The idea that they are owed something

There was a conversation on violence against women (“domestic abuse”) on Fresh Air yesterday. The subjects were Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises, and Suzanne Dubus, CEO of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center. Guess what: narcissism came into it.

GROSS: I want to bring up narcissism because, Rachel, you mentioned narcissism as being one of the characteristics that a lot of abusers and murderers have. How does narcissism figure into domestic violence?

SNYDER: Narcissism is one of the key components of an abuser. You know, we have, I think, a vision of what an abuser is. Right? Even in – even when you see media reports of domestic violence, the pictures of – that most often accompany those media reports are really dark. You know, even, like, the coloration – they’re, like, gloomy, dark, dangerous; they’re portentous. And people don’t recognize themselves in those pictures because, of course, they have a much larger context of just a single moment.

And so abusers, in fact, are not people with anger problems, generally speaking. They are about power and control over one person or the people in their family. So they tend to be very – they’re often very gregarious. Only about a quarter of the abusers fit that stereotypical definition of someone who is, you know, generally angry. And so the narcissism plays out in the idea that they are owed something – in the idea that they are entitled to their authority, that their partners have to be subservient to them. There’s very often traditional gender dynamics in abusive relationships.

It’s the same thing, really – entitlement and “traditional gender dynamics” that cash out as “I, the man, get whatever I want.” That crap brings narcissism with it.

GROSS: I guess the narcissism probably figures into the coercive control part of the relationship? The wife and the children – these are people who the man can control or thinks he can control, tries to control. He can’t control the world around him, but he can control them. And it seems like that would be – that that would fit a narcissistic personality who wants the world to just revolve around him.

DUBUS: In our works with survivors, we also notice that abusers typically really do feel like their home is their castle and that everything must be adjusted and retrofitted and – to his whim, to his mood, to his needs. And there is, you know, quick and rapid punishment when it’s not. And to me, that is narcissism, when the world revolves around you and everybody better get into their constellation and do what they need to do to support, to prop up, to make him feel better – whatever it is he needs that day.

SNYDER: Yeah. It’s very black-and-white thinking. Right? Like, it’s my way, and this is it.

Very black-and-white and very very very selfish. This idea that you are the sun and everyone else is a mere planet – it’s poison.

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