Learn a little psychology or go away. Thank you.

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We recently deeply overestimated our commenters as a whole when Revena posted about an episode of Serenity about a man who survives a Reaver attack, then does his best to become a Reaver, and Mal’s explanation: that after having been traumatized, he must’ve felt the need to become like his abusers. Revena cited this bit from an email I’d written her.

In this ep, we have a guy who… what? Is suffering from Stockholm syndrome + 1? He’s seen horrific abuse, so he’s going to become like his abusers? Thank goodness that’s not how it works on non-fiction humans, or you can imagine the fallout from Bosnia, the Holocaust and tortured POWs – not to mention abused kids. I mean, we’d be extinct already with that amount of conscience-free sport abusers wreaking their havoc… It makes Mal look incredibly stupid (just observation and a moderate knowledge of history overcomes this idea) and it insults the vast majority of survivors of abuse and horror who absolutely did NOT go on to resemble their abusers in any way.

Apparently, a lot of our commenters think Mal makes good sense there, because we are having to delete comments right and left that seek to correct my confusion and explain that abused people become abusers. We’ve explained it all in the comments, but the new commenters don’t bother reading. They just can’t wait to share the fruits of their superior brainz with us confused people.

Except, no. I’ve actually done some reading on psychology. Hell, I’ve also looked at the people in the world and made some observations. If you think adults can suddenly snap and turn abusive, you’ve been watching too much TV without thinking critically, and that makes you not really what we’re looking for in a commenter. Here are some facts about psychology. And no, I’m not providing links on every damn detail because most of this info is already on this site or What Privilege. Check the “Related Posts” at the bottom – I’m sure most of them will turn up. (Again, can’t be bothered? Then go away, and peace be with you.)

  • Empathy is a learned behavior. You learn it between 18 months and 4 years. For proof, you can read Daniel Goleman, or you can just watch kids, because mothers are often aware of this intuitively whether they have the psych vocabulary to explain it or not. Kids start noticing when other kids show distress, and it upsets them, and the process builds from there.
  • Empathy learning can be interrupted by trauma, neglect or abuse. It can also get befuddled when a parent (primary person children look to mimic) has no empathy and other people around a child do. Sometimes empathy learning is so thoroughly derailed that the person grows up without any empathy at all, and therefore can’t feel remorse or even understand why your feelings should matter to him at all. These people have serious mental health issues, most typically Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Anti-Social Personality Disorder, which are extremely common amongst serial killers and rapists and famous despots, but are also present in your neighborhood and the office where you work, right now, as we speak. You’ll hear these disorders referred to a lot on this site.
  • Yes, abusive people virtually always have been victims of abuse.
  • But remarkably, the vast majority of kids (estimated at 7 out of 8 [ETA: or 9 out of 10?], though more studies are needed) raised in abusive situations do not become abusers themselves. Why is that, do you suppose? This is where critical thinking is helpful.
  • Statistically, the fact that abusive backgrounds usually don’t produce abusers is more telling than the fact that virtually all abusers come from abusive backgrounds. Think of it this way. If 88% of people who eat beef don’t get hives, but everyone who has hives eats beef, would you conclude that eating beef  is the sole cause of hives? I hope not. The typical child molester has up to 400 victims* in his or her lifetime (and this is just one type of abuser). Even using the 1 in 8 stat (for how many sexually abused kids become abusers themselves), one child molester should produce up to 50 new child molesters in every generation. And yet, if the amount of child molesters was multiplying that exponentially every generation, and we know child molestation’s nothing new in human experience, wouldn’t non-molesters be a serious minority by now?
  • If abusive backgrounds usually don’t produce abusive adults, they cannot be the sole cause of how abusive personalities come into being. There have to be other factors, and no consensus has been reached as to what. The general theory in both law enforcement and counseling is that there are probably genetic factors and social factors as well as the upbringing to consider.

My personal theory is it’s not abuse that causes people to develop these personalities: it’s lack of consistent discipline which often accompanies an abusive upbringing. (Note: beating the shit out of a child does not equal discipline.)

But let’s move on to the bit you really should be able to work out for yourself without any textbook reading at all: once empathy is learned, it can’t be lost through sudden trauma. The idea that an adult who’s always been nice and wonderful (and not at all violently delusional) can suddenly snap and go on a killing spree is a myth spread by hack screenwriters. NPDs and APDs can do a great job of mimicking someone who’s nice and wonderful for a very long time before something happens (what profilers call a “stressor”), and suddenly they can’t maintain the facade anymore. (This, by the way, would be the most logical explanation for what happens to our Reaver victim turned abuser, by the way – that he was always lacking empathy, and what happened with the Reavers freed him of the need to keep maintaining his Mr. Good Neighbor facade.)

But the reason I say you should’ve known this yourself without any particular education is: do the math.

  • Something like 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted as adults.
  • No one’s too sure about stats for men, but some not insignificant number of men are sexually assaulted.
  • In 2005 alone, 476,280 adults experienced domestic violence. Sorry, reported domestic violence. The actual number must be considerably higher. Most will have survived it.
  • Lots of adults have really traumatic car accidents.
  • Loads of people survive horrible random violence – drive-by-shootings, home invasions, etc. Or the loss of a loved one to violence.
  • Loads of people have traumatic experiences from working in the military or law enforcement or other dangerous jobs.
  • Hitler left an awful lot of traumatized survivors.
  • So did Bosnia.
  • So will what’s happening in the Congo. (Hey Sylvia, I wonder if this could be the closest we’ll get to a real world approximation of what Reavers do to victims?)
  • How many people get stalked? Forced to leave a job because of sexual harassment, or discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, etc.? How many people are being emotionally abused by partners, but not physically? These are traumatic, abusive experiences.

