The History of the Narcissistic & Psychopathic Abuse and Relationship Field

Copyright © 2019 by Sandra L. Brown, MA, The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction 

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”
 ― Michael Crichton

In an interview, I was asked to give some history to the explosion of the genre of books and services about ‘narcissistic and psychopathic’ relationship books and services, what the early days of this new emerging field were like, and how it has grown into the prolific topic and specialized care it has become.

The field of ‘Pathological Love Relationships’ (PLRs), called ‘narcissistic’ or ‘psychopathic’ abuse by survivors, is still very much in its formative years. The Domestic Violence (DV) field, services, and recognition is a similar comparison for the new PLR field emergence.  In the late 1960s/early 1970s, the DV field was birthed largely by survivors who banned together to give voice to the type of abuse and its harm to survivors, and began the awareness campaign that birthed the DV ‘field.’ The early years of the awareness of DV existed mostly from survivors who handed out pamphlets (pre-internet) and helped house one another who were escaping violent relationships.    

In the DV field, it was years later (1977) before therapist Lenore Walker began structuring our understanding of the ‘relational dynamics and resulting trauma’ which fueled the field and research that have helped us understand the trauma generated from psychological, physical, and sexual intimate violence. In many ways, today’s trauma treatment field (outside of war vets) with its research, prevention, and treatment approaches, grew from the DV grassroots field.

Therapist Lenore Walker helped the field grow into ‘a recognized form of social injustice and trauma’ by developing a unified theory and language that later spawned research about DV specific trauma and resulted in a recognized and ever-growing model of care for DV survivors today. Much like the grassroots movement of the Domestic Violence field in the 1960s that was initiated by survivors, the Pathological Love Relationship (PLR)/Narcissistic Abuse field, too, has largely been grown via grassroots efforts.

Early Years

Certain periods in history suddenly lift humanity to an observation point where a clear light falls upon a world previously dark.” — Anne Sullivan

The PLR field has gathered momentum much the way the DV field did. It is all the trauma-related understanding of DV that helped the PLR field develop an understanding of the similarities, and yet differences, of a ‘sub-set’ of the victim population—those who are victims of the antagonistic personalities of narcissistic, anti-social, and psychopathic partners.

‘Building’ the understanding of why narcissists, anti-socials, and psychopaths are so dangerous and then finally the understanding of their ‘intimate’ relational harm, is a journey through some of the pivotal books and theories created along the way. If you are a survivor, a survivor-blogger/writer, or a therapist in the PLR field, here is your history and how recognition of the harm of narcissistic and psychopathic abuse was birthed.

Pre-Field Influence

1993 Without ConscienceThe Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Amongst Us by Dr. Robert Hare.

Hare’s widely acclaimed book introduced psychopathy to the non-clinical reader. The types of information in the book was normally for forensic and abnormal psychology clinicians but this book brought psychopathy to the mainstream with a better understanding of a poorly understood topic. The book introduced the concept of low-to-no conscience and its alarming frequency in our population.  While we were still over a decade away from recognizing it in intimate relationships, Hare paved the road for a pop-understanding of those without a conscience and our imagination could ponder what they were doing to those they claimed to love.

The First Ten Years

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
Mahatma Gandhi

2001 Children of The Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Ups Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents by Dr. Nina Brown

Until this book, the understanding of narcissism and its familial impact was mostly relegated to the psychoanalytic traditions of therapy (i.e., Freud, etc.). Its psychoanalytic understanding was a clinical, almost standoffish and bookish recognition of the enmeshed boundaries of narcissistic parenting. Dr. Brown brought the real-life understanding into laymen’s terms and the long-term consequences of the types of emotions aroused, self-defeating thoughts, and the internalized messages harming others, long into adulthood.  This important book brought a more family systems and traumatic view of what happens from parenting roles with narcissists. While still not about the intimate relationships, it breached the gap in displaying the harmful outcomes of ‘close proximal relationships’ to a pathological disorder.

2005 The Sociopath Next Door by Dr. Martha Stout 

Up to this point, Dr. Hare had illuminated our awareness of the unconscienced and pathological in our population. Dr. Brown had brought the pathological into our childhood and now Dr. Stout is moving our awareness of the pathological into our neighborhoods and our casual acquaintances.

Dr. Hare’s experience with psychopathy had been through his work and research position with incarcerated psychopaths. But Dr. Stout introduces us to the sociopaths that live and interact with us regularly.  While Dr. Hare shared the traits of criminal psychopaths, Dr. Stout shared the traits of non-criminal sociopaths. She brought to our attention that almost everyone already knew one.  Outside of criminal behavior, she alerted us to our neighbors and casual acquaintances that are charming yet intense, spontaneous yet complex. She clued us in on the use of their ploys against us such as their authority, flattery, and pity-plays. She reiterated Hare’s warning that while they are very frequent in the incarcerated population, they are even frequent in the non-incarcerated population. While still not exclusively about the intimate relationships with pathologicals, Dr. Stout’s important work alarmed us to the fact that not all psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists were incarcerated.

