Hosted by journalist Ellie Flynn, the group of young people view the story ofAlex and Rachel over two days. The story unfolds in 6 parts and ends with an accusation of coercive control.
What is coercive control?
Coercive control describes a pattern of behaviour by an abuser to harm, punish or frighten their victim.
Coercive control was criminalized in England in 2015.
Over the last 18 months, coercive control has hit the headlines following the re-trial of Sally Challen over the killing of her husband.
In Hawaii the definition of domestic violence was expanded to include coercive control and on September 15, 2020 and in California coercive control was added to the Family Code on September 29, 2020.
During the coronavirus pandemic, called to the UK’s National Domestic Violence helpline rose by 49% percent and incidents of intimate partner homicide rose by 50%.
Different perceptions of coercive control
After viewing the story of Alex and Rachel, the group are asked if they can identify any signs of coercive control and vote on whether the behavior they are watching fits the crimes.
To some members of the group, the behavior the witness in the story of Alex and Rachel seems typical of any relationship but other participants think it crosses the line.
Do any members of the group have a good enough grasp on what coercive control is that they can to spot criminal behavior?
The program found that 70% of participants weren’t able to spot the red flags of coercive control.
After viewing and discussing each segment of Alex and Rachel’s story, barrister Clare Ciborowska, analyses the film the group has viewed and explains what coercive control is according to the law. She also answers questions from the participants.
On September 15, 2020, Hawaii became the first US state to adopt legislation against Coercive Control. Governor David Ige signed into law a historic amendment expanding the definition of domestic abuse to include “Coercive Control between family or household members for the purposes of insurance and protective orders.”
Coercive Control is the first step in domestic violence
Rep. David A. Tarnas introduced House Bill 2425, which expands the concept of domestic violence to include Coercive Control.
“HB2425 adds Coercive Control to the definition of domestic abuse. It is a useful term to help strengthen our statutory basis for preventing domestic violence”, Rep. Tarnas said at the bill signing. “We need to address domestic violence because it is pervasive in our community. It is even worse now because of the economic impact fo the COVID pandemic.”
Coercive Control is the first step in domestic violence. If we can identify it and stop it there, we can save lives.
Rep. David A. Tarnas
Rep. Tarnas described how he learned about Coercive Control through the advocacy of two constituents. “Officer May Lee in Waimea, first introduced me to this whole concept and educated me about how Coercive Control is the first step in domestic violence. If we can identify it and stop it there, we can save lives.”
The bill was inspired by Scotland’s domestic abuse prevention program, widely praised as the most cutting edge in the world.
“I want to acknowledge another constituent, Barbara Gerbert, [professor emeritus and chair of the Division of Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco] who has been working in domestic violence prevention research for years”, said Rep. Tarnas. “She was the first person to tell me about Scotland, where they incorporated Coercive Control into their statutes. It has shown to be very effective over time at reducing the incidence of domestic [abuse] cases that escalated into violence. They feel that it did prevent homicides from happening in an area where they had significant problems.”
Superintendent Gordon McCreadie, the former national lead for domestic abuse for Police Scotland, was delighted by news of Hawaii’s new Coercive Control Bill.
“When appointed in 2017, I never imagined that Police Scotland and partners including Medics Against Violence would influence legislative change in Hawaii on coercive control.”
Under the leadership of Superintendent McCreadie, 25,000 police officers were educated about domestic violence and coercive control in Scotland.
The groundwork for Hawaii’s Coercive Control bill
Through her extensive domestic abuse research, Professor Gerbert is a key figure in the advancement of the understanding Coercive Control in Scotland today.
Professor Gerbert explains, “In my research at the University of California, San Francisco, I developed a model of steps people could use to reduce domestic violence. AVDR: Ask Validate Document and Refer. My goal was to support and simplify what law enforcement, health care professionals, veterinarians, etc., could do.”
“In 2009, the newly formed Violence Reduction Unit in Scotland asked me if they could use my AVDR model,” says Professor Gerbert, “Scotland had a very high rate of all types of violence. In 10 years violence rates have decreased dramatically.”
In 2017, the short film Harderwasproduced as part of the training program. The clip illustrated some of the red flags of domestic abuse, specifically the omnipotence aspect of Coercive Control and what professionals can do when they spot it.