People who haven’t experienced some kind of emotional trauma as an adult are possibly more unusual than those who have (especially the older your sample group, since just being alive raises your odds). If anywhere near all these people snapped and became capable of willfully and remorselessly harming others, this world would be way more of a cess pit than it is. Because they wouldn’t just harm one or two people. Oh, no.

For goodness’ sake, people, when you come to this site and spout your mouth off, you are talking to a lot of abuse, assault and trauma survivors. If you don’t feel the need to educate yourself on what we’ve been through before telling us all about ourselves, then do not comment. If my reasoning doesn’t do it for you, then use your own: you apparently think we’re all likely to rape you to death and then skin you for clothing, and if you’re lucky, we’ll do it in that order.

*See this comment. The “400” number may not be reliable. However, even if the typical number of victims is just 1-2 kids, child molestation would be not only self-sustaining and growing all the time, and that’s just one form of abuse that’s been going on for at least the duration of recorded history.

Comments

  1. sbg says

    It puts the lotion in the basket…

    Sorry.

    Good post, Jenn. It’s easy to make rookie mistakes (Who doesn’t? We’re all rookies at something.) , but it’s not that at issue, it’s the insistence on not learning anything when people are teaching it to you. We can’t (virtually) beat every commenter into understanding; some of it takes actual work on their own part, and if they’re not willing, well, that’s on them and our energy is better used elsewhere. :)

  2. sbg says

    Maria,

    I think we’ve been taught, if you will, to not ask questions or use our own reasoning skills. So, what we’ve always been told must be right, no need to look anything up to see if it is, in fact, right.

    That, and I also think some find it difficult to believe things they don’t want to for some reason or another, despite knowing somewhere deep down they are not correct. *cough*birthers*cough*

  3. says

    Maria,

    I just added the safehaven link to the post. That’s a good one.

    I’m now thinking I should’ve gone on about how the myth that abused become abusers really serves the abusers nicely. It creates an atmosphere in which abused people are viewed with suspicion and kept at arm’s length… and that’s exactly what they want. I can’t help but look at how things are and think: wow, the abusers have been shaping society for a long time. And I believe that. I don’t think they’re a majority – far from it. But I think they have no boundaries on their use of power, and that doesn’t just mean dominating individuals they’re able to control somehow. It also means dominating governments and churches and other major cultural influences.

    Believe their shit, and you’re playing right into their hands.

    • Maria says

      Jennifer Kesler,

      The thing that’s ESPECIALLY frustrating is that it was on the FIRST page of my google search, where I used the search string “abuse survivors become abusers”. So, no, people took a “social fact” (a myth that feels like a fact because it fits other social narratives about abuse like victims being pathological in some way) and treated it as fact, without ever bothering to do the bare minimum of googling it.

  4. says

    So will what’s happening in the Congo. (Hey Sylvia, I wonder if this could be the closest we’ll get to a real world approximation of what Reavers do to victims?)

    Sounds likely. I’m not well educated on the Congo, but it looks to me like it’s in a state of constant turmoil and uncertainty, during which there are many many small, disorganized attacks on civilians. That would fit with the Firefly ‘verse, in which there’s war between the Alliance and the Browncoats that, even after, breeds resentment and small spats of violence. There’s the normal hardship of trying to eke out a living on the fringe and the constant fear of the many small raids of the Reavers.

    So, how many Congolese victims are becoming violent and victimizers themselves? A couple quick Google searches didn’t turn up anything. Everything I found talks about how they are continuing to be victimized, that there is no hope for them and their struggles are ongoing. Not a single thing about them wanting to join the soldiers who did this to them.

  5. firebird says

    i was struck by the comment about children learning empathy and showing it by getting upset when other children are upset. I’ve sometimes wondered why babies do that, start crying when another baby/toddler is crying. It can be overwhelming for a caretaker, but now I can see it’s a good developmental sign.

  6. Casey says

    firebird,

    Well now I know I have pretty good empathy, ‘cuz I, TO THIS DAY, end up crying (well, more like bawling) when someone else is upset and cries.

  7. says

    Maria: The thing that’s ESPECIALLY frustrating is that it was on the FIRST page of my google search, where I used the search string “abuse survivors become abusers”.

    Must be the recent Google changes, because when I used that phrase a few months ago, I got nothing. But shows like Criminal Minds have also debunked the myth in passing. There are a lot of pop culture references about it.

    What I can’t get over is: I know a LOT of abuse/trauma survivors, and extremely few of them are abusive. My knowing so many survivors is not unusual. What is unusual is my KNOWING I know them. That happens because people share their stories with me – I guess they feel they can trust me on that level. If you don’t know that you know abuse survivors, then you’re probably not someone they feel they can trust, and that gets into this whole weird thing about non-survivor privileges. Which isn’t really compatible with maintaining a website as a safe space.

