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Why we love the ones who hurt us

MSNBC News/May 11, 2005
By Clint Van Zandt

In August 1973, a heavily-armed robber by the name of Olafson swaggered into a busy bank in downtown Stockholm, Sweden. Firing shots as he entered, he took three women and a man hostage, strapped dynamite to their bodies, and herded them into a subterranean bank vault where he refused police demands for his surrender and the release of his hostages for the next six days.

After the eventual arrest of the robbers (a friend of the bank robber who was in prison at the time had been brought mid-standoff to the bank at the demand of Olafson) and the rescue of the four victims, the continued friendly and caring attitude on the part of some of the hostages toward their captors was viewed with suspicion. This was especially so when the police considered that the captives were abused, threatened, and had allegedly feared for their lives during the week they had been held against their will. Authorities were even more amazed when they found out that one or more of the female hostages may have had consensual physical intimacy with their captors.

The relationship between the robbers and their former captives thereafter saw former hostage Kristin break off her engagement to another man in order to become engaged to Olafson; while another former hostage started a defense fund to pay for the robbers’ legal defense.

The relationship that develops between hostages and their captors is now known as “the Stockholm Syndrome,” a type of emotional bonding that is in reality a survival strategy for victims of emotional and physical abuse— including not only hostages, but also battered spouses and partners, abused children, and even POWs.

Hostage in abusive relationships

Although not victims of a robbery or hostage situation, 700,000 Americans per year experience non-fatal physical domestic violence. There are about 8 million individuals involved in emotionally and physically abusive relationships at any one time. About 20 percent of all women report having been assaulted by an intimate partner in their lifetime. In same-gender partner violence, over half a million gay men are victims of domestic violence. Ten percent of high school students and 40 percent of college students report being assaulted by a date, and 20 to 25 percent of college women report rape during college. The vast majority of rapes and intimate partner violence, whether the victim is male or female, still go unreported.

The bond that exists between the captor/abuser and his or her victim is strong and can compel the victim to stay with (or otherwise support the actions of the abuser) when the need to run is blatantly obvious to everyone but the victim. The investment that one has made in the relationship directly impacts the ability to recognize the negative or threatening aspects of the association. This also affects the ability to either correct or flee.

People share various intimacies with their significant others (who may also be an abuser). Abusers can threaten to tell other people about the “special” aspects of their relationship, if he or she does not do exactly as the abuser says. Victims may have become financially dependent on the abuser and find themselves unable to pay their own way, or they may believe that they can’t make it in life without the other’s physical and financial support. Many have allowed an abusive relationship to stay hidden from family and friends, and people have stayed in these kinds of relationships so as not to embarrass themselves or their abuser. (One woman whose husband made her “pretend” to beg for physical intimacy with him told me that she’d be too embarrassed for “her husband’s sake” to ever ask for help, even though this aspect of their relationship emotionally devastated her.)

Some abused individuals have had children with their abuser; therefore they keep quiet so as not to “damage” their family reputation or otherwise impact on the “stability” of their family, forgetting that to allowing one’s self to be abused in front of one’s children only paves the way for further victimization. Allowing abuse to go on in a family also sets a negative example that children may follow, perpetuating the abuse from generation to generation.

Why don’t victims just leave?

Abused individuals are questioned by family and friends as to why they take the mistreatment and why they just don’t leave. This is one of the many situations in life where you must have walked a mile in the shoes of another to understand their situation. A long-term relationship is just that for many of us— long-term. We have invested much of ourselves into the relationship and it just isn’t like selling a car that continues to break down. A large part of one’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem is likely to have been invested in the relationship and, like the broken down car, we just want it fixed and running— as we neither want nor can afford a new car or a new relationship.

Hostage negotiators know that they cannot argue or otherwise talk a delusional individual out of their delusion. They will not listen to the negotiator, or they will somehow incorporate the negotiator into their delusion. They can write off the negotiator off as someone who “just doesn’t understand.”

If you are in a long-term abusive relationship, your choice may be to ignore the warnings of others,believing that those opinions could destroy your relationship. The logic goes that the person offering advice simply doesn’t understand your situation and doesn’t know that their well-meaning advice, if taken, could destroy your relationship with your spouse or partner. But the long-term effects of abuse include depression; suicide or attempted suicide; anxiety; guilt; withdrawal from school, work and social settings; feelings of shame; and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (both on the one abused and on any children in the family).

What to do if you’re in an abusive relationship

Understand that an abusive individual will continue to abuse you until you stop him or her from doing so, even if it requires you to emotionally and physically separate yourself from your abuser. But don’t allow your abuser to separate you from your contact with family and friends. They are your support system and you need them to help you maintain a healthy frame of reference concerning your life, your relationship, and the world.

If the victim of the abusive relationship is your child or a friend, you need to remain supportive and not put even more stress, pressure, and guilt on the abused individual. An abuser can change, but he/she must want to change, and the longer he is allowed to abuse, the less likely he is to alter his behavior. If emotional or physical abuse is present in a dating relationship, know that the abuser is a loser; the abuse will become worse as time goes by, so turn on your heels and move quickly away from the influence of this person. Period.

If you, your friend, or your child is involved in a long-term abusive relationship, including a marriage with children, again know that the abuse is not likely to end without outside assistance. The more you pretend it isn’t happening, or the more you accept abusive behavior in your home and within your family, the more will come your way.

I recall a woman who told us that she helped her husband commit a kidnapping and murder because “If he was occupied doing something else, he was too busy to abuse me.”

The abuser may threaten you or even himself (“I’ll kill myself if you leave,” or “I’ll lose my job if you tell”) in an attempt to control you and keep you as his helpless victim. He may abuse and then— even beg— for your forgiveness, only to reoffend in the near future. If the abuse is due to a mental disorder, a personality disorder, or substance abuse, there is no way that it will get any better. It will definitely get worse. Some victims will become so conditioned to their abuser’s actions that they cannot function without the co-dependent relationship with their abuser.

Like cancer, abuse will not heal itself and if left alone, it can destroy your lifestyle and happiness. It may even take your life. Be quick to demand that the abuse ends— and if it doesn’t, know that your decision is either to continue to be emotionally and perhaps physically pounded on, or to seek outside help to save the relationship, and possibly save your very life or that of your children.

Not everyone continues to take this abuse and many have successfully altered the behavior within the relationship— or left the relationship to ultimately survive and thrive. We all need to endure the many challenges and traumas of life in ways that preserve our sense of self worth and self-esteem. We don’t have to be victims and we don’t have to accept abuse at the hands of others, especially a supposed intimate whom we initially trusted and loved and who now hurts us with clock-like regularity. We each have an inner voice that tells us when something is really wrong. In the case of abusive relationships, listen to the voice and then do something about it. Your very life is on the line.

Oh, and by the way. Remember the Stockholm bank robbery where the hostages gave into their captors? In another similar situation, the police sniper had to shoot an armed hostage-taker who was threatening the lives of two female hostages. When shot, the robber fell to the floor, whereupon his two female hostages picked him up off the floor and held him in front of a window so that he could be shot a second time. (No second shot was needed.)

Stay safe!

The Stockholm Syndrome

Signs and symptoms

As an FBI hostage negotiator and behavioral profiler, I taught others that this so-called syndrome or set of symptoms includes certain behaviors that may be exhibited during a significant personal challenge or stressful situation, including:

Positive feelings towards kidnapper/abuser

Victims have positive feelings towards the hostage taker, kidnapper, abuser or controller in his or her life.

Negative towards help

Victims have negative feelings towards the authorities, family members, or friends who try to rescue or otherwise win the victim’s release from their threatening and/or challenging situation. By this, any rescue attempt– be it from a volatile hostage situation or a volatile marriage– could be seen as a threat as it’s likely that the “victim” could be injured (physically or emotionally) during any attempt at “rescue.”

Supporting their reasoning

Victims support the hostage taker’s or the abuser’s behavior and reasoning, including assisting, helping, or refusing to acknowledge the negative impact of the individual’s behavior and actions.

Inability to escape

The victim is unable to behave or assist in a manner to help his/herself escape from a challenging or threatening situation.

Verbal abuse often as damaging as physical

Berating typically used for controlling others

The Journal Gazette/April 14, 2005
By Stefanie Scarlett

We’ve all heard them: the couple who scream obscenities at each other in public, the overzealous parent who berates a child for failing to catch the ball during the big game.

Examples of verbal, or emotional, abuse are everywhere: Just turn on “Jerry Springer” almost any day of the week.

Stephen Jackson of the Indiana Pacers was suspended for a game in February after verbally abusing an official, just the latest athlete to be punished for such an offense.

The Center for Nonviolence in Fort Wayne defines violence as “any words or actions that hurt and control another, cause fear or make someone feel belittled or weak and powerless,” coordinator John Beams says.

It can take the form of blaming, criticizing, humiliating, name-calling, threatening or trivializing someone else as a way to gain control or exert power.

One of the more stunning media examples of verbal abuse came from Jonathan Baker and Victoria Fuller, a married couple who appeared on “The Amazing Race 6” this year and shocked other racers and fans with their ongoing and intense bickering.

In the eyes of many viewers, Baker berated and blamed his wife for every problem they encountered, which left Fuller in tears more than once.

After the race, they were chastised on prime-time television by no less than Dr. Phil. The couple has said “The Amazing Race” didn’t portray their relationship accurately, that things weren’t nearly as bad as they seemed and that they were affected by the stress of competition.

They are still together – and are filming a reality show based on their post-“Race” experiences.

Some might say it’s yet another example of undeserving people being rewarded for their bad behavior.

Of course, many of us will watch.

“In entertainment, the producers are often looking for shock value. There are tremendous amounts of violence and abuse on TV, so people can see the most titillating, shocking things possible & which makes it appear to young people that it’s an OK thing to do,” says Patricia Evans, the author of several books on verbal abuse and runs the Evans Interpersonal Communications Institute in Alamo, Calif.

She didn’t see the Baker-Fuller arguments. But there are plenty of other examples, such as “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell, whom Evans takes to task for his biting criticism and disparaging comments to young wannabe singers.

The problem is the other view, the calm voice of reason to explain that belittling others is wrong, usually isn’t heard in the same context to counteract the effect, she says.

That absence is notable in many TV programs and video games, both of which “have had a horrendous effect on our collective inability to learn the hard task of living in a civilized world,” Beams agrees.

It’s especially troubling, he says, because both forms of media are greedily consumed by children and teens, often without their parents present to discuss what they’re seeing.

But media do not necessarily create a new generation of potential abusers; some might argue what we see is just a reflection of what’s going on in the culture anyway.

So how did we get this way?

Part of it might be due to cultural socialization, Beams says.

“Aggression and control are still very much a part of male identity today & the traditional female socialization tends to still value being more nurturing and more yielding.”

So when the two meet up in romantic relationships, there can be communication problems.