After many years of tireless research and advocacy, a broader understanding of non-physical abuse was achieved, pinpointing coercive and controlling behavior as well as ways that members of the community and law enforcement could intervene.
If you would like to see the definition of domestic abuse expanded to include Coercive Control in your state, reach out to your local representative. Write and tell them about the historic Coercive Control Bill in Hawaii and how you think it could benefit your state.
Coercive Control FAQ
What is criminal coercive behavior?
Coercive behavior is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.
What is criminal controlling behavior?
Controlling behavior is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behavior.
Are there coercive control laws in the United States?
I guarantee there is an entire generation that will instantly relate the word isolation to the 2020 COVID-19 crisis.
I do not.
I will not.
Every time I hear that word, my past haunts me.
Images flash in my mind.
But they are not of the present social distancing, wearing a mask, quarantine, and antibody testing. The images brought to my mind remind me of a different place, a different time when I was a different person.
The smaller a malignant narcissist can make your world, the more you will feel dependent on them.
Isolating the victim makes it easier for the manipulator to distort the third partys’ perception of the victim and dominate the narrative.
An Invisible Prison
The last few months of social isolation have been extraordinarily difficult for me. I am reminded of my current strengths daily, as well as the person I used to be. In the blink of an eye, I remember things I wish I could forget.
When I was a married woman, living in a New York suburb, we had an electronic gate at the end of a very long driveway. Located in a well-to-do, bucolic neighborhood, the gate was attached to a concrete wall separating the house from the road – from the world.
There was a large metal box on one side of the front wall, which contained the gate’s motor and electronics. I did not know how to open nor operate the secured machinery. And there were video cameras everywhere. An ordinary person would think they were for security purposes — but I will get to that.
You can be living in the dark hole of abuse – and not realize how bad it is until you start telling other people what is happening.
The man I was then married to was in total control of operating the gate. On good days, I had a code to get in and a motion detector operated to let me out. However, on bad days when he felt I was disobedient when I had not been silent or had not worshipped him accordingly – he disconnected that gate when he left for work, abandoning me in a home with what I believed was no way out.
My sons would have to walk around or climb over the gate to get to the cul de sac for their school bus. When the gate was rendered inoperable – my world shrank and became even more restricted. I was ordered to remain at home until further notice.
Isolation was a punishment. It was deliberate. It was a minute component in the cycle of abuse.
Survival Mode in Coercive and Controlling Relationships
Looking back, I wonder: who was that woman who received such punishment?
I could not drive a car out of the driveway with that damn gate stuck closed – but why didn’t I walk around it like my sons?
I never even considered it. I obeyed him. I lived in constant fear.
I was married to a man for almost two decades who used isolation amongst other Coercive Control tactics to dominate me. In the years since my divorce, I learned that his behaviors are consistent with narcissistic abuse.
In my case, other kinds of harm were added to the mix, such as domestic violence, and financial abuse.
During my lengthy, high conflict divorce, the man who would later be known as my “ex” was diagnosed by several forensic psychologists as:
having anti-social personality disorder, and
being morally bankrupt.
Did I ever hear of those terms before court-ordered reports?
For almost 20 years, I was so deep in survival mode, that I did not even consider there to be personality disorders and distinctions. It was just my way of life, a way of life I needed to survive for my children.
How Coercive Control Destroys Support Systems
Gradually, friends left my life, my family became estranged, people I had known for years stopped contacting me.
Eventually, the only human contact I had was with my children’s teachers and occasionally parents of my children’s classmates. But even those contacts diminished.
I tried socializing with other people in our community – as couples normally would – but that never lasted too long.
My ex-husband would tell me that people didn’t like me or only bothered with me because they thought I had money, convincing me that all break downs in communication with the outside world were my fault.
For many years, I never questioned it.
I was a class mother for my sons in school, an assistant soccer coach, a softball mom, etc.
I lived my life day to day as a mother of two sons whom I cared for and practically raised alone as their father showed no interest in them until I began to stand up for myself, mentioning divorce.
Throughout their childhoods, my sons learned that the only time their father showed them attention was when they would mirror his interests. My sons eventually understood how the equation worked, dropped their interests and passions, and reflected their father.
No more soccer, softball, or basketball. Playdates were few and far between.
Getting back to that gate at the entrance of my home address — everyone thought it was to keep people out when, in reality, its purpose was to keep me in.
