find no good answer to the question. A better question is “What can I do to protect myself from the abuse?” That empowering question will lead you toward answers that will help you instead of contributing to your feelings of powerlessness, anger, and pain.

You can also find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not assume my pronoun choices are an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.

45 thoughts on “Are Abusers Narcissistic, Sociopathic or Plain Abusive?”

  1. You seriously think that abusers aren’t mentally ill because there isn’t a solid DSM entry for them? This is circular thinking with a touch of abstraction failure.

    Your bit on how disorder is contagious is in no way supported by the official field. I’m wondering, have you ever been diagnosed with autism? You seem all over every part of left field but nowhere near center.

  2. Sociopathic malignant narcissistic abuser. It is a description modern mental health sees as a mental illness. From what I’ve seen it is simply the way a person with a hole where his soul ought to be gains benefits and energy from. It is a soul illness. How do we know this? Because these types prey upon the weak, naive, and innocent and the do it behind closed doors and insist upon their victims not telling anyone. When around those with power to expose the wicked behavior, and/or stop the behavior and/or PUNISH the vile behavior the abuser will behave so well St Peter would appear reprobate by comparison! They don’t want to get caught. They believe they are entitled to abuse and I don’t believe for one second that they, poor babies, just don’t believe they are wrong…they KNOW it us wrong or else they would not behave differently depending upon who is watching. THEIR WICKED BEHAVIOR IS A CHOICE, not an illness.

    Btw, I’ve gained much understanding as I supported my best friend gaining emancipation from her abuser via a website that supports abused women called acryforjustice dot com.

  3. These are some of the tings i noticed, they ask that you let the matter go, the incident, commenting that the other person has a substance abuse issue of some kind or another, or a mental illness, and, if they do not know the offending party at all, then they will simply say that the offender is simply engaging in human nature, but you will notice that they seem to relish the idea, as if underneath their remark they are saying that it is only natural… to attack you in some fashion or other for some contrived reason or anoter… because that is actually what the person in my case was up to, but not them alone, but all of the other members of my family as well… so sad. they are in the habit of meeting truth and good intentions, and good works, with hostility, dishonesty, and as if they represented adversity! what is more, if i were to point out any problem that exists today, they would reference a problem of 6 years ago, if the problem has anything to do with someone i know, and the problem at present has to do with someone they know. absolute insanity! and then, if i were to do anything wrong at all, and they will all go rooting around for such information, like pigs searching for truffles, it will be hurled in my face, but i am supposed to turn my cheek to the entire world! i realized when i was about 3 years old that if anyone at all were to accuse me of anything at all, my family would side with the person, without questioning their intentions, motivations, or the verasity of their statement. and what i thought then has been proven true innumerable times. it could make a person physically vomit. and it is not just the members of my family who behave this way! there are people all over the place who do this! their malicious game is that i must not say anything at all about anyone or any subject at all, but all and sundry are supposedly free to hurl mud at me, meaning the things they do not like about themselves or their friends, or society in general, or the things they enjoy but keep hidden, they hurl that trash at me! I let one guy run his mouth and as usual, these types get so carried away, I pointed out to him that I would have to be GOD to be responsible for all that he claimed! And he realized that it was true! People will try to fault me for things I have not done to people I have never met in places I have never been, and that is to lift their sense of guilt, powerlessness, and whatever other debris they may have hanging on their shoulders! The majority of people very likely operate according to primitive animal instinct and superstition, and they are given to ritual conduct.

  4. your article is false and dangerous in fact when someone realizes what happened to them they can heal and while we all may play a part one who draws the sick men in can learn to heal if they are not already dead or a emotional wreck forever YES its that bad not a normal break up or disagreement or small abuse. There is a huge difference between abuse and a sociopath and so on not to mention it has now been proven that most abusive relationships contain a n/s or p it is very dangerous to even try to make light of it knowledge is power not the other way around there is no cure for these men or woman which is way less for woman there are way more men with this sickness, the damage is deadly and life destroying. colleges are teaching it as a course for people to have skills to avoid these types and they can take down anyone who is not prepared its not a game a normal person will win they are skilled monsters and yes there is a difference and people NEED to be aware and there is no cure for them they are empty loveless soulless creatures not human when woman learn this it will save them from these evil evil men its not abuse it FAR WORSE

  5. I am married into a family of sociopaths..
    They druged and killed my unborn baby.. 3 times.. 3 babies in 1 year. They needed my husband to marry onto a wealthy family and for me to have a baby then would just get in the way. Soon after they did just that without me knowing. I was abused over the phone verbally for 3 years if i would hang up the phone i was threatened with divorce… (i am from Asia and divorce is unheard of) i did’nt know he remarried or that he was putting on a show for his new wife. he needed to get into
    uk with his new wife and needed me and my 6 year old daughter to help with that.
    He is now living here for past 3 years his wife has moved here on a student visa. He denise he has another family. He forced me to have another baby when he got to the uk.. he needed to clear his and his sisters name. He has introduced my daughter to his wife many times. Publicly he and his family have labled me as the crazy one. I have heard many mental illness they claimed i have.
    He will not leave my family wont let him leave. Everything in my life home has been violated by him and his wife. If i go out she is snooping around my house if i let him take my child to school they will try and brainwash againest me. He took my USB which has personal files ( drama script i wrote and a business plan). I had no idea until he mocked me about personal things that were on my diary on that USB that no 1 knows.they have stolen all my work are now on the verge of opening that business.. i spent 2 years getting research and business plan written.
    He wants me to cook clean for him.. if he wants sex.. then he will get it there is no where i can go or escape. He see’s me as nothing but a prostitute.
    I am tired and scared i have no where to go have no money.. am in debt because of him .. he refused to pay any bills for 3 years or pay for food. Everything he earned he gave to his wife. He starved my kids beacuse i had little money because i was paying bills.
    Am tired scared and alone.
    No 1 will read this. Just writing it all down does not help i thought it would. God i feel soo num. My whole body hurts. I have to get through this for my kids sake.

    1. Run away with your kids don’t deal with it another second. You and your kids need better. Just run away, if you have a car you can at least stay in it for a few days with kids of needed, or stay at family or friends or shelter until you can figure it out from there. Just get away from him, don’t think about it anymore just go

      1. I reslly hope you have gained the courage to leave. If not, dont think or worry, it cant get worse than it is now. You are already starved and being violated in every way. Just go

      2. I reslly hope you have gained the courage to leave. If not, dont think or worry, it cant get worse than it is now. You are already starved and being violated in every way. Just go You need to for your child

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