NOTES AND PERSONAL COMMENTS ON CAPTIVITY AND PTSD
Below are excerpts from “TRAUMA and RECOVERY: The Aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror” by Judith Herman, M.D. Dr. Judith Herman is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of Training at the Victims of Violence Program at Cambridge Hospital. I will note excerpts and add my personal impressions as to how the statements relate to my case. The below sections are only from Chapter 4. The book is filled with information useful to anyone suffering from trauma and PTSD (or their friends and family) resulting from the recent war, from abuse, and more.
Chapter 4 “Captivity” is very informative. Judith Herman writes on page 74: “Captivity, which brings the victim into prolonged contact with the perpetrator, creates a special type of relationship, one of coercive control. This is equally true whether the victim is taken captive entirely by force, as in the case of prisoners and hostages, or by a combination of force, intimidation, and enticement, as in the case of religious cult members, battered women, and abused children.”
She continues on page 75 with “In situations of captivity, the perpetrator becomes the most powerful person in the life of the victim, and the psychology of the victim is shaped by the actions and beliefs of the perpetrator. Little is known about the mind of the perpetrator. Since he is contemptuous of those who seek to understand him, he does not volunteer to be studied. Since he does not perceive that anything is wrong with him, he does not seek help – unless he is in trouble with the law. His most consistent feature, in both the testimony of victims and the observations of psychologists, is his apparent normality. Ordinary concepts of psychopathology fail to define or comprehend him.”
Also on page 75 Herman continues, “Authoritarian, secretive, sometimes grandiose, and even paranoid, the perpetrator is nevertheless exquisitely sensitive to the realities of power and to social norms. Only rarely does he get into difficulties with the law; rather, he seeks out situations where his tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired. His demeanor provides an excellent camouflage, for few people believe that extraordinary crimes can be committed by men of such conventional appearance.”
“His ultimate goal appears to be the creation of a willing victim.” Herman (on page 76) quotes George Orwell in “1984”: “We are not content with negative obedience, not even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul.” Herman then writes, “The desire for total control over another person is the common denominator of all forms of tyranny.”
MY PERSONAL COMMENTS ON THE ABOVE: Tom appears normal to people in our society and has a very good understanding of systems, the law and how to manipulate and deceive people. He was not satisfied with beating me or raping me or humiliating me; he wanted to own my mind and my soul. Instead of trying to burn all evil out of me; he tried to rid me of the good inside of me. Tom tried to get me to kill myself — the ultimate denial of soul in this case.
Page 77, Judith Herman writes, “In addition to inducing fear, the perpetrator seeks to destroy the victim’s sense of autonomy. This is achieved by scrutiny and control of the victim’s body and bodily functions. The perpetrator supervises what the victim eats, when she sleeps, when she goes to the toilet, what she wears. When the victim is deprived of food, sleep, or exercise, this control results in physical debilitation. But even when the victim’s basic physical needs are adequately met, this assault on bodily autonomy shames and demoralizes her.”
MY PERSONAL COMMENTS: Tom knew when I slept, what I ate (because he was either with me or I had to inform him), and ultimately when I defecated/urinated at least once during the course of the day. As I wrote previously, Tom would insert vaginal infection medication into my vagina. Once when I tried to fight his abuse by not eating so I would not defecate during the abuse, he reacted by giving me medication to cause diarrhea … worse abuse followed. I learned it was better to eat.
On page 78, Herman states, “The perpetrator may further debilitate the victim by offering addictive drugs or alcohol.”
MY PERSONAL COMMENTS: Tom encouraged my drinking. I never drank any alcohol when Tom was out of town. There was no need to self medicate and no one was encouraging me to drink. It was my own conscience that bothered me for years, that tried to stop myself from drinking wine at night; and Tom did nothing supportive to help me not to drink alcohol at night. Alcohol was part of the ritual and Tom enjoyed his red (usually) French wine.
Herman writes on page 82, “In domestic battering, by contrast, the victim is taken prisoner gradually, by courtship. An analogous situation is found in the recruitment technique of ‘love-bombing’, practiced by some religious cults.”
On page 83, Herman states, “But the final step in the psychological control of the victim is not completed until she has been forced to violate her own moral principles and to betray her basic human attachments. Psychologically, this is the most destructive of all coercive techniques, for the victim who has succumbed loathes herself. It is at this point, when the victim under duress participates in the sacrifice of others, that she is truly ‘broken.’
“In domestic battery, the violation of principles often involves sexual humiliation. Many battered women describe being coerced into sexual pressure to lie, to cover up for their mate’s dishonesty, or even to participate in illegal activities. The violation of relationship often involve the sacrifice of children. Men who batter their wives are also likely to abuse their children.”
MY PERSONAL COMMENTS: I was under Tom’s control for years before Megan was even born. Once Tom involved Megan in the abuse, Tom thought he was even more safe from me ever telling the truth. He did not realize that I would fight to help my daughter, where I did not have any strength to fight for myself. It took me time to find someone who would listen, who I could tell the truth of the abuse to and be believed, and who gave me a safe place to stop blocking out the abuse. Fr. Marcantonio was that therapist. By videotaping Megan and me, Tom also was assured in his mind that I would never talk about that to anyone because I would not risk the humiliation and shame. I was a captive of Tom’s for years and years… his coercion, his force, his control of my body and mind was complete so much of the time. It has taken me time and strength to be strong enough to speak openly of the horror and terror I survived.
