Why is it so easy for an abuser to get away with it and so difficult for an abuse victim to be heard?
The typical serial bully is a Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde personality type (male or female) who has put considerable effort into establishing and maintaining a respectable and credible public persona. Bystanders may believe they know him well, that he is a genuinely righteous person, and that he couldn’t possibly be capable of the malicious behavior he is accused of. Unable (and probably unwilling) to imagine that they have been deceived, their logical conclusion is that the accuser is the antagonist, acting out inexplicable malevolence. With derogatory implications about his target’s mental state, lack of character, or foul motives, the abuser fuels this role reversal. Feigning moral indignation and playing the part of the victim, he encourages supporters to see the real victim, who is attempting to be heard, as the abusive one.
Dr. Vaknin explains: “Even the victim’s relatives, friends, and colleagues are amenable to the considerable charm, persuasiveness, and manipulativeness of the abuser and to his impressive thespian skills. The abuser offers a plausible rendition of the events and interprets them to his favor. Others rarely have a chance to witness an abusive exchange first hand and at close quarters. In contrast, the victims are often on the verge of a nervous breakdown: harassed, unkempt, irritable, impatient, abrasive, and hysterical.”
“Confronted with this contrast between a polished, self-controlled, and suave abuser and his harried casualties, it is easy to reach the conclusion that the real victim is the abuser, or that both parties abuse each other equally. The prey’s acts of self-defense, assertiveness, or insistence on her rights are interpreted as aggression, lability, or a mental health problem.”
Dr. Sam Vaknin, Narcissism by Proxy
Three cognitive strategies have been identified for when people deny, discount, or dismiss occurrences of abuse and for turning away from effective steps to stop it and hold abusers accountable:
Reflexively dismissing all evidence as questionable, incomplete, misleading, false, or in some other way inadequate.
Using euphemism, abstraction, and other linguistic transformations to hide the abuse.
Turning away: ‘I’m not involved,’ ‘There is nothing I can do about it,’ ‘I have no authority, jurisdiction, power, or influence,’ ‘This is no concern of mine,’ etc.