There were days I just stayed at home, often recovering from bruises, with no means of escape.
I guess I was so traumatized, controlled, and terrified that I did not dare climb over that gate to get out. I remained at home, in fear, until I had a release date that my then-husband determined. The security cameras were strategically placed around that gate to allow him to keep an eye on my comings and goings, recording it on six small television screens within the home and backed up on the Smart House computer system.
There were years of physical, psychological, emotional, and financial brutality. I would be locked in a bathroom, locked in a closet — a prisoner in my own home — all to disarm me, to break me.
But here I am, despite it all. My life turned out to be one of survival over adversity. It is not one of victimhood.
Little by little, I mentioned what was going on to people, I started to read, and believe I deserved better.
You can be living in the dark hole of abuse – and not realize how bad it is until you start telling other people what is happening.
The Effects of Coercive Control on Children
Here is a shout out to anyone married to a narcissist.
They will not want you to leave them, not even when they have a backup plan waiting in the wings in the form of their new supply.
As much as they use isolation to control their victim, narcissists fear abandonment.
If you have children with a narcissist, be prepared for the brainwashing of those children. The narcissist’s lies will be spewed and repeated, eventually destroying the relationship between you and the very children you love so dearly.
When a narcissist knows you are on to them, they will use whatever will hurt you the most to get you back in line.
You can become isolated from the children who were once your entire world – alienated.
During the last few years living under the same roof, my ex did all in his power to separate and isolate me from the children I cherished. He wanted me to be as alone as possible.
Isolation in a COVID-19 World
That word again – isolation. It is a gate that separates you from your children and the world.
Lately, I’ve gotten so tired of hearing people complain about not seeing their families, not seeing their friends, not going out to restaurants, or on vacations. I’ve become inundated with people whining about how they can’t hug their grandchildren or go on their beloved shopping sprees.
Of course, these times are a challenge. But honestly, I think I’ve lived through worse. I often thank my Higher Power that at this very moment, at this very time – I am not in isolation with the man I was once married to.
During this harrowing time of health crisis in our world, I am not isolated as I was in my past. This time, my isolation means I choose to stay safe.
IMAGINE LIFE WITHOUT the ability to generate authentic joy, love, or compassion. It’s hardly a stretch to suggest that one’s internal ecosystem would be a bleak and desolate landscape. However, if you were to open up the mind of a pathological narcissist and look inside, what you would find is a psychological wasteland riddled with persecutory objects.
The ambiguity of malignant narcissism is that its outward manifestations are often the opposite of the internal reality, which is a gaping void. The gnawing emptiness within is a catalyst for narcissistic pretensions that serve to preserve their idealized false self. Chest thumping boasts of supremacy are a safeguard against the toxic shame that has engulfed their true self.
Where others have a conscience, the pathological narcissist has a vacuum. For this reason, they are on a constant hunt to consume anything that might fill the void. Alcohol, narcotics, pornography, sex, gambling, people – you name it, the narcissist ravenously devours it. But it doesn’t fill them up because they are bottomless pits.
When narcissists encounter people who are able to manifest constructive emotions the narcissist cannot, it wounds their pride, stirs their jealousy, and causes a narcissistic injury.
What is a narcissistic injury?
A narcissistic injury is a threat to the narcissist’s false self. The threat may be real or imagined. What matters is that the narcissist’s steely psychological armor is penetrated and they experience a painful reminder that their false self is an illusion.
Sensing danger, their ego sends all hands on deck to rescue the false self from annihilation. For this reason, narcissistic injuries go hand in hand with narcissistic rage.
The narcissist’s first line of defense is a disavowal of reality. They devalue the threat, stripping the individual of their humanity and reducing them to the status of object. The narcissist’s ego then fractures the object as it resorts to primary defense mechanisms, such as splitting and projection.
Someone who was once all good is now all bad. A person once hailed as the light of the narcissist’s life becomes the very heart of darkness. The threatening object is made wrong so that the false self can be right. Thus, the narcissist vindicates themselves from any criticism, wrongdoing, and – most importantly – shame.
The more the narcissist uses splitting as an ego defense, the more anything resembling a cohesive identity unravels. Whenever the ego splits an object, an identical split takes place in the ego itself, causing it to become fragmented. The more a narcissist splits off from the abuse they inflict, the more it escalates.