“The same words, spoken by a man or a woman, can have a different impact,” he says.

In many cases, verbal abuse is something that both partners engage in.

In some cases, it leads to physical abuse.

Although anyone can be an abuser, statistics show the majority of them are male, although male victims likely are underreported.

In situations of verbal abuse, the abusers focus on their intent, and not the effect, of their actions, Beams says.

They might explain their behavior by saying, ” “I was just trying to express myself; I was just blowing off steam; I was trying to motivate people; or I was raised in a family where people talked that way all the time,’ ” he says. “If you focus on intent, you’d think there never was abuse.”

Evans agrees, saying that abusers will often accuse their victims of starting arguments or being too sensitive, when they really are just trying to defend themselves.

“Verbal abuse is like brainwashing – it makes the target or victim confused, feeling crazy and struggling to remain herself, while her awareness is constantly assaulted,” she says.

Most cases stem either from habit, or “tit-for-tat escalation” where one person is determined to get payback and it keeps going, Beams says.

“For some people, there’s sort of a gain to be had from baiting somebody else & all the better if they can get that person to try to respond to them, argue with them. There are some really angry people in this world,” says Jeannie DiClementi, assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Verbal abuse is a learned behavior; some people aren’t even aware that what they’re doing is hurtful to others, she says.

“Sometimes people resort to swearing and name-calling because they lack the communication skills to express themselves properly. But it’s not a form of communication … calling somebody a ‘bitch’ gives you no information whatsoever,” DiClementi says. “It’s not something to be taken lightly.”

Long-term cases of verbal abuse are damaging to both children and adults.

“Abusing loved ones does not teach anybody a lesson, at least not a good lesson,” Beams says.

“It damages self-esteem, self-image. People begin to internalize it; they feel powerless, they feel helpless. If you hear it enough, you begin to believe it,” DiClementi says.

Experts advise that if you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, you should seek help.

Beams and DiClementi suggest the following:

“Examine your own behavior. Pay attention to how people react to you, in good times and bad. Are they hurt or afraid or angry because of something you said, or how you said it?

“Fight the need to always be right, or always win the argument.

“Set limits to name-calling, criticizing and blaming, especially in front of your children.

“Don’t repeat the same arguments over and over.

“Learn better communication skills through counseling or group therapy.

“And perhaps most importantly, if you’re feeling emotional, think before you speak.

Brainwashing agitates victims into submission

Palm Beach Post/March 14, 2003
By Michael Browning

Was Elizabeth Smart — the Utah teenager snatched from her bedroom last June, then remarkably rescued Wednesday — brainwashed into staying with her captors?

Her father, Ed Smart, said Thursday he knows “that she’s been through brainwashing,” though he has not asked his daughter for details about her nine-month ordeal.

The American view of mind control is more sensational than clinical. The public tends to remember how attorney F. Lee Bailey defended heiress Patty Hearst in the 1970s, claiming she was brainwashed into joining her kidnappers in their crime spree.

But where, exactly, did he get the idea?

“Brainwashing” is one of the few Chinese phrases to have made its way directly into English in translation, thanks to the Korean War. Chinese Taoist temples often displayed the two characters “Xi Xin,” pronounced “shee shin,” meaning “Wash Heart.” It was an adjuration to all those entering to purge their hearts of base thoughts [i.e. Chinese Thought Reform] and desires, and rise to a higher spiritual plane.

The Chinese communists adopted this phrase during political “struggle sessions,” in which an erring comrade would be urged by the group to straighten out, fly right, get back in tune with the common goal. The very word for “comrade” in Chinese is tongzhi, meaning “share goal.”

Only one slight change was made: Instead of washing the heart, one was urged to wash the brain, “Xi Nao,” purify one’s thoughts.

During the Korean War, captured American soldiers were subjected to prolonged interrogations and harangues by their captors, who often worked in relays and used the “good-cop, bad-cop” approach, alternating a brutal interrogator with a gentle one.

It was all part of “Xi Nao,” washing the brain. The Chinese and Koreans were making valiant attempts to convert the captives to the communist way of thought.

Soldiers sometimes caved in, sometimes did not. For some reason, sociologists later noted, the Turks proved the toughest to persuade, while Americans were a mixed lot. Some were converted, some actually defected and at least one was living in China as late as the 1980s.

British journalist Edward Hunter translated the term brainwashing in his 1953 book, Brain-Washing in Red China, which described communist techniques for controlling the minds of nonbelievers.

The word gained wide currency, given a powerful assist by the 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate, which revolved around the plot device of brainwashing. In the film, with the flip of a queen of diamonds card, a pre-programmed and seemingly normal person could be turned into an assassin. The device was revived in a later film, Telefon, starring Charles Bronson.

In 1968, when Michigan Gov. George Romney claimed that the Johnson administration had “brainwashed” him about Vietnam, Sen. Eugene McCarthy quipped that, in Romney’s case, “a light rinse would have done.” Romney, who was creating excitement in the Republican presidential nomination contest, quickly faded, clearing the way for Richard Nixon.

But it was the 1970s kidnapping of Hearst, 19-year-old heiress to the publishing fortune, that brought brainwashing into the courtroom. Hearst was held in a closet and tortured for several months by the Symbionese Liberation Army, which she then joined and aided in several armed robberies — changing her name to Tania.

Her attorney, Bailey, said she had been brainwashed. The defense didn’t succeed. Hearst was sentenced to seven years in prison.

The brainwashing defense has recently been tried again to explain the behavior of men arrested for their association with terrorists and terrorism. A friend of John “American Tailbone” Walker’s told People magazine that Al-Qaeda had brainwashed Walker. Slate magazine reported that Abd-Samad Moussaoui, the brother of Zacarias “20th Hijacker” Moussaoui, believes that, in Britain, his brother “became prey to an extremist brainwashing cult.”

The real soldiers who survived the Korean War and returned to the United States carried with them the stigma and guilt of having been captured and having survived the war and their interrogations. “Survivor’s guilt” is a common trait among prisoners of war.

So brainwashing became a pejorative, and the phrase “you’ve been brainwashed,” a term of reproach, as if the prisoner had become addlebrained, or a simpleton, during his captivity.

Sometimes the brainwashing sessions backfired ludicrously. There is the story of one British soldier who, during an interrogation session, was asked how much land his family owned.

The Englishman replied that he had only a window box in a flat back in London where he grew geraniums.

The translator didn’t understand what a window box was and asked the dimensions of the plot of ground. When the soldier showed him, with his hands, the interrogator brightened immediately.

“Ah, then you should be on our side! Obviously you are a small land owner and have been exploited terribly!” he said.

“Get Anyone to Do Anything and Never Feel Powerless Again”

Psychological secrets to predict, control and influence every situation Chapter 9, Pages 42-43/May 2000

By David J. Lieberman, Ph. D.

From the bedroom to the boardroom learn how to see clearly and easily evaluate information without being swayed by those with selfish interests and unkind intentions. The manipulator’s bag of tricks is stocked with seven deadly tactics that can leave you jumping through hoops. The good news is that by knowing what they are, you can watch out for them, and…never be manipulated again.

These powerful manipulators are: guilt, intimidation, appeal to ego, fear, curiosity, our desire to be liked, and love. Anyone who uses any of these tactics is attempting to move you from logic to emotion-to a playing field that’s not so level. She or he knows that she or he can’t win on the facts so they will try to manipulate your emotions with any one or a combination of the tactics below.

  • Our Desire to be Liked: “I thought you were a real player. And so did everyone else Come on, nobody likes it when a person backs out…this can be your chance to prove what you’re made of.
  • Fear: “You know, you might [not get “it” if you go take a pee/act un-coach able] just lose the whole thing. I sure hope you know what you’re doing. I’m telling you that you won’t get a better deal anywhere else. This is your last shot at making things work out. Why do you want to risk losing out on being happy?
  • Intimidation: “What’s the matter can’t you make a decision? Don’t you have enough confidence in yourself to do this?
  • Guilt: “How can you even say that? I’m hurt that you wouldn’t trust me. I just don’t know who you are anymore.”
  • Appeal to Ego: “I can see that you’re a smart person. I wouldn’t try to put anything past you. How could I? You’d be on me in a second.”
  • Curiosity: “Look, you only live once. Try it? You can always go back to how things were. It might be fun, exciting-a real adventure. “You never know unless you try and you regret never seeing what happens.”
  • Love:“If you loved me you wouldn’t question me. Of course I have only your best interests at heart. I wouldn’t lie to you. You know that deep down inside, don’t you? We can have a wonderful relationship if you’d only let yourself go and experience the wonders that the future will deliver to us.”

Strategy Review:

Look and listen objectively–not only to the words but also to the message.The abusive maneuvers interfere with your ability to digest facts. When these emotions creep into your thinking, temporarily suspend your feelings and look at the messenger as well as the message. If you hear anything that sounds like these manipulators, stop and reevaluate the situation. Don’t ever act quickly and emotionally. Wait and objectively gather the facts so you don’t become a hand puppet.

Dealing With Manipulative People

An Excerpt from the book: In Sheep’s Clothing
By George K. Simon

sheepsclothing

Two Basic Types of Aggression

There are two basic types of aggression: overt-aggression and covert-aggression. When you’re determined to have something and you’re open, direct and obvious in your manner of fighting, your behavior is best labeled overtly aggressive. When you’re out to “win,” dominate or control, but are subtle, underhanded or deceptive enough to hide your true intentions, your behavior is most appropriately labeled covertly aggressive. Now, avoiding any overt display of aggression while simultaneously intimidating others into giving you what you want is a powerfully manipulative maneuver. That’s why covert-aggression is most often the vehicle for interpersonal manipulation.

Acts of Covert-Aggression vs. Covert-Aggressive Personalities

Most of us have engaged in some sort of covertly aggressive behavior from time to time. Periodically trying to manipulate a person or a situation doesn’t make someone a covert-aggressive personality. Personality can be defined by the way a person habitually perceives, relates to and interacts with others and the world at large.

The tactics of deceit, manipulation and control are a steady diet for covert-aggressive personality. It’s the way they prefer to deal with others and to get the things they want in life.

