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The Triumphant Victim

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This book examines the unrecognised prevalence of sadomasochism and perverse thinking in personal relationships as well as the public domain, and discusses the way it contributes to the culture of the victim.The first part traces the origins of perverse pathology and how it operates in obstructing emotional development and producing dysfunctional relationships. This is put in the context of hysteria, exhibitionism, voyeurism, and projective identification and is illustrated with clinical material drawn from the author's thirty years of psychoanalytical practice as well as experiences of couple- and family-therapy and educational consultations.The second half of the book examines current modes of thinking and belief systems with particular emphasis on tribal, basic-assumption mentality. The author examines the legacy of Cartesian dualism and the Enlightenment in contributing to the marginalization of feminine values in favour of negative, masculine control. Fundamentalist belief, the 'New Atheism' and feminism are subjected to particular scrutiny for evidence of perverse thinking leading to internal contradictions and the manifestation of these in the consulting room is illustrated with clinical material. In particular, State interference in family life, sexuality, and personal relationships is discussed and the resultant consequences both for erosion of civil liberties and interference in personal, emotional development. The final section consists of longer case histories.

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26 Chapters

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Chapter One - Control and Helplessness



Control and helplessness

There is something in the very nature of psychoanalysis that seems to incline people to make Freud into the archetypal, dogmatic parent, and make this an excuse for not really trying to understand what he was about.

In fact, Freud was in many ways more like Leonardo da Vinci in the way that he was able to imagine possibilities far ahead of his time, which would be left to later generations fully to realise. Just as Leonardo could envisage the possibility of such things as helicopters, submarines, and airships, but the technology was not available at the time actually to make them work, so Freud intuited numerous crucial aspects of psychological functioning, without being in the position of fully developing the implications.

One of the most important of these, which now dominates psychoanalytical thinking and practice, is the concept of projective identification, which was first to be put officially on the map, so to speak, by Melanie Klein (1946). In his paper, “A child is being beaten” (Freud, 1919e), Freud observes how frequently there is found to exist in the fantasy life of people coming to analysis for help with their neuroses and obsessions the exciting, masturbatory fantasy of a little child being beaten. This is a pleasurable and exciting fantasy because it involves the idea of someone else (i.e., a hated rival sibling) being beaten by a parent, which establishes that that person is the one hated and rejected by the parent, and not the person having the fantasy, who can consequently believe that he or she is the unique object of the parents’ love.


Chapter Two - The Core Problem: From Subversion to Perversion



The core problem: from subversion to perversion

We come now to the aspect of sadomasochism which is most generally recognized: that of control and authority as opposed to helplessness and submission.

The infant starts life completely helpless. This state of affairs is potentially terrifying and annihilating, while the satisfactory response of the good-enough mother produces, by contrast, contentment—and even bliss. Even before the infant emerges from babyhood, some experience of regulation and limitation by the mother has to be experienced. Principally, this is likely to occur in the feeding situation.

By the time the baby has become a toddler, the role of the mother in restricting and regulating activities becomes a central part of the experience.

The infant is now experiencing the mother (and the father, who is now recognised as a separate person) as being not just providers and carers, but authority figures who set limits, instruct, and correct. As previously discussed, it is inevitable that this stage is a power battle which neither side wins too decisively. An authoritarian approach that completely crushes the child's resistance and spirit will interfere with the development of a strong sense of identity and damage the child psychologically. On the other hand, an over-indulgent, permissive approach will make it hard for the infant to learn to cope with frustration and acknowledge the limitations of external reality.


Chapter Three - Infantile and Adult Sexuality



Infantile and adult sexuality

Many of the most profound and important truths are very simple, and have been staring us in the face since the beginning of time, but human beings have only been able to understand their significance as a result of reaching a certain level of development. A good example of this might be the fact that motion is relative. The evidence for this was available 20,000 years ago to people in the Stone Age, but it required an Einstein to appreciate its full significance. The same is true of Oedipal development and its sexual implications.

The core of this is the fundamental differences between the child and the adult. The main elements of these, which endlessly recur in analytical sessions, could be summed up as follows: the child needs its parents, but parents do not need their child. Adults can have babies and know how to look after them; children cannot have babies or know how to look after them.

The central issue is that the inner capacity is not the same as the outer behaviour and appearances. Most children are, first and foremost, aware of what their parents say and do—how they behave. Consequently, it is usual for little children to imagine that if you “do what mummy and daddy do” you will somehow magically become a mummy or daddy.