  8. says

    firebird:
    i was struck by the comment about children learning empathy and showing it by getting upset when other children are upset. I’ve sometimes wondered why babies do that, start crying when another baby/toddler is crying. It can be overwhelming for a caretaker, but now I can see it’s a good developmental sign.

    That’s actually bringing up a really interesting point: there is SUCH PRESSURE on mothers that if their babies start crying in public, which is perfectly normal and healthy, they can feel as if everyone’s judging them unfit AND feeling highly inconvenienced. And apparently quite a few people make huge nasty issues about the convenience, as if babies can be turned off in shops and restaurants, like cell phones. We, as a society, put the worst pressure on mothers to shut their babies and toddlers up, no matter what it takes, at the exact point in development when children are meant to be expressing the feelings they’re just getting to know.

    God, no wonder so many of us are miserable and don’t even know what we want or don’t want. Having emotions is so forbidden, at least in the US, that we’re never allowed to develop them properly.

    (You might want to read Daniel Goleman on Emotional IQs. He talks about the importance of developing empathy on a survival level (social animals use empathy to form groups, which survive better than individuals), and how we’re going about things all wrong in school and pre-schools, and how we could do better.)

  9. Casey says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    That reminds me of an MSN article I read several months back about a family who were intent on raising their children like “cave-men” (ie, allowing them to cry, holding them a lot, letting their community all take part in raising the children, prolonged nursing) and how it was better because the kids would be more emotionally healthy/content…the highest-rated comment in the comments section was some jack-off espousing corporal punishment as child-rearing. >_>

  10. sbg says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I always wonder, too, if babies can’t pick up on, on some level, their mother’s distress and the crying jag ends up prolonged because of that. I mean, if my cat can tell I’m having a bad day…

  11. says

    Jennifer Kesler: That’s actually bringing up a really interesting point: there is SUCH PRESSURE on mothers that if their babies start crying in public, which is perfectly normal and healthy, they can feel as if everyone’s judging them unfit AND feeling highly inconvenienced.

    I always feel so bad when I see moms stressing out over a baby crying in public. I want to go tell them not to worry, it’s okay if the baby cries, that’s what they do. But I know other people are judging them. I think there’s two factors to that judgment: 1) the feeling that babies can turned off, that somehow you’re more entitled to the public space than the baby is, and 2) the feeling that women’s decisions are open to public critique. Look at how many people feel entitled to ask about breastfeeding status or touch a pregnant woman’s belly. My mother had two of her children a year apart, and one person actually interrogated her about our ages and then asked her if she hadn’t heard of birth control, spacing us so close together like that. O_o

  12. firebird says

    Jennifer Kesler: That’s actually bringing up a really interesting point: there is SUCH PRESSURE on mothers that if their babies start crying in public, which is perfectly normal and healthy, they can feel as if everyone’s judging them unfit AND feeling highly inconvenienced. And apparently quite a few people make huge nasty issues about the convenience, as if babies can be turned off in shops and restaurants, like cell phones. We, as a society, put the worst pressure on mothers to shut their babies and toddlers up, no matter what it takes, at the exact point in development when children are meant to be expressing the feelings they’re just getting to know.

    I work in retail and I’ve always felt that behavior is a lot more important than emotions, in children. Parents have a range of behaviors themselves, from screaming to ignoring to scolding to useful parenting, when in public, but they often apologize more for the child or baby crying than for them tearing up the store’s products, which I find confusing. I also find it surprising how often a parent will scold a child for picking up and playing with a balloon that is laying on the floor in the store (a blown up balloon from a bag, the kind that you get 100 for a couple dollars, we use them to make the store look festive and partly to entertain children and keep them from playing with the accessories that cost a lot more than the balloons) – more toddlers are scolded for playing with balloons that were laying on the floor than elementary school children are scolded for playing with the phones and computers.

    In any case, the one that sticks in my mind is the one that was hitting his mother in the face and she allowed it – that really bothered me. Otherwise, I just deal and go on with my life. ;-) They are usually cute. It’s amazing how much nicer children are in a cell phone store than in a mass merchandiser checkout line – probably a function of not being surrounded by candy displays and how stressed (or not) their parents are.

    (You might want to read Daniel Goleman on Emotional IQs. He talks about the importance of developing empathy on a survival level (social animals use empathy to form groups, which survive better than individuals), and how we’re going about things all wrong in school and pre-schools, and how we could do better.)

    Thanks for the recommendation.

  13. Maria says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    That’s one of the reasons that in my post on supporting friends who’ve been sexual assaulted, I mentioned that it’s important to think of the people around you as being potential survivors of assault as well. Knowing the stats, knowing that abuse is so common… etc… Just think if that’s ANY way to talk about people you know are in the room? Really now.

  14. Korva says

    Aside from the other things that have already been mentioned, I think this myth also contributes to the tendency to try and make excuses for violent criminals, who sometimes, somehow, get more attention and even sympathy (or professional help) than their victims. I find this extremely perverse. His father hit him … his mother was an overbearing shrew … he was bullied at school … so who CAN blame the poor man for allegedly raping that woman? HE’s the victim of abuse here, can’t you see? At least that is what I feel is often implied in the (German) media. His victim, meanwhile, is forgotten.

    It’s not as if rape culture and victim-blaming need any MORE fuel.