The Process of Victimization

For a long time, I wondered why manipulation victims have a hard time seeing what really goes on in manipulative interactions. At first, I was tempted to fault them. But I’ve learned that they get hoodwinked for some very good reasons:

  • All of us have weaknesses and insecurities that a clever manipulator might exploit. Sometimes, we’re aware of these weaknesses and how someone might use them to take advantage of us. For example, I hear parents say things like: “Yeah, I know I have a big guilt button.” – But at the time their manipulative child is busily pushing that button, they can easily forget what’s really going on. Besides, sometimes we’re unaware of our biggest vulnerabilities. Manipulators often know us better than we know ourselves. They know what buttons to push, when and how hard. Our lack of self-knowledge sets us up to be exploited.
  • A manipulator’s aggression is not obvious. Our gut may tell us that they’re fighting for something, struggling to overcome us, gain power, or have their way, and we find ourselves unconsciously on the defensive. But because we can’t point to clear, objective evidence they’re aggressing against us, we can’t readily validate our feelings.
  • The tactics manipulators use can make it seem like they’re hurting, caring, defending, …, almost anything but fighting. These tactics are hard to recognize as merely clever ploys. They always make just enough sense to make a person doubt their gut hunch that they’re being taken advantage of or abused. Besides, the tactics not only make it hard for you to consciously and objectively tell that a manipulator is fighting, but they also simultaneously keep you or consciously on the defensive. These features make them highly effective psychological weapons to which anyone can be vulnerable. It’s hard to think clearly when someone has you emotionally on the run.
  • What our gut tells us a manipulator is like, challenges everything we’ve been taught to believe about human nature. We’ve been inundated with a psychology that has us seeing everybody, at least to some degree, as afraid, insecure or “hung-up.” So, while our gut tells us we’re dealing with a ruthless conniver, our head tells us they must be really frightened or wounded “underneath.” What’s more, most of us generally hate to think of ourselves as callous and insensitive people. We hesitate to make harsh or seemingly negative judgments about others. We want to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they don’t really harbor the malevolent intentions we suspect. We’re more apt to doubt and blame ourselves for daring to believe what our gut tells us about our manipulator’s character.

Recognizing Aggressive Agendas

Accepting how fundamental it is for people to fight for the things they want and becoming more aware of the subtle, underhanded ways people can and do fight in their daily endeavors and relationships can be very consciousness expanding. Learning to recognize an aggressive move when somebody makes one and learning how to handle oneself in any of life’s many battles, has turned out to be the most empowering experience for the manipulation victims with whom I’ve worked. It’s how they eventually freed themselves from their manipulator’s dominance and control and gained a much needed boost to their own sense of self esteem. Recognizing the inherent aggression in manipulative behavior and becoming more aware of the slick, surreptitious ways that manipulative people prefer to aggress against us is extremely important. Not recognizing and accurately labeling their subtly aggressive moves causes most people to misinterpret the behavior of manipulators and, therefore, fail to respond to them in an appropriate fashion. Recognizing when and how manipulators are fighting with covertly aggressive tactics is essential.

Defense Mechanisms and Offensive Tactics

Almost everyone is familiar with the term defense mechanism. Defense mechanisms are the “automatic” (i.e. unconscious) mental behaviors all of us employ to protect or defend ourselves from the “threat” of some emotional pain. More specifically, ego defense mechanisms are mental behaviors we use to “defend” our self-images from “invitations” to feel ashamed or guilty about something. There are many different kinds of ego defenses and the more traditional (psychodynamic) theories of personality have always tended to distinguish the various personality types, at least in part, by the types of ego defenses they prefer to use. One of the problems with psychodynamic approaches to understanding human behavior is that they tend to depict people as most always afraid of something and defending or protecting themselves in some way; even when they’re in the act of aggressing. Covert-aggressive personalities (indeed all aggressive personalities) use a variety of mental behaviors and interpersonal maneuvers to help ensure they get what they want. Some of these behaviors have been traditionally thought of as defense mechanisms.

While, from a certain perspective we might say someone engaging in these behaviors is defending their ego from any sense of shame or guilt, it’s important to realize that at the time the aggressor is exhibiting these behaviors, he is not primarily defending (i.e. attempting to prevent some internally painful event from occurring), but rather fighting to maintain position, gain power and to remove any obstacles (both internal and external) in the way of getting what he wants. Seeing the aggressor as on the defensive in any sense is a set-up for victimization. Recognizing that they’re primarily on the offensive, mentally prepares a person for the decisive action they need to take in order to avoid being run over. Therefore, I think it’s best to conceptualize many of the mental behaviors (no matter how “automatic” or “unconscious” they may appear) we often think of as defense mechanisms, as offensive power tactics, because aggressive personalities employ them primarily to manipulate, control and achieve dominance over others. Rather than trying to prevent something emotionally painful or dreadful from happening, anyone using these tactics is primarily trying to ensure that something they want to happen does indeed happen. Using the vignettes presented in the previous chapters for illustration, let’s take a look at the principal tactics covert-aggressive personalities use to ensure they get their way and maintain a position of power over their victims:

Denial – This is when the aggressor refuses to admit that they’ve done something harmful or hurtful when they clearly have. It’s a way they lie (to themselves as well as to others) about their aggressive intentions. This “Who… Me?” tactic is a way of “playing innocent,” and invites the victim to feel unjustified in confronting the aggressor about the inappropriateness of a behavior. It’s also the way the aggressor gives him/herself permission to keep right on doing what they want to do. This denial is not the same kind of denial that a person who has just lost a loved one and can’t quite bear to accept the pain and reality of the loss engages in. That type of denial really is mostly a “defense” against unbearable hurt and anxiety. Rather, this type of denial is not primarily a “defense” but a maneuver the aggressor uses to get others to back off, back down or maybe even feel guilty themselves for insinuating he’s doing something wrong.

In the story of James the minister, James’ denial of his ruthless ambition is massive. He denied he was hurting and neglecting his family. He especially denied he was aggressively pursuing any personal agenda. On the contrary, he cast himself as the humble servant to a honorable cause. He managed to convince several people (and maybe even himself) of the nobility and purity of his intentions. But underneath it all, James knew he was being dishonest: This fact is borne out in his reaction to the threat of not getting a seat on the Elders’ Council if his marital problems worsened. When James learned he might not get what he was so aggressively pursuing after all, he had an interesting “conversion” experience. All of a sudden, he decided he could put aside the Lord’s bidding for a weekend and he might really need to devote more time to his marriage and family. James’ eyes weren’t opened by the pastor’s words. He always kept his awareness high about what might hinder or advance his cause. He knew if he didn’t tend to his marriage he might lose what he really wanted. So, he chose (at least temporarily) to alter course.

In the story of Joe and Mary, Mary confronted Joe several times about what she felt was insensitivity and ruthlessness on his part in his treatment of Lisa. Joe denied his aggressiveness. He also successfully convinced Mary that what she felt in her gut was his aggressiveness was really conscientiousness, loyalty, and passionate fatherly concern. Joe wanted a daughter who got all A’s. Mary stood in the way. Joe’s denial was the tactic he used to remove Mary as an obstacle to what he wanted.

Selective Inattention – This tactic is similar to and sometimes mistaken for denial It’s when the aggressor “plays dumb,” or acts oblivious. When engaging in this tactic, the aggressor actively ignores the warnings, pleas or wishes of others, and in general, refuses to pay attention to everything and anything that might distract them from pursuing their own agenda. Often, the aggressor knows full well what you want from him when he starts to exhibit this “I don’t want to hear it!” behavior. By using this tactic, the aggressor actively resists submitting himself to the tasks of paying attention to or refraining from the behavior you want him to change. In the story of Jenny and Amanda, Jenny tried to tell Amanda she was losing privileges because she was behaving irresponsibly. But Amanda wouldn’t listen. Her teachers tried to tell her what she needed to do to improve her grade: but she didn’t listen to them either. Actively listening to and heeding the suggestions of someone else are, among other things, acts of submission. And, as you may remember from the story, Amanda is not a girl who submits easily. Determined to let nothing stand in her way and convinced she could eventually “win” most of her power struggles with authority figures through manipulation, Amanda closed her ears. She didn’t see any need to listen. From her point of view, she would only have lost some power and control if she submitted herself to the guidance and direction offered by those whom she views as less powerful, clever and capable as herself.

Rationalization – A rationalization is the excuse an aggressor tries to offer for engaging in an inappropriate or harmful behavior. It can be an effective tactic, especially when the explanation or justification the aggressor offers makes just enough sense that any reasonably conscientious person is likely to fall for it. It’s a powerful tactic because it not only serves to remove any internal resistance the aggressor might have about doing what he wants to do (quieting any qualms of conscience he might have) but also to keep others off his back. If the aggressor can convince you he’s justified in whatever he’s doing, then he’s freer to pursue his goals without interference.

In the story of little Lisa, Mary felt uneasy about the relentlessness with which Joe pursued his quest to make his daughter an obedient, all-A student once again. And, she was aware of Lisa’s expressed desire to pursue counseling as a means of addressing and perhaps solving some of her problems. Although Mary felt uneasy about Joe’s forcefulness and sensed the impact on her daughter, she allowed herself to become persuaded by his rationalizations that any concerned parent ought to know his daughter better than some relatively dispassionate outsider and that he was only doing his duty by doing as much as he possibly could to “help” his “little girl.” When a manipulator really wants to make headway with their rationalizations they’ll be sure their excuses are combined with other effective tactics. For example, when Joe was “selling” Mary on the justification for shoving his agenda down everyone’s throat he was also sending out subtle invitations for her to feel ashamed (shaming her for not being as “concerned” a parent as he was) as well as making her feel guilty (guilt-tripping her) for not being as conscientious as he was pretending to be.

Diversion – A moving target is hard to hit. When we try to pin a manipulator down or try to keep a discussion focused on a single issue or behavior we don’t like, he’s expert at knowing how to change the subject, dodge the issue or in some way throw us a curve. Manipulators use distraction and diversion techniques to keep the focus off their behavior, move us off-track, and keep themselves free to promote their self-serving hidden agendas.

Rather than respond directly to the issue being addressed, Amanda diverted attention to her teacher’s and classmates’ treatment of her. Jenny allowed Amanda to steer her off track. She never got a straight answer to the question.

Another example of a diversion tactic can be found in the story of Don and Al. Al changed the subject when Don asked him if he had any plans to replace him. He focused on whether he was unhappy or not with Don’s sales performance – as if that’s what Don had asked him about in the first place. He never gave Don a straight answer to a straight question (manipulators are notorious for this). He told him what he thought would make Don feel less anxious and would steer him away from pursuing the matter any further. Al left feeling like he’d gotten an answer but all he really got was the “runaround.”

Early in the current school year, I found it necessary to address my son’s irresponsibility about doing his homework by making a rule that he bring his books home every night. One time I asked: “Did you bring your books home today?” His response was: “Guess what, Dad. Instead of tomorrow, we’re not going to have our test – until Friday.” My question was simple and direct. His answer was deliberately evasive and diversionary. He knew that if he answered the question directly and honestly, he would have received a consequence for failing to bring his books home. By using diversion (and also offering a rationalization) he was already fighting with me to avoid that consequence. Whenever someone is not responding directly to an issue, you can safely assume that for some reason, they’re trying to give you the slip.

