The term “family abuse” has been instated to describe domestic violence and child abuse, two phenomena that often occur in the same family. The term encompasses inter-generational violence and recognizes all individuals who fall victim to abuse, either physical or psychological, by another family member. Family Abuse doesn’t only affect the couple, domestic violence and abuse have devastating consequences on the other members of the family, especially children, and on the community as a whole.
Psychopathy is not a diagnosis in current psychiatric classification systems. It is a subtype of antisocial personality, characterized by persistent, violent offending histories (often with a variety of offence types), lack of emotional warmth or any sense of empathy for others, and deceptive and predatory attitudes to others. Research shows that psychopaths often use a technique called gas lighting to achieve this – gradually eroding a “victim’s” confidence and sense of reality by confusing, misdirecting, deceiving, and persuading them – leading to extreme self-doubt.
The term Intimate Partner Violence refers to an ongoing pattern of coercive control maintained through physical, psychological, sexual, and/ or economic abuse that varies in severity and chronicity. Although many couples engage in mutual or low-level violence that does not alter the power dynamics within their relationship, the larger social problem of “battering” is a form of gender-based violence characterized by a pattern of behavior, generally committed by men against women, that the perpetrator uses to gain an advantage of power and control over the victim. Behaviors include not only physical violence and the continued threat of such violence, but also psychological torment designed to instill fear and/or confusion in the victim. The pattern of abuse also often includes sexual and economic abuse, social isolation, and threats against loved ones.
The psychopath doesn’t see his victims as a fellow human beings with their own emotions, needs and desires, but as suppliers of what they want, which could be anything: attention, admiration, influence, status, money, power, sex, sympathy and/or favors. They study people’s behavior and skillfully use it to control them. They can completely close themselves off from the awful reality they have created for someone else.
Effects of Abuse
Victims overwhelmed with terror, suffer from an overload of their system, and to be able to function they must distort reality. They often shut down emotionally, and sometimes later describe themselves as having felt “robotic”, intellectually knowing what happened, but feeling frozen or numb and unable to take action.
Many victims feel the compulsion to tell and retell the events of the trauma in an attempt to come to terms with what happened to them and to try to integrate it, reaching out to others for contact, safety, and stability. Other victims react in an opposite manner, withdrawing into a shell of self-imposed isolation.
Those who experience more frequent or severe abuse, may develop symptoms that make daily functioning more difficult. Ongoing abuse and violence can induce feelings of shock, disbelief, confusion, terror, isolation, and despair, and can undermine a person’s sense of self. These, in turn, can manifest as psychiatric symptoms (e.g., reliving the traumatic event, hyperarousal, avoiding reminders of the trauma, depression, anxiety, and sleep disruption). Survivors are also at risk for developing depression, which has been found to significantly relate to the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Experiencing childhood trauma and/ or severe longstanding abuse as an adult can also disrupt one’s ability to manage painful internal states, leaving many survivors with coping mechanisms that incur further harm (e.g., suicide attempts, substance use). Trusting others, particularly those in caregiving roles, may be especially difficult.
Victimization can lead to mental health symptoms, it is important to remember that when currently experiencing violence and abuse, what may look like psychiatric symptomatology, may in fact be an appropriate response to ongoing danger. Although wariness, lack of trust, or seemingly paranoid reactions may be manifestations of previous abuse, this “heightened sensitivity” may also be a rational response that could protect a woman from further harm.
Similarly, a survivor’s seemingly passive response to abuse can be misinterpreted, as well. While passivity might be a response to previous experiences of trauma, for survivors, it may be an intentional strategy used to avoid or minimize abuse that is beyond their control. Choosing to remain in an abusive relationship is often based on a strategic analysis of safety and risk. It is also influenced by culture, religion, and the hope that abusers can change.
Essentials to treating Survivors of Psychopathic Abuse, Family Abuse, and Intimate Partner Violence include:
- Knowledge of psychopathy and understanding manipulation and mind control and how the manipulators abuse and affect the victims at a fundamental level. The level of this knowledge determines the level of help that a person or group can offer the victims.
- Incorporating an understanding of the dynamics of abuse is essential for responding to the types of issues survivors face related to safety, confidentiality, coercive control, parenting, custody, legal issues, immigration, social support, and economic independence. These all influence how a survivor is affected by the abuse, her ability to participate in treatment, and her response to treatment.
- Safety issues need to be attended to when someone is in on-going abusive situations. Other concerns must be addressed such as whether the abuser is undermining the survivor’s mental health, access to treatment, or efforts to achieve recovery; isolating the survivor from sources of support; and/or threatening to use a survivor’s participation in treatment to undermine her credibility and jeopardize her ability to retain custody of her children.
- Recognizing culture influences how individuals define and experience mental health and mental illness, the types of stressors they encounter, the decisions they make in seeking help, the symptoms and concerns they present to clinicians, and their coping styles and sources of social support.
Barriers to Receiving the Help
There are a number of issues that may influence how, where, and in what manner to provide trauma treatment to Survivors. Women still dealing with abuse are generally dealing with a myriad of pressing concerns (e.g., protecting their children, dealing with the legal system, becoming financially more stable). They may have little time and insufficient funds for ongoing therapy sessions or completing homework outside of treatment. Low-income women in particular may have difficulty affording the needed childcare to attend therapy, and as a result of structural oppression, people of color may have less access to insurance to pay for trauma treatment.