  15. Maartje says

    Though I know you know Jennifer, I do feel I need to add that most people with personality disorders will never do anything to harm another human being.
    A lot of us are basically the reverse of a despot, because we’re desperately trying to please everyone around us just to get some idea that we’re allowed to exist.
    But yes, there are narcisists and anti-socials who do horrible things.

  16. says

    Korva:
    Aside from the other things that have already been mentioned, I think this myth also contributes to the tendency to try and make excuses for violent criminals, who sometimes, somehow, get more attention and even sympathy (or professional help) than their victims. I find this extremely perverse. His father hit him … his mother was an overbearing shrew … he was bullied at school … so who CAN blame the poor man for allegedly raping that woman? HE’s the victim of abuse here, can’t you see? At least that is what I feel is often implied in the (German) media. His victim, meanwhile, is forgotten.

    You’re right – as long as the criminal is male. I’ve even seen people express sympathy toward men who kill their entire families. WTF is that?? Family annihilation is one of the most depraved crimes humans commit. And on the rare occasions when WOMEN commit such crimes – even when, like Andrea Yates, they don’t really understand what they’re doing because of schizophrenic delusions – the public and media wants to burn them at the stake.

    I think it comes back to our societies’ training to make excuses for men and emphasize their accomplishments while demanding too much of women and over-emphasizing our every tiny error.

    Maartje,

    Maartje, I didn’t realize how that read, so I have changed the bolded “personality disorder” to “serious mental illness” in the article, so that the only illnesses I mention are NPDs and APDs. Because those two typically DO cause harm. You’re right – other PDs, with the exception of BPD, are probably no more likely to harm anyone than is the general populace.

  17. Attackfish says

    Also, nobody talks about how people who grew up with abuse are more likely to be abused in their adult relationships. This is the much more frequent cycle of violence, thanks. Child abuse victims frequently fling themselves into the arms of the first half-way nice seeming romantic partner who comes along promising rescue, and a lot of the time, this person is targeting the abuse victim because they’re easy prey. This happened to my father, it’s how I found my first stalker, it happened to my best friend… This is so much more likely to happen than an abuse victim becoming an abuser.

    This is not meant to imply that child abuse victims are to blame for any abuse inflicted upon them after they’re grown. I hope to God it isn’t construed that way.

  18. Korva says

    Exactly, I should have added that. As I have said before, when a man wipes out his family, our media call it a “family tragedy” instead of what it is: multiple counts of murder. Every time, without fail. But when a woman kills her newborn, people all but scream for blood no matter how desperate, ill, poor or abused she was. The father of the baby, even if he sat next door watching porn and is on record for domestic violence and is known to have threatened more violence should his “partner” become pregnant again, will not come under scrutiny for contributing to the situation. It’s entirely considered to be her fault.

    And aside from the much-maligned feminists, NO ONE seems to see anything wrong with that double standard.

    It really makes my blood boil.

  19. Brand Robins says

    So there’s a thing here, about why people feel like Mal was making sense when he really was talking crap.

    One of the dominant genres of story structure in modern media is the gothic story. Not always in outward appearance, but in structural form. The modern gothic story is centered around the very cycle of abuse/abuser/abused that we’re talking about here. In it the abused either become abusers or further abused — there is no normal life after abuse, there is only the self-eating cycle of horror.

    You see this in horror movies, obviously, but also in things that don’t look gothic at all. You see it in Mal’s speech, and in Buffy. You see it in more or less every episode of Law and Order Special Victim’s Unit. Hell, you see it in sensationalized news stories all the time. Any time someone who was abused commits a crime the abuse is reported as though it was the reason the crime was committed.

    It’s especially prevalent when you consider that the gothic hero, often a revenge fantasy figure, is also an abuser. He (usually a he) is just a “righteous abuser” who brings harm to those who brought harm. How many cases of abuse in fiction end with someone commit horrific, abusive violence because of abuse? (Their own, or more obnoxiously the abuse of someone else which allows them to take on the roll of justified avenger without having to actually suffer the odium of being abused.) Abuse causes abuse in all these stories, inevitable and certain as the sun rising.

    (For an interesting, if uneven, discussion of how the gothic mode dominated modern stories I’d recommend Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism, and the Culture of Gothic by Mark Edmundson.)

    So people spend their whole lives growing up with this narrative in their head, subconscious and continuous. That it doesn’t match up to reality, their own lives (far more often than not), or any kind of scientific research often doesn’t matter. Life and human behavior is complicated, and stories exist to make them simple and understandable. So the stories we’re constantly bombarded with often make as large or larger an impact on how we construct our own theories of human behavior than actual behavior of real humans does.

    Growing up on a culture of stories based around gothic abuse makes it seem like Mal isn’t full of shit, because the majority of our stories tell us exactly the story he’s now telling us. And when that gets pointed out folks either have to question their own received understanding and face the issue that maybe stories and fears have shaped their understanding of humanity more than humanity has, or they have to rationalize, explain away, and deny.

  20. says

    Brand Robins,

    Thanks. I had a feeling there was a dominant cultural meme that people were unthinkingly accepting as “fact” the way we all tend to do. I just couldn’t peg it because, well… now I realize why the gothic genre always got on my nerves. I never thought about it much before, but it always struck me as so outlandish that I couldn’t develop a taste for it.