Lying – It’s often hard to tell when a person is lying at the time he’s doing it. Fortunately, there are times when the truth will out because circumstances don’t bear out somebody’s story. But there are also times when you don’t know you’ve been deceived until it’s too late. One way to minimize the chances that someone will put one over on you is to remember that because aggressive personalities of all types will generally stop at nothing to get what they want, you can expect them to lie and cheat. Another thing to remember is that manipulators – covert-aggressive personalities that they are – are prone to lie in subtle, covert ways. Courts are well aware of the many ways that people lie, as they require that court oaths charge that testifiers tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Manipulators often lie by withholding a significant amount of the truth from you or by distorting the truth. They are adept at being vague when you ask them direct questions. This is an especially slick way of lying’ omission. Keep this in mind when dealing with a suspected wolf in sheep’s clothing. Always seek and obtain specific, confirmable information.

Covert Intimidation – Aggressors frequently threaten their victims to keep them anxious, apprehensive and in a one-down position. Covert-aggressives intimidate their victims by making veiled (subtle, indirect or implied) threats. Guilt-tripping and shaming are two of the covert-aggressive’s favourite weapons. Both are special intimidation tactics.

Guilt-tripping – One thing that aggressive personalities know well is that other types of persons have very different consciences than they do. Manipulators are often skilled at using what they know to be the greater conscientiousness of their victims as a means of keeping them in a self-doubting, anxious, and submissive position. The more conscientious the potential victim, the more effective guilt is as a weapon. Aggressive personalities of all types use guilt-tripping so frequently and effectively as a manipulative tactic, that I believe it illustrates how fundamentally different in character they are compared to other (especially neurotic) personalities. All a manipulator has to do is suggest to the conscientious person that they don’t care enough, are too selfish, etc., and that person immediately starts to feel bad. On the contrary, a conscientious person might try until they’re blue in the face to get a manipulator (or any other aggressive personality) to feel badly about a hurtful behavior, acknowledge responsibility, or admit wrongdoing, to absolutely no avail.

Shaming – This is the technique of using subtle sarcasm and put-downs as a means of increasing fear and self-doubt in others. Covert-aggressives use this tactic to make others feel inadequate or unworthy, and therefore, defer to them. It’s an effective way to foster a continued sense of personal inadequacy in the weaker party, thereby allowing an aggressor to maintain a position of dominance.

When Joe loudly proclaimed any “good” parent would do just as he was doing to help Lisa, he subtly implied Mary would be a “bad” parent if she didn’t attempt to do the same. He “invited” her to feel ashamed of herself. The tactic was effective. Mary eventually felt ashamed for taking a position that made it appear she didn’t care enough about her own daughter. Even more doubtful of her worth as a person and a parent, Mary deferred to Joe, thus enabling him to rein a position of dominance over her. Covert-aggressives are expert at using shaming tactics in the most subtle ways. Sometimes it can just be in the glances they give or the tone of voice they use. Using rhetorical comments, subtle sarcasm and other techniques, they can invite you to feel ashamed of yourself for even daring to challenge them. Joe tried to shame Mary when I considered accepting the educational assessment performed by Lisa’s school. He said something like: “I’m not sure what kind of doctor you are or just what kind of credentials you have, but I’m sure you’d agree that a youngster’s grades wouldn’t slip as much as Lisa’s for no reason. You couldn’t be entirely certain she didn’t have a learning disability unless you did some testing, could you?’ With those words, he “invited” Mary to feel ashamed of herself for not at least considering doing just as he asked. If Mary didn’t have a suspicion about what he was up to, she might have accepted this invitation without a second thought.

Playing the Victim Role – This tactic involves portraying oneself as an innocent victim of circumstances or someone else’s behavior in order to gain sympathy, evoke compassion and thereby get something from another. One thing that covert-aggressive personalities count on is the fact that less calloused and less hostile personalities usually can’t stand to see anyone suffering. Therefore, the tactic is simple. Convince your victim you’re suffering in some way, and they’ll try to relieve your distress.

In the story of Amanda and Jenny, Amanda was good at playing the victim role too. She had her mother believing that she (Amanda) was the victim of extremely unfair treatment and the target of unwarranted hostility. I remember Jenny telling me: “Sometimes I think Amanda’s wrong when she says her teacher hates her and I hate her. But what if that’s what she really believes? Can I afford to be so firm with her if she believes in her heart that I hate her?” I remember telling Jenny: “Whether Amanda has come to believe her own distortions is almost irrelevant. She manipulates you because you believe that she believes it and allow that supposed belief to serve as an excuse for her undisciplined aggression.”

Vilifying the Victim – This tactic is frequently used in conjunction with the tactic of playing the victim role. The aggressor uses this tactic to make it appear he is only responding (i.e. defending himself against) aggression on the part of the victim. It enables the aggressor to better put the victim on the defensive.

Returning again to the story of Jenny and Amanda, when Amanda accuses her mother of “hating” her and “always saying mean things” to her, she not only invites Jenny to feel the “bully,” but simultaneously succeeds in “bullying” Jenny into backing off. More than any other, the tactic of vilifying the victim is a powerful means of putting someone unconsciously on the defensive while simultaneously masking the aggressive intent and behavior of the person using the tactic.

Playing the Servant Role – Covert-aggressives use this tactic to cloak their self-serving agendas in the guise of service to a more noble cause. It’s a common tactic but difficult to recognize. By pretending to be working hard on someone else’s behalf, covert-aggressives conceal their own ambition, desire for power, and quest for a position of dominance over others. In the story of James (the minister) and Sean, James appeared to many to be the tireless servant. He attended more activities than he needed to attend and did so eagerly. But if devoted service to those who needed him was his aim, how does one explain the degree to which James habitually neglected his family? As an aggressive personality, James submits himself to no one. The only master he serves is his own ambition. Not only was playing the servant role an effective tactic for James, but also it’s the cornerstone upon which corrupt ministerial empires of all types are built. A good example comes to mind in the recent true story of a well-known tele-evangelist who locked himself up in a room in a purported display of “obedience” and “service” to God. He even portrayed himself’ a willing sacrificial lamb who was prepared to be “taken by God” if he didn’t do the Almighty’s bidding and raise eight million dollars. He claimed he was a humble servant, merely heeding the Lord’s will. He was really fighting to save his substantial material empire.

Another recent scandal involving a tele-evangelist resulted in his church’s governance body censuring him for one year. But he told his congregation he couldn’t stop his ministry because he had to be faithful to the Lord’s will (God supposedly talked to him and told him not to quit). This minister was clearly being defiant of his church’s established authority. Yet, he presented himself as a person being humbly submissive to the “highest” authority. One hallmark characteristic of covert-aggressive personalities is loudly professing subservience while fighting for dominance.

Seduction – Covert-aggressive personalities are adept at charming, praising, flattering or overtly supporting others in order to get them to lower their defenses and surrender their trust and loyalty. Covert-aggressives are also particularly aware that people who are to some extent emotionally needy and dependent (and that includes most people who aren’t character-disordered) want approval, reassurance, and a sense of being valued and needed more than anything. Appearing to be attentive to these needs can be a manipulator’s ticket to incredible power over others. Shady “gurus” like Jim Jones and David Koresh seemed to have refined this tactic to an art. In the story of Al and Don, Al is the consummate seducer. He melts any resistance you might have to giving him your loyalty and confidence. He does this by giving you what he knows you need most. He knows you want to feel valued and important. So, he often tells you that you are. You don’t find out how unimportant you really are to him until you turn out to be in his way.

Projecting the blame (blaming others) – Aggressive personalities are always looking for a way to shift the blame for their aggressive behavior. Covert-aggressives are not only skilled at finding scapegoats, they’re expert at doing so in subtle, hard to detect ways.

Minimization – This tactic is a unique kind of denial coupled with rationalization. When using this maneuver, the aggressor is attempting to assert that his abusive behavior isn’t really as harmful or irresponsible as someone else may be claiming. It’s the aggressor’s attempt to make a molehill out of a mountain.

I’ve presented the principal tactics that covert-aggressives use to manipulate and control others. They are not always easy to recognize. Although all aggressive personalities tend to use these tactics, covert-aggressives generally use them slickly, subtly and adeptly. Anyone dealing with a covertly aggressive person will need to heighten gut-level sensitivity to the use of these tactics if they’re to avoid being taken in by them.

 

Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change

Encyclopedia of Sociology Volume 1, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York

By Richard J. Ofshe, Ph.D.

Coercive persuasion and thought reform are alternate names for programs of social influence capable of producing substantial behavior and attitude change through the use of coercive tactics, persuasion, and/or interpersonal and group-based influence manipulations (Schein 1961; Lifton 1961). Such programs have also been labeled “brainwashing” (Hunter 1951), a term more often used in the media than in scientific literature. However identified, these programs are distinguishable from other elaborate attempts to influence behavior and attitudes, to socialize, and to accomplish social control. Their distinguishing features are their totalistic qualities (Lifton 1961), the types of influence procedures they employ, and the organization of these procedures into three distinctive subphases of the overall process (Schein 1961; Ofshe and Singer 1986). The key factors that distinguish coercive persuasion from other training and socialization schemes are:

  1. The reliance on intense interpersonal and psychological attack to destabilize an individual’s sense of self to promote compliance
  2. The use of an organized peer group
  3. Applying interpersonal pressure to promote conformity
  4. The manipulation of the totality of the person’s social environment to stabilize behavior once modified

Thought-reform programs have been employed in attempts to control and indoctrinate individuals, societal groups (e.g., intellectuals), and even entire populations. Systems intended to accomplish these goals can vary considerably in their construction. Even the first systems studied under the label “thought reform” ranged from those in which confinement and physical assault were employed (Schein 1956; Lifton 1954; Lifton 1961 pp. 19-85) to applications that were carried out under nonconfined conditions, in which nonphysical coercion substituted for assault (Lifton 1961, pp. 242-273; Schein 1961, pp. 290-298). The individuals to whom these influence programs were applied were in some cases unwilling subjects (prisoner populations) and in other cases volunteers who sought to participate in what they believed might be a career-beneficial, educational experience (Lifton 1981, p. 248).

Significant differences existed between the social environments and the control mechanisms employed in the two types of programs initially studied. Their similarities, however, are of more importance in understanding their ability to influence behavior and beliefs than are their differences. They shared the utilization of coercive persuasion’s key effective-influence mechanisms: a focused attack on the stability of a person’s sense of self; reliance on peer group interaction; the development of interpersonal bonds between targets and their controllers and peers; and an ability to control communication among participants. Edgar Schein captured the essential similarity between the types of programs in his definition of the coercive-persuasion phenomenon. Schein noted that even for prisoners, what happened was a subjection to “unusually intense and prolonged persuasion” that they could not avoid; thus, “they were coerced into allowing themselves to be persuaded” (Schein 1961, p. 18).

Programs of both types (confined/assaultive and nonconfined/nonassaultive) cause a range of cognitive and behavioral responses. The reported cognitive responses vary from apparently rare instances, classifiable as internalized belief change (enduring change), to a frequently observed transient alteration in beliefs that appears to be situationally adaptive and, finally, to reactions of nothing less than firm intellectual resistance and hostility (Lifton 1961, pp. 117-151, 399-415; Schein 1961, pp. 157-166).