2005 How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved by Sandra L. Brown, M.A.

This book echoed Stout’s message that all pathologicals are not incarcerated and are in fact, ready and available for relationships.  It introduced the concept that what was most dangerous in relationships was disorders like personality disorders which have low treatment outcomes, the inability to maintain consistent change, and high victimization risks for the partners. The personality disorders were broken down into ‘dangerous man types’– most of them affiliated with personality disorders, other mental health issues, or both. The category of ‘The Emotional Predator’ was a snapshot of the narcissistic and/or psychopathic personality which became the topic and continued research of Brown’s next book in 2008 (Women Who Love Psychopaths). 

2006 Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work by Paul Babiak and Dr. Robert Hare

Building off of Dr. Stout’s view of the frequency of psychopaths ‘next door,’ Babiak and Hare dug deeper into the concept of white-collar non-identified psychopaths among us and the ways they fit well into certain professions.  Babiak is an organizational psychologist who assisted executives in dealing with possible psychopaths hiding within, and destroying, their organizations. Building off of Stout’s ‘amongst us in our casual relationships,’ Babiak and Hare highlighted how their behavior could ‘create chaos in the modern corporate organization.’ While their interpersonal relationship ‘style’ was highlighted in workplace relationships, intimate relationship understanding, dynamics, and resulting trauma were still absent.

2007 Malignant Self-Love by Sam Vaknin

Onto the scene came an almost ‘thesis’ of depth about the internal narcissistic ‘experience.’  Written by a self-confessing narcissist, Vaknin’s encyclopedia on narcissism covers diagnostic criteria, empathy and intimacy deficits, the False Self and the Tortured Self, cognitive deficits, default behaviors, every type of overlapping diagnosis that can go with narcissism, and an exhaustive explanation of what he termed ‘his exhaustion by his own <internal> absence.’  This unique self-guided exploration of the inner workings of a narcissist coupled with extensive psychological explanations laid the groundwork for exploring the victim’s experience in more depth.

2008 Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of Inevitable Harm, First Edition by Sandra L. Brown, M.A. with Liane J. Leedom, M.D.

Following Brown’s book How to Spot a Dangerous Man, she began gathering data, stories, trauma histories and the relational dynamics from her treatment of survivors for her next book during the years of 2005-2008. To date, the prior published books listed above, was ‘building’ an understanding of the narcissist and psychopath generated by knowledge of: the criminally-oriented psychopath (Hare), the family-oriented narcissist (Brown, N), the casual acquaintance of sociopaths (Stout), the at-work psychopath (Babiak & Hare), and the personal internal experience and disorder of the narcissist (Vaknin). 

In 2008, came the first exclusive look at the intricate details of the intimate relationships of narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths from Brown who had spent decades treating and studying the survivors. It introduced the relational dynamics, communication problems, and a view of the ‘traumatic aftermath’ experienced by survivors. The book provided the first study on the personality of victim/survivors and the elevated traits that were being targeted by narcissists and psychopaths.  This seminal book discussed ‘the dichotomous conflict’ of cognitive dissonance that has come to be recognized as the primary experience of all pathological relationships.  

2008 A Dance With The Devil—a True Story of Marriage to a Psychopath by Barbara Bentley

Into the developing field of Pathological Love Relationships/Narcissistic Abuse came Barbara Bentley’s true survivor story of her marriage to a psychopathic Navy Admiral. Her real-life account of her near death paralleled the relational dynamics, cognitive dissonance, and resulting trauma captured in the earlier book Women Who Love Psychopaths. Barbara’s harrowing story gave a real glimpse into the danger of psychopathic relationships.

2009 Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of Inevitable Harm, Second Edition by Sandra L. Brown, MA

Brown’s continued treatment of survivors produced more data collections, trauma outcomes, and relational dynamic explanations produced in the expanded 2nd Edition.  The ‘phases’ of the pathological/narcissistic relationship included the luring and honeymoon phase, the mid phase when the mask slips, the end phases of disintegration and the post-relationship contact.  The patterns of ‘crazy-making’ communication, the unusual use of language and meaning and its impact on both the relational dynamics and the traumatic ‘aftermath’ of survivors were detailed.  Importantly, the traumatic aftermath of trauma symptoms was noted as a primary diagnosis, and cognitive dissonance’s impact with both ‘positive and negative memory intrusion’ was explained. Additionally, taken from Brown’s Model of Care treatment, the elements survivors needed for ‘narcissistic/psychopathic abuse recovery’ was detailed providing a roadmap for recovery.  

2009 It’s All About Him: How to Identify and Avoid the Narcissistic Male by Lisa E. Scott

Lisa Scott’s book brought the first book written by a survivor which combined ‘a survivor’s first-hand narcissistic abuse story with narcissistic personality disorder information as awareness and education.’ Her book combined DSM traits of narcissism exampled through personal stories.  From her book, Scott became one of the early field survivor bloggers offering a blog/website, chat forum (and later social media) and survivor support through coaching-like support groups. Today, the field is punctuated with many, many survivors of narcissistic abuse who have replicated Scott’s model of survivor support.

