Since writing "Quixote in Ramadi," there has been an outcry from perpetrators whom are depicted in the novel. Such individuals have resorted to telling me that speaking about abuse in a book is "wrong" and that I should be "respectful" and maintain my silence, so as not to offend the people I'm portraying. This demonstration in a lack of self-awareness is part of what contributes to abusive behavior. Abusers who cry foul when confronted while continually victimizing others is not something in which I can call respectful and remain silent. There comes a point where one can either choose to succumb to the abuse or draw the line by addressing the root causes. I choose the latter.
Whether one is enduring or has experienced physical, psychological, or sexual abuse, here are some factors that abusers often resort to in order to keep someone in a victim mindset:
1. Disempowerment - The goal of the abuser to to take away any power base from the victim, leaving the individual to question their self-worth and disabling any thoughts on self-defense. This is done in anticipation that the victim will either become dependent on the abuser or will have little to no resources to turn to in the event of any rejection of the abuse. Sources of support to include friends, family, colleagues, and other avenues of assistance to remove the abuse are, in turn, attacked by the abuser to further disempower the victim. The goal is for the victim to acknowledge the abuser as an unquestionable authority figure regardless of legal or ethical conflicts.
2. Exhaustion - An abuser intends to not only take away one's ability to thrive, but also resorts to tactics which are intended to exhaust the victim on a physiological and/or psychological level. The intent is to overwhelm the victim, cause confusion, and ultimately halt any rebuttal or conscious efforts to maintain personal security. When one is confused, one loses their situational awareness and any efforts in effective decision making and communication become impaired. The goal is to diminish motivation and ability in the victim to fight back.
3. Humiliation - Efforts to exhaust and degrade the victim are often accompanied by behaviors and speech involving humiliation. From hate speech based on gender, ethnicity, background, beliefs, or anything belonging to the victim's identity to physically embarrassing the victim, humiliation takes on various forms. Humiliation involves violence on some level and most of such violence involves some knowledge, familiarity or intimacy between victim and the abuser. Institutional violence (discrimination, racial persecution, etc) or direct violence (hate crimes, sexual assault, etc) are forms of humiliation. Victim-shaming after a traumatic event also falls into this category. The goal is to cause intense anguish and pain in order to prevent the victim from believing that there is any hope and for the victim to perceive that they are "beneath" the abuser.
4. Manipulation - An abuser, in effort to maintain power, may resort to manipulating previous positive memories or prior intimacy to convince the victim that they are cared for in spite of abuse. When one is busy questioning the presence of love in the realm of abuse, one is also too busy to confront the abuser effectively. Efforts to make the victim feel isolated, invisible, or insignificant can be committed through manipulation involving indifference, apathy, or denying the victim's experience. The goal is to confuse the victim and convince them that the abusive behavior is acceptable instead of addressing it.
5. Distortion - In effort of self-preservation, an abuser will often turn to distorting events to refrain from any accountability or responsibility toward the victim. Distortion is an egregious effort to silence the victim through insidious speech or behavior that involves a gross lack of integrity, accountability, and respect. The goal is to convince the victim that the abuse simply "didn't happen" or to forget about pursuing justice related to the trauma all together.
While these are only a few aspects of abusive behavior, these manifestations of abuse can exist in families, relationships, workplaces, and everywhere else involving human interaction. Abuse can only be stopped through confronting and halting the behavior, in addition to acknowledging any enabling factors or parties and addressing them accordingly. In the end, if we are victimized, we can choose to survive, to end abuse and, ultimately, lead the way into a healthier future.
To read more about what's getting abusers riled up, check out "Quixote in Ramadi" on Amazon: click here.
Dispatches from an itinerant and irreverent artist.