31 May 2008

Recreational Malice

There is a theme, present as an undercurrent in a number of my previous posts, which I think needs more direct emphasis at this point.

I'm talking, as the title of this post makes clear, about recreational malice, and its place at the center of abusive interactions.

First, let's define malice. A nice, clean definition is presented in the Free Online Dictionary:
"A desire to harm others or to see others suffer; extreme ill will or spite."
Now, let's define recreation. From the same online source, I've chosen the second definition offered:
"An activity done for pleasure or relaxation."
Moving right along, recreational malice can be defined as:
Desiring or pursuing the harming of others, or their suffering, as a source of pleasure; indulging ill will or spite as a form of relaxation.
In the most recent post I've linked to above, Aranna [whose entirely fictitious name is taken from the Spanish word for spider] spun a web of spite and defamation around a man she claimed to care for, speaking ill of him to an audience of friends who were so mesmerized by her pretense of caring that they did not see the actual content of the words, or their use to manipulate. This is a common tactic of abusers; poisoning the well in advance, discrediting a target who is not present to defend himself or herself to people who have never even met the person being 'slimed'.

It only works where malice is an accepted form of recreation.

In the second of the three posts I've linked to above, Pica [whose entirely fictitious name is an acronym for Person I Consider Abusive] engaged in very similar tactics. Pica's tactics were directed against an un-named member of her own group, someone she considered a threat to her domination of that group, a possibly present, unidentified target as opposed to an absent, unknown target. Her behavior is at least as reprehensible as Aranna's. Again, if you read through the post and see the elements of groupthink being exploited in the situation, it will hopefully be clear that Pica's skillful and adept 'enemy creation'...

only worked because the group was accustomed to malice as an accepted form of recreation.

The third linked post doesn't include a case history, but makes the point that "if we respond to abusers by abusing them in return, we indeed become, to some extent, the thing we abhor. Trapped in Karpman dynamics, we merely persecute our persecutor."

This is the ultimate result of recreational malice when it is not actively identified and actively resisted during the process of recovery.

Having said this, let me be very clear about what I am NOT saying.

I am not saying that we who have been abused have no right to describe the abuse to supportive third parties. On the contrary; this is the process by which all wrongs are brought to light, and, in the extreme, the process by which criminality is exposed.

I am not saying that we who have been abused have no right to identify our abusers in conversations with supportive third parties. Again, on the contrary: this is the process by which wrongdoers are brought to light, and, in the extreme, the process by which criminals are identified for prosecution.

I am also not saying that we who have been abused have no right to tell our stories more than once. In fact, the ability to repeat the story to supportive listeners is a first step towards drawing the poison of abuse out of our lives. It is also the only way we have to teach and warn others. Theory alone won't do it; we have to use specific, concrete illustrations to demonstrate the abusive behavior and tactics, and ways of resistance and escape.

What I am saying is this: there is a danger here, one we must be aware of and defend ourselves against. C.S. Lewis, in Chapter 17 of "Mere Christianity", described it well (emphasis mine):
The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, `Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything - God and our friends and ourselves included - as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
Lewis' words are strong stuff, but the danger he describes is real. In our process of recovery from abuse, we must be aware of malice, especially because so much of it was modeled for us by our abusers, who used it relentlessly against us.

We must be very aware of the dangers associated with malice as a source of pleasure. We must learn to recognize not only the open malice practiced against us by our abusers, but also malice disguised as concern, disguised as honesty, disguised as righteousness; the malice - wherever, against whomever, it is directed - that may come, unaware or otherwise, from our best friend, our closest co-worker, our most admired superior, or ultimately, our own hearts.

Such malice-for-pleasure is a trap into which any one of us may fall, at any time; we who have been wronged must guard fiercely against it, because the unchecked indulgence of recreational malice ultimately transforms those who were abused into those who abuse.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As usual, your writing is not only thought-provoking, but also lends itself to soul-searching.

You have articulated well the issue that I struggled to make clear to people about my mom. I was always trying to determine what was the right thing to do in situations with her, and try to determine how not to "abuse the abuser". The problem was what she would consider abuse would be different from what others considered abuse, and my thinking can still become muddled regarding this issue.

Glad to see you're back safely from your road trip.


01 June, 2008 12:15  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Hello C. - thanks for your comment!

It's much easier to see this dynamic at work in groups, where 'hating Susie' or 'trashing boyfriends' is an easily recognized pastime.

It's not quite as easy to see its instigation by a group leader - like Pica or Aranna - but it can still be seen if you look for the mixed message ["I really can't stand X, and I want you to dislike them too, or I won't be able to stand you either. Isn't this fun?"]. When hating is coerced and/or presented as fun, there's something seriously wrong.

To see the dynamic in ourselves is incredibly challenging. We've been injured, after all, and we have a right to respond to that. Which is true; but our response to abusers needs to be different from their behavior towards us. When we begin to enjoy hating them, we're in danger of becoming them...

That's why I love the Lewis quote so. He's captured the issue, and the process of self-examination that is needed to confront it, very clearly.

He also makes it equally clear just what is at stake.

