Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and The Erosion of Identity
by Marie-France Hirigoyen
If you have asked yourself any or all of the following questions about a love relationship—
- How did I attract a person like this?
- What have I done to deserve such cruelty/treatment/punishment?
- What did I do wrong? He used to adore me…
- Why is everything my fault?
- What can I do to make him see how he is hurting me?
Take heart, this book is a radical change from many books about relationships. Books that all too often flatly state that there are no victims in relationships. Which, of course, would imply that there are no perpetrators in relationships either. If you have been involved with a SAC and/or narcissist, you have known a perpetrator. The trouble for PoSAs is, no one will say that, validate our knowing.
Yet, really? No victims? In relationships that serve only one party? That is the popular wisdom and the frequent conclusion of many psychologies. Therapists are trained to remain neutral even when obvious emotional abuses are played out in front of them. Infidelities and narcissistic emotional abuses are not considered serious enough to warrant speaking out in favor of the victim.
Then, there is the truth that we as a culture hold the victim to blame for whatever occurred to attempt to make sense of, to impose rationale onto a world that often does not make a lot of sense.
Well, dispense with such New Age ideas that absolve all relational wrongs such as: “there are no guilty parties, only accomplices in the outcome.” What if it is just plain wrong to abuse the trust of another, especially someone in an intimate relationship? What if deception—of any sort—is abusive? What if using another person for one’s own gains—even if that using is unconscious—is wrong? Just plain wrong. Wrong as in: not condoned, no neutrality accepted in the face of abuses and deceptions. This book calls for an end to therapeutic neutrality and directs therapists to cease listening dispassionately and to actively speak up and even to intervene when abuse is observed.
What if a morality of protecting the less powerful person in relationships is developing? This book calls for an end of therapeutic dispassion and a return of empathy and kindness, a sort of patient championing, yes—taking sides.
What if there really are perpetrators in relationships? And what if those perpetrators have real victims, sometimes many victims? Now, that would be an entirely new way of exploring relationships. . .
First a little history about therapeutic neutrality:
At the inception of modern psychology in the latter 1800′s, it was no doubt very important for early psychology to distance itself from rigid morality of its era, the fin de siècle. That time is over 100 years past, and now it is time for psychology—a respected profession—to take a stance, both philosophically and morally. Books like Stalking the Soul are the harbingers of a more firmly established psychology.
Therapeutic neutrality is the practice of a couples’ counselor being utterly neutral and not taking sides in the practice of working with couples, adopting the stance that there are no victims in interpersonal relationships. This is frequently because the perpetrator has directly or indirectly threatened to cease therapy if the abuses are pointed out by the therapist. Although there are therapists that actually have convinced themselves that both parties in a struggling relationship are in the wrong, many therapists are simply attempting to keep the couple as an entity in therapy long enough to strengthen the victim. The difficulty with that position is that the neutrality often feels like agreement to the victims. And to the perpetrators. The relationship continues without mediation as a result of the fragile therapeutic bonds, re-traumatizing the already one-down victim.
Sadly, the same thing often occurs when a victim seeks spiritual solace; a brief note on spiritual neutrality:
A world without God-sanctioned perpetrators and victims makes God a much more likable entity. God can keep his reputed goodness, power and omnipresence if he is on the side of rightness and holds no culpability for the injustices in the world. As long as all evil is projected onto an evil entity, and goodness onto God, religion is big business, really big business. Everyone is a wrongdoer and all wrongdoers can seek God—usually for a price—which is very good for the business of religion.
This system claims that it is not God’s fault when one human hurts another. It is always the humans who are at fault here, humans influenced by Satan or separated from God or human agency or something that God did not choose. No matter how it is packaged, it is never the creator’s fault that the creation contains enormous amounts of cruelty.
Pretty good job description for religions to ascribe to; all the glory and none of the blame. I worked for a manager like that one time. And he was very, very abusive. This religious notion further isolates the victims. Victims who are already isolated.
Emotional abuse has the following components:
- Indirectness; the “rules” are never overt and declared. These “rules” are subject to change and are decided entirely by the perpetrator for the benefit of the perpetrator and imposed upon the victim.
- A violation of power on one or more levels—fairness and/or the humanity of the victim is not a factor.
- Manipulative, exploitative; communication is one-way, occluded, subject to various interpretations; the final arbitrator of the interpretation is always the perpetrator.
- The relationship overwhelmingly serves only the perpetrator.
Diminished and/or withheld emotional intimacy has an element of emotional abuse. When emotional closeness is offered and then retracted; becomes increasingly less intimate and/or less often; used as a manipulation to determine the recipient’s behavior; emotional abuse is at hand.
When one party gains at the expense of the other in a relationship, emotional abuse is occurring.
There is the faint reverberation of the Grail Question from the Grail Legends: Whom does the Grail serve? It took Percival many years to rediscover the Grail Castle and ask the correct question. Now that psychology is positioned to drop therapeutic neutrality and to pose this question in relational therapies: Whom does this relationship serve? No more rigid neutrality that further victimizes the victims and covertly condones, even encourages, the perpetrators.
Maybe the timing is ripe for the question to be posed—maybe it is time for therapists (especially), theologians and philosophers to ask: Whom does this relationship serve?
Perhaps the healing will begin, and many relational wastelands become fertile again. Perhaps.