The phrase situationally adaptive belief change refers to attitude change that is not stable and is environment dependent. This type of response to the influence pressures of coercive-persuasion programs is perhaps the most surprising of the responses that have been observed. The combination of psychological assault on the self, interpersonal pressure, and the social organization of the environment creates a situation that can only be coped with by adapting and acting so as to present oneself to others in terms of the ideology supported in the environment (see below for discussion). Eliciting the desired verbal and interactive behavior sets up conditions likely to stimulate the development of attitudes consistent with and that function to rationalize new behavior in which the individual is engaging. Models of attitude change, such as the theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Festinger 1957) or Self-Perception Theory (Bern 1972), explain the tendency for consistent attitudes to develop as a consequence of behavior.

The surprising aspect of the situationally adaptive response is that the attitudes that develop are unstable. They tend to change dramatically once the person is removed from an environment that has totalistic properties and is organized to support the adaptive attitudes. Once removed from such an environment, the person is able to interact with others who permit and encourage the expression of criticisms and doubts, which were previously stifled because of the normative rules of the reform environment (Schein 1961, p. 163; Lifton 1961, pp. 87-116, 399-415; Ofshe and Singer 1986). This pattern of change, first in one direction and then the other, dramatically highlights the profound importance of social support in the explanation of attitude change and stability. This relationship has for decades been one of the principal interests in the field of social psychology.

Statements supportive of the proffered ideology that indicate adaptive attitude change during the period of the target’s involvement in the reform environment and immediately following separation should not be taken as mere playacting in reaction to necessity. Targets tend to become genuinely involved in the interaction. The reform experience focuses on genuine vulnerabilities as the method for undermining self-concept: manipulating genuine feelings of guilt about past conduct; inducing the target to make public denunciations of his or her prior life as being unworthy; and carrying this forward through interaction with peers for whom the target develops strong bonds. Involvement developed in these ways prevents the target from maintaining both psychological distance or emotional independence from the experience.

The reaction pattern of persons who display adaptive attitude-change responses is not one of an immediate and easy rejection of the proffered ideology. This response would be expected if they had been faking their reactions as a conscious strategy to defend against the pressures to which they were exposed. Rather, they appear to be conflicted about the sentiments they developed and their reevaluation of these sentiments. This response has been observed in persons reformed under both confined/assaultive and nonconfined/ nonassaultive reform conditions (Schein 1962, pp. 163- 165; Lifton 1961, pp. 86-116, 400- 401).

Self-concept and belief-related attitude change in response to closely controlled social environments have been observed in other organizational settings that, like reform programs, can be classified as total institutions (Goffman 1957). Thought-reform reactions also appear to be related to, but are far more extreme than, responses to the typically less-identity-assaultive and less- totalistic socialization programs carried out by organizations with central commitments to specifiable ideologies, and which undertake the training of social roles (e.g., in military academies and religious-indoctrination settings (Donbush 1955; Hulme 1956).

The relatively rare instances in which belief changes are internalized and endure have been analyzed as attributable to the degree to which the acquired belief system and imposed peer relations function fully to resolve the identity crisis that is routinely precipitated during the first phase of the reform process (Schein 1961, p. 164; Lifton 1961, pp. 131-132, 400). Whatever the explanation for why some persons internalize the proffered ideology in response to the reform procedures, this extreme reaction should be recognized as both atypical and probably attributable to an interaction between long-standing personality traits and the mechanisms of influence utilized during the reform process.

Much of the attention to reform programs was stimulated because it was suspected that a predictable and highly effective method for profoundly changing beliefs had been designed, implemented, and was in operation. These suspicions are not supported by fact. Programs identified as thought reforming are not very effective at actually changing people’s beliefs in any fashion that endures apart from an elaborate supporting social context. Evaluated only on the criterion of their ability genuinely to change beliefs, the programs have to be judged abject failures and massive wastes of effort.

The programs are, however, impressive in their ability to prepare targets for integration into and long-term participation in the organizations that operate them. Rather than assuming that individual belief change is the major goal of these programs, it is perhaps more productive to view the programs as elaborate role-training regimes. That is, as resocialization programs in which targets are being prepared to conduct themselves in a fashion appropriate for the social roles they are expected to occupy following conclusion of the training process.

If identified as training programs, it is clear that the goals of such programs are to reshape behavior and that they are organized around issues of social control important to the organizations that operate the programs. Their objectives then appear to be behavioral training of the target, which result in an ability to present self, values, aspirations, and past history in a style appropriate to the ideology of the controlling organization; to train an ability to reason in terms of the ideology; and to train a willingness to accept direction from those in authority with minimum apparent resistance. Belief changes that follow from successfully coercing or inducing the person to behave in the prescribed manner can be thought of as by-products of the training experience. As attitude- change models would predict, they arise “naturally” as a result of efforts to reshape behavior (Festinger 1957; Bem 1972).

The tactical dimension most clearly distinguishing reform processes from other sorts of training programs is the reliance on psychological coercion: procedures that generate pressure to comply as a means of escaping a punishing experience (e.g., public humiliation, sleep deprivation, guilt manipulation, etc.). Coercion differs from other influencing factors also present in thought reform, such as content-based persuasive attempts (e.g., presentation of new information, reference to authorities, etc.) or reliance on influence variables operative in all interaction (status relations, demeanor, normal assertiveness differentials, etc.). Coercion is principally utilized to gain behavioral compliance at key points and to ensure participation in activities likely to have influencing effects; that is, to engage the person in the role training activities and in procedures likely to lead to strong emotional responses, to cognitive confusion, or to attributions to self as the source of beliefs promoted during the process.

Robert Lifton labeled the extraordinarily high degree of social control characteristic of organizations that operate reform programs as their totalistic quality (Lifton 1961). This concept refers to the mobilization of the entirety of the person’s social, and often physical, environment in support of the manipulative effort. Lifton identified eight themes or properties of reform environments that contribute to their totalistic quality:

  1. Control of communication
  2. Emotional and behavioral manipulation
  3. Demands for absolute conformity to behavior prescriptions derived from the ideology
  4. Obsessive demands for confession
  5. Agreement that the ideology is faultless
  6. Manipulation of language in which cliches substitute for analytic thought
  7. Reinterpretation of human experience and emotion in terms of doctrine
  8. Classification of those not sharing the ideology as inferior and not worthy of respect

(Lifton 1961, pp. 419-437, 1987).

Schein’s analysis of the behavioral sequence underlying coercive persuasion separated the process into three subphases: unfreezing, change, and refreezing (Schein 1961, pp. 111-139). Phases differ in their principal goals and their admixtures of persuasive, influencing, and coercive tactics. Although others have described the process differently, their analyses are not inconsistent with Schein’s three-phase breakdown (Lifton 1961; Farber, Harlow, and West 1956; Meerloo 1956; Sargent 1957; Ofshe and Singer 1986). Although Schein’s terminology is adopted here, the descriptions of phase activities have been broadened to reflect later research.

Unfreezing is the first step in eliciting behavior and developing a belief system that facilitates the long-term management of a person. It consists of attempting to undercut a person’s psychological basis for resisting demands for behavioral compliance to the routines and rituals of the reform program. The goals of unfreezing are to destabilize a person’s sense of identity (i.e., to precipitate an identity crisis), to diminish confidence in prior social judgments, and to foster a sense of powerlessness, if not hopelessness. Successful destabilization induces a negative shift in global self evaluations and increases uncertainty about one’s values and position in society. It thereby reduces resistance to the new demands for compliance while increasing suggestibility.

Destabilization of identity is accomplished by bringing into play varying sets of manipulative techniques. The first programs to be studied utilized techniques such as repeatedly demonstrating the person’s inability to control his or her own fate, the use of degradation ceremonies, attempts to induce reevaluation of the adequacy and/or propriety of prior conduct, and techniques designed to encourage the reemergence of latent feelings of guilt and emotional turmoil (Hinkle and Wolfe 1956; Lifton 1954, 1961; Schein 1956, 1961; Schein, Cooley, and Singer 1960). Contemporary programs have been observed to utilize far more psychologically sophisticated procedures to accomplish destabilization. These techniques are often adapted from the traditions of psychiatry, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and the human-potential movement, as well as from religious practice (Ofshe and Singer 1986; Lifton 1987).

The change phase allows the individual an opportunity to escape punishing destabilization procedures by demonstrating that he or she has learned the proffered ideology, can demonstrate an ability to interpret reality in its own terms, and is willing to participate in competition with peers to demonstrate zeal, through displays of commitment. In addition to study and/or formal instruction, the techniques used to facilitate learning and the skill basis that can lead to opinion change include scheduling events that have predictable influencing consequences, rewarding certain conduct, and manipulating emotions to create punishing experiences. Some of the practices designed to promote influence might include requiring the target to assume responsibility for the progress of less- advanced “students,” to become the responsibility of those further along in the program, to assume the role of a teacher of the ideology, or to develop ever more refined and detailed confession statements that recast the person’s former life in terms of the required ideological position. Group structure is often manipulated by making rewards or punishments for an entire peer group contingent on the performance of the weakest person, requiring the group to utilize a vocabulary appropriate to the ideology, making status and privilege changes commensurate with behavioral compliance, subjecting the target to strong criticism and humiliation from peers for lack of progress, and peer monitoring for expressions of reservations or dissent. If progress is unsatisfactory, the individual can again be subjected to the punishing destabilization procedures used during unfreezing to undermine identity, to humiliate, and to provoke feelings of shame and guilt.

Refreezing denotes an attempt to promote and reinforce behavior acceptable to the controlling organization. Satisfactory performance is rewarded with social approval, status gains, and small privileges. Part of the social structure of the environment is the norm of interpreting the target’s display of the desired conduct as demonstrating the person’s progress in understanding the errors of his or her former life. The combination of reinforcing approved behavior and interpreting its symbolic meaning as demonstrating the emergence of a new individual fosters the development of an environment-specific, supposedly reborn social identity. The person is encouraged to claim this identity and is rewarded for doing so.

Lengthy participation in an appropriately constructed and managed environment fosters peer relations, an interaction history, and other behavior consistent with a public identity that incorporates approved values and opinions. Promoting the development of an interaction history in which persons engage in cooperative activity with peers that is not blatantly coerced and in which they are encouraged but not forced to make verbal claims to “truly understanding the ideology and having been transformed,” will tend to lead them to conclude that they hold beliefs consistent with their actions (i.e., to make attributions to self as the source of their behaviors). These reinforcement procedures can result in a significant degree of cognitive confusion and an alteration in what the person takes to be his or her beliefs and attitudes while involved in the controlled environment (Bem 1972; 0fshe et al. 1974).