Chapter Four - Mothering and the Parental Couple



Mothering and the parental couple

The expression “The elephant in the room” usually refers to an issue that is so massive that it becomes part of the scenery, so to speak, with the result that you forget it is there.

The centrality of “Mothering and the parental couple” to healthy emotional and physical development has always been an example of this.

The Emperor Frederick II, in thirteenth century southern Italy, was a man who spoke several languages, so he was curious to find out what would be the first word babies would utter if they did not hear any speech. Accordingly, he ordered that a number of babies should have their physical needs catered for, but that the women who looked after them must avoid speaking. None of the babies uttered a single word, for the simple reason that they all died.

What the worthy Emperor had inadvertently discovered was that the emotional response of the mother is as necessary to the physical survival of the infant as attending to its physical needs.


Chapter Five - Pornography and Masturbation: The Virtual World



Pornography and masturbation: the virtual world

George Bernard Shaw is famously credited with observing that “Seventy per cent of men admit to masturbation and the other thirty per cent are liars…” In fact, it must be the case that 100% of the population of both sexes have some experience of masturbation, for the simple reason that it is impossible to become familiar with one's erogenous zones without some sort of experimentation.

This is particularly the case where the adolescent is coming to terms with alarming changes in his/her body, as well as rehearsing for sexual intimacy of adult life.

What we are talking about here is self-stimulation and erotic fantasy as a way of connecting and coping with emotional and physical reality. You need to know what produces what kind of sensations in your body, whether in anticipation of someone giving you that experience or vice versa. The pubescent boy or girl fantasises longingly about some hardly imaginable blissful experience with the heartthrob they have not yet dared even to speak to, and tries to engineer the physical sensations they expect to accompany it. All of this is totally necessary, and it is a massive improvement that the guilt and secrecy surrounding sexual matters has been largely exorcised in modern thinking. Chad Vara was inspired to found the Samaritan organisation by the experience of taking the funeral of a teenage girl who had committed suicide because she thought that her first period was evidence of a fatal disease (Vara, 1968).


Chapter Six - The Avoidance of Feeling



The avoidance of feeling

We have referred on several occasions previously to there being different kinds of learning and knowledge. This is a very profound and fundamental question, which is at the heart of human experience, and it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that it might hold the key to the fate of civilisation and the survival of our species.

Stripped down to its bare essentials, the key issue is that thinking—if we go beyond pure cognition—is essentially an active, conscious activity which involves a feeling of being in control and understanding, while feeling is essentially an experience of engaging with an emotional response. As I find myself saying to all my analytical patients, at one time or another, we do not have feelings so much as they have us. Our feelings are like the weather—they happen whether we like it or not and we have no control over them: our only options are to heed and respond to them, or to ignore and override them.

For various reasons, it is human nature always to want to be in control. Consequently, the more the capacity for thought has evolved, and the more it has borne fruit (control over the environment, agriculture, the Industrial Revolution, and technology) the stronger has been the inclination to ignore and override the feeling side of experience. As soon as human beings began to become chronically out of touch with their feelings side, they began to denigrate and be suspicious of it.


Chapter Seven - Projective Identification and the Claustrum



Projective identification and the claustrum

The essence of voyeurism is intrusiveness. The voyeur seeks to get into other people's private affairs, without their permission, and spy on them. The prototype for this is the infant fantasy of breaking into the privacy of the parents’ intimacy where he has no business to be.

There is, however, another source of intrusiveness, which results from the situation where the child feels prevented from having the emotional access to the mother, which he needs in order to be able to develop his own identity. This can come about in a number of ways. The mother might herself be immature or psychologically damaged in a way which prevents her from being willing and able to engage with her baby emotionally. Or she might be an emotionally healthy mother who is prevented by something—illness, depression, grief—from being available. Increasingly, nowadays, the mother sees no reason why the baby needs any personal attention from her anyway, and farms him out to carers and surrogates with whom he can have no uninterrupted, personal relationship. Whatever the reason, which might be outside anybody's control, the situation arises that the child's need to have an intimate sense of being in touch with the emotional individuality of the mother is obstructed. What is the child to do? In normal development, the child's innate or instinctive apperception of mother is given emotional substance through the encounter with her mind. The newborn baby has a symbiotic—one could say telepathic—communication with its mother, which becomes gradually more and more of a dialogue, provided the child and its relationship develop.