The narcissist is a paper tiger. Their psychological structure is too feeble to grasp a self-concept with any complexity. They are satisfied to worship an illusion of their perfect false self. This disposition is common in toddlers, but it’s crippling in adults.
The construction of a false self may have shielded them from adverse childhood experiences in their early years, but it is maladaptive in adulthood as it prevents them from living authentic emotional lives.
The need for emotional bonds disgusts them. Yet, paradoxically it is also something they covet.
While the false self mimics edifying emotions, it does not experience them. A kind of emotional rigor mortis defines the narcissist’s existence.
How do narcissists cope with narcissistic injuries?
Their fragility sends them on predatory crusades to boost their ego. They may sustain their insatiable false self with adulation or attention or with cruel power trips utilizing coercive control, and psycho-emotional abuse.
Narcissists believe that by destroying a person or thing, they obtain power over it. They accomplish this through deception, seduction, and psychological cannibalism. To the narcissist, this affirms their imaginary superiority.
It is their way of making the false self appear real.
Narcissistic Injury FAQ
What is a narcissistic injury?
A narcissistic injury is any threat to the narcissist’s false self. The threat may be real or imagined. What matters is that the narcissist’s psychological defenses are penetrated and they experience a painful reminder that their false self is an illusion.
Why are the weakness of a narcissist?
Narcissists are shame-based and have fragile ego structures. They can suffer from low self-esteem, depression, rage, and paranoia.
In dysfunctional families with malignant narcissists or psychopaths at the helm, it is not uncommon for the abuser to target and weaponize children to further isolate the recipient of the abuse.
Why are children targeted for Coercive Control?
Abusers seek to maintain total dominance over the people they target by isolating them. Manipulation of the victim-survivor’s perception is easier to achieve without outside influences, which could be accessed through children or the child themselves.
Therefore, it is in the interest of the abuser to undermine the authority of the victim-survivor in their parental role and willfully sabotage the relationship between the targeted individual and their children.
Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.
In his research Dr. Evan Stark, author of the book ‘Coercive Control’, found that this kind of abuse has a far more damaging and pervasive effect on the a targeted individual than acts of physical abuse.
Dr. Stark’s research found that the violence model of domestic abuse was too limited to gauge the extent of injury because much of suffering inflicted on survivors was not prohibited by law at the time.
“Over the years, we’ve been able to amend the understanding of partner abuse that limited it to violence,” Dr. Stark told Welsh Women’s Aid, “And we’ve talked a little bit about the extent to which it involved Coercive Control. We rejected the violence model in part because we heard from women themselves about the range of harms they were experiencing beyond violence.”
The impact of Coercive Control on children
Child abuse occurs mainly in connection to domestic violence. Dr. Stark’s research found that in 45% of domestic abuse cases, the abuser was hurting the spouse and the children. Exposure to and direct abuse were harmful to children.
Dr. Stark explained, “As I began to interview children and looked at the research of Emma Katz and others – which was based on my work but went way beyond it by looking at the qualitative effected of Coercive Control on children. It really became clear to me that children were being coercively controlled as well as women.”
The study showed that child abuse is closely linked to the abuse of the targeted parent.
Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.
The abuse children experienced at the hands of an abusive parent were low-level assaults, comparable to the abuse inflicted on the targeted parent.
The research findings were the same regarding the sexual assault of children.
Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them as co-abusers.
Dr. Evan Stark
According to Dr. Stark, “There was sexual assault of children, some of it dramatic, but most of it fell on a continuum of sexual coercion: touching, inappropriate dressing [of] boys as well as girls.”
The research also found that children experienced the same patterns of isolation, intimidation and control as the targeted parent.
Children are weaponized in coercive and controlling relationships
The evidence gathered by the researchers discovered that children were often “weaponized” against the targeted parent by the abuser.
Abusers use Coercive Control tactics to modify the identity of the child and turn them against the targeted parent.
Dr. Stark explains, “Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them sometimes as co-abusers if they were older children. They would use them as pawns in court processes as ways of extending their abuse.”
What can be done when children are targets of Coercive Control?
Raising children with a high conflict personality, such as a narcissist or psychopath, can be extraordinarily challenging.
This is especially true, for survivors who have left the relationship and are targets for their abusers vindictiveness.
