Judith Lewis Herman, M.D. Psychiatrist and author writes: Diagnostic Mislabeling: The tendency to blame the victim has strongly influenced the direction of psychological inquiry.
Judith Lewis Herman, M.D. – USA
It has led researchers and clinicians to seek an explanation for the perpetrator’s crimes in the character of the victim. In the case of hostages and prisoners of war, numerous attempts to find supposed personality defects that predisposed captives to “brainwashing” have yielded few consistent results.
The conclusion is inescapable that ordinary, psychologically healthy men can indeed be coerced in unmanly ways. In domestic battering situations, where victims are entrapped by persuasion rather than by capture, research has also focused on the personality traits that might predispose a woman to get involved in an abusive relationship.
Here again no consistent profile of the susceptible woman has emerged. While some battered women clearly have major psychological difficulties that render them vulnerable, the majority show no evidence of serious psychopathology before entering into the exploitative relationship. Most become involved with their abusers at a time of temporary life crisis or recent loss, when they are feeling unhappy, alienated, or lonely. A survey of the studies on wife-beating concludes: “The search for characteristics of women that contribute to their own victimization is futile . . . It is sometimes forgotten that men’s violence is men’s behavior. As such, it is not surprising that the more fruitful efforts to explain this behavior have focused on male characteristics. What is surprising is the enormous effort to explain male behavior by examining characteristics of women.” (See the rest on the website refocus org, and in the following book: “Psychological Insight and Political Understanding – The Case of Trauma and Recovery,” (Sept. 21, 2000).
Dr. Herman shared the most compelling results of this research last: The most dramatic changes in the VOV results came after group treatment. DES scores come down significantly and self-esteem scores come up in group treatment (which was not true for individual therapy alone). Furthermore, those with the highest DES scores improved the most! Over 80 percent are better on 3 out of 4 measures, many on 4 out of 4. Dr. Herman reminded us, with several quotes from her mother, Helen Block Lewis, that shame is an intrinsic part of abuse and trauma.
Paradoxically, most people expect a group experience to increase shame. However, Dr. Herman believes that exactly what groups do best is to “de-shame the shame.” (I would add, especially groups like those at VOV, where leaders actively teach the skills of resonance and mirroring.) Herman notes that the transference is so complex for trauma survivors, that individual therapy just can’t do the same job with shame. Quoting Shelly Taylor’s “Tend and Befriend” research, Herman pointed out that there is a whole other biological system that can be mobilized in connection, and that may be critical for trauma recovery. (See the rest of this article on the website nesttd.org).
Dr. Herman writes also: THE ORDINARY RESPONSE TO ATROCITIES is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.
Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried. Equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial does not work. Folk wisdom is filled with ghosts who refuse to rest in their graves until their stories are told. Murder will out. Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims.
The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma. People who have survived atrocities often tell their stories in a highly emotional, contradictory, and fragmented manner that undermines their credibility and thereby serves the twin imperatives of truth-telling and secrecy. When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.
The psychological distress symptoms of traumatized people simultaneously call attention to the existence of an unspeakable secret and deflect attention from it. This is most apparent in the way traumatized people alternate between feeling numb and reliving the event. The dialectic of trauma gives rise to complicated, sometimes uncanny alterations of consciousness, which George Orwell, one of the committed truth-tellers of our century, called “doublethink,” and which mental health professionals, searching for calm, precise language, call “dissociation.” It results in protean, dramatic, and often bizarre symptoms of hysteria which Freud recognized a century ago as disguised communications about sexual abuse in childhood. (See the rest of this article on Jim Hopper).
Dr. Herman writes also: It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of the pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering. . . .
In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it on herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail. (See the rest of this on (asian.org).