Chapter Eight - Sexuality and Perversion



Sexuality and perversion

It is symptomatic of our culture that sexuality is mostly thought of in terms of behaviour, as opposed to meaning and experience. “Sex” to most people nowadays immediately suggests physical activity, with little or no thought of the feelings or thoughts that might be involved. So, what is the essence of sexuality?

In evolutionary terms, the function of sexuality is, almost by definition, that of propagating the species. With human beings, however, the all-pervasiveness of sexuality is clearly completely out of proportion to the necessities of the survival of the species. The average human being would only need to engage in sexual intercourse a dozen or so times in their lifetime to produce enough offspring for the species to continue. The universal preoccupation—one is tempted to say, obsession—with sex and sexuality must, therefore, reflect something about the essential part it plays in our social and emotional well-being.

If we then look at the thoughts and ideas that most commonly characterise sexuality in cultural expression through music, literature, art, sculpture, etc., it is clear that they centre round the idea of a creative connection. So, to sum up what we have somewhat laboriously arrived at, sexuality is essentially about love and creativity. As we observed before, when two people genuinely “make love”, as opposed to simply “having sex”, there is always a baby conceived symbolically in the minds of the lovers, in the form of an amalgam of the most valued parts of each of them.


Chapter Nine - Masochism and the Emotional Orphan



Masochism and the emotional orphan

Before we start to look further at different areas and manifestations of masochism, we need to examine what prompts the controlling tendencies that it serves. To start with the most fundamental level, the experience of helplessness or powerlessness naturally engenders a desire for greater control. Thus, the state of helplessness of the newborn infant forces it to try to exercise some control over its life-support system (mother) by calling for attention to its needs. As the infant grows and develops, the experience of being responded to alleviates the feelings of helplessness, but also gives rise to omnipotent fantasies.

As we have discussed before, the emotional development of the child is, to a considerable extent, influenced by how far the parents show sensitivity and good judgement. If the parents respond too indulgently, the child's fantasy of omnipotence is encouraged and his ability to tolerate frustration is not developed. This tends to result in an individual who is imperious and demanding on the surface, but insecure and unable to cope on his own. If, on the other hand, the child is neglected or subjected to excessive frustration, he is likely to view life as a situation where no one does anything for anybody else unless they are forced to in some way. All relationships, even the most intimate, are seen as commercial deals or power struggles, where the concept of generosity and good will does not exist.


Chapter Ten - Romantic Agony



Romantic agony

Sadism, cruelty, and brutality tend to be associated with coldness and lack of emotion. In thrillers and suspense films, we are familiar with the idea of the emotionless psychopath, the hitman, or the pitiless serial killer. The ingenuity of mechanisation and the legacy of the Industrial Resolution turned out to have a dark side when it came inevitably to be applied to the machinery of war. The terrible carnage of the First World War was partly possible because the generals were still thinking of warfare as it was at the time of Waterloo, where two armies meet each other on the field of battle, rather than a new situation where men could be mechanically mown down in their thousands.

With Hiroshima, and the long-range nuclear missiles of the Cold War, a new level of disconnection from emotions was facilitated by the possibilities of indiscriminately killing unlimited numbers of other people in another part of the world, at the press of a button. In recent years, even more frightening scope for emotionless killing has been opened up with the drone, unmanned aircraft which can not only attack a target hundreds of miles away, but can actually be programmed to “think for itself” and choose its target.


Chapter Eleven - Hysteria and Sadomasochism



Hysteria and sadomasochism

Hysteria is currently not a very popular concept as a psychological diagnosis or behavioural category. The only circumstances under which it seems to be usually considered appropriate to describe someone as hysterical is when they are reacting to something which is unbearably painful or traumatic. This is probably because, in the current “victim” culture, the idea of hysteria implies too obviously the image of someone creating a fuss or a drama, as opposed to being the hapless victim of someone else's maltreatment.

Damien (Chapter Twenty-three), when he first started analysis, was very fond of manoeuvring sympathetic and impressionable people (particularly women) into a corner, and confiding to them how he had so many problems because he suffered from “depression”. In fact, ironically, a more accurate diagnosis would be to say that Damien's problems were all because of the lengths he went to avoid ever feeling any depression. Instead, he orchestrated every minute of his life into an endless melodrama. After some months’ analysis, I told him that I had arrived at a diagnosis of his main problem as the result of careful observation and investigation, and concluded that there were no signs of any depression, but there were clear indications that he was a hysteric. I gave him full permission to say to anyone he liked that he had now been conclusively diagnosed as suffering from hysteria, but added that I suspected that he would find himself rather reluctant to do this, as it would be less likely to attract the same sympathy as presenting himself as the tragic victim of depression.


