What do abusers, bullies and psychopaths have in common?

Read on to find out!

Narcissism is was coined after Narcissus who in mythology, was a pathologically self-absorbed young man who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool.

Recently, I watched with intrigue as experts in a documentary on Jack the Ripper did a psycho analysis on this mysterious character in an episode of the television programme Crime and Investigation. As a psychologist described the personality profile of psychopaths, I was shocked at the similarities that they have with abusers and bullies.

It just struck me that abusers, bullies and psychopaths have similar desires and try to satisfy these by engaging in behavior that often negatively affects other people. As I noted the striking similarities among these three groups, I felt prompted to pen this article and share my thoughts from a lay person’s perspective. I have summed up the common desires of abusers, bullies and psychopaths into seven As, which are acceptance, admiration, adoration, affection, attention, authority and awards.

 Most experts agree that these three types of people probably suffer from Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD), a personality disorder that is characterized by extreme feelings of self-importance, a high need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. NPD can be considered as a pathological form of narcissism. It is estimated that 0.7 to 1% of the general American population are afflicted with NPD and although it is not clear what percentage of the global population is affected, I guess we could project those figures to the rest of the world. Most, between 50 and 75% of people with NPD, are men [www.wordiq.com/definition/Narcissistic_personality_disorder.

For traits of people with NPD visit the site www.narcissism101.com/.  In light of this, I’ll just lump all three groups and refer to them as people with NPD throughout the article, since the focus here is on what they have in common.

Abusive behaviour is associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

To establish a common understanding,  for the purposes of this article an abuser is someone who abuses  [wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn] and while abuse can take any form, in this case the definition shall include emotional, mental, physical, psychological or sexual maltreatment, misuse, deception. It will also cover to to wrong in speech, reproach coarsely, disparage, revile, and malign [http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/abuser].

A bully is a person who is habitually cruel or overbearing, especially to smaller or weaker people [http://www.answers.com/topic/bully#ixzz1CQUJkEUI]. This article will focus on adults and all reference to bullying will be specific to the workplace. Bullying includes behavior that intimidates, degrades, offends, or humiliates a worker, often in front of others. Bullying behavior creates feelings of defenselessness in the target and undermines an individual’s right to dignity at work. Bullies are disordered personalities, aggressive but intelligent individual who express their violence psychologically through constant criticism etc rather than physically through assault [http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/amibeing.htm].

 On the other hand, a psychopath is a person with an antisocial personality disorder (APD) that manifests in

Psychopaths, too, have Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

 aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse [http://www.answers.com/topic/psychopath#ixzz1CQTVnSfA].  Psychopaths are unstoppable and untreatable predators whose violence is planned, purposeful and emotionless. They tend to operate with a grandiose demeanor, an attitude of entitlement, an insatiable appetite, and a tendency toward sadism. Dr. Sam Vaknin, in The Psychopath, notes that many psychopaths are outright bullies.

I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, but rather, recently found myself a target of abuse and bullying in the workplace for a protracted period. In my quest for solutions to end my ordeal, I stumbled on some interesting information about abusers, bullies and psychopaths and developed this list of 7 As that drive the three groups of people. Although these are by no means exhaustive, I hope they give insights into these personalities and will be of benefit to people who unwittingly become targets of any of abusers, bullies or psychopaths.

1.    Acceptance

The first A is acceptance (tied to acknowledgement and approval). I am convinced that these three categories of people seek acceptance or approval and they definitely want to be acknowledged. The fact that NPD is defined more specifically as a pattern of grandiosity, that is exaggerated claims to talents, importance, or specialness in the patient’s private fantasies or outward behavior and a need for constant admiration from others [http://www.minddisorders.com/Kau-Nu/Narcissistic-personality-disorder.html], is indicative of desperation to be accepted or approved of.  This is further supported by the fact that they resent anyone who does not see them the way they view themselves.  Consequently, those who don’t acknowledge them often become unwitting targets (victims) of abuse.

NPDs can be chameleon-like. Because they exist off of the attention and reflected glory of others, they learn very quickly how to say and do just the right things to get what they want [http://www.thoughts.com/contraeverything/good-question-on-narcissism]. This means they can then easily fit into society, even if they do not necessarily feel the way they act. To me, that is a sign of a deep-seated hunger for acceptance.

 2.    Admiration

A key characteristic of people with NPD is their insatiable appetite for admiration. This view is supported by experts, who note that a key trait of narcissists is the need for admiration. [www.steadyhealth.com/about/narcissistic_behavior_examples.html] as people with NPD demand excessive amounts of praise or admiration from others [www.minddisorders.com/Kau-Nu/Narcissistic-personality-disorder.html#ixzz1CygSnsOD].

