01 January 2009

Predator-Prey Relationships

Every now and then, I'll be sitting, thinking, [coffee is usually involved in this process] and suddenly two concepts snap together like puzzle pieces. The join is absolutely seamless. And all at once the world looks different, and I wonder why on earth I never saw 'the fit' before.

Most of the time this is a good thing, and uplifting; but now and then it can be very unsettling.

Recently I've been contemplating the way in which abusers seem to focus on eliciting pity.

They seek pity from the people they want to target, and they seek it from the people they want to dupe. The duping is important, because an abuser can't successfully isolate and abuse the target unless friends, co-workers, relatives, etc., can be counted on to side with the abuser if the target ever tries to describe the abuse and obtain help. It's essential, in other words, that everyone else be fooled into thinking the abuser is a terrific person.

This business of pre-emptively poisoning the well is, of course, a secondary level of abuse, from which the abuser derives even more pleasure. Not only is he or she abusing the target, he or she has the target's friends and loved ones so totally deceived that the target can find no solace or support...

And the foundation upon which this entire process rests appears to be the deliberate eliciting of pity. For this awareness I am indebted to Martha Stout, Ph.D., and her book "The Sociopath Next Door", as well as to Robert Hare, Ph.D., author of "Without Conscience" and [with John Babiak, Ph.D.] "Snakes in Suits: When Sociopaths Go To Work" and Lundy Bancroft, author of "Why Does He DO That?".

Dr. Stout makes it clear that sociopaths [all of whom are abusers; and I believe that all abusers are essentially sociopathic when behaving abusively, even if the label doesn't 'stick' at other times] deliberately seek to be pitied because they know that pity is disarming.

This I understand, this I have internalized, this I am defended against, now.

Over the coffee, however, I put this information together with something else, something I learned long, long ago in ACOA:

"Adult children of alcoholics [and of other dysfunctional parents] tend to confuse pity with love."

I am not, ordinarily, an "OMFG" type of person, but that is precisely what I said, except not as an acronym, when the significance of these two facts, taken together, hit me.





Those of us with severely dysfunctional parents tend to confuse pity with love; this is a lifelong weakness against which we must be ever vigilant.

Meanwhile, abusers deliberately seek to elicit pity from those they intend to abuse or otherwise exploit.

Net result:

Children raised by dysfunctional parents - parents who are actively alcoholic, mentally ill and untreated, or otherwise impaired in their parenting - are PREDISPOSED TO LOVE ABUSERS PREFERENTIALLY OVER NONABUSERS.

Abusers KNOWINGLY USE this predisposition.

It troubles me greatly to think that so many of us have, for all intents and purposes, been programmed to love monsters - even worse, to prefer loving monsters - so that we risk spending our lives in what can only be termed

"predator-prey relationships".

What troubles me even more, however, is that the monsters clearly know this, and have just as clearly known it all along.


Blogger Catherine said...

Talk about a light going on!! I always wondered why it seemed that I ended up with abusers. I even joked with my girl friends that I could walk into a room of 100 men and pick out the one abuser in the mix. NOW that makes sense. Something to think about...Thanks for the insight.

01 January, 2009 23:09  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Thank you, too.

I think the pity=love linkage explains a lot. It especially explains why the pull towards abusers can be powerful and difficult to overcome.

"Repetition compulsion" doesn't really explain that - the compulsion has to come from somewhere.

"It feels just like home" comes closer to explaining it, but doesn't really explain its strength [a lot of us have no illusions about 'home' yet are still vulnerable to abuse].

But "pity = love and abusers seek pity" explains exactly where the repetition compulsion comes from, as well as why it is so strong.

This is an extremely recent insight for me; it has more implications but I haven't worked my way into them yet.

For one, I think this may explain why some enablers [of the abuser] are so adamant in withholding compassion from the target. If pity = love in the enablers' minds as well, then they would also be conditioned to prefer the abuser...

Yes, there's a lot to think about. Thanks for commenting!

02 January, 2009 00:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a little confused over the use of the word pity.

I can't ever remember pitying my abusive narcissistic mother or enabling emotionally withdrawn father. I feared them, I was in awe of them, I thought them superior beings (even as a teenager, but to a lesser degree) but I can't remember feeling pity for them. At least not while I was under their thumb and still living at home.

Again, with every abuser I have ever come across, usually of the ilk of pastor's wives or church 'counsellors' who were sexual predators, these people elicited more of an awed response, even infatuation, but not pity.

I can see how the abuser may pity his target, but then Narcissists for example really have no desire to help anyone unless it makes them look good.

Would you mind explaining how Stout, O'Hare et al use this word.


02 January, 2009 18:19  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Hi Meg

It's not just the most obvious form of pity, but also any form of inappropriate sympathy or compassion. [Which is admittedly sippery, because the inappropriateness is contextual, and not always obvious.]

So, for instance, susceptible people might not grieve for a stealthily abusive pastor's wife in the way they'd be inclined to grieve for a homeless old drunk on a winter day, but they'd be vulnerable to pity of a different sort:

the "she's-so-dedicated how-can-she-DO-it-all what-a-wonderful-selfless-PERSON-she-is" kind of unthinking sympathy that refuses to admit there are any flies on its idol. [She's all good, she tells me so herself all the time, poor hardworking wonderful thing, so if you have any problems with her, it must be all YOUR fault...]

Think about the schoolteacher you and your son had a run-in with, and see if this fits that case, in re other people being unable to see her clearly. And remember: you're aware, you understand abusive dynamics, and that makes you much less susceptible.

I've been reading news coverage of the Caylee Anthony horror story and I see echos of this second kind of pity in some of the truly clueless reactions to the [allegedly] murdering mother. Amazing statements like "she's a liar but she's a good mother".

This is flatly impossible; no pathological liar can be a good parent, under any circumstances. It's not selective, they don't 'turn it off at home' and turn into wonderful perfect parents there. But pathological liars are pathetic human beings, and thoughtless people will allow that pathos to cloud their judgement.

In other words, it's not all direct, easily recognizable pity. Some of it is the 'well, I wouldn't want to kick someone when they're down' 'hasn't he/she suffered enough?' kind. Usually in that scenario, the abuser isn't 'down' or 'suffering' or anything like it, but they've managed to con their audience into thinking they are.

Basically any degree of compassion or sympathy will be seized upon and exploited by an abuser. Intentionally. Likewise any form of 'survivor's guilt'.

The classic example of this is the tired old lie, much favored by criminal sociopaths: "but I'm a victim too" or "but I'm the REAL victim here". Even if the emotion of pity is not felt to a recognizable degree in response to that arrant nonsense, if any of the onlookers begins to insist that we need to be sure we're not overreacting, now, we have to be fair to the poor [mass murderer, serial rapist, embezzler, pedophile, etc.] - they've fallen for it.

Hope this helps!

A note on infatuation: there's often a strong element of willingness to self-sacrifice that goes along with it. Abusers know how to use that too.

02 January, 2009 21:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Lundy Bancroft said in Why Does He Do That, "an abuser has never gotten better by someone feeling sorry for them".

03 January, 2009 08:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pity brought me back more times than I can count.

03 January, 2009 10:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Stormy,

Great post. Must be telepathy because I was googling to find info on how & why my parents bullied each other & us kids, but always sought to portray our FOO as the perfect family to the outside world. Then, decided to read yr blogs, which I havent done in a while & voila, I find this.

Yes, they poisoned the well, so no outsider would believe they were bullies & it took a long time for me to admit to myself that they were bullies becuz they poisoned my well too.

Happy New Yr, Storm & thanx.

16 January, 2009 11:37  

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