2009 Disarming the Narcissist—Surviving and Thriving With the Self-Absorbed by Wendy Behary, LCSW

In Behary’s book, building off the communication deficits model, Wendy focused on the ‘crazy-making’ communication patterns which included understanding the personal traps set by narcissists, various types of communication pitfalls, difficult encounters and how to communicate to not get entrapped in ‘crazy making’ communication dynamics. Her book dissected the perils of communication that cause elevated distress to any who attempt communication with those with a skill set of communication manipulation.

2009 Getting It Through My Thick Skull: Why I Stayed, What I learned, and What Millions of People Involved with Sociopaths Need to Know by Mary Jo Buttafuoco

Mary Jo’s very public story of her marriage to Joey Buttafuoco which resulted in Joey’s sixteen-year-old mistress Amy Fisher shooting Mary Jo, was another survivor true crime story of a pathological relationship that spanned decades and gave a true glimpse into the relational dynamics associated with Cluster B personality disorders.  In 2009, pathological relationships and knowledge about sociopathic behavior hit the NY Times Best Seller list through this book, catapulting awareness about these types of relationship to millions.

2010 In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing With Manipulative People by George Simon, Ph.D.

Simon’s broad category of ‘manipulative’ people echos Brown’s 2005 ‘Dangerous Man Types’ which examines the problems with problem personalities which are often personality or character disorders. This book helped to differentiate overt and covert aggression and reactive -vs- predatory types and the deception techniques used. Much like Behary, he helped redefine the ‘rules of engagement’ between the survivor and abuser and the ‘power tactics’ used to ’push their own agendas and justify their behavior’ which examines the relational dynamics referenced in earlier books. Piggy-backing Brown’s study of personality traits of survivors in Pathological Relationships,  Simon identifies ‘how to spot potential weaknesses’ in survivors ‘that is a set up for manipulation.’

2010 Love Fraud by Donna Andersen

This book is another survivor first-hand account of her relationship with a sociopathic con artist and the typical relational dynamics that Pathological  Relationships are noted for. From her book, much like Lisa Scott, Andersen began a survivor support model of website, blog, coaching, and public speaking.

Where We Are Today

The first ten years were pivotal and pioneering years.  Hare cracked the door for a more main-stream understanding of the psychopath that could wreak so much havoc in our midst, and the writers after him over the first ten years continued to tweak society’s understanding of pathology in our homes as parents (Brown, N), in our neighborhoods (Stout), in our workplace (Babiak & Hare), and finally, in our beds (Brown, S). 

Today, at last count there were 800+ books, ebooks, social media pages, websites, blogs, videos, support groups, survivor coaches, and therapists who are carrying the message of narcissistic and psychopathic abuse as first described in 2008 (Women Who Love Psychopaths). This doesn’t include hundreds of articles on various online magazines or the millions of ‘shares’ of articles about this topic by other survivors. Each year produces more books, blogs, and products proliferating a new emerging genre of specific abuse.

Further Developments

In 2014, Brown (The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction) collaborated with Purdue University on the first large collegiate study on the personality traits of survivors of Pathological Relationships. This seminal study supported Brown’s earlier and smaller study in 2008 and provided evidentiary support that survivors have personality traits that produce targeting by antagonistic partner types.  These findings have guided treatment and prevention work with survivors (See third edition, Women Who Love Psychopaths, 2018).

In 2016, World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day (WNAAD) was created by therapist and author Bree Bonchay, LCSW and became a nationally recognized ‘day’ for awareness on June 1st of every year (wnaad.com). Bonchay also launched the WNAAD Tele-Summit that brings together narcissistic abuse survivors and therapist-specialists who share their knowledge and recovery methods and has grown to an interested listenership of 20,000+.

Since 2015, The Institute has been engaged in various research, data collections, and longitudinal studies surrounding Competent Care for survivors, in depth analysis of survivor’s trauma, the role of cognitive dissonance in overall trauma presentation, and trauma treatment protocols. 

In 2017, The Association for NPD/Psychopathy Survivor Treatment, Research & Education (survivortreatment.com) was created with trauma professionals who specialize in Pathological Relationships who are developing a model of care for other therapists to treat survivors with. Much of the model was taken from Brown’s 2008 model in Women Who Love Psychopaths (and expanded in the third edition of Women Who Love Psychopaths, 2018) and from the continued research of The Institute about survivors’ typical and atypical trauma, cognitive dissonance and treatment approaches, and overall therapy modalities for this population. The training should launch later in 2019.

Conclusion

The Pathological Relationship/Narcissistic and Psychopathic Abuse field mirrors the domestic violence field development. Both began with grassroots development by survivors which was eventually structured by the psychology field that, like Lenore Walker, is helping this field grow into ‘a recognized form of social injustice and trauma’ by developing a unified theory and language resulting in a recognized and ever-growing model of care for survivors today as it did for the domestic violence field. While our infancy in recognizing the relational dynamics in Pathological Relationships/Narcissistic Abuse only dates to 2008, the last decade has seen an explosion of grassroots initiative by survivors, research and studies, and a growing interest within the psychology field for this new emerging counseling genre. I believe it is now safe to say, with continued structure, the field will continue to grow in awareness and service development just as the domestic violence field did.