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Introduction to Surviving Domestic Abuse

Updated: Feb 28

Well, as promised, we are finally "going there". No one ever dreams of developing a deep, intimate romantic relationship with an abusive, highly toxic individual, but unfortunately, these monsters are excellent actors, and even better students at human psychology. Unfortunately, whereas your therapist may use their expertise in this field to provide therapies to patients that are struggling with their mental health, the domestic abuser weaponizes this knowledge and uses it to take advantage of their victims. Don't be deceived, however. While it may seem that these toxic personalities can empathize with their victims, it is all an act. The more time you spend with these individuals, you will eventually find that their "emotional intelligence" is only skin deep, and you may eventually find these individuals bullshitting themselves out of situations that reveal their true nature.

Interestingly enough, you may also find that many of the strategies from my previous blog articles can be just as effective at defusing a domestic abuser, as it can be to defending yourself against a workplace psychopath. What makes the domestic abuser much scarier than a workplace psychopath, however, is that for many people, they can be up close and personal. Some of them even live at your home! At least with a toxic coworker or boss, you're able to escape from them at the end of the day, and if things ever get so bad that it becomes unbearable, you have other options, such as launching an investigation against them, or quitting, the latter of which may produce quicker results. While many people believe that you can quit a domestic relationship just as easily as you can quit a job, the reality depends largely on how deep you've already gone.

You can think of escaping from a domestic abuser as a high stakes poker game. Maintain that poker face. Keep playing your abuser's game until you get your chance.

In these types of situations, the most fortunate individuals (if we can call them that) are the ones that find out quickly that something isn't quite right about their romantic interest. The relationship starts off strong, however, your significant other may suddenly become cold and distant, even though they insist that they're still invested in the relationship. They're constantly "busy", even at odd hours of the night, and even on the weekend. To be fair, as you may have seen in some of my earlier blog posts, some work environments are highly toxic, and employers may overwork their employees to an excessive degree (especially if they're salaried/work exempt). It may even be reasonable to assume that even if the work culture isn't toxic, there may be times where your significant other will be swamped with extra work, and as a consequence may be unavailable at times. It is up to you as the individual dating this person to put the puzzle pieces together and find out whether or not they're trustworthy.

It is my understanding that the bane of modern psychologists is the fact that people love to throw around terms like "psycho" or "narcissist" at anyone that is perceived to be toxic to the point that these terms begin to lose their meaning. Due to the social stigma behind these types of labels, medical professionals are highly reluctant to brand anyone with these names unless they truly match the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), or antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). These behavioral disorders are nothing to joke about and shouldn't be thrown around in casual conversation, just because you're dealing with a toxic personality. Unfortunately, in situations where a victim is dealing with a true, bonafide psychopath, attempting to reveal these people to your family, friends or loved may result in light-hearted chuckling, sarcasm, or other forms of patronization. Even more unfortunate, these monsters know this, and will use to their advantage.

Why do I keep talking about "psychopaths" and "narcissists"? While statistically, these individuals are supposed to be fairly rare in the wild, I do not think they're so rare to the point that you'll never encounter one. A 5-second Google search will reveal that only approximately 1 percent of the general population are psychopaths, while another approximately 1 percent of the general population are narcissists. While that may seem small, many of us live in metropolitan areas, where we can easily encounter hundreds, if not thousands of people in a single day. Considering it that way, encountering a psychopath or a narcissist in the wild is more common than you would think.

Granted, people are not homogenously distributed in such a way that exactly 1 person out of 100 are guaranteed to be a psychopath (20-30% of prison inmates are estimated to be psychopaths [1-5], for example), but it's not unreasonable to think that you'll encounter at least one psychopath in your life, even if you don't know it (remember, they are terrific actors).

However, to go even further, I think both NPD and ASPD are underreported. Think about it. These people are terrific actors. NPD and ASPD are HIGHLY stigmatized (and rightfully so). The logic follows that true narcissists are psychopaths are either:

  1. Not going to voluntarily hospitalize themselves and/or get diagnosed with a personality disorder.

  2. Even if they did, probably won't be diagnosed as such because medical professionals are again concerned about the social stigma behind these personality disorders.