Chapter Twelve - Exhibitionism and Voyeurism



Exhibitionism and voyeurism

Human relationships and the development that makes them possible both require adequate emotional interaction. This means that both, or all, parties involved must be willing and able to express and receive emotional experience. The child expresses distress, affection, or whatever, and the mother responds. The mother expresses affection, approval or disapproval, concern, etc., and the child registers the mother's emotions and responds.

One crucial thing to notice here is that, by and large, even at the very early stages where the baby's expressions are inarticulate, all relationship involves some degree of co-operation and desire to communicate. Even where a child or an adult is extremely rebellious or angry, and resorts to physical violence, there is still a desire to get a message across. The central issue is that of understanding, making feelings, needs, and thoughts understood to the other person, and reciprocally understanding theirs.

If we now examine voyeurism and exhibitionism, we can see that they are both types of pathological behaviour that occur when something has got stuck or gone wrong with the essential processes of relating. Let us start with exhibitionism. The newborn baby has no language and is forced to express its needs with what is little more than a set of primitive distress signals. As the poet Tennyson puts it,


Chapter Thirteen - Symbolisation and Concrete Thinking



Symbolisation and concrete thinking

Symbol formation and the capacity to think symbolically are central to the uniqueness of human beings. At the simplest level, a symbol is something that refers to something else, like a word referring to an object, or a sign giving the location of a building. It is fashionable to assume a kind of spectrum of intelligence, with human beings at one end and primates such as chimpanzees being closer to human beings than other forms of life, but there is, in fact, a massive gap which separates our species from others. No other species has articulate language and culture, or devotes time and energy to trying to understand its own experience of life. All this involves the use of symbolic thought.

We can distinguish between two different levels or types of symbol. First, there are the letters, numbers, and characters that are involved in communication and calculation. The essential thing about these is that they are mental tools that are formed or constructed by human beings for a purpose. Language evolves through progressive human use of these tools and the significance of symbols, at this level, is assigned to them, the classic example in algebra being “let x be the unknown quantity”, where x can be anything you choose. Words can be given new meanings or change their meaning, and it is possible to invent an entirely new language, for example, Esperanto.


Chapter Fourteen - Basic Assumption Thinking and Tribal Mentality



Basic assumption thinking and tribal mentality

In our enormously complicated and sophisticated world, there is all too little recognition of how thin and precarious is the layer of civilisation and humane values covering the collective, tribal level of functioning which lies underneath. Fifteen millennia ago, at the time when the cave paintings of Lascaux were executed, our species was struggling to survive in the bleak environment at the time of the last big Ice Age. At that time, apart from initiative and inventiveness that could make people better hunters, individuality was a threat to survival. The small communities in which people lived depended on conformity and teamwork. The tribal mentality of unquestioningly doing what everyone else did developed in response to those circumstances. There still exist communities which function like this in remote parts of Africa, Australia, South American rainforests, and Arctic regions, which survive by using skills and knowledge which has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years, and whose lifestyle is prescribed by tradition. They leave very little impact on the environment because their way of life is one of adaptation. Their capacity to influence or control the world around them is minimal, since it is only when people settle down and start cultivating crops that it is possible for some kind of civilisation to develop. It is only then that the relatively mechanical principles of tribal behaviour are gradually subsumed in the institutions and organisation of urban society.


Chapter Fifteen - Perversely Religious and Religiously Perverse



Perversely religious and religiously perverse

Is religion a thing of the past, or has it just taken on different forms? The key issue with religion is the crucial distinction between religious belief and experience, on the one hand, and religious institutions and organisations, on the other. It was Freud's failure to recognise this distinction which resulted in psychoanalysis being thought of as atheistic, and possibly at odds with religion in general. In fact, it is difficult to conceive of psychoanalysis being other than religious in the deepest, truest sense of the religious being concerned with ethics, value systems, and their place in healthy emotional development. In this chapter, I attempt to summarise and examine the main ways in which the abuse or distortion of religious belief can contribute to sadomasochism and perversion.

