Thursday, October 19, 2006

Humiliating Others-Deliberate Abuse that Cuts Deep

No one would argue that people who have suffered from emotional, psychological, verbal, sexual, or physical abuse have issues.

Having fallen victim to aggression, they sometimes believe what an aggressor has said. They might believe, for example, that they deserved the psychotic angry rage, that they even provoked it. Believing this is having fallen under the hypnotic persuasion of the aggressor, a person who wants the victim to feel badly, wants her to hurt. (yeah, it's usually a her)

If you think you deserve to be hurt by others, then your self-esteem is low. This is characteristic of people who have grown up in abusive families. In therapy such folks describe feeling "less-than" in many different ways with many different adjectives: inferior, stupid, ugly, powerless, every negative attribute imaginable.

And there I sit, looking at these beautiful, intelligent, sensitive people who think they're garbage. It kills me.


These negative self-attributes are the meat of low self-esteem. An older generation of psychotherapists called it the "bad self."

Thinking they must have deserved the abuse (for victims of abuse have been told this so many times that it has become a hypnotic suggestion), survivors, meaning those who got out of childhood alive, are at risk to become people like the people who abused them.

Many of them identify with the aggressor, become an aggressor.

Why would anyone do that? Surely victims disdain violence, hate the people who abused them, and hate what they stand for.

One would think, but not always. It's just safer, is all, to err on the side of what one perceives to be strength, power.

An abused person can be persuaded into believing that if a parent is strong and mean, then it is strength and meanness are respectable traits. People want to loved, especially by their parents. Our personalities are shaped during a time of life when we don't know very much more than what our parents tell us is true. We conclude things about ourselves based upon how we are treated and based upon what they say.

Those who become violent are convinced, at some point in their psychological development, that that the world is divided up between the strong and the weak. And they'd rather be strong.

They see that strength as the power to bully. It is what is needed to be on top in the hierarchy of power that they see in all relationships. Others are unaware of this hierarchy of power, the weak versus the strong, or don't care.

To feel on top, "survivors" take satisfaction, even joy, in the humiliation of others. This is definitive schadenfreude, enjoying the suffering of others. Their psychological work is to master their own sense of powerlessness, having been humiliated and abused themselves. So they choose strength, dominance.

Therapists like me teach people that it is much harder to contain anger, to manage aggression, than it is to let it go.

No doubt, however, it is easier and it feels better, it's even cathartic, to let insults and fists fly. It's a lot harder to communicate rationally with logic and persuasion.

People who have been badly abused can be terrible at logic, persuasion, negotiation and verbal expression of feeling.

They weren't entitled to it as children, didn't practice it; nobody asked them for their opinions. They were told what to do, and generally had no decision making power or power at all, for that matter, in their families of origin.

When they feel intense anger it is a mixture of near-psychotic anxiety and fear that has to be purged in the only way that they know how. If the opportunity presents to take that rage and anxiety out on someone, to bring someone down, this relieves this disproportionate affect and functions not to merely level the playing field in their perverse hierarchical thinking, but to bring themselves up to the top of the pyramid.

This lording something over someone, humiliating, hurting someone, feels great to certain insecure people. For those with self-esteem, it feels mean.

That's how badly having been abused can affect one's personality, behavior, and every relationship. Sucks to be them, in the vernacular of our youth?

Well, yeah. But you get them at the right time, the right place in their lives, and they're educable.

Everyone can change.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


Anonymous said...

In the middle of reading an interesting/horrifying book on just this topic...called "The Battered Woman"

Marj aka Thriver said...

Linda: Wow, you're fast! Thanks for visiting the blog carnival against child abuse...and thanks for participating. Glad to have you aboard!

Anonymous said...

I must admit that post was a little tough to read... I hate it when something hits deep down. My mom did a great job of humiliating and insulting me on a daily basis. So much so that I doubt myself and will put myself down without even thinking about it.

But what really hit home is the statement, "And there I sit, looking at these beautiful, intelligent, sensitive people who think they're garbage. It kills me."

I can always see the good in everyone else, just not in myself. Yet I am intelligent. I have a degree. I have a decent job. I am a good person. But I still see myself as being worthless. It's something I am working on though. I know they were lies. I just need to not just acknowledge that fact... but actually accept it.

therapydoc said...

I'm so sorry. Maybe I should put warning labels on posts like these.

It's a heck of a lot easier to write about secret codes in marriage and recreational intimacy.

But you and I both know that what we're talking about here totally affects everything. That less-than feeling is like a lens, but instead of helping you see clearly, perverts your vision.

I'm going to write an entire answer to your comment in a post. I agree, acceptance is a big part of it, accepting you, accepting her, then throwing away a bad script.

Thanks so much for sharing that. Takes a lot of courage. See? See how cool you are?

April_optimist said...

Great post! I'll be adding a link to your blog from mine.

I often tell people that the things that trip us up the most are the assumptions we never think to question. And I believe that healing is just that--questioning AND REWRITING the assumptions we made about ourselves and the world around us that are false.

I also believe that all harm done comes out of the abusive person's own fears, self-doubts, shame and/or self-hate.

I believe that true strength and power comes from choosing love and acceptance and empathy for others. This plus rewriting mistaken assumptions gives us the power to create the lives we want to have. WE have the capacity to be happy and in doing so we achieve something abusers can't.

therapydoc said...