In addition, perpetrators of abuse may prevent women from seeking treatment or use their knowledge of their partner’s treatment to continue their violence or threats. If the couple has children together, it is not uncommon for perpetrators to use women’s seeking help against them, claiming that they are too “mentally ill” to effectively care for the children, which may discourage women from seeking treatment, as well. Thus, a number of factors specific to experiencing abuse can impact both treatment accessibility and treatment outcomes.
For many survivors, the abuse or fear of future abuse is ongoing, regardless of their relationship status. Under these circumstances, some treatment components may be especially difficult to tolerate, requiring modifications. Additionally, the likelihood that survivors have experienced multiple types of trauma (e.g., childhood abuse, community violence, sexual harassment, sexual assault) is relatively high, making trauma treatment more complex.
Given that survivors have a wide variety of life experiences with a range of mental health effects, there is no single treatment model that will fit the needs of all. A great deal more research is needed to understand how to respond most effectively to survivors with such a diverse range of needs and experiences.Bottom of Form
How a Community Fails Survivors
When a victim calls the police or goes to court but the police or the lawyers and judges don’t recognize the psychopath/sociopath, the result can be devastating for the victims. Keep in mind, too, that the psychopaths are often on their best behavior in front of the legal people and along with their lies, lack of fear and lack of conscience, the psychopaths can portray themselves as the victim and the real victim ends up worse off.
In the same way, family members and friends often do not understand the nature of psychopaths and may even have been ‘recruited’ by the manipulator so that when the victim goes looking for help their friends and family end up siding with the manipulator. This is a horrible situation to be in and is very isolating for the victims.
Even if the family or friends are not on the side of the manipulator, their lack of understanding often causes problems for the victims. With all the best intentions in the world, saying to someone who has suffered family, intimate partner, or psychopathic abuse that they should just ignore the ex, forget about what happened and carry on living their life not only does not help it actually makes it worse because the victim cannot easily do this because of the manner in which they have been abused.
There are 3 situations with therapists that people find themselves in when they go looking for help for victims of psychopaths. The first is where the individual is unaware of the fact that they were in a relationship with a psychopath. They have left the relationship and believe it is all behind them and later when they have problems, they don’t link it to the relationship and go for help because of the particular problem. The therapist treats the presenting problem without any reference to the mind control that the person has been subjected to and in this situation the problem often proves difficult to resolve.
The second situation is where the person knows it’s an abusive relationship and may even have recognized a psychopath or narcissist but the therapist does not understand psychopathy, narcissism or mind control. What often happens here is that the therapist misdiagnoses the problem, assigns responsibility for the situation to the victim and then works with the victim to somehow change themselves or adapt to the situation. This will typically frustrate the client because the client knows deep down that there is something wrong with their partner but cannot put their finger on it and whatever the therapist suggests is usually unsuccessful in resolving the situation. In fact, it will typically make the client feel worse because blaming the victim is what the psychopath does already. Many of the usual therapeutic approaches simply don’t work when there is a psychopath involved because when dealing with personality disorders of this type, the rules are different.
The third situation is where the individual sees a therapist who is an expert in the field of psychological abuse. This expert understands psychopathy, narcissism and mind control and is the ideal option for the victim, allowing them to separate from the psychopath or narcissist, undo the damage and the pseudo-personality imposed by the manipulator and help the person to re-establish their own personality once again. This is the kind of help for victims of psychopaths that allow them to fully recover.
How Can Community Engagement Prevent Domestic Abuse?
1. Raising Awareness and Changing the Perspective
The essential condition for any community-based efforts to function accordingly is for people to understand that family violence, psychopathic abuse, and intimate partner abuse are real problems and learn about its tremendous impact. Without being informed, people are less likely to get involved or to even care about such issues. Unfortunately, domestic violence is still regarded by society and some institutions as a private family matter, one that doesn’t require outside intervention, when in reality, domestic violence is a violation of the individual’s human rights and, therefore, everyone’s problem.
2. Establishing Connection between Community Members and Services.
The next step in addressing family, intimate partner, and psychopathic violence is, ensuring that families who need help get it in a timely and effective manner. The community can make sure that services such as counseling, legal help, services for children, support groups, health-related services, employment programs, and financial assistance are provided to families in need.
3. Changing Existing Conditions Favorizing Family Violence
Most organizations that offer support and assistance for victims of domestic abuse are active in poor communities. It is believed that poverty, substance abuse, mental and physical health issues, and other such factors contribute to maintaining a high domestic abuse rate. Therefore, the most challenging task of organizations that fight against violence is to change or try to eliminate conditions that favorize abuse, while making sure victims receive the needed assistance.
4. Leadership Development within the Community
Finding and fostering new leaders in the community, creates messengers who can help raise awareness about family, psychopathic, and intimate partner violence. Leaders mobilize people to action, engaging them in new activities to identify and prevent violence. Development of new leaders from within each community also helps ensure that reform efforts will be sustained.
For victims of family, psychopathic, and intimate partner violence and domestic abuse, being able to rely on the community for support is crucial in ensuring their health and wellbeing. To this purpose, communities must learn to regard this violence as a priority and change residents’ perspective upon the privacy of abuse, working together to design prevention programs that are in accordance with the current cultural context of the community.