Saturday, August 12, 2006

Judith Herman: quotes 3a, 5a and b, and 6

Many acts that women experience as terrorizing violations may not be regarded as such, even by those closest to them. Survivors are thus placed in the situation where they must choose between expressing their own point of view and remaining in connection with others. Under these circumstances, many women may have difficulty even naming their experience.
Herman writes this primarily about survivors of rape. It can apply also to abusive distortions of the parent-child relationship and those survivors.

It can additionally, with some tweaking, be applied to difficult race relations in the blogosphere, especially wars in comment sections--what is seen as a violation by POC and allies may seem innocuous to PNOC (people Not of color).

Traumatic events call into question basic human relationships. They breach the attachments of family, friendship, love, and community. They shatter the construction of the self that is formed and sustained in relation to others. They undermine the belief systems that give meaning to human experience. They violate the victim's faith in a natural or divine order and cast the victim into a state of existential crisis.


The damage to the survivor's faith and sense of community is particularly severe when the traumatic events themselves involve the betrayal of important relationships. The imagery of these events often crystallizes around a moment of betrayal, and it is this breach of trust which gives the intrusive images their intense emotional power. For example, in Abram Kardiner's psychotherapy of the navy veteran who had been rescued at sea after his ship was sunk, the veteran became most upset when revealing how he felt let down by his own side: "The patient became rather excited and began to sweat profusely; his anger was aroused clearly by incidents connected with his rescue. They had been in the water for a period of about twelve hours when a torpedo-boat destroyer picked them up. Of course the officers in the lifeboats were taken off first. The eight or nine men clinging to the raft the patient was on had to wait in the water for six or seven hours longer until help came."

The officers has been rescued first, even though they were already relatively safe in lifeboats, while the enlisted men hanging onto the raft were passed over, and some of them drowned as they awaited rescue. Though Kardiner accepted this procedure as part of the normal military order, the patient was horrified at the realization that he was expendable to his own people. The rescuers' disregard for this man's life was more traumatic to him than were the enemy attack, the physical pain of submersion in the cold water, the terror of death, and the loss of the other men who shared his ordeal. The indifference of the rescuers destroyed his faith in his community. In the aftermath of this event, the patient exhibited not only classic post-traumatic symptoms but also evidence of pathological grief, disrupted relationships, and chronic depression:
Relate this directly to "One Year After Katrina, More Is Known About Its Mental Health Effects," "State sheds light on plight of evacuees" and the high rates of unemployment and stasis among New Orleans evacuees/refugees/the diaspora.

The perpetrator's first goal appears to be the enslavement of his victim, and he accomplishes this goal by exercising despotic control over every aspect of the victim's life. But simple compliance rarely satisfies him; he appears to have a psychological need to justify his crimes, and for this he needs the victim's affirmation. Thus he relentlessly demands from his victim professions of respect, gratitude, or even love. His ultimate goal appears to be the creation of a willing victim. Hostages, political prisoners, battered women, and slaves all have remarked upon the captor's curious psychological dependence upon his victim. …The desire for total control over another person is the common denominator of all forms of tyranny. Totalitarian governments demand confession and political conversion of their victims. Slaveholders demand gratitude of their slaves. Religious cults demand ritualized sacrifices as a sign of submission to the divine will of the leader. Perpetrators of domestic battery demand that these victims prove complete obedience and loyalty by sacrificing all other relationships. Sex offenders demand that their victims find sexual fulfillment in submission.
And the neglected and abused find themselves in a position of having to be grateful (and to blame) for the neglect and abuse.

Herman, Judith, M.D. Trauma and Recovery. New York: Basic, 1992, 1997: 67, 51, 55-56, 75-76.


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