Traits of an Abuser: The Role of Empathy

First off, I’d like to apologize for taking so long in getting this blog entry written and posted. The more I research the psychology of abusers and the more stories I hear about experiences with abuse, the more I realize how complex and broad this issue is, and I am easily overwhelmed.

But then I remember why I started this blog in the first place – to create a safe space for the conversation about abuse to happen because I had none. So I write on.


Understanding abusers is a deep and complicated issue because no two abusers are the same. But in my research and in my interviews with survivors of abuse, I’ve detected a pattern: abusers have a distinct lack of empathy.

Empathy is one of the foundational building blocks of relationships, defined as the ability to recognize an emotion in another person. For normally functioning individuals, empathy may come naturally to a certain degree but is still challenged by the human ego. Everyone can strive to become more empathetic, which leads to kindness and compassion. But for those struggling with personality disorders, empathy can seem almost impossible.

And what do I mean by personality disorders? The American Psychiatric Association defines it as “a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time”. According to the American standard classification of mental disorders, there are ten different personality disorders that have been defined, and each of these present their own specific difficulties in relationships.

But are personality disorders relevant to the conversation of abuse? YES! The National Institue of Mental Health estimates that 9.1% of all adults have some form of personality disorder.

Last week I specifically talked about one of the most common personality disorders among abusers, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and how it effectively destroys relationships through its innate selfishness. (You can read that blog post here.) Today we’ll be taking a look at two other common personality disorders that are often seen in the personalities of abusers: Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder.


Antisocial Personality Disorder

The most distinctive trait of people with Antisocial PD is unconcern for the feelings of others – in other words, a callous lack of empathy. The other significant tell-tale sign for those with Antisocial PD is a recklessness that often leads to unlawful behaviors – a trait that can sometimes come across as charming and seductive, which is why those with Antisocial PD usually have no trouble entering into romantic relationships.

But once those romantic relationships start, they are filled with impulsivity and deceitfulness. Because the person suffering from Antisocial PD has no sense of empathy, the feelings of their partner essentially mean nothing to them, and they easily become aggressive or violent during arguments, with no remorse when abuse does happen.

Other signs of Antisocial PD include reckless disregard for the safety of themselves or the safety of their family, as well as a lack of responsibility for their work or financial situations.

Those suffering from Antisocial PD are often very resistant to therapy, but in some cases, sufferers have learned how to identify emotions in other people through learning emotional cues, even if they can’t emotionally identify with their partner. If you believe your significant other may be suffering from Antisocial PD, counseling may be an option for you. But remember, as I’ve said before, personality disorders are never grounds for justifying abusive behavior.


Borderline Personality Disorder

People with Borderline PD also have difficulty empathizing with others but only because they have an unstable sense of self and identity. This lack of a sense of self causes them to act out emotionally and frantically, as they constantly fear abandonment.

Within their intimate relationships, those with Borderline PD will swing from idealizing and adoring their partners to extreme dislike or even hatred. They will often view the world in extremes – either everything is great and wonderful or everything is terrible.

These extreme mood swings can lead to a few different results: intense and uncontrolled anger, self-harm or threats of self-harm, or reckless and impulsive behaviors.

For a person who may be in a relationship with someone with Borderline PD, the high points of idealization and adoration will make recognizing the low points of anger and instability as abuse very difficult. How could someone who idealized me so reverently now hate me? There is no rationality – unless you understand the underlying motivation of a deep fear of abandonment and a complete lack of self-awareness.  

Like Antisocial PD, people with Borderline PD are very resistant to treatment but newer holistic, specialized treatment methods have been increasingly effective. Again, counseling may be an option if your partner has Borderline PD, but remember, personality disorders are never grounds for justifying abusive behavior. Your safety, and the safety of your family, is your first priority.


So what do I do if I recognize traits of these personality disorders in the person I love?

Like I said, your safety is your first priority. Are you in physical danger? Has there been physical violence in the past? If so, create physical distance between you and your loved one. Then find help. Please call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 for immediate assistance.

But in most cases, the abuse isn’t physical, but emotional, verbal and psychological. If that’s the case, the next step depends on your relationship status. If you are just dating, or even engaged, find an accountability partner in someone you can trust and end the relationship. I know, easier said than done, but you do not want to continue in a relationship who already at this stage displays abusive tendencies or a personality disorder as I’ve described above.

And if you are married, I always suggest counseling first – but in most cases, the abuser will refuse to go to counseling. If they consistently refuse to seek help, I wholeheartedly believe that you no longer have a responsibility to your spouse and are free to leave.


God has intended for every man and woman on this good green earth freedom, truth and love – if we should only open our eyes to see it.

Understanding abusers is a deep and complicated issue, but underneath every personality disorder, every mental illness, every uncontrollable tragedy, is a choice. Despite the obstacles, we can choose love. We can choose truth. We can choose kindness.

Christ calls us all to a higher standard of love, beauty and compassion.

Through the lense of understanding, grace and justice, we can together fight to see that higher standard normalized in our relationships.








Note: There are always a million more things I wish I could say! If you have any specific questions about my content, please feel free to email me at  


Over the next coming weeks, Vanessa will be discussing the traits and characteristics of abusers.  If you’d like to continue learning about the abuse and how to understand abusers, be sure to scroll to the bottom of the side menu and sign up for email alerts.


Vanessa is still conducting interviews for her upcoming book Prince or Poison: Identifying the Difference Between Love and Abuse. If you would like to share your story with Vanessa, please contact



  1. Ben Aqiba says:

    Great post Vanessa !


  2. Excellent post Vanessa, thoroughly enjoyed it. Though I would say if I may, Empathy only exists within a natural healer. In general people are sympathetic and abusers are not sympathetic in any way they are egocentric. Looking forward to other posts.


  3. ASMC says:

    I am diagnosed ASPD, and have just come out of a relationship with an abusive man with NPD. you’re blog is the first I’ve read which discusses this in a way I can relate to. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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