The act and its perpetrator

Ongoing abuse is not simply about an arbitrary chain of individual acts but what you are dealing with here is a very complex and perverse strategy. In her book “Stalking the soul”, author Marie-France Hirigoyen clearly describes this and puts it into perspective. Following below in abridged form are of some of the explanations she gives. At this point I would like to thank her and Jenny Roysten from C.H. Beck (publishers of the German version from which the author’s observations have been extracted) for giving permission to reproduce them here.

It is very easy to manipulate children. They will always look for and make excuses for their loved ones. Their charitableness is boundless; they are prepared to forgive their parents everything, take the blame, try to understand and will attempt to comprehend why one of their parents is discontented. A method often used to manipulate children is blackmail with threats of the harm that will befall them if not heeded i.e. having St Nicholas collect you in his bag if you’ve been a naughty child, being sent off to a correctional school or spending the day locked up in a dark cellar. The perpetrator justifies him/herself by explaining that all this is in the name of discipline for the benefit of the child. Nobody other than the victim will pick up on it, but the devastation caused is very real. The child is unhappy, but there is nothing tangible that she/he can complain about. The abused child is simply dismissed as a menace.

Underlying this perverse strategy by the perpetrator is the notion that by no means must the victim be annihilated right way. The victim has to be subjugated gradually and be at the perpetrator’s disposal. It is important for the perpetrator to be able to assert power and to control the situation. Initially this kind of subjugation is accepted as a necessity, especially in the case of children, as a way to show their gratitude; they perceive it to be better than abandonment. Since the perpetrator gives very little and asks for a lot, blackmail is implied, at least the assumption that: “If I come across as more obedient, he/she will eventually have greater respect for me and will be able to love me.” But the exact opposite transpires: the constant craving for love and recognition only serves to unleash even greater hatred and sadism in the perpetrator.

The aggressor keeps his victim in a state of constant anxiety that can be equated with a permanent state of stress.

The defensive stance that victims are cornered into drives them to behaviour that affects the people in the environment around them. The victims become quarrelsome or whiny, or are haunted by fixations. In any event they lose their naïve innocence. The people in the environment around them do not understand what is going on and are tricked into forming a negative opinion of them. With communication “distorted” the sole aim is to “use” the victim in such a way for him/her not to realise what is going down. Even the thought of challenging an accusation by the aggressor or a dispute involving the aggressor leaves the victim paralysed and unable to fight back. The perpetrator will remove him/herself from the dialogue in a clever trick to intensify the conflict and in so doing enabling blame to be apportioned to another. The right to have his say is refused the victim.

This form of aggression is about trying to rattle the victim and to get him/her to start doubting him/herself where his convictions and feelings are concerned. The victim in so doing loses the awareness of his/her identity. Communication often comprises subtle and paradoxical messages that are not always immediately perceived as aggressive and destructive because other messages sent out at the same time obliterate them. It is about sapping every good characteristic from someone and telling him/her repeatedly that he/she is worth nothing until he/she gets to the point of believing it. If these words are directed at a child, they are internalised as an imprint that the child perceives to be true.

You are relegated to nothing because that is what the perpetrator decreed that you are. All these strategies are designed to knock the other person so that the perpetrator can assert him/herself.

A process of domination takes its course. The victim subjugates him/herself and is enslaved, controlled and manipulated. If he/she rebels, any display of aggression and nastiness results in humiliation. The manipulative relationship that is created is entirely to the perpetrator’s advantage at the expense and interests of the other. The domination is insidious and there is denial of its occurrence. Subjugating the other person is not enough; you have to seize control of the being.

The moment the victim creates the impression that he/she might be slipping away from the perpetrator’s clutches, the aggressor is overcome with a sense of panic and rage and throws a fit. If the victim speaks out and articulates how he/she is feeling, the victim has to be shut up. Every time this happens the victim takes on the guilt of having committed an offence of ill intent. The aggression is administered in small doses when witnesses are present. If the victim reacts and takes the provocation bait by raising his/her voice, he/she will then be perceived to be the aggressor from an outside perspective, while the aggressor slips into the role of victim.

In most instances the weak point that perpetrators use to get at their victims, lies in the region of feelings of degradation and guilt. The easiest way to destabilise the other person is to instil in him/her feelings of guilt. The real strength of the perpetrators is however their inability to be moved emotionally. They do not have any moral scruples. They do not suffer. Their attacks go unpunished. The effectiveness of their attacks are based on the fact that the victim or the outside observer cannot conceive of someone not being moved emotionally and without any compassion in the face of the suffering of another person. In her book Marie-France Hirigoyen labels “people” with this type of profile as narcissistic perverts, who choose to kill indirectly – or to be more precise, bring the other person to kill him/herself (>Ascension Day). Reynaldo Perrone (a professor of psychotherapy at the Pierre Mendès-France University and author of a book on “Violence and sexual abuse in the family” written in French) called this type of insidious violence “penal power”. In cases like this there is no respite, no reconciliation – hence this hidden and secret violence that takes place behind closed doors. Nothing seeps outside. The one who is responsible for imposing harm on the other is of the opinion that he/she deserves it and does not have the right to complain.

How does one cope with all of this? The victims feel forsaken. How does one talk about it “outside”? The surreptitious devastation caused cannot be put into words. Generally the people in the environment around the victims – even the close ones – prefer to keep their distance: “We don’t want to get involved’. When the victims are no longer able to resign themselves to the situation they are in, they have to rebel and fight to break away. This process to free themselves is accompanied by pain and feelings of guilt, because the narcissistic perverts begin to act up as victims left in the lurch, thus finding a new pretext for their violence. When it comes to the separation process the perpetrators always regard themselves as the aggrieved and invariably become all too ready to take legal action.

(court hearing dated 18 January 2012, Schorndorf District Court, Germany)

I would sincerely like to thank Marie-France Hirigoyen for accompanying me on such an important stretch of my long journey of suffering.