Thanks, April. Of course you're right.

Anonymous said...

i thought this was a good post. but i would like to hear what you have to say about the insiduous kind of humiliation that undermines a persons sense of validity, but is subltle enough to easily deny, furthering the sense that the one is crazy, incompetent, over reactive, and just plain out of touch with things. the kind that doesnt say 'its your fault i went off like that', but rather 'youre imaginning things, no one is against you'. or 'if youd just be a little more *** '

therapydoc said...

Oh, I have SO much to say about this, and will have to devote an entire post to the "schizophrenogenic" family.

Making someone feel crazy isn't always intentional, it can be a coward's way of fighting, once called passive aggression, or even a way to attack someone else in the family.

But it does what it does, exactly as you say, undermine's one's sense of reality. When the victim of mixed messages (or in this case perverted communication) is a child, that child may become catatonic, not knowing which way to behave, locked in a double bind. He will look and act schizophrenic, bizarre.

I don't want this to get too complicated right now. But if your significant other is doing this, you have the right and maybe even obligation to look him in the eye and say, "You're so full of ..."

No, don't do it that way. You'd look him in the eye and say that you are quite sure he is intentionally undermining your integrity. You and I know that he's doing it to put you down, to bring himself up. But you'll have to find a way to communicate this that improves the situation, rather than flames conflict.

We'll talk. (Meaning I will write more).

Thanks for your thoughts. It's incredible stuff we're talking about here, the blood and guts of family therapy.

Oh, by the way. We now know that this interactional system is not the cause of schizophrenia. Yet it does invalidate and take away from a cogent sense of reality and self.

Anonymous said...

I hope you don't mind but I actually was impacted so much with this post that I actually had to comment on it on my own blog and quoted you. There is a space in the address since it doesn't copy over properly. It actualyl cuts off the address.

Anonymous said...

im looking forward to your post on the subject of passive agression. i have dealt with it all growing up. and find myself with most of the traits of borderline as well. so sense of self has always evaded me. i will have to look up this 'schizophrenogenic' word for me. but i was the bizarre child. and still am i suppose. now its a part of me... ;)

my husband and i do understand each other, and he doesnt do 'that thing' to me. and i do stand up for myself. but it has been a long journey to get here.

im going to add you to my blogroll. i like your site very much!

therapydoc said...

Hi Kirstin, This is tough stuff, no question, and it's amazing that kids learn how to read and write but get nothing in school about the reality of relationships, how dangerous they can be when they're off course. I'll write more on these "functional" behaviors as soon as I can. Be patient, okay? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

-It's just safer, is all, to err on the side of what one perceives to be strength, power.-

that is a very strong sentence. so is the one about people that have self esteem think its mean to make fun of others or hurt others.

when it comes to humiliation its me I tend to want to hurt, to get those images of myself out of my keep from ever feeling that powerless again. I know that when I feel humiliated I have to watch my every move because my actions will be based on emotion and not logic. I watch myself, my association, my thinking very closely so as not to get sucked into negative behaviors. I personally can not stand the thought of anyone ever feeling as humiliated as I did. I truthfully can't even imagine my mother feeling half as humiliated as she made me feel. its a destructive force i do mean to tell you and I've never ever seen anyone be positively motivated by humiliation.


therapydoc said...

Austin, that dark place? Stay away. The very idea of hurting yourself is anti-life, anti-everything good, and mimics, in essence, what mom did to you. Violence begins in the home, remember?

So yes, be cautious, be your friend, and yes, you're probably right, that nobody ever has been motivated to do anything good via humiliation.

linrob63 said...

Negotiating childhood, adolescence, even adulthood with the mathematical symbol for less than (<) attached is a skill kids who have been abused and humiliated learn too well. Those who cannot -- or will not -- are visible and more likely to get help before it solidifies as part of an identity. You are right, though. Acknowledging, confronting and getting free of it is painful -- and really hard work. Still, children who endure and survive the abuse and the isolation that comes with it have the tools to endure and survive the effort to heal.

therapydoc said...

Thanks, Lin.

Anonymous said...

I undrstand all that u have said here and myself being on the otherhend of this treatment as a child and going into all my adult relationsips seems such a negative issue of a drug it is all you should be to the dentify its channel it's reality....into a positively safe environment......with the knowledge that it really never goes away ...there is no real cure,
knowing that 'a bit of what you know ....does u good'...otherwise any time of life is not just the answer on its own...those that have been abused need...a little of what they know...when they need it...safely..and they should be told how too find!...rather than here is some theropy...via education and listening etc,...i have found some of the dom/sub fantasy relationships to be the strongest and fulfilling respecting each others limits and understanding both sides of the equasion .....but every barrel in whatever... has a bad apple in it
...why do we always look at the bad dom/sub relationships
they need each other...what is needed is the aquisition of their own knowledge of thesleves and their own consential limits... then these are not abusive relationships anymore and have been rationalised and controled and are i believe and have said ... just 'a little of what u know does u good'...

Anonymous said...

You are one of the few who actually write well

Anonymous said...

I have experienced this." this relieves this disproportionate affect and functions not to merely level the playing field in their perverse hierarchical thinking, but to bring themselves up to the top of the pyramid." And wasn't even necessary, nor nice. When you say disproportionate you really do mean it.