In my work with female victims of domestic violence (also referred to as intimate partner violence, or IPV), most of my patients described their abusers in terms that lead me to think their partners were certainly narcissistic to some degree. This is not to say that all narcissists are abusers or even potentially violent, but one recent study has suggested that narcissistic men are more likely to commit domestic violence.
The findings of Kent State University researchers (2010) suggest that “the anger, hostility, and short fuse that accompany a man’s narcissism tend to be directed toward straight women.” They go on to say that “narcissistic men can become enraged when they are denied gratification… including when people reject them.”
“Narcissistic men are also more likely to commit domestic violence because of their egocentrism and lack of empathy, although many men who commit violence are not narcissists,” said lead study author Scott Keiller, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Kent State University Tuscarawas in Ohio.
The research provides yet another reason to watch for the warning signs of a narcissistic partner.
Some of the more common traits that overlap both narcissists and abusers are:
- Lack of empathy
- Controlling behavior
- Displays of physical violence when told “no”
- Displays of anger when they perceive rejection from their partner
Throughout the course of a relationship, abusers often display similar behavior as narcissists. They may start out being very charming before undergoing a slow and insidious change, wherein they begin displaying the traits listed above.
Women who are in relationships with narcissistic men, who may or may not end up being abusers, often misinterpret these traits as signs of deep caring. For example, if a man displays jealousy of a male friend, the woman may simply think it’s because her partner is truly in love with her, rather than seeing it as a huge red flag.
When I was involved in domestic violence research at the University of San Francisco, I was struck by the fact that many of the women in these relationships never referred to this behavior as “abuse.” They used a variety of other descriptions: “He has an anger problem.” “He gets frustrated easily.” “He’s only like that when he drinks.” The denial was so strong that these views persisted even after the woman was out of the abusive relationship.
It’s not unusual for me to have seen only women victims of domestic violence. For one, more women than men tend to go to therapy. Secondly, statistics show that more women than men are victims of domestic violence. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey administered by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010, found that 1 in 4 women — versus 1 in 7 men — have been the victim of intimate partner violence. Of course, these women are not coming into therapy because they realize they are in abusive relationships; they don’t identify it as such. Instead they come in because they are depressed or anxious and, through treatment, they may come to identify that they are being abused — physically, sexually, and/or emotionally.
Domestic violence affects women’s health in more ways than just bruises and injuries (as if those weren’t enough). Long-term domestic violence can also lead to chronic health problems, including digestive problems, asthma, epilepsy, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), hypertension, and, of course, mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and an increased dependency on alcohol or other substances.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: