Victim Reaction to Abuse by Narcissists and Psychopaths

Psychological aspects of how victims of abuse by narcissists and psychopaths end up in that position.

Personality disorders are not only all-pervasive, but also diffuse and shape-shifting. It is taxing and emotionally harrowing to watch how a loved one is consumed by these pernicious and largely incurable conditions. Victims adopt varying stances and react in different ways to the inevitable abuse involved in relationships with personality disordered patients.

1. Malignant Optimism

A form of self-delusion, refusing to believe that some diseases are untreatable. Malignant optimists see signs of hope in every fluctuation, read meanings and patterns into every random occurrence, utterance, or slip. These Pollyanna defences are varieties of magical thinking.

"If only he tried hard enough", "If he only really wanted to heal", "If only we find the right therapy", "If only his defences were down", "There must be something good and worthwhile under the hideous facade", "No one can be that evil and destructive", "He must have meant it differently" "God, or a higher being, or the spirit, or the soul is the solution and the answer to my prayers".

From my book, "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited":

"The narcissist and psychopath hold such thinking in barely undisguised contempt. To them, it is a sign of weakness, the scent of prey, a gaping vulnerability. They use and abuse this human need for order, good, and meaning - as they use and abuse all other human needs. Gullibility, selective blindness, malignant optimism - these are the weapons of the beast. And the abused are hard at work to provide it with its arsenal."

Read "Is Your Cup Half-full or is it Half Empty?"

2. Rescue Fantasies

"It is true that he is chauvinistic and that his behaviour is unacceptable and repulsive. But all he needs is a little love and he will be straightened out. I will rescue him from his misery and misfortune. I will give him the love that he lacked as a child. Then his (narcissism, psychopathy, paranoia, reclusiveness) will vanish and we will live happily ever after."

3. Self-flagellation

Constant feelings of guilt, self-reproach, self-recrimination and, thus, self-punishment.

The victim of sadists, paranoids, narcissists, borderlines, passive-aggressives, and psychopaths internalises the endless hectoring and humiliating criticism and makes them her own. She begins to self-punish, to withhold, to request approval prior to any action, to forgo her preferences and priorities, to erase her own identity - hoping to thus avoid the excruciating pains of her partner's destructive analyses.

The partner is often a willing participant in this shared psychosis. Such folie a deux can never take place without the full collaboration of a voluntarily subordinated victim. Such partners have a wish to be punished, to be eroded through constant, biting criticisms, unfavourable comparisons, veiled and not so veiled threats, acting out, betrayals and humiliations. It makes them feel cleansed, "holy", whole, and sacrificial.

Many of these partners, when they realise their situation (it is very difficult to discern it from the inside), abandon the personality disordered partner and dismantle the relationship. Others prefer to believe in the healing power of love. But here love is wasted on a human shell, incapable of feeling anything but negative emotions.

4. Emulation

The psychiatric profession uses the word: "epidemiology" when it describes the prevalence of personality disorders. Are personality disorders communicable diseases? In a way, they are.

From my book, "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited":

"Some people adopt the role of a professional victim. Their existence and very identity rests solely and entirely on their victimhood. They become self-centred, devoid of empathy, abusive, and exploitative. These victim "pros" are often more cruel, vengeful, vitriolic, lacking in compassion and violent than their abusers. They make a career of it.

The affected entertain the (false) notion that they can compartmentalize their abusive (e.g., narcissistic, or psychopathic) behavior and direct it only at their victimizers. In other words, they trust in their ability to segregate their conduct and to be verbally abusive towards the abuser while civil and compassionate with others, to act with malice where their mentally-ill partner is concerned and with Christian charity towards all others. They believe that they can turn on and off their negative feelings, their abusive outbursts, their vindictiveness and vengefulness, their blind rage, their non-discriminating judgment.

This, of course, is untrue. These behaviors spill over into daily transactions with innocent neighbors, colleagues, family members, co-workers, or customers. One cannot be partly or temporarily vindictive and judgmental any more than one can be partly or temporarily pregnant. To their horror, these victims discover that they have been transmuted and transformed into their worst nightmare: into their abusers - malevolent, vicious, lacking empathy, egotistical, exploitative, violent and abusive."

This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited"


next: The Interrupted Self

APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2009, October 2). Victim Reaction to Abuse by Narcissists and Psychopaths, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 22 from

Last Updated: July 5, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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