Have you or someone you know experienced coercive and controlling behavior? Does Dr. Stark’s descriptions of the power dynamics in a dysfunctional family resonate with you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
SOMETIMES IT CAN SEEM as if narcissists possess such extraordinary manipulation skills they appear to bend reality to their will.
This is made painfully clear when they inflict harm on someone and, astonishingly, escape accountability by flipping the script and blaming the person they’ve wronged.
Narcissists are expert at erasing the pain they cause from the narrative. They wipe their hands clean by projecting their malice, aggression and treachery on to the target.
The more malignant a narcissist is, the less of a conscience they have. This makes them able to blame the survivor with such ease and skill that, once the narcissist has spun their web of deception, the survivor appears to be the aggressor and the narcissist their hapless victim.
In many cases, survivors are left reeling as their abuser blithely revises the fact of their aggression, twisting the truth into a narrative that bears no semblance to what actually transpired.
This is because narcissists have mastered a tactical maneuver that effectively grooms individuals and, indeed, entire social groups by controlling their perception of events.
The name of this strategy is DARVO.
What is DARVO?
DARVO is an acronym for Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim and Offender. It is a defense mechanism used by manipulators to evade accountability for the abuse they inflict on others.
The term was first presented in a 1997 article by Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon and founder of the Center for Institutional Courage.
According to Dr. Freyd, “The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim – or the whistleblower – into an alleged offender.”
Denial is used by the abuser and bystanders in their clique. It usually sounds like:
Ididn’t do anything, but if I did, it wasn’t that bad.
It never happened, but if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
Thus, the abuser is able to craft a scapegoat story which is used to cultivate biases against the target and rally bystanders to their cause.
“This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of ‘falsely accused’ and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation,” explains Dr. Freyd.
In a DARVO climate, no amount of evidence will suffice as proof of the abuser’s transgressions. The target will not be believed within a social circle that has been groomed by a narcissist, psychopath or other manipulator. On the contrary, the target will be subjected to a terrifying campaign of victim-blaming by the group.
Once the abuser has successfully secured the bystanders’ support and conditioned them to perceive the survivor as the perpetrator, the clique collectively subjects the survivor to the merciless process of scapegoating.
If the survivor lives through it, they are usually driven into isolation and social death. Other outcomes can include homicide or death by self-annihilation. The narcissist, psychopath or manipulator’s endgame is the complete destruction of the target.
DARVO as a collective grooming tactic
The cognitive distortions created by DARVO cultivate an ecosystem of moral corruption. Members of the peer group are encouraged by the narcissist to engage in polarized or black and white thinking.
The group’s empathy for the narcissist is weaponized and used to encourage negative biases about the recipient of the abuse. Narcissists, psychopaths and other manipulators do this in order to ensure that members of the dominant clique become indifferent and callous about the betrayal of the survivor.
The desensitization of the group opens the door to the objectification of the targeted individual and once this is accomplished every kind of violence becomes acceptable.
Examples of this can be seen in manifestations of anti-semitism, racism, sexism and homophobia.
Why do bystanders participate in collective betrayal?
In other words, bystanders yield to betrayal blindness in the interest of looking out for themselves and to avoid the loss or pain they might risk if they sympathized with the target.
They assign more value to their relationship with the abuser so it follows that it’s in their best interest to empathize with the narcissist not with the survivor.
In fact, in many cases bystanders may stand to gain more social capital if they lend their support to the narcissist. So it is usually a combination of greed for gain and an instinct for self-preservation that eclipses any ethical or moral considerations in the bystander.
In other words, members of the clique adapt to conflict within the group by “turning a blind eye,” to the harmful behaviors of the narcissist.
The longterm effects of DARVO on survivors
Many survivors feel psychologically obliterated by the trauma of experiencing DARVO. It can have disastrous consequences for the survivor’s mental health. For example, it can cause severe anxiety, panic, depression, and post-traumatic stress which, in turn, can adversely impact the survivor’s physical wellbeing.
DARVO invalidates the survivor’s lived experience. It inflicts further pain and suffering as the wronged party is cheated out of any measure of justice. Instead, in addition to the original violation, survivors are persecuted and blamed in spite of the fact that they are the wronged party.
Rejection from their peers and the narcissist’s immunity to being held accountable is a constant cascade of salt poured in the survivor’s wounds, causing them to be repeatedly re-traumatized.
