Trauma and Standpoint: Inflicting Hierarchy via Mimesis

Leys describes the memetic and antimimetic aspects of trauma to be one of the sticking points of most theories of trauma.  Past psychoanalysts found that their patients would imitate hypnotic suggestion, indicating that the memories might be implanted (citation) – the survivors of abuse also appeared to adopt the perspectives over their abusers (citation).

This is actually very similar to Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages begin to associate their identities with the well-being of their captors.  In relating this to trauma, I wonder if perhaps the infliction of trauma becomes one of the many means by which social hierarchies and hegemony are maintained.  And this wouldn’t just be at the macro level of culture (e.g. lynchings) – we would also see this at the “micro” level of family units (e.g. child abuse, infanticide).

My realization, though, is that in trauma we have focused most of our attention on the victims, the “survivors.”  But there are two groups that continue forward after trauma – the victims, and the perpetrators.  And I don’t think enough work has been done to understand why certain individuals become perpetrators and others do not.  We speak of the “cycle of violence,” but Herman indicates that many survivors of childhood abuse do not become abusers themselves – instead, they become even more protective over their children than those who have not known abuse (citation).  So in this sense, the symptoms of PTSD (the “always-on” sensation of constant vigilance) could be interpreted as a kind of high-stress mood setting for better protecting the family.

But, because these victims are trying to get by and are more concerned with protecting their families than protecting themselves, they tend to suffer the types of mental breakdown that get noticed by clinicians.  And so we have extensive theories about the victim responses to trauma because these are the individuals who “need treatment” in order to continue functioning.

On the other hand, the perpetrators typically don’t seek treatment.  And why would they?  Whenever they suffer explosive fits of rage, they take it out on others.  The internal tension is released and hurled upon others as a fury of angry devastation.  Or for narcissists, there is no internalized sense of guilt because everything bad is someone else’s fault.

This ties in with Herman’s example of the woman who was “treated” for failing to adequately “appease” her abusive husband.  Because the abusive husband refused to interact with the researchers, they turned to the wife instead, and they found that by “helping” her become more submissive, they could reduce the intensity of the husband’s abuse (citation).

This also ties in very closely with standpoint theory.  Herman uses the above example to indicate how psychologists failed to appropriately integrate feminism into their work (citation), and the ignorance of the male researchers regarding the unjust and unequal expectations of women reveals the blindness that stems from privilege (find citation).

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