    This also makes me realize why I liked SG-1, even though the Goa’uld’s-taking-human-hosts is very similar to the vampire mythos. The Goa’uld’s “possession” of its host isn’t even arguably an emotional, psychological or moral state: it’s purely physical and scientific.

    Also: Wuthering Heights, which did a shockingly fine job of exploring how the “abused becomes abuser” cycle really works (Heathcliff), and how nuanced it is, when you consider Bronte pre-dated even Freud. And the triumph in the end of the book, which moviemakers usually leave out, failing to recognize the extreme importance of the whole “second novel”, is when one victim of Heathcliff’s abuse empowers another to develop some self-esteem and Heathcliff, seeing all his revenge plans come to nothing, gives up and dies, and the new generation moves the fuck on. It’s such a brilliant story, and it really, really worries me how hard people work to apply the traditional Gothic narrative to it, and make Heathcliff into some sort of hero or romantic figure. The book is so clear: if he’d never been abused, none of this would’ve happened, but what he does is still his responsibility, and evil must not triumph. Beautiful.

  21. Attackfish says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    A note, before it was revealed that the author of Wuthering Heights was a woman, it got reviews that talked about the novel’s “rugged power”, calling it “inexpressibly painful”, and discribing the characters as “utterly hateful or thoroughly contemptible”. After Emily Bronte was revealed as the author, it was called a romance. Hmmm.

    I always rooted for Cathy and Hareton and thought Catherine and Heathcliff deserved each other, and it was cruel of Miss Bronte to inflict them on the poor Lintons. And on Isabella’s puppy. It also always made me feel sorry for Emily Bronte, as it made me wonder where she had encountered and learned about this kind of abuse.

    • Maria says

      @attackfish

      They lived with it, I’m assuming. I know one of them taught at a school that would be later the basis for Jane Eyre, and that their father kept them isolated and controlled them financially when they were unable to find adequate work as educated, unmarried women.

  22. Attackfish says

    Maria,

    That’s what I mean. It made me wonder when i was in high school, before I read up on them. It also explains why Charlote thought Jane Eyre was a healthy romance.

  23. says

    Attackfish:

    A note, before it was revealed that the author of Wuthering Heights was a woman, it got reviews that talked about the novel’s “rugged power”, calling it “inexpressibly painful”, and discribing the characters as “utterly hateful or thoroughly contemptible”.After Emily Bronte was revealed as the author, it was called a romance.Hmmm.

    Interesting! I also have an edition of the book with a forward talking about how male lit critics and professors assumed Bronte had been trying to write a romance and failed, not realizing how contemptible Heathcliff actually was because she was such an isolated and confused little dear, poor thing. This forward, written by a woman, put forth the idea that if you read the book at absolute face value, NOT assuming it was a romance and NOT trying to account for how Bronte could’ve known this much about human depravity, what you get is the brilliant tale I described above. And she’s right. When we forget to question our assumptions, we end up chatting nonsense.

    And I concur about their upbringing. The facts are too sketchy for a conclusion, but what we do know sure fits a certain abusive profile.

    • Maria says

      @Jenn

      There are a FEW bios that refer to the dad as being abusive, and several that talk about him being cold and distant and unwelcoming. So, yeah, sketchy details, but in women’s biographies the details are in the ellipses… what you DON’T get to know because it’s something that people consider irrelevant or embarassing or a secret.

  24. Lika says

    Wow. Thanks for your thoughts on Wurthering Heights. I’ve always HATED that book with a passion because I was told it was a romance and Heathcliff was such a tragic romantic lover. I don’t think I’ve hated a fictional character as much I hated Heathcliff and the idea of that abusive asshole being a tragic romantic lover had me dancing with rage. Then I’d hear people talk about how Catherine deserved to be killed by Healthcliff for being “unfaithful” and all sorts of justification for his actions and why he was such a perfect gothic hero.

    I did love the ending of the book where Cathy (I LOVE CATHY – LOVED CATHY It’s always pissed me off that people ignored Cathy’s role in the book) and Edgar bonded and became empowered in their own ways and moved on. I remembered that was the part where I cheered, and it’s the part I read over and over again when I do find the book in my hands again.

    I always thought the book was about the great tragic demonic romance between Heathcliff and Catherine, but after reading the comments here, I’m seeing it more as a book on abuse, and that makes all the difference.

  25. says

    Lika,

    You’re welcome! One thing that really blows my mind is how people forget that Catherine is 15 when she decides to marry Linton, and only 18 when she dies. She may not make all the right decisions, and some of her reasoning may be selfish, but she’s 15, and critics and readers alike tend to view her decisions as if they’re coming from a 25 year old. At 15, most of us are more self-centered than we’ll be in another 10 years because we simply lack the perspective to see the bigger picture.

    And I don’t think she’s “unfaithful” because I don’t buy into the interpretation of the book which paints some great love between her and Heathcliff as true reality and destiny. I think she and Heathcliff both have some delusions about their relationship, and neither the delusions nor the relationship are healthy, and Catherine sees marriage as irrelevant to it while Heathcliff sees it as essential. They’re just both desperately confused kids. Catherine gets consumed by her attempt to drag Heathcliff out of the abusive muck, because Heathcliff isn’t able/willing to be saved. His mistreatment as a child is part of it, but I think we’re supposed to assume his experiences on ships which were likely slaver ships contributed further to how he turns out.

    *blinks* Maybe this deserves an article…?