In her blog, psychiatrist Anna Valerious notes that in every situation the parasitical narcissist is preening himself and needs a mirror to accomplish his acts of preening.

“That mirror is you. He plays to his mirrors. He poses in front of his mirrors to get the desired reflection back. When you show looks of interest, admiration, fear, concern, he is basking in his reflected self. His insubstantial self,” she says [http://narcissists-suck.blogspot.com/].

Obviously, failing to admire this person will result in a backlash such as abuse or bullying, a view supported in www.steadyhealth.com/about/narcissistic_behavior_examples.html, which warns that  people with NPD expect special treatment by other people and if their wishes are not fulfilled, their reaction can be sudden and strong agitation.

As I observed the behavior of the guy who bullied me, I noticed that he was at his peak when he was the centre of attention for being particularly knowledgeable. Acknowledging his omniscience, a quality also associated with God, brought me some reprieve from abuse – albeit temporarily. Sadly, I was too sparing with my admiration, which is probably why I became his the primary target of his abuse. I learnt, rather late, that “the narcissistic person desires the admiration from other people and wants to be adored, complimented and flattered. These people like to think that they are better than others, and that everything that they do is the best possible.” [www.steadyhealth.com/about/narcissistic_behavior_examples.html].

 3.    Adoration

 Tied to the desire for admiration is the desire by people with NPD to be adored, an inevitable characteristic in people with an inflated ego. To adore is to worship as God or a god, regard with deep, often rapturous love or like very much [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/adore]. A person with NPD’s conceit and sense of superiority means they feel they are above the rest of man-kind and a much closer to the gods, so they must be worshipped.

“The narcissist also wants to be adored and appreciated, and often is. Narcissists are usually superstars of one kind or another, but generally can’t get quite enough worship and adoration to suit their inflated ego needs–and there comes the anger,” according to the article “Narcissism and the anger it causes.” [http://www.angermanagementresource.com/narcissism.html].

Sadly, their insatiable appetite for adoration is unsustainableand even those who adore them soon tire.

4.    Affection

Although people with NPD don’t posses emotions of empathy, I am convinced that they desire affection and this is closely linked to all the other As. Perhaps they mistake admiration and attention for affection. Whatever the case, I believe these people want to feel loved and think they can manipulate their way into people’s hearts.

“People with narcissistic personality disorder are frequently perfectionists and need to be the center of attention, receiving affection and admiration, and controlling the situation,” according to http://www.lmars.com/n-personality-disorder.htm in the definition of NPD. This is supported by a new large-scale Dutch study, which states that most bullies are motivated by the pursuit of status and affection [www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100325091424.htm].

Adult bullies exist and exhibit traits associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Having been tormented by a bully for more than a year – and not realizing it until I described the behavior and how I felt, to which someone helpfully pointed out that I was a victim of bullying – I finally gathered the guts to confront my tormentor. Interestingly, his immediate reaction to my concerns about the way he has been treating me was an accusation that I hated him. Of course the way he treated me made me feel that way, but prior to the abuse, I haboured no negative emotions towards him. I found it somewhat strange that someone should seek affection in such a derisive and obnoxious way. Later, as I read more about NPD, I realized that my tormentor exhibited more than five of the traits associated with the disorder and required a different approach as talking was futile. Clearly, reasoning with a person who lacks empathy about the pain they are causing is a bit like trying to outshout the thunder on a stormy night!

5.    Attention

I believe the insatiable desire for attention is the driving force behind people with NPD.

Psychiatrist, Anna Valerious, aptly captures this in her blog “Narcissists suck” when she says: “The narcissist has a pathological need for all attention in every context he finds himself in.
It is so pathological that if you get any attention he is obsessed by the need to take it away from you because he imagines that if you get any that it is an unsurvivable diminution of this precious commodity for him.” [http://narcissists-suck.blogspot.com/].