In re muddled thinking - CZBZ has a good link, at "The Narcissistic Continuum" [linked at right], to an essay by Lundy Bancroft that un-muddles a lot of currently very muddled legal and psychological thinking about certain types of abuse. He's particularly coherent about how abusers define any resistance to their abuse as... the target abusing THEM!

Check her sidebar for his name, and you'll find it.

Hugs to you -- Storm

01 June, 2008 13:15  
Blogger CZBZ said...

Dear Stormchild,

I have so much to say about this topic but not sure how to go about it. It's complicated. It's even political. Especially in the Day and Age when 'pleasing others' is deemed to be a pathology. If you know what I mean.

Walking the gentle path, even when leaving an abusive relationship, is unfortunately viewed as being 'weak, pathetic, sick, cowardly.' I don't think a lot of people realize it takes more courage to walk barehanded than it does to carry a big stick.

Malice-for-pleasure is an insightful way to describe what we witness every day. The trick in healing from abusive relationships is in not becoming abusers ourselves.

I'll stop writing for now and ruminate on your message a little more. I have a few shrubbery yet to plant and digging holes always evokes deep thought. ha!


03 June, 2008 11:29  
Blogger Stormchild said...


It certainly is complicated, and it's definitely encroached on politics, in a big way. But let's not stop there. You can see it in sports, in commerce... no place is really free of it.

One of the biggest problems - IMO - is the fact that, whether we find ourselves in sports, politics, commerce, religious life, or academe, there seem to be behavioral models of abusiveness all around us. By contrast, there are often very few models of healthy nonabusiveness to compare them to.

We tend to do what we know how to do, and what we know how to do is usually what we've seen others do... whether we're eight or eighty, that's how we learn.

And round and round it goes.

Back to C.S. Lewis again. The key, I think, is to watch for signs of enjoyment... if we can learn to step back when that flag goes up, in our companions or in ourselves, we've already accomplished a lot.

03 June, 2008 19:30  
Blogger Cinder Ella said...

The C.S. Lewis quote....is perfect. This very same issue is an on-going struggle for me. The wonder of whether my actions toward my mother are appropriate/correct/within reason. Even when trying to determine whether enjoyment is involved, there's a catch when life's enjoyment has been defined for us. When we suspect our own emotions and motives....every bit of clarity is a jewel.


04 June, 2008 01:56  
Blogger CZBZ said...

As I thought about Malice-for-Pleasure, the word "Schadenfreude" came to mind: the sneaky satisfaction of watching someone fail. In other words: finding pleasure in other people's pain.

Creepy, huh? And most of us would be loath to admit we were pleased when an arrogant neighbor's new BMW was smashed in Nordstrom's parking lot.

I think self-awareness is key. For me, self-awareness means recognizing my reactions to other people's pain and if I'm kinda happy that a snotty friend just got her comeuppance, I ask myself 'why'. Why am I pleased another person is suffering?

The answers to that question are usually not very pleasant.

Am I envious of her BMW? If so, then it's time to examine the root cause of my envy and Get Over Myself. It's not time to deny my 'lesser instincts' are there; it's time put 'em in their place.

Vengeance usually satisfies lesser instincts but troubles the conscience. The more I deny that I’m seeking revenge instead of justice, the more I lie to myself about my intentions and the further and further I get from living true to the principles and values guiding my life.

I know this is difficult for people who have been abused. But I agree with you, Stormchild---we must be very “aware of the dangers associated with malice as a source of pleasure.” And we must also be aware how susceptible we are when other people endorse vengeance as justifiable. People who encourage us to be the very worst person we can be are not our friends. It may feel like ‘friendship’, but its not. It’s GroupThink.

Just my opinion…But over the years, I’ve witnessed a lot of bad stuff to back it up.


04 June, 2008 11:33  
Blogger Stormchild said...


You are so right. When we have been taught to enjoy certain things it's so hard to go back and question that teaching, that enjoyment... and it's even harder in a situation where we're part of a group being encouraged to enjoy these things.


Yeah. I've witnessed a lot of bad stuff too. This is one of the things that GaNgs run on... taking pleasure from hurting others: rival gaNg members, desigNated scapegoats, or whoever doesn't go along with the groupthiNk.

Meg, at A Survivor's Story [and at Brisbane Christian Fellowship, linked at right], has a lot to say about this phenomenon recently, as well.

[re-posted to fix broken link... I hope!]

04 June, 2008 21:27  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I also make the point here that, sometimes, not apportioning credit for utter blackness of intention can do you more harm than you realise.

For a long period of time, I thought the leaders of the cult we were in 'weren't that bad'. I thought they were just, at best, misintentioned. I realise now, after four years of hard work recognising Narcissism and Psychopathy for what it is, that it simply is not the case.

I thought the cult we were in couldn't do any worse than destroy people's marriages and families, and cause people to have nervous breakdowns until I heard this weekend of a 58 year old man who had been trying to leave the cult for years committed suicide. These cult leaders will now blame the victim for his own demise and teach his children to see him as the enemy even in his absence.

I think true evil lives in the world and sometimes you have nothing left but to simply acknowledge it, and make every effort to avoid it.

I guess recreational malice is about as evil as it gets.

09 June, 2008 01:29  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home