  26. Attackfish says

    There’s also the implication that I thought I saw that the two of them were half-siblings. Think about it. Her father just brings him home one day and insists he’s staying, and they take him in only to mistreat him and act like he’s less than dirt? Sounds like he’s Daddy’s by-blow.

  27. says

    Also hated the first generation in Wuthering Heights, and get so annoyed when people talk about it as So Very Romantic. (See also: Romeo and Juliet, OH MY GOD, HATE.)

    Jennifer: Huh, interesting point about ages. Some of it is presentation, I think: different standards at the time mean that Catherine gets treated as an adult by the characters around her and–to some extent–by the novel, and the reader is likely to pick up on that and assign her the same level of culpability. (I was talking about Gone With the Wind elseblog lately, and some of the same issues came up in re: Scarlett, who’s clearly not the best person ever but who also…is sixteen when the book starts.) Heathcliff I feel far less sorry for, because he had a whole adulthood to get over himself–and also, he strangles puppies–but Catherine just comes off as kind of a brat and kind of pathetic.

    Which isn’t a character type I have a lot of patience for, granted, but she doesn’t deserve to get murdered, for fuck’s sake.

  28. says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I think Wuthering Heights deserves a very long article. I’m glad you pointed me to that book, because like a lot of possible readers, I’d been turned off by the Romantic Heathcliff model espoused by the movies. It’s actually a very complexly structured, undependably narrated, story that *makes you think* about what’s really going on between the lines of what the narrators are talking about-because you notice that the main protagonists NEVER narrate their own stories in it.

    I’m going to have to reread it soon.

  29. Attackfish says

    Isabel C.: Which isn’t a character type I have a lot of patience for, granted, but she doesn’t deserve to get murdered, for fuck’s sake.

    Wait, I thought she made herself ill out of spite/grief/drama when Heathcliff eloped with Isabella, (a trope I really don’t like) and then died in childbed after having weakened herself.

    Having read it when I was sixteen, as many people do for school, I believed myself adult and so held her to that standard. I did like it when she tried to warn off Isabella, partly to keep Heathcliff, but also because she knew Heathcliff would eat her alive, and didn’t want to see that happen.

  30. says

    Attackfish: Oh, she does–I was referencing the “Heathcliff should’ve killed her” people Lika mentions.

    Also, I think that’s a good point. I have way more sympathy for younger characters now than I did when I was their age: at the time, as you mention, I thought I would *clearly* act better.

    And yeah. Catherine at least seems to have some glimmers of awareness about how not-okay her situation is.

  31. says

    Attackfish,

    Yeah, really. I think Bronte must’ve realized that in the absence of any clearly explained reason why the father brought him home, readers would suspect he was the family bastard. And she didn’t provide a clearly explained reason, so…

    Isabel C.: Jennifer: Huh, interesting point about ages. Some of it is presentation, I think: different standards at the time mean that Catherine gets treated as an adult by the characters around her and–to some extent–by the novel, and the reader is likely to pick up on that and assign her the same level of culpability. (I was talking about Gone With the Wind elseblog lately, and some of the same issues came up in re: Scarlett, who’s clearly not the best person ever but who also…is sixteen when the book starts.) Heathcliff I feel far less sorry for, because he had a whole adulthood to get over himself–and also, he strangles puppies–but Catherine just comes off as kind of a brat and kind of pathetic.

    That’s a good point – she is treated more or less like an adult, and that may influence readers. But when she spouts her stuff about marrying Linton and maintaining the same relationship with Heathcliff, Nelly asks herself whether the “girl” realizes what she’s saying – is she wicked, or just ignorant? I think she’s ignorant, and readers should recognize that decision, at least, as the decision of a child. (I also think she identifies with H to an unhealthy degree, and therefore feels a need to save him as much as she needs to save herself. The fact she can’t save both of them is what tears her apart. So, yes, definitely a brat and definitely pitiable, but what she’s doing is just the sort of noble but unhealthy/misguided thing abused kids do.

    As for Heathcliff… yeah. I feel very sorry for him as a child, because he’s treated horribly. But as he grows up, he does make choices that are not at all okay, and I believe in holding adults responsible for choices they make regardless of the mistreatment that’s brought them to that point.

  32. says

    Excellent post. I want to clarify about the 400 victims comment; specifically, that there has been question as to the average number of victims a serial molester may have. The study that suggested this average number, may have issues with its methodology. In a training I attended last year, Michael Caldwell, PsyD, looked at Gene Abel’s initial study on the average number of victims an offender has. His research is primarily on Juveniles (which is my work population). There were two spikes in the bell curve: One peaking at 5 the other peaking at 900+. One can find some of the information here. More of Caldwell’s research, specifically on recidivism, can be found here (pdf link). Just as an aside, I am fully aware that recidivism does not equate to reoffense; however, given the nature of the crimes, it is difficult to get this data.

    To be clear, I work with offenders as a means to stop sexual assault in the future. I firmly believe that one victim is one too many. However, clumping all offenders into the same categories impedes their treatment, which may put more people at risk in the future.

  33. says

    Marty,

    Marty, I appreciate it when someone offers better data than I was able to get my hands on from books and the internet. Have any conclusions been reached as to how many victims most molesters have? I’ve also read 70 as a sort of average, but don’t remember the source now.

