4) Mistaking the abuser as well-intentioned and communicating this to the survivor.
Narcissistic or sociopathic abusers tend to be very charming and can hook, dupe and manipulate even the most skilled of professionals. Just ask Dr. Robert Hare, creator of the Psychopathy Checklist, who admits to still being duped despite his expertise!
I have heard many horror stories of what occurred when survivors of narcissists entered into couples therapy with their abusers. The National Domestic Violence Hotline actually advises against couples therapy because an abusive relationship has a severe power imbalance. To be in a therapy room with an abuser is to give the abuser access to manipulate the therapist and further gaslight the victim.
As The National Domestic Violence Hotline asserts:
“The primary reason we don’t recommend couples counseling is that abuse is not a “relationship problem.” Couples counseling may imply that both partners contribute to the abusive behavior, when the choice to be abusive lies solely with the abusive partner. Focusing on communication or other relationship issues distracts from the abusive behavior, and may actually reinforce it in some cases. Additionally, a therapist may not be aware that abuse is present and inadvertently encourage the abuse to continue or escalate.”
This is something to keep in mind when speaking about the “intentions” of an abusive individual, even if you are providing only one-on-one counseling. Attempting to divert from or detract the focus on the abusive behavior or misreading the abuser’s “intentions” can have the inadvertent effect of making the victim feel as if their reality is not worth acknowledging. For any friend or family members of survivors, communicating the idea that, “I don’t think this person meant to hurt you,” is not only harmful, but this also tends to be false.
An abuser always has an agenda of controlling the victim. Their intentions are clear in that respect. A normal “jerk” or garden-variety toxic person who is unaware may be different. However, when it’s clear that the survivor has been emotionally terrorized, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to “doubt” that the intentions of an abuser were meant to harm.
A healthier alternative to this claim could be, “This person seems to have harmed you tremendously and has not made any efforts at stopping, even when you call him or her out. Let’s explore how you can take care of yourself and detach from this toxic person.”