Continuous use of refreezing procedures can sustain the expression of what appears to be significant attitude change for long periods of time. Maintaining compliance with a requirement that the person display behavior signifying unreserved acceptance of an imposed ideology and gaining other forms of long-term behavioral control requires continuous effort. The person must be carefully managed, monitored, and manipulated through peer pressure, the threat or use of punishment (material, social, and emotional) and through the normative rules of the community (e.g., expectations prohibiting careers independent of the organization, prohibiting formation of independent nuclear families, prohibiting accumulation of significant personal economic resources, etc.) (Whyte 1976; Ofshe 1980; Ofshe and Singer 1986).

The rate at which a once-attained level of attitude change deteriorates depends on the type of social support the person receives over time (Schein 1961 pp. 158-166; Lifton pp. 399-415). In keeping with the refreezing metaphor, even when the reform process is to some degree successful at shaping behavior and attitudes, the new shape tends to be maintained only as long as temperature is appropriately controlled.

One of the essential components of the reform process in general and of long-term refreezing in particular is monitoring and limiting the content of communication among persons in the managed group (Lifton 1961; Schein 1960; Ofshe et al. ] 974). If successfully accomplished, communication control eliminates a person’s ability safely to express criticisms or to share private doubts and reservations. The result is to confer on the community the quality of being a spy system of the whole, upon the whole.

The typically observed complex of communication-controlling rules requires people to self- report critical thoughts to authorities or to make doubts known only in approved and readily managed settings (e.g., small groups or private counseling sessions). Admitting “negativity” leads to punishment or reindoctrination through procedures sometimes euphemistically termed “education” or “therapy.” Individual social isolation is furthered by rules requiring peers to “help” colleagues to progress, by reporting their expressions of doubt. If it is discovered, failure to make a report is punishable, because it reflects on the low level of commitment of the person who did not “help” a colleague to make progress.

Controlling communication effectively blocks individuals from testing the appropriateness of privately held critical perceptions against the views of even their families and most-valued associates. Community norms encourage doubters to interpret lingering reservations as signs of a personal failure to comprehend the truth of the ideology; if involved with religious organizations, to interpret doubt as evidence of sinfulness or the result of demonic influences; if involved with an organization delivering a supposed psychological or medical therapy, as evidence of continuing illness and/or failure to progress in treatment.

The significance of communication control is illustrated by the collapse of a large psychotherapy organization in immediate reaction to the leadership’s loss of effective control over interpersonal communication. At a meeting of several hundred of the members of this “therapeutic community” clients were allowed openly to voice privately held reservations about their treatment and exploitation. They had been subjected to abusive practices, which included assault, sexual and economic exploitation, extremes of public humiliation, and others. When members discovered the extent to which their sentiments about these practices were shared by their peers they rebelled (Ayalla 1985).

Two widespread myths have developed from misreading the early studies of thought reforming influence systems (Zablocki 1991 ). These studies dealt in part with their use to elicit false confessions in the Soviet Union after the 1917 revolution; from American and United Nations forces held as POWs during the Korean War; and from their application to Western missionaries held in China following Mao’s revolution.

The first myth concerns the necessity and effectiveness of physical abuse in the reform process. The myth is that physical abuse is not only necessary but is the prime cause of apparent belief change. Reports about the treatment of POWs and foreign prisoners in China documented that physical abuse was present. Studies of the role of assault in the promotion of attitude change and in eliciting false confessions even from U.S. servicemen revealed, however, that it was ineffective. Belief change and compliance was more likely when physical abuse was minimal or absent (Biderman 1960). Both Schein (1961) and Lifton (1961) reported that physical abuse was a minor element in the theoretical understanding of even prison reform programs in China.

In the main, efforts at resocializing China’s nationals were conducted under nonconfined/ nonassaultive conditions. Millions of China’s citizens underwent reform in schools, special-training centers, factories, and neighborhood groups in which physical assault was not used as a coercive technique. One such setting for which many participants actively sought admission, the “Revolutionary University,” was classified by Lifton as the “hard core of the entire Chinese thought reform movement” (Lifton 1961,p. 248).

Attribution theories would predict that if there were differences between the power of reform programs to promote belief change in settings that were relatively more or less blatantly coercive and physically threatening, the effect would be greatest in less-coercive programs. Consistent with this expectation, Lifton concluded that reform efforts directed against Chinese citizens were “much more successful” than efforts directed against Westerners (Lifton 1961, p. 400).

A second myth concerns the purported effects of brainwashing. Media reports about thought reform’s effects far exceed the findings of scientific studies–which show coercive persuasion’s upper limit of impact to be that of inducing personal confusion and significant, but typically transitory, attitude change. Brainwashing was promoted as capable of stripping victims of their capacity to assert their wills, thereby rendering them unable to resist the orders of their controllers. People subjected to “brainwashing” were not merely influenced to adopt new attitudes but, according to the myth, suffered essentially an alteration in their psychiatric status from normal to pathological, while losing their capacity to decide to comply with or resist orders.

This lurid promotion of the power of thought reforming influence techniques to change a person’s capacity to resist direction is entirely without basis in fact: No evidence, scientific or otherwise, supports this proposition. No known mental disorder produces the loss of will that is alleged to be the result of brainwashing. Whatever behavior and attitude changes result from exposure to the process, they are most reasonably classified as the responses of normal individuals to a complex program of influence.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency seems to have taken seriously the myth about brainwashing’s power to destroy the will. Due, perhaps, to concern that an enemy had perfected a method for dependably overcoming will — or perhaps in hope of being the first to develop such a method –the Agency embarked on a research program, code-named MKULTRA. It became a pathetic and tragic failure. On the one hand, it funded some innocuous and uncontroversial research projects; on the other, it funded or supervised the execution of several far-fetched, unethical, and dangerous experiments that failed completely (Marks 1979; Thomas 1989).

Although no evidence suggests that thought reform is a process capable of stripping a person of the will to resist, a relationship does exist between thought reform and changes in psychiatric status. The stress and pressure of the reform process cause some percentage of psychological casualties. To reduce resistance and to motivate behavior change, thought-reform procedures rely on psychological stressors, induction of high degrees of emotional distress, and on other intrinsically dangerous influence techniques (Heide and Borkovec 1983). The process has a potential to cause psychiatric injury, which is sometimes realized. The major early studies (Hinkle and Wolfe 1961; Lifton 1961; Schein 1961) reported that during the unfreezing phase individuals were intentionally stressed to a point at which some persons displayed symptoms of being on the brink of psychosis. Managers attempted to reduce psychological pressure when this happened, to avoid serious psychological injury to those obviously near the breaking point.

Contemporary programs speed up the reform process through the use of more psychologically sophisticated and dangerous procedures to accomplish destabilization. In contemporary programs the process is sometimes carried forward on a large group basis, which reduces the ability of managers to detect symptoms of impending psychiatric emergencies. In addition, in some of the “therapeutic” ideologies espoused by thought reforming organizations, extreme emotional distress is valued positively, as a sign of progress. Studies of contemporary programs have reported on a variety of psychological injuries related to the reform process. Injuries include psychosis, major depressions, manic episodes, and debilitating anxiety (Glass, Kirsch, and Parris 1977, Haaken and Adams 1983, Heide and Borkovec 1983; Higget and Murray 1983; Kirsch and Glass 1977; Yalom and Lieberman 1971; Lieberman 1987; Singer and Ofshe 1990).

Contemporary thought-reform programs are generally far more sophisticated in their selection of both destabilization and influence techniques than were the programs studied during the 1950s (see Ofshe and Singer 1986 for a review). For example, hypnosis was entirely absent from the first programs studied but is often observed in modern programs. In most modern examples in which hypnosis is present, it functions as a remarkably powerful technique for manipulating subjective experience and for intensifying emotional response. It provides a method for influencing people to imagine impossible events such as those that supposedly occurred in their “past lives,” the future, or during visits to other planets. If persons so manipulated misidentify the hypnotically induced fantasies, and classify them as previously unavailable memories, their confidence in the content of a particular ideology can be increased (Bainbridge and Stark 1980).

Hypnosis can also be used to lead people to allow themselves to relive actual traumatic life events (e.g., rape, childhood sexual abuse, near-death experiences, etc.) or to fantasize the existence of such events and, thereby, stimulate the experience of extreme emotional distress. When imbedded in a reform program, repeatedly leading the person to experience such events can function simply as punishment, useful for coercing compliance.

Accounts of contemporary programs also describe the use of sophisticated techniques intended to strip away psychological defenses, to induce regression to primitive levels of coping, and to flood targets with powerful emotion (Ayalla 1985; Haaken and Adams 1983; Hockman 1984; Temerlin and Temerlin 1982). In some instances stress and fatigue have been used to promote hallucinatory experiences that are defined as therapeutic (Gerstel 1982). Drugs have been used to facilitate disinhibition and heightened suggestibility (Watkins 1980). Thought-reform subjects have been punished for disobedience by being ordered to self-inflict severe pain, justified by the claim that the result will be therapeutic (Bellack et al. v. Murietta Foundation et al.).

Programs of coercive persuasion appear in various forms in contemporary society. They depend on the voluntary initial participation of targets. This is usually accomplished because the target assumes that there is a common goal that unites him or her with the organization or that involvement will confer some benefit (e.g., relief of symptoms, personal growth, spiritual development, etc.). Apparently some programs were developed based on the assumption that they could be used to facilitate desirable changes (e.g., certain rehabilitation or psychotherapy programs). Some religious organizations and social movements utilize them for recruitment purposes. Some commercial organizations utilize them as methods for promoting sales. Under unusual circumstances, modern police-interrogation methods can exhibit some of the properties of a thought-reform program. In some instances, reform programs appear to have been operated for the sole purpose of gaining a high degree of control over individuals to facilitate their exploitation (Ofshe 1986; McGuire and Norton 1988; Watkins 1980).

Virtually any acknowledged expertise or authority can serve as a power base to develop the social structure necessary to carry out thought reform. In the course of developing a new form of rehabilitation, psychotherapy, religious organization, utopian community, school, or sales organization it is not difficult to justify the introduction of thought-reform procedures.

Perhaps the most famous example of a thought-reforming program developed for the ostensible purpose of rehabilitation was Synanon, a drug treatment program (Sarbin and Adler 1970, Yabionsky 1965; Ofshe et al. 1974). The Synanon environment possessed all of Lifton’s eight themes. It used as its principle coercive procedure a highly aggressive encounter/therapy group interaction. In form it resembled “struggle groups” observed in China (Whyte 1976), but it differed in content. Individuals were vilified and humiliated not for past political behavior but for current conduct as well as far more psychologically intimate subjects, such as early childhood experiences, sexual experiences, degrading experiences as adults, etc. The coercive power of the group experience to affect behavior was substantial as was its ability to induce psychological injury (Lieberman, Yalom, and Miles 1973; Ofshe et al. 1974).