“Such are the heights of wickedness that men are driven by superstition”, wrote the Roman author Lucretius, in his De Rerum Natura (The Nature of the Universe, 1951, p. 30), a kind of one-man Wikipedia of the Roman world. What is striking about this quotation is that it comes from a writer of a civilisation which, although it was amazingly well organised and cultured, was also unbelievably brutal and barbaric. The Roman Empire is a classic case of history being written by the winners. Until comparatively recently, everyone had accepted the picture that Roman history portrayed of the countries Rome subjugated as being mostly peopled by primitive savages. Archaeology has gradually revealed that many of them had artistic achievements and scientific knowledge of comparable—and even superior—standards. As for barbarity, the ruthlessness with which the Roman army would slaughter not just the male inhabitants, but the women, children, and every living creature in a town or village, on a punitive raid, not only would qualify nowadays as a crime against humanity, but was not common practice among the races they subjugated. Voltaire, a great admirer of Lucretius, believed the above quote would last until the end of time.


Chapter Sixteen - Evangelical Atheism



Evangelical atheism

In the previous chapter, we looked at the main ways in which religious thinking and practices lend themselves to sadomasochistic control and perversion. In recent years, there has been a new and unprecedented development in the debate on religion with the emergence of what can only be described as the fanatical or fundamentalist atheist. There have always been atheists and agnostics—even before Christianity, as the Roman author Lucretius, quoted in the last chapter, illustrates. In the past, when Christian worship was universal (sometimes even mandatory) the voice of the atheist or agnostic was one of protest. They either objected to being forced to subscribe to something they did not believe in, or else they felt obliged to criticise and attack what they saw as the irrational or superstitious basis for popular belief.

So far, so good. In the past half century, church membership and religious worship (in Britain and Europe, at any rate) has faded away until the percentage of the population officially practising any sort of organised religion has reduced to single figures. Before the advent of the National Curriculum in Britain, the only subject that, technically, had to be taught in schools, was religious knowledge (mainly because of the place of Sunday Schools in the early development of the school system). It is now absolutely forbidden for children in school to be given anything that could remotely be called religious instruction.


Chapter Seventeen - Feminism and the Phallic Trojan Horse



Feminism and the phallic Trojan horse

It is more than usually important to define terms when discussing gender or sexual politics, since so much of the debate hinges on the relationship of masculine and feminine attributes to the experience of being a woman or a man. Let us start with the observable fact that anatomically, hormonally, and emotionally, men and women share a number of characteristics. (It is interesting to reflect on the fact that every human being, in its early stages of development, starts off female, from which it would appear to follow that every man who has ever been born is a case of Adam being made out of Eve's rib!)

Keeping in mind the extent of this overlap, or sameness, let us next focus on the essential function of difference in producing and maintaining viable life forms. The incest taboo is the human psychological and behavioural version of a principle which operates throughout the natural world and is central to evolution, that of renewal and innovative change. The difference between organic reproduction and a mechanical production line is that each example of organic reproduction has its own individuality, which holds the key to adaptation to new environments and unexpected situations: the more complex and sophisticated the organism, the greater the scope for individuality. There are species that are “incestuous” (what biologists call parthenogenic), being able to reproduce without having two genders. Significantly, these are always only very primitive life forms.


Chapter Eighteen - A Child is Being Murdered



A child is being murdered

In Freud's famous paper, “A child is being beaten” (Freud, 1919e), the title captures the fantasy the masochist has of being identified with an imagined child being beaten (to death). The first thing we have to bear in mind is that this does involve a murder, or, at least, a culpable homicide. The masochist is sacrificing or destroying a child in some form in order to achieve a triumphant feeling of control, and to avoid responsibility for their own feelings and experience.

When this is physically acted out in a way which results in the death of a real, flesh-and-blood child, as in the case of Baby “P” (2008), society is horrified and a public inquiry is set up. The real causes or culprits, however, are not inadequate procedures, lack of training, poor leadership, insufficient money, or whatever, but the collusion of the masochistic, child-hating aspects of everyone involved, which includes society in general.

To understand what is going on, we need to look in detail at the various aspects of the child's experience and how, in later adult life, this forms the attitudes of the individual to the child parts of their own personality and to external children. The main thing that this brings into sharp relief is how fundamental is the experience of good dependency to emotional health and development. The baby is born emotionally, as well as physically, helpless. This means that, in addition to having physical needs of sustenance, warmth, hygiene, and protection from harm, the actual moment-by-moment experience of being alive can very quickly become unbearable and unmanageable unless the mother somehow relieves it. The main way in which this occurs is through emotional responsiveness and reflection. This might be most obviously visible in the way a mother holds, touches, and speaks to her child, but the quality of this comes from her own inner attitude to the child, herself, and life in general.


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