  34. says

    I haven’t seen any new numbers from any of my recent trainings. Most of my clients–and this needs to be taken with a grain of salt–average 2 victims. My clients are also between 12-21. I know Dr. Caldwell had a study that he cited wherein it appears that most serial sex offenders do not have any contact with the juvenile justice system, but I do not have that article on hand. I think its cited in the pdf I linked.

  35. says

    Marty:
    I haven’t seen any new numbers from any of my recent trainings.Most of my clients–and this needs to be taken with a grain of salt–average 2 victims.My clients are also between 12-21.I know Dr. Caldwell had a study that he cited wherein it appears that most serial sex offenders do not have any contact with the juvenile justice system, but I do not have that article on hand.I think its cited in the pdf I linked.

    Yeah, he says it’s clear the majority of juvenile sex offenders aren’t detected.

    I’ve amended the article with a footnote linking to your comment. I think the overall point still stands (that if every abuse victim, or even close to that number, became an abuser, they’d be the majority by this point in human history), but I will correct that number if I ever find a more reliable source. Of course, I appreciate how hard it must be for researchers to guesstimate how many undetected criminals exist, let alone what they’re doing.

  36. Lika says

    Although I think it’s sad you had to write this post, I’m glad it exists. The way abused people are protrayed in the media really gets on my nerves. It has gotten to a point where if I see someone who’s been abused come onscreen, depending on the show, I expect that person to either commit suicide, be killed, or die sacrificing themselves for the more “worthy” person. The writers usually justify this by showing how the abuse has warped the person so much that they’re a danger to everyone else or they’re totally incapable of leading worthwhile lives afterwards so they might as well be dead.

    I’m glad you wrote this to debunk a lot of the bullshit that allows abuse survivors to be written off as unreliable, untrustworthy, and dangerous.

    once empathy is learned, it can’t be lost through sudden trauma.

    The one that gets me is the sweet, devoted lover who suddenly loses his boo and that turns him evil. That one has bugged me for AGES.

  37. says

    FM:
    That’s what makes Sweeney Todd hard to swallow for me.

    That didn’t bother me because I thought it was pretty clear it was the decade and a half of bitterness in prison that turned him evil, not the loss of his wife. Someone stewing in their own rage for years upon years would turn out a little twisted, I think. I mean, there are some people who come out of our prison system more likely to reoffend than before. Others get out and go on to live normal, productive lives. Todd chose to focus on what he had lost and what the judge owed to him rather than getting in touch with his daughter and moving on with his life.

  38. says

    Well, well: http://news.healingwell.com/index.php?p=news1&id=647618

    Almost 60 percent of American adults say they had difficult childhoods featuring abusive or troubled family members or parents who were absent due to separation or divorce, federal health officials report.

    About a quarter of the more than 26,000 adults surveyed reported experiencing verbal abuse as children, nearly 15 percent had been physical abused, and more than 12 percent — more than one in ten — had been sexually abused as a child.

    Since the data are self-reported, Edwards believes that the real extent of child abuse may be still greater. “There is a tendency to under-report rather than over-report,” she said.

    This makes what people were saying in the other thread even more insidious. This means that most people know a thing or two about abuse and its effects. Should those opting to wallow in considerable ignorance be chuckled at, like Flat Earthers, instead of being taken seriously and carefully corrected on serious websites like this one? Should we just delete them as spam, assuming anyone that asinine is just trying to wind us up?

    I’m serious. At some point, the REAL dismissal of stupid ideas comes from a culture not even being able to hear them anymore. Do we think there are REALLY so many people confused into thinking abuse is rare enough to account for the minority of monsters we have in this society, that we should try to educate them? Or is our time better spent elsewhere?

    I invite feedback. None of these questions are rhetorical.

  39. Shaun says

    Okay, I gotta tell you JK, I was really skeptical about how you refer to NPD. I didn’t know a lot about it so I was wondering if this was a disability group getting unfairly plastered with a disproportionate amount of social blame.

    And then I MET one. She was a white acquaintance who was lecturing a woman of color I know about racism. She got called out on and basically pulled a white woman’s tears (I think) before eventually declaring she was “multiracial” (later it turns out this is French and Spanish. As in, European ethnicities in her background). I ended up calling her out on her racism, which was… really what the woman of color had already said (but was ignored).

    Well this was over a month ago and she apparently still hasn’t let it go. She wants everyone to know “what I did to her,” which was lie about her/call her racist. She apparently made a FB post a few days ago saying that accusing someone of hate speech is in itself hate speech. Today someone showed me a thread she posted comparing the experience of being called racist to BEING RAPED. It’s… really not effective slandering since everyone seems to find it ridiculous, but a shared acquaintance who is a social worker suggested she may have NPD, including the extreme sense of persecution and attempts to recenter herself as the focus of attention.

    The woman she was originally racist toward also drew a comparison for me between her behavior and certain MRAs whose interest in women as human beings only goes as far as getting laid, and now that I have a clear example and people are talking about it I can see the connection. I also don’t think it can be considered a disability even if it’s a diagnosis–a disability is a social barrier that exists within society, but NPD actually seems to serve the Narcissistic really well socially, and I can see where it’s even more beneficial to a male narcissist.