In the case of bullying, a serial bully often has an overwhelming, unhealthy and narcissistic attention-seeking need to portray themselves as a wonderful, kind, caring and compassionate person, in contrast to their behaviour and treatment of others; the bully sees nothing wrong with their behavior and chooses to remain oblivious to the discrepancy between how they like to be seen and how they are seen by others [http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/serial.htm]. Some believe being the centre of attention alleviates feelings of insecurity and inadequacy but the relief is temporary as the underlying problem remains unaddressed: low self-confidence and low self-esteem, and consequent low levels of self-worth and self-love, especially in bullies. [www.bullyonline.org/workbully/attent.htm]. The emotionally immature person, however, has low levels of self-esteem and self-confidence and consequently feels insecure; to counter these feelings of insecurity they will spend a large proportion of their lives creating situations in which they become the centre of attention. It may be that the need for attention is inversely proportional to emotional maturity, therefore anyone indulging in attention-seeking behaviours is telling you how emotionally immature they are. Insecure and emotionally immature people often exhibit bullying behaviours, especially manipulation and deception. These are necessary in order to obtain attention which would not otherwise be forthcoming. Bullies and harassers have the emotional age of a young child and will exhibit temper tantrums, deceit, lying and manipulation to avoid exposure of their true nature and to evade accountability and sanction.

Whether it is a low self esteem, or an exaggerated sense of self-worth, the bottom line is that people with NPD crave attention. Even psychopaths like Jack the Ripper clearly wanted attention and their actions received a lot of it, even if their identities remained a mystery.

In my case, I found myself shrinking at the slightest hint of a compliment in front of my tormentor because I knew it would draw his wrath and he would twist the praise into an insult and use the opportunity to publicly humiliate me.  

6.    Authority

People with NPD want power, control, domination and subjugation, which, in my view, can be summed up as the desire for authority. The person with NPD considers himself to be of superior intellect, which is partly where he derives his perceived authority.

In the article “traits of narcissists,” the author notes that: “narcissists work for a goal, too, but it’s a different goal: they want power, authority and adulation. Lacking empathy, and lacking also context and affect, narcissists don’t understand how people achieve glory and high standing; they think it’s all arbitrary, it’s all appearances, it’s all who you know.” [http://www.halcyon.com/jmashmun/npd/traits.html#contra]

Panelist Teresa Bean, chief prosecutor of the Domestic Violence Unit at the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office noted that in cases of abuse, the batterer was driven by a desire for control. [http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/news/display.htm?storyid=73414].

This control can be obtained through different means. For example, the person with NPD may try to define our reality. For instance, he disregards your individuality, personality, background and experiences as long as they are not aligned to his. This view is supported in the blog http://www.sedonapsychicreading.com/narcissism-energyvampires.phpm which says: “the narcissist is very skilled at helping us disassemble our own sense of reality. He rewards us with positive feedback for admitting fault or surrendering to his version of reality. Since we are human creatures we respond to positive reinforcement. Over time we are unconsciously conditioned to give up our reality in exchange for positive re-enforcement.”

In my example, I constantly found myself being attacked for having a different background, history, opinion and general world view from my tormentor. If I said anything, he would pick one word, twist its meaning and change the context. When I tried to correct him, I would be treated like a confused liar. Similarly, I would shudder when my opinion was required in a meeting at work, particularly if I had to speak after him as giving a different view was tantamount to dethroning the king, and I would pay for it by having my dignity publicly flogged, as soon as he got the opportunity to get back at me.

7.    Awards

Narcissists are generally high achievers and crave for success. One can therefore safely conclude that they desire accolades and awards as rewards for their achievements.

In the article Narcissistic Personality Disorder at a glance, Dr. Vaknin categorises two types of NPD. He notes that patients with NPD are either “cerebral,” that is those who derive their Narcissistic Supply from their intelligence or academic achievements, or “somatic,” who derive their Narcissistic Supply from their physique, exercise, physical or sexual prowess and romantic or physical “conquests”.

Either way, there is a quest for accolades, which is tied very closely to the NPD’s desire for all the other As.

In addition, Josh­ua Buck­holtz, a grad­u­ate stu­dent in psy­chol­o­gy and lead au­thor of a new stu­dy,  recently noted that psychopaths have a a hyper-reac­tive dopamine re­ward sys­tem, which may be the founda­t­ion for some of the most prob­lem­at­ic be­hav­iors as­so­ci­at­ed with psy­chop­a­thy, such as vi­o­lent crime, re­cid­i­vism and sub­stance abuse.
Dopamine is the brain chem­i­cal most closely as­so­ci­at­ed with pleas­ure and ex­cite­ment.
According to the re­search, psychopaths have an abundance of im­pul­siv­ity, height­ened at­trac­tion to re­wards and risk tak­ing. [http://www.world-science.net/othernews/100315_psychopath].


Having been a victim of abuse and bullying, and having followed a few documentaries about psychopaths, I can safely conclude that these three categories of people have desperately seek these seven As and will harm anyone who stands in the way of their getting them. In fact, these people have such a sense of entitlement that they have caused much societal damage and untold suffering to anyone who did not hand them any of the 7 As on a silver platter.

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