A PATHOLOGICAL NARCISSIST HAS MASTERED the art of inflicting psychological devastation without ever raising a hand. Their skillful manipulation of people’s perceptions and emotions leaves a trail of bloodless crimes in their wake.
This kind of person regards the pain and suffering they cause as a testament to their omnipotence. In reality, it is a manifestation of their sadistic nature.
A narcissist weaves a web of lies to entrap their victims. They win their romantic partners through deception and maintain their relationships through coercive and controlling behavior.
Thus, children of narcissists are born into a gaslit reality and given to the care of a psychological predator.
Here are four subtle ways narcissistic parents abuse their children.
1. The false self becomes a false idol
As a parent, the narcissist’s false self becomes a false idol that demands to be worshipped by their family unit.
Narcissists create glaring power imbalances between themselves, their spouse and children.
Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.
Because the narcissist’s needs supersede the needs of everyone else, the group internalizes the message that their needs don’t matter unless the narcissist says they do.
If the spouse is empathic, the narcissist undermines their authority. The children learn that might is right. They must appease the narcissist if they want to have their needs met.
2. The narcissist engineers dysfunction
Because a narcissistic family unit is an organism that operates in a gaslit pseudo-reality, it is less akin to a family and more like a cult or a dictatorship.
In this dynamic, the group can’t be supportive, accepting, healthy, or just. Instead, family members behave and interact in unhealthy ways.
The children must learn to navigate the power imbalances and the inevitable abuses of power that ensue.
Thus, the default setting for existence in a narcissistic family is dysfunction.
3. Love is conditional
Children of narcissists learn that love is abuse. The narcissist shows them that if someone displeases you, it is okay to punish them and call it love.
For the child of a pathological narcissist, love is having your personality rejected and replaced with one the narcissist prefers. Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.
Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination.
The child is love-bombed when the narcissist feels the child reflects their false self. The moment the child fails to do so, the narcissistic parent blithely discards them.
4. Narcissists reject children who are not like them
Survival in a narcissistic family depends on each family member’s ability to take on and reinforce the assigned roles, toxic attitudes, and habits of the narcissist. No one is safe from a narcissist’s pernicious scrutiny, not even their children.
In the narcissist’s view, anyone who does not echo their image of themselves is rejecting them. Failure to reflect and affirm their false self is a threat. Thus, a child who does not accept the role assigned by the narcissistic parent triggers a narcissistic injury.
A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem.
The narcissist cannot process negative feedback, and by extension, nor can their family unit. They have zero tolerance for any person or thing they believe may endanger their fragile false self. When faced with such a threat, narcissists attack — even if the source of their ire is an infant.
Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination. Their response to this perceived narcissistic injury is contempt, oppression, and rejection of the offending child. As an act of expediency, the narcissist casts the child in the psychologically devastating role of the family scapegoat. The narcissist condemns the child to bear the blame for all of the family’s dysfunctional behavior and its outcomes.
To grow up in a narcissistic family is to grow up in an inverted reality, where right is wrong, and wrong is right. Anything goes as long as you tow the narcissist’s line.
There will be flagrant betrayals, hypocrisy, double standards, cruelty, and abuse. If one of the parents is empathic, the children will get a daily dose of how to manipulate, exploit, and subjugate another human being.
A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem. How the child turns out depends on how they navigate the harsh psychological terrain of the family.
IN JAMES BALDWIN’S ACCOUNT of the Atlanta child murders of 1979-81, The Evidence of Things Not Seen, he recalls a dreadful earlier moment from 1964. The swamps and creeks of Mississippi were being dragged for the bodies of Schwerner, Chancy, and Goodman (done to death by the political ancestors of Bob Barr), and the search parties kept turning up corpses. Examinations proved that these were not the cadavers that the authorities were seeking. It took a while for the subject to change, or at least for it to change enough for someone to exclaim: Wait a minute! What are all these other bodies doing in the swamp?
It is one thing to say, with reasonable confidence, that the Oval Office is currently occupied by a war criminal, a rapist, and a pathological liar. It is another to ponder the full implications. If half of what one knows about Clinton’s business deals and date-rapes is half-true, then he has been going through political life for years, aware or quasi-aware that any or every telephone call might be the one he has been dreading. That’s more stress than most of us could take. Only a certain kind of personality could be expected to endure it. You can find this under the simpering liberal inertia of “Comeback Kid,” or you can check it in a taxonomy of an entirely different kind, where the key phrase is “Threat to self and others.”
