Abuse, Entitlement, and the Psychology of it all

Sometimes I see weird connections between seemingly unrelated topics. Sometimes I straight up look for them. It is such a natural impulse, to try and understand whether a common thread might be involved in a particular set of problems. Tonight I ran into one such common thread.

There is a frightening psychology at work in domestic abuse. Natasha at Pacific Views has written some about her story (emphasis mine):

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

That’s what terrorists want. That’s what they feed on. That’s how they exert control and influence, how they wield their power.

Once they’ve given you a reason to fear them, and it doesn’t always have to be something big, they have you. They just have to make you believe they could do it. It. You know what I mean.

I know terrorists, because I used to live with one.

It’s a long story. Today, I’ll ask your forbearance to read it anyway, though I know most of you don’t come here for personal anecdotes.

Always sharp Amanda cuts to the core of the matter in an interesting way (emphasis mine):

It’s a good post because it’s honest. Domestic abuse and how it hinges on humiliation, control, and usually on socially mandated male dominance are hard for survivors to explicate. It’s hard to explain the way, over time, your ego withers and you don’t demand decent treatment.

Of all the things in the world, this made me think of a post over at Tom Tomorrow’s place titled The rich are different:

I don’t know if they’re so focused on rewards that they become oblivious, or if they’ve just reached a certain level of power where they simply no longer have to bother to care what anyone thinks.

I remembered that guy who apologized for being shot by the Vice President. I thought about some experiences I have had (and some friends have had) working for companies that do really shitty things to their employees and the public (See the latest from Walmart for a nice example). Suddenly something clicked.

In every instance the same dynamic is at play. The person or group with power acts in an abusive and entitled manner, and the same tools of fear are used to keep the reactions of the victim in line. What blew my mind is that this is a daily occurrence. Even more frequent. There is no comparison in terms of scale and effect, but the basic relationship between the haves and the have nots is reinforced at every interval in our lives, and in every aspect of our lives.

Take appearance. In school, how one dresses is governed by parents, teachers, administrators, and regulated by peers. Are you wearing that hat in class? Did you wear that shirt last Friday too? Are you going out looking like that? In an abusive relationship, it becomes another level of control. How you dress is viewed through the twisted lens of irrational jealousy.

It continues into work, and in politics. Nancy Pelosi is taking heat for wearing a headscarf. One’s dress in the workplace has an impact on one’s career. If you can dress for success, you can certainly dress for failure. Do you have any tats showing?

In every instance, the right of the person or group with power to moderate the particular behavior is assumed. The fear of negative consequences keeps the victim in line. Dress can be thought of as a very mild example I suppose (although I think having power of how the world sees you is a pretty effective and scary thing for someone other than you to have). But it illustrates my point. Namely that the same power structure is replicated over a range of relationships in one’s life.

It also extends over nearly every action you can take. What you are allowed to say. Your mood. How you spend money. How you spend time.

What I’m wondering is, what with the constant and varied reinforcement of the have/have-not relationship, what are the long reaching psychological consequences? If you want to really remember something, the trick is to “activate” that particular thought or memory in a variety of ways. The more associations you make, the stronger and longer lasting the memory will be.

If the underlying psychological basis of abuse, capitulation to authority and the authoritarian impulse, and social control in general are all being constantly ground into our psyches, what are we doing to ourselves as a society?

Are we socializing ourselves to accept being victim/abuser depending on the power of a given relationship?

I think we need to take a serious and urgent look at how we raise and create ourselves.

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