Judith Herman speaks of Elie Wiesel (page 83 and 83) and his betray of his father in the concentration camp. “Realistically, one might argue that it would have been fruitless for the son to come to his father’s aid, that in fact an active show of support for his father might have increased the danger to both. But this argument offers little comfort to the victim who feels completely humiliated by his helplessness. Even the feeling of outrage no longer preserves his dignity, for it has been bent to the will of his enemies and turned against the person he loves. The sense of shame and defeat comes not merely from his failure to intercede but also from the realization that his captors have usurped his inner life.”
Herman speaks of two stages of being broken. “The first is reached when the victim relinquishes her inner autonomy, world view, moral principles, or connection with others for the sake of survival. There is a shutting down of feelings, thoughts, initiative, and judgment. The psychiatrist Henry Krystal, who works with survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, describes this state as ‘robotization’. Prisoners who have lived through this psychological state often describe themselves as having been reduced to a nonhuman life form.”
MY PERSONAL COMMENTS: The fact that Megan became abused by Tom and the others; and I was helpless to stop it is a hurt I will live with for the rest of my life. I know that the times I tried to intervene, Megan was hurt more by Tom. It became apparent that I could do nothing but try (successfully many times) to get the abuse turned on to me. Once I was able to share the abuse in therapy, to articulate what had occurred — then I moved quickly to protect Megan. The separation from Tom was the initial step, then reporting it to the authorities was next. I ended up protecting my daughter by returning to America with her. After I became free from Tom, someone made the comment to me that I was no longer robot-like. I survived day by day with Tom by turning off my feelings and thoughts. I had fallen into the trap of learned helplessness. Plus Tom’s label of me as an HTB – human toilet bowl — and his urinating on me, etc… I didn’t feel human and I was not capable of resisting. I was a captive.
Page 87, Herman states, “People in captivity become adept practitioners of the arts of altered consciousness. Through the practice of dissociation, voluntary thought suppression, minimization, and sometimes outright denial, they learn to alter an unbearable reality. Ordinary psychological language does not have a name for this complex array of mental maneuvers, at once conscious and unconscious.”
On page 90-91 Herman writes, “Some theorists have mistakenly applied the concept of ‘learned helplessness’ to the situation of battered women and other chronically traumatized people. Such concepts tend to portray the victim as simply defeated or apathetic, whereas in fact a much livelier and more complex inner struggle is usually taking place. In most cases the victim has not given up. But she has learned that every action will be watched, that most actions will be thwarted, and that she will pay dearly for failure. To the extent that the perpetrator has succeeded in enforcing his demand for total submission, she will perceive any exercise of her own initiative as insubordination. Before undertaking any action, she will scan the environment, expecting retaliation.
Prolonged captivity undermines or destroys the ordinary sense of a relatively safe sphere of initiative, in which there is some tolerance for trial and error. To the chronically traumatized person, any action has potentially dire consequences. There is no room for mistakes.”
MY PERSONAL COMMENTS: I was definitely punished by Tom for my attempts to combat his abuse towards me and eventually towards Megan. I have paid dearly for reporting the abuse, for protecting Megan for as long as I did …………….. Megan is also paying the price for reporting the abuse and for speaking of the abuse in the psych facilities. There comes a point when the price can be too large to pay and you submit ………….. sometimes to the point of giving up totally. I hope and pray my daughter can survive.
Herman’s statements on page 94, “There are people with strong and secure belief systems who can endure the ordeals of imprisonment and emerge with their faith intact or strengthened. But these are the extraordinary few. The majority of people experience the bitterness of being forsaken by God.”
MY PERSONAL VIEW: My faith has sustained me this far. People’s prayers have carried me, especially when I was or am unable to pray. Tom tried to destroy my soul. He debased the consecrated host and at times, consecrated wine, — the body and blood of Christ, as I, a Catholic, believe. The abuse accounts I have shared are only a few of many. The words that were spoken by Tom were as hurtful as the physical and sexual abuse. The actions I was forced to take …. Tom tried to destroy my soul. For now, my soul is intact. Bitterness towards God…. sometimes. Loss of faith … no. Struggle with faith … yes. A diminished faith … seems to be at times. A strengthened faith … yes. Contradictions, fluctuations of faith …. of course. Understanding of God … little. Hope in God … yes … or I still would not be here and I definitely would not be writing this. Questions for God … multitude.
Herman’s last section of this chapter, Herman quotes the Holocaust survivor Levi: “We have learnt that our personality is fragile, that it is in much more danger than our life; and the old wise ones, instead of warning us ‘remember that you must die,’ would have done much better to remind us of this greater danger that threatens us. If from inside the Lager, a message could have seeped out to free men, it would have been this: take care not to suffer in your own homes what is inflicted on us here.”
LAST PERSONAL COMMENTS ON HERMAN’S BOOK. The unfortunate truth is that abuse whether you label it ritual abuse, extreme domestic violence, ritual abuse torture, or whatever label — the fact is that it does exist in people’s own homes. Those homes can be homes of all incomes and races. The family can have adults who are doctors, lawyers, cost analysts, martial arts experts, mechanics, teachers, etc… People are people. There are many, many, humans who are decent and healthy. There are some human beings who perform terrible, unbelievable acts of violence and terror to their own family members.
I sincerely recommend “TRAUMA and RECOVERY: The aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror” to anyone who wants to learn more about this subject and especially to anyone who has been abused in any of these fashions.