  40. says

    Shaun,

    It is kind of hard to believe this disorder until you see it in action. Having grown up around it, I’ve always felt very isolated and “from another planet” than everyone else, because I could recognize these people (they’re often better than the woman you describe at blending in – particularly the men), and others couldn’t. I felt like the kid in The Emperor’s New Clothes, or Cassandra. You’re not the first person to tell me, “…and then I met one. Whoa.”

    I really like what you say about why it’s not a disability. Of course it is an unfortunate condition. But there is nothing in this society that hinders someone with NPD from functioning very well within it, and reaping the rewards of it. Conversely, there’s plenty in society that makes it unnecessarily difficult for people with autism or MS to function and reap rewards. It should be just the opposite: we need to make it difficult for people with NPD to function in society (that’s the only incentive that could ever get most of them to seek treatment and take it seriously, so this would help them as well as their potential victims), and make it easier for those we currently think of as disabled to contribute to society.

    I’ve been contemplating for a while whether I should write a series about what NPD is, why it’s a gender equality issue, and how to recognize and deal with people who have it. Would that interest you?

  41. Shaun says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I would be interested in that, yes. I don’t think you’ve ever really laid it out–it always seemed really incongruent with the general anti-ableism on this site, which has to do with the way I’ve been conditioned to think about disability (like everyone else). There’s no logical reason why needing a wheelchair to walk makes one disabled, but needing glasses to see is normal–just because something is on the DSM (hello homosexuality) doesn’t mean it’s a disability.

    I agree with you as far as treatment incentives–when I asked the social worker what the treatment for NPD was the short answer was “there is none.”

    As far as blending in I was kind of surprised she took it so personally–I cannot possibly be the first person to call her out on her bullshit–but I noticed she tends to surround herself with people with very low self-esteem or other issues so she can bully or leech off them. If what you’re saying is that she’s a very clumsy narcissist, though, I’d be interested in examining how more skilled or social ones blend into the environment.

  42. says

    Thanks, everyone, for that feedback! I honestly think I have some unique insights into this disorder because I’ve been studying the literature AND studying various NPDs I’ve known for so long, and trying to work out the conflicts between various studies on them, and I believe I have some answers. It may take some time, but I’ll start working on this again immediately.

    Shaun,

    Basically – and I will get into this in the series, possibly in its own post – there are obviously certain tendencies all people with NPD share, but outside that cluster of tendencies, their personalities vary like all personalities vary. They are all very concerned about having high social status, but this plays out in different ways according to other personality traits and their situation. Like people without NPD, they vary in their ability to read people. An NPD with unusually good people-reading skills and high ability to control himself can go very, very far in this world – in fact, the diagnosis was originally conceived as a psych profile on Hitler conducted by the Pentagon a few years before WWII, and I think it fits him perfectly. But most NPDs, like most non-NPDs, aren’t that great at reading people or controlling their impulses, so they will occasionally do things like the woman you describe did – lash out in a way that strikes most observers as way over the top.

    But what’s so warped in this society – and why I blame society for making NPD much of what it is – is that an NPD whining “I’ve been accused of being a hater” is likely to get more sympathy than the rape victim of some other NPD. That’s so backwards.

    At base, NPD is a disorder in which a person becomes so ashamed of himself at such an early age that he – often to please an NPD parent – develops a false self which he honestly believes can do no wrong. But he’s not oblivious to social feedback. If the false self didn’t receive reinforcement from a society that encourages narcissism, I’m not sure the full-blown PD could even develop in individuals. But if it could, I’m sure it would look very different than it does now, and THEN it would be more treatable. I’ll try to develop these thoughts in the article series.

  43. Shaun says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I’ll save some of my more specific questions for whenever you do this series or post, but I think the most critical angle–well, the one I’m most interested in at least, others may feel differently–is how NPD and the other personality disorders interact with society as a whole, especially when contrasted with how a disability functions. I just had the “why NPD is not a disability” conversation with someone today and had trouble explaining this, but even if it interferes with their relationships they’re still able to form and utilize others, possibly because the whole disorder is designed around seeking out attention and social status and then systematically using the abilities they have to achieve this. The rewards a person might get for NPD behavior–specifically how society interacts with this person–are beyond my specific purview as a disability activist. That has more to do with the fucked up nature of society in general, so I think it’s a conversation we could all contribute to and learn from on Hathor.

  44. says

    Shaun,

    Hmm, you’ve got me thinking now. I believe one of the criteria for diagnosing NPD shows a way in which it’s unique among mental health issues, in the context you’re talking about: “Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).” To my knowledge, no other disorder actually includes the belief that you are entitled to high social status. Many of us want it and feel we deserve it, but someone with NPD can’t fathom that s/he should have to achieve high status – and when they don’t have it, they blame others for not giving it to them rather than themselves for not acquiring it, nor society for using the wrong standards in dishing out high status.

    This motivates them to do exactly what society rewards. So NPDs are highly motivated to become politicians, priests, CEOs – the very people who define a society and, over time, decide what behavior it rewards. This vicious cycle perpetuates social stratification, so NPDs are actually part of the reason why “disabled” people are marginalized as they are (and why women are, and PoC, etc.). What’s hard to separate is where typical human xenophobia and NPD leave off, because in a way, NPDs could be described as extreme xenophobes. Anyone who doesn’t reflect them is the enemy, and that thinking could be seen as merely an extension of the human tendency to avoid “others” and prefer people we superficially expect to have something in common with.

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