  3. Avoid suspicion or detection from unbiased third parties.

It is my personal suspicion that the actual number of psychopaths and/or narcissists out there is way higher than the statistics would have you believe. In fact, your suspicions about your toxic domestic partner may be right on the nose. The difficulty of revealing these monsters to the public lies in all of the above, which ultimately places the burden of proof on you as the individual to reveal these creatures to the right people.

Go ahead. Tell everyone I'm a psychopath. No one will believe you anyway. Everyone already thinks you're crazy! Besides, you don't even have any proof!

Think about it - how/when do most psychopaths and narcissists get diagnosed? Most commonly this happens in childhood (i.e. they're dependent on their parents, and their parents express concern about their child's behavior to health professionals), or in any other situation as an adult where the psychopath loses their autonomy (think prison, mental hospitals or retirement homes). Basically the freedom to chose or not choose diagnosis is taken away from these people. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-V requires that in order for someone to even be capable of ASPD diagnosis, they must first be diagnosed with Conduct Disorder (CD) before the age of 15 [6]. While I'm not going to claim I am a psychiatrist, I feel like this is ridiculous, because again, a psychopath does not want to be diagnosed, even as a child. I think a more appropriate alternative should be to make it possible to at least retroactively diagnose someone with CD, given a preponderance of evidence.

Anyway, I am ranting here. The point I am trying to make is simple. It's a big, scary world out there, and depending on what places you frequent, your chances of encountering a psychopath or a narcissist in your personal life could be even higher than the estimated 1% (I know the jail example is extreme, but other places, such as disadvantaged neighborhoods [7] also have disproportionately high numbers of psychopaths). Consider your surroundings, and consider both possibilities that encountering a psychopath in general isn't that uncommon, and depending on your life circumstances, you may find that yourself at even greater risk of encountering these individuals.

That said, we're going to have a lot of ground to cover in the next module. I think some of it may be interesting, some of it may be obvious, and some of it may be downright scary. The point here is that being a prisoner of a domestic abuser can become very harrowing very fast. It can even become a matter between life and death. While it may be scary to do so, the moment you realize you're in this situation, you need to begin planning your escape, and concealing your hand from your domestic partner, if you haven't been doing that already. Please look forward to the next couple of posts. Some of the tips I'll be providing unfortunately come with personal experience. Until next time.

Works Cited:

[1] Fazel, S., & Danesh, J. (2002). Serious mental disorder in 23 000 prisoners: a systematic review of 62 surveys. The lancet, 359(9306), 545-550.

[2] Hare, R. D. (2003). Hare psychopathy checklist-revised (PCL-R) Toronto: Multi-Health Systems. Inc.

[3] Gibbon, S., Khalifa, N. R., Cheung, N. H., Völlm, B. A., & McCarthy, L. (2020). Psychological interventions for antisocial personality disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (9).

[4] Vitale, J. E., Smith, S. S., Brinkley, C. A., & Newman, J. P. (2002). The reliability and validity of the Psychopathy Checklist–Revised in a sample of female offenders. Criminal justice and behavior, 29(2), 202-231.

[5] Tiihonen, J., Rautiainen, M. R., Ollila, H. M., Repo-Tiihonen, E., Virkkunen, M., Palotie, A., ... & Paunio, T. (2015). Genetic background of extreme violent behavior. Molecular psychiatry, 20(6), 786-792.

[6] Black DW. The Natural History of Antisocial Personality Disorder. Can J Psychiatry. 2015 Jul;60(7):309-14. doi: 10.1177/070674371506000703. PMID: 26175389; PMCID: PMC4500180.

[7] Walsh, A., & Wu, H. H. (2008). Differentiating antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy, and sociopathy: Evolutionary, genetic, neurological, and sociological considerations. Criminal Justice Studies, 21(2), 135-152.

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