Allegedly started as a drug-rehabilitation program, Synanon failed to accomplish significant long-term rehabilitation. Eventually, Synanon’s leader, Charles Diederich, promoted the idea that any degree of drug abuse was incurable and that persons so afflicted needed to spend their lives in the Synanon community. Synanon’s influence program was successful in convincing many that this was so. Under Diederich’s direction, Synanon evolved from an organization that espoused non-violence into one that was violent. Its soldiers were dispatched to assault and attempt to murder persons identified by Diederich as Synanon’s enemies (Mitchell, Mitchell, and Ofshe 1981).

The manipulative techniques of self-styled messiahs, such as People’s Temple leader Jim Jones (Reiterman 1982), and influence programs operated by religious organizations, such as the Unification Church (Taylor 1978) arid Scientology (Wallis 1977; Bainbridge and Stark 1980), can be analyzed as thought-reform programs. The most controversial recruitment system operated by a religious organization in recent American history was that of the Northern California branch of the Unification Church (Reverend Mr. Moon’s organization). The influence program was built directly from procedures of psychological manipulation that were commonplace in the human-potential movement (Bromley and Shupe 1981). The procedures involved various group-based exercises as well as events designed to elicit from participant’s information about their emotional needs and vulnerabilities. Blended into this program was content intended slowly to introduce the newcomer to the group’s ideology. Typically, the program’s connection with the Unification Church or any religious mission was denied during the early stages of the reform process. The target was monitored around the clock and prevented from communicating with peers who might reinforce doubt and support a desire to leave. The physical setting was an isolated rural facility far from public transportation.

Initial focus on personal failures, guilt-laden memories, and unfulfilled aspirations shifted to the opportunity to realize infantile desires and idealistic goals, by affiliating with the group and its mission to save the world. The person was encouraged to develop strong affective bonds with current members. They showed unfailing interest, affection, and concern, sometimes to the point of spoon-feeding the person’s meals and accompanying the individual everywhere, including to the toilet. If the unfreezing and change phases of the program succeeded, the individual was told of the group’s affiliation with the Unification Church and assigned to another unit of the organization within which re- freezing procedures could be carried forward.

Influence procedures now commonly used during modern police interrogation can sometimes inadvertently manipulate innocent persons’ beliefs about their own innocence and, thereby, cause them falsely to confess. Confessions resulting from accomplishing the unfreezing and change phases of thought reform are classified as coerced-internalized false confessions (Kassin and Wrightsman 1985; Gudjonsson and MacKeith 1988). Although they rarely come together simultaneously, the ingredients necessary to elicit a temporarily believed false confession are: erroneous police suspicion, the use of certain commonly employed interrogation procedures, and some degree of psychological vulnerability in the suspect. Philip Zimbardo (1971) has reviewed the coercive factors generally present in modern interrogation settings. Richard Ofshe (1989) has identified those influence procedures that if present in a suspect’s interrogation contributes to causing unfreezing and change.

Techniques that contribute to unfreezing include falsely telling a suspect that the police have evidence proving the person’s guilt (e.g., fingerprints, eyewitness testimony, etc.). Suspects may be given a polygraph examination and then falsely told (due either to error or design) that they failed and the test reveals their unconscious knowledge of guilt. Suspects may be told that their lack of memory of the crime was caused by an alcohol or drug induced blackout, was repressed, or is explained because the individual is a multiple personality.

The techniques listed above regularly appear in modern American police interrogations. They are used to lead persons who know that they have committed the crime at issue to decide that the police have sufficient evidence to convict them or to counter typical objections to admitting guilt (e.g., “I can’t remember having done that.”). In conjunction with the other disorienting and distressing elements of a modern accusatory interrogation, these tactics can sometimes lead innocent suspects to doubt themselves and question their lack of knowledge of the crime. If innocent persons subjected to these sorts of influence techniques do not reject the false evidence and realize that the interrogators are lying to them, they have no choice but to doubt themselves.

Tactics used to change the suspect’s position and elicit a confession include maneuvers designed to intensify feelings of guilt and emotional distress following from the suspect’s assumption of guilt. Suspects may be offered an escape from the emotional distress through confession. It may also be suggested that confession will provide evidence of remorse that will benefit the suspect in court.

Thought reform is not an easy process to study for several reasons. The extraordinary totalistic qualities and hyperorganization of thought-reforming environments, together with the exceptional nature of the influence tactics that appear within them, put the researcher in a position roughly analogous to that of an anthropologist entering into or interviewing someone about a culture that is utterly foreign. The researcher cannot assume that he or she understands or even knows the norms of the new environment. This means that until the researcher is familiar with the constructed environment within which the reform process takes place, it is dangerous to make the routine assumptions about context that underlie research within one’s own culture. This problem extends to vocabulary as well as to norms and social structure.

The history of research on the problem has been one in which most of the basic descriptive work has been conducted through post-hoc interviewing of persons exposed to the procedures. The second-most frequently employed method has been that of participant observation. Recently, in connection with work being done on police interrogation methods, it has been possible to analyze contemporaneous recordings of interrogation sessions in which targets’ beliefs are actually made to undergo radical change. All this work has contributed to the development of an understanding of the thought-reform phenomenon in several ways.

Studying the reform process demonstrates that it is no more or less difficult to understand than any other complex social process and produces no results to suggest that something new has been discovered. The only aspect of the reform process that one might suggest is new, is the order in which the influence procedures are assembled and the degree to which the target’s environment is manipulated in the service of social control. This is at most an unusual arrangement of commonplace bits and pieces.

Work to date has helped establish a dividing line between the lurid fantasies about mysterious methods for stripping one’s capacity to resist control and the reality of the power of appropriately designed social environments to influence the behavior and decisions of those engaged by them. Beyond debunking myths, information gathered to date has been used in two ways to further the affirmative understanding of thought reform: It has been possible to develop descriptions of the social structure of thought-reforming environments, of their operations, and to identify the range of influence mechanisms they tend to incorporate; the second use of these data has been to relate the mechanisms of influence present in the reform environment to respondents’ accounts of their reactions to these experiences, to increase understanding of both general response tendencies to types of influence mechanisms and the reactions of particular persons to the reform experience.

As it is with all complex, real-world social phenomena that cannot be studied experimentally, understanding information about the thought-reform process proceeds through the application of theories that have been independently developed. Explaining data that describe the type and organization of the influence procedures that constitute a thought-reform process depends on applying established social-psychological theories about the manipulation of behavior and attitude change. Assessing reports about the impact on the experiences of the personalities subjected to intense influence procedures depends on the application of current theories of personality formation and change. Understanding instances in which the reform experience appears related to psychiatric injury requires proceeding as one would ordinarily in evaluating any case history of a stress-related or other type of psychological injury.

Captive Hearts, Captive Minds

Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships

By Madeleine L. Tobias and Janja Lalich

Chapter one excerpts – The Cultic Relationship.

Cults may be large or small. What defines them is not their size but their behavior. In addition to the larger, more publicized cults, there are small cults of less than a dozen members who follow a particular “guru”; “family cults,” where the head of the family uses deceptive and excessive persuasion and control techniques; and probably the least acknowledged, the one-on-one cult.

The one-on-one cult is a deliberately manipulative and exploitative intimate relationship between two persons, often involving physical abuse of the subordinate partner. In the one-on-one cult, which we call a cultic relationship, there is a significant power imbalance between the two participants. The stronger uses his (or her) influence to control, manipulate, abuse, and exploit the other. In essence the cultic relationship is a one-on-one version of the larger group. It may even be more intense than participation in a group cult since all the attention and abuse is focused on one person, often with more damaging consequences.

Many marriages or domestic partnerships where there is spousal abuse may be characterized and explained in this way. Other one-on-one cults may be found in boss/employee situations, in pastor/worshipper milieus, in therapist/client relationships, in jailor/prisoner or interrogator/suspect situations, and in teacher/student environments (including academic, artistic, and spiritual situations – for example, a school professor, a yoga master, a martial arts instructor, or an art mentor). It is our hope that those who have suffered such individualized abuse will find much in this book to identify with and use in healing their pain.

Since the upsurge of both public and professional interest in the issue of domestic violence, there has been some recognition to the link between mind control and battering. Men or women who batter their partners sometimes use manipulative techniques similar to those found in cults. The most common include “isolation and the provocation of fear; alternating kindness and threat to produce disequilibrium; the induction of guilt, self-blame, dependency, and learned helplessness.” The degree to which these features are present in a relationship affects the intensity of control and allows the relationship to be labeled cultic.

The similarities between cultic devotion and the traumatic bonding that occurs between battered individuals and their abusers are striking. An abused partner is generally made to submit to the following types of behaviors:

  • early verbal and/or physical dominance,
  • isolation/imprisonment
  • fear arousal and maintenance
  • guilt induction
  • contingent expressions of “love”
  • enforced loyalty to the aggressor and self-denunciation
  • promotion of powerlessness and helplessness
  • pathological expressions of jealousy
  • hope-instilling behaviors
  • required secrecy (13)

When psychological coercion and manipulative exploitation have been used in a one-on-one cultic relationship, the person leaving such a relationship faces issues similar to those encountered by someone leaving a cultic group.

Take the Narcissistic Personality Inventory

USA Today/March 16, 2009

Authors Drew Pinsky and S. Mark Young, a professor of entertainment business at the University of Southern California have studied celebrities and the general population by administering a widely used screening tool called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), which is included in The Mirror Effect.

The book advises answering the 40 questions below in a single sitting, without asking for help or clarification. It notes, “There’s no such thing as a good or bad result on this test. Scoring high on the narcissism inventory, or high on any of the component categories, doesn’t mean you have a disorder, or that you’re a good or bad person.”

Print this out or track your choices of which statements best match you – then test your friends, family, that guy at the office – anyone who’s narcissism score you want to know.

1. A. I have a natural talent for influencing people.
B. I am not good at influencing people.

2. A. Modesty doesn’t become me.
B. I am essentially a modest person.

3. A. I would do almost anything on a dare.
B. I tend to be a fairly cautious person.

4. A. When people compliment me I sometimes get embarrassed.
B. I know that I am good because everybody keeps telling me so.

5. A. The thought of ruling the world frightens the hell out of me.
B. If I ruled the world it would be a better place.

6. A. I can usually talk my way out of anything.
B. I try to accept the consequences of my behavior.

7. A. I prefer to blend in with the crowd.
B. I like to be the center of attention.

8. A. I will be a success.
B. I am not too concerned about success.

9. A. I am no better or worse than most people.
B. I think I am a special person.

10. A. I am not sure if I would make a good leader.
B. I see myself as a good leader.

11. A. I am assertive.
B. I wish I were more assertive.

12. A. I like to have authority over other people.
B. I don’t mind following orders.

13. A. I find it easy to manipulate people.
B. I don’t like it when I find myself manipulating people.

14. A. I insist upon getting the respect that is due me.
B. I usually get the respect that I deserve.

15. A. I don’t particularly like to show off my body.
B. I like to show off my body.

16. A. I can read people like a book.
B. People are sometimes hard to understand.

17. A. If I feel competent I am willing to take responsibility for making decisions.
B. I like to take responsibility for making decisions.