Almost no allegation ever made by a woman and denied by him has proven to be untrue.
It seems to me morally feeble, as well as intellectually slack, to split the difference between Clinton and Broaddrick or to characterize her allegation as unprovable. The feeblest summary of this compromise is contained in the lazy phrase “he said, she said.” In the case of the “he,” we already know he is a hysterical, habitual liar. We also know that almost no allegation ever made by a woman and denied by him has proven to be untrue. And we know that ex-girlfriends have been subjected to extraordinary campaigns of defamation, amounting in some cases to intimidation, merely for speaking about “consensual” sex. What allegation could be more horrific than that of rape? And yet, “he” hadn’t said anything yet. If I were accused of rape and the woman making the charge was a lady of obvious integrity, I would want to do better than have a lawyer speak for me and make a routine disclaimer (especially a lawyer, in this case, the pathetic figure of David Kendall, who had not even met me at the time of the supposed crime). Asked by NBC to say where Clinton had been on the morning in question – a fact easily established in the life of a state attorney general – the White House declined cooperation. I would have wanted to do better than that, too.
A provisional but by no means unsafe induction, then, is that Broaddrick is speaking the truth.
So much for the “he said.” What of the “she”? If the allegation is false, then Broaddrick is not just getting her facts wrong. She is deliberately fabricating one of the most damning charges that any one person can make against another. She must be a wicked or deluded or malicious person. There seems no escaping this corollary conclusion. There also seems no reason at reaching for it. Where is the famous Clintonian rapid-response team? Has it no pride? Can it not find or produce any shadow of a doubt to cast on Broaddrick’s character? I think that if it could, we would know by now. Furthermore, a woman who groundlessly makes such a charge may be, and in my opinion ought to be, proceeded against for slander and wasting police and legal time. No hint of that.
A provisional but by no means unsafe induction, then, is that Broaddrick is speaking the truth. Questioned fairly closely by NBC’s Lisa Myers, she and her contemporaneous corroborative witnesses were easily able to answer the questions about silence and delay. The victim felt guilty for letting an unchaperoned man into her room, even if he was the attorney general. In a banana republic like Arkansas, allegations against powerful men were believed to have potentially unpleasant consequences. The victim was also having an extramarital affair with a man she hoped to marry. She did not want to be exposed, and she did not expect to be believed. Finally, and very importantly, she didn’t “go public.” She was made public. The feminist movement has taught us to recognize this pattern of response as a familiar and intelligible one. (How sad it was, by the way, to see Patricia Ireland changing her mind at this late stage. Doesn’t she know that she has lost something that she can’t ever hope to retrieve, and has lost it to Clinton?)
I also know of three other women who could, if they chose, lay a charge of assault against Clinton, which makes him a serial rapist.
Perhaps I won’t be taken as an authority on the moral credibility of the feminist leadership. But something ought to be said about the honor of the male sex in this business. It has been disgusting, all through the past year, to hear Clinton defended as homme moyen sensuel. “Everybody does it…all men lie about sex…a gentleman is expected to lie.” One reason a gentleman may be obliged to lie is to protect the reputation of the woman. Clinton has lied in order to trash them. I don’t have any male friends who say that it wasn’t “sex” because the woman got nothing out of it (the gallantry defense). I don’t have ay male friends who hump the help and then (with the assistance of paid slanderers) call them liars, golddiggers, sluts, and blackmailers. I don’t have any male friends who have been plausibly accused of rape, either, though I do know several women who have been sexually assaulted and decided not to go public. I also know of three other women who could, if they chose, lay a charge of assault against Clinton, which makes him a serial rapist. This puts him, in male terms, way outside the limit of what can be tolerated. I see him on television all the time, biting that fat lip of his, and now I have an additional reason for the powerful nausea I have always felt. I imagine his teeth in Juanita Broaddrick’s lips after he’s told her to lie still or he’ll bite her again. But hey, it’s time to move on. So forget it. Forget it if you can.
This article was originally published with the title ‘The Clinton Swamp’ by Christopher Hitchens in his column The Minority Repost at The Nation on March 29, 1999.