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Emotional abuse as a feedback system, and some difficulties of recovery - Input Junkie
November 9th, 2011
01:55 pm

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Emotional abuse as a feedback system, and some difficulties of recovery
I don't have much of a mean streak, and as a result I find extended bullying and emotional abuse rather bewildering. People put a remarkable amount of work into making each other miserable, and while I don't have a general theory of the motivations, I think I understand a piece of the mechanism.

In the case of personal (rather than institutional) abuse, I think the abuser is triggered [1] when they see the abusee [2] being comfortable or happy. [3]

Depending on the amount and duration of the abuse and the temperament and choices of the abusee, the abusee may internalize the lesson that feeling good leads to being attacked. This means that a feeling of security needs to be built up for recovery to be possible.

One of the things a competent therapist can do is to underline their own happiness when a client is in better emotional shape.

Meditation can lower general background anxiety.

Cognitive psych is a way of fading out the reflexive fear by checking on whether attacks are really likely, how serious they are likely to be, and developing effective ways to handle various situations.

While religion isn't my path, believing that God is on one's side is another way of defusing the feeling that the abuser's emotions are the most important thing.

[1] I don't think this is a very conscious process, though I think sometimes it takes the form of believing that if low status people are too happy or comfortable, they're getting above their station. Also, every instance of happiness or comfort doesn't have to result in abuse for the process I'm describing to happen-- attacks just have to be frequent enough to produce a background sense of danger.
[2] I'm not sure why I have a strong preference for 'abusee' over 'victim' or 'survivor'. It may be that I want to handle this as an abstract system, or I may come up with a different plausible theory later.
[3] Hypothetical motivations: the abuser wants to maintain dominance, possibly mostly for its own sake or possibly to get tangible services cheaply, or perhaps the abuser is unhappy in a way that seeing someone happy makes them feel bad.

Afterthought: There may be a different pattern of an abuser being entirely internally driven to attack, so that the attacks are really unconnected to the abusee's emotional states. I'm saying this because I don't want to overgeneralize from what's going on with me, but I don't know whether recovery from truly random abuse would take a somewhat different path.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/512601.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:st_rev
Date:November 9th, 2011 07:34 pm (UTC)
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'Victim' carries a value judgement, 'survivor' has a weird temporality to it.
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From:trinker
Date:November 9th, 2011 08:12 pm (UTC)
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In the case of personal (rather than institutional) abuse, I think the abuser is triggered [1] when they see the abusee [2] being comfortable or happy. [3]



Yes.
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From:bemused_leftist
Date:November 9th, 2011 08:20 pm (UTC)
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A worthwhile issue, thanks.
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From:goodbyemyboy
Date:November 9th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC)
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[3] Hypothetical motivations: the abuser wants to maintain dominance, possibly mostly for its own sake or possibly to get tangible services cheaply, or perhaps the abuser is unhappy in a way that seeing someone happy makes them feel bad.

I think at least part of the motivation is that seeing the abusee happy without the help/permission of the abuser makes the abuser feel a loss of control. I know that a big part of emotional abuse is removing the abusee's access to people or hobbies outside of the relationship with the abuser, and what you're saying fits with my experience. For example, my abuser was okay when I was happy because we watched a show together that he'd introduced me to, but when I started watching the show on my own, suddenly he no longer wanted to talk about it because I had "ruined" it for him.
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