18. A. I just want to be reasonably happy.
B. I want to amount to something in the eyes of the world.

19. A. My body is nothing special.
B. I like to look at my body.

20. A. I try not to be a show off.
B. I will usually show off if I get the chance.

21. A. I always know what I am doing.
B. Sometimes I am not sure of what I am doing.

22. A. I sometimes depend on people to get things done.
B. I rarely depend on anyone else to get things done.

23. A. Sometimes I tell good stories.
B. Everybody likes to hear my stories.

24. A. I expect a great deal from other people.
B. I like to do things for other people.

25. A. I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve.
B. I take my satisfactions as they come.

26. A. Compliments embarrass me.
B. I like to be complimented.

27. A. I have a strong will to power.
B. Power for its own sake doesn’t interest me.

28. A. I don’t care about new fads and fashions.
B. I like to start new fads and fashions.

29. A. I like to look at myself in the mirror.
B. I am not particularly interested in looking at myself in the mirror.

30. A. I really like to be the center of attention.
B. It makes me uncomfortable to be the center of attention.

31. A. I can live my life in any way I want to.
B. People can’t always live their lives in terms of what they want.

32. A. Being an authority doesn’t mean that much to me.
B. People always seem to recognize my authority.

33. A. I would prefer to be a leader.
B. It makes little difference to me whether I am a leader or not.

34. A. I am going to be a great person.
B. I hope I am going to be successful.

35. A. People sometimes believe what I tell them.
B. I can make anybody believe anything I want them to.

36. A. I am a born leader.
B. Leadership is a quality that takes a long time to develop.

37. A. I wish somebody would someday write my biography.
B. I don’t like people to pry into my life for any reason.

38. A. I get upset when people don’t notice how I look when I go out in public.
B. I don’t mind blending into the crowd when I go out in public.

39. A. I am more capable than other people.
B. There is a lot that I can learn from other people.

40. A. I am much like everybody else.
B. I am an extraordinary person.

SCORING KEY:

Assign one point for each response that matches the key.
1, 2 and 3: A
4, 5: B
6: A
7: B
8: A
9, 10: B
11, 12, 13, 14: A
15: B
16: A
17, 18, 19, 20: B
21: A
22, 23: B
24, 25: A
26: B
27: A
28: B
29, 30, 31: A
32: B
33, 34: A
35. B
36, 37, 38, 39: A
40: B

The average score for the general population is 15.3. The average score for celebrities is 17.8. Pinsky says he scored 16.

Young says it is important to consider which traits are dominant. For example, an overall score that reflects more points on vanity, entitlement, exhibitionism and exploitiveness is more cause for concern than someone who scores high on authority, self-sufficiency and superiority, he says.

The seven component traits by question:

    • Authority: 1, 8, 10, 11, 12, 32, 33, 36
    • Self-sufficiency: 17, 21, 22, 31, 34, 39
    • Superiority: 4, 9, 26, 37, 40
    • Exhibitionism: 2, 3, 7, 20, 28, 30, 38
    • Exploitativeness: 6, 13, 16, 23, 35
    • Vanity: 15, 19, 29
  • Entitlement: 5, 14, 18, 24, 25, 27

Reasons why abuse victims return often complex, experts say

The Salem News, Massachusetts/April 10, 2008

Peabody – Jania Pacheco returned to her Oak Street apartment late last fall just as her neighbor Jessica Herrera was leaving, bags in hand.

Herrera was shaking. Her right eye was blood red, Pacheco said, and the area surrounding it was bruised from just below her eyebrow down to her nose.

“It was literally like charcoal black, purple, blue,” she said. “We knew, evidently, that it was him (Herrera’s live-in boyfriend).”

They had a brief exchange. Herrera hugged Pacheco and thanked her. The 25-year-old mother of two told Pacheco she needed to go.

“I said, ‘You need to do what’s best for you,'” Pacheco recalled telling her neighbor. “You need to run for your life.”

She hoped her neighbor would leave for good, but that wouldn’t be the case.

“She kept coming back for something,” Pacheco said. “It didn’t seem like love.”

Herrera’s body was found Sunday in the closet of the 7 Oak St. apartment she shared with the boyfriend, Ashley Fernandes. Police charged him with strangling her. Fernandes pleaded not guilty in Peabody District Court on Monday morning and is being held without bail.

“We were just shocked, really shocked, but not surprised,” Pacheco said.

She’d made occasional phone calls to police when arguments from Herrera’s apartment were too loud to ignore, she said.

Now, she’s asking herself why her neighbor of nearly four years stayed after enduring so much abuse. It’s a question that rarely has a simple answer, say those who work with victims of domestic violence.

Peabody police Sgt. Sheila McDaid, who heads the department’s Domestic Violence Unit, said she could not speak about Herrera’s case. But she said complex issues like past relationships and the nuances of the current one factor into leaving.

“Again, there’s all the underlying circumstances we may not even know about,” she said. “I don’t believe anybody who’s been battered likes the battering.”

Fear is an overriding part of the decision making. Sometimes a victim has to devise an escape plan, McDaid said.

“Domestic violence is a crime,” she said. “It’s a unique crime because it’s committed by someone who allegedly loves you or someone you love. It’s not black and white.”

Candace Waldron, executive director of Help for Abused Women and their Children, agreed with McDaid that the reasons for staying are often complex and multifold.

“I think that’s one of the most frequently asked questions,” she said. “There’s a lot of reasons.”

Perpetrators don’t always batter and can be charming and affectionate at times, or they shift blame on the victim. And victims find a host of reasons to stay: for their children, fear of loneliness, loss of the connection.

“They may believe that the abuser will stop or the perpetrator will change because they love them,” Waldron said.

Keep in touch

As neighbors, Pacheco and Herrera chatted regularly, Pacheco said. They became pregnant around the same time, and eventually their children played together.

When Herrera returned to 7 Oak St. after the incident in late fall, she shied away from Pacheco, only waving a hello from time to time, Pacheco said.

“I think she was ashamed that she came back,” Pacheco said. “She was a totally different person and didn’t talk to us as much as she did before. It was like someone else had come back.”

It’s a symptom Waldron has witnessed all too often. The HAWC executive director said victims start to isolate themselves whether it’s out of the shame for staying or their willingness to appease the perpetrator.

Once isolated, a victim has few outlets to share feelings or experiences.

“That becomes almost like a brainwashing environment,” Waldron said. “If you don’t have a lifeline to the outside, it’s very hard to see that there’s any hope for you.”

She encouraged friends and family to keep in touch with a victim. It often means being rebuffed multiple times, but it lets a victim know whom she can rely on when she finally leaves for good.

“Staying connected is like throwing a lifeline,” Waldron said. “Stay connected, as hard as it can be.”

McDaid wanted to flip around the questioning toward the abuser rather than point fingers at the victim.

“Why did he do this? Why do people batter? Why don’t we as a society look at the perpetrator?” the police sergeant asked. “Society tends to look at the victim and say why don’t they do this. Sometimes it’s not that easy.”

Taking stock of syndrome

The Star/August 27, 2003
By Gael Branchereau

Relationships can develop in hostage situations whereby victims fall for their captors due to a condition called the Stockholm Syndrome with some continuing their relationship even though the victims’ lives are no longer at risk.

Thirty years ago last week armed robbers burst into a Stockholm bank and began a six-day siege that saw four hostages become emotionally attached to their captors, a phenomenon that has since come to be known as the Stockholm Syndrome.

The term was defined by an American psychiatrist, Frank Ochberg, who researched the Aug 23, 1973 robbery at Kreditbanken in which a romantic relationship developed between one of the captors and a hostage.

“The party has just begun!” yelled 32-year-old robber Jan-Erik Olsson as he entered the bank mid-morning and fired off a round from his sub-machine gun.

He took four bank employees hostage, demanded three million kronor, weapons, and an escape car.

Most importantly, he demanded that Clark Olofsson, a heavy-duty criminal serving time in prison, be released and brought to the bank, a request which was met.

The siege ended after six days when police gassed the bank and the robbers gave up.

To the surprise of many, some of the hostages, including 23-year-old Kristin Enmark, physically protected the robbers as they left the bank, to ensure police wouldn’t fire on them.

Ochberg, an expert who worked with the FBI, was serving on a task force on terrorism and disorder set up by the US Attorney General’s office after 11 Israeli athletes were executed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

As part of his research, he decided in 1976 to delve into the events surrounding the Stockholm bank robbery to explain how the hostages could develop warm, compassionate feelings for their violent, armed captors.

“The remarkable behaviour of hostage Kristin, her affection for her captor, his reciprocal affection for her and her anger at the authorities became the basis for my definition of the syndrome,” Ochberg told AFP by telephone.

“The syndrome begins with shocking and sudden capture, terror and infantilisation (where) you cannot eat, talk, move or use a toilet without permission,” he explained.

“But then somebody gives you permission to talk and eat and move, and live,” he said.

The gift of life “results in primitive, primordial gratitude” which is the foundation for all future feelings of love, he said, recalling the semen traces found on the floor of the bank vault.

“To try to have a mutual understanding in that kind of situation is not so strange, it’s a method of survival,” Enmark once said.

But Ochberg begs to differ, insisting that “it is not a reflex for life” but rather “a sense of gratitude.”

In fact in some cases, as with Enmark and her captor, victims and hostage-takers continue their relationship even though the victim’s life is no longer at risk.

Despite many rumours to the contrary, Enmark did not marry her captor though they did remain friends.

In the most famous case of the Stockholm Syndrome, Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of publishing baron William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped by the leftist Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974 and robbed a San Francisco bank together with her captors, brainwashed into denouncing her capitalist roots.

She was sentenced to seven years in prison for armed robbery, but had her sentence commuted by then US President Jimmy Carter.

William Sargant, a British expert in mind control who interviewed Hearst before her trial, concluded that a person whose nervous system is under constant pressure can display “paradoxical cerebral activity”, that is, bad becomes good and good becomes bad.

In the late 1970s, Ochberg sought to promote the Stockholm Syndrome to help save lives in hostage-taking situations, and convinced the FBI to apply his theories and spread them abroad.

They were put to use in 1977 when Moluccan separatists held a school and train hostage in the Netherlands.

“We wanted the captor to take the pulse of a sick hostage, in order to establish a ‘touching relationship’,” he said, stressing that the captor’s reciprocal attachment to the hostage is key to developing a relationship.

That attempt failed however when a doctor among the passengers volunteered.

Two hostages and six terrorists were killed in a final offensive after a 19-day siege.

According to Ochberg, the Syndrome can also be diagnosed among women who suffer from spousal abuse and journalists who cover conflicts.