Here’s a radical thought as we continue to consider the trappings of the Halo Effect. (I’ve dubbed the other side of the idealization coin as the Horn Effect to describe cognitive bias that results in the demoralization of others.)
People don’t like to think that thinking very well of a person
or others thinking very well of them
as something negative.
Consider how this might work in light of how abusers treat victims when they’re trapped in ‘middle management’ in a high demand system. As the other side of the coin to Lifton’s description of the duality required of doctors under the Third Reich (discussed in the previous post), we might reverse the roles to see how the victim also uses the healing-killing paradox by default. While some may learn to use evil to accomplish good, they would not accomplish much without those who accept that evil, accommodate it, and support it.
It has been said that uber men need a scapegoat, and such wartime habits of objectification have also been a frequent subject on this blog. From the NeoConfederate to the Occidentalist, to exact the acts required during war, one must demoralize and dehumanize the enemy. I like how a Zionist author notes that scapegoats can’t be truly annihilated, for there will be no balancing entity on which to lay ongoing blame. Such systems seek to “subjugate, humiliate, and then assimilate” that demoralized foe.
If you are the one who has been assimilated, you must come up with a strategy to survive as the living scapegoat, finding your own bubble of survival where you joyfully support those who exploit you. Actually, those in ‘middle management’ like the Nazi doctor also become their own brand of scapegoat, for there’s always someone who passes their own blame down to the middle man. It helps to keep them just as entrenched in habit through emotional blackmail. From the system which shares in common good emerges an obsequious cultural hegemony – where everyone agrees to participate the machine that has been created. Under other circumstances, most people wouldn’t do so, but over time and under the right and wrong pressures, people forget that they can live in community without coalescing with the domineering authoritarian rule and the rigid caste system that they all sustain.
The recent post about the seeds of ideas of powerlessness as well as the example of the woman who was on her journey out of the Christian Patriarchy movement show the neglected consequences of what can happen when someone has been told and believes wrongly that they are the horned demon. They end up finding it quite easy to resort to placing halos on others – and wishful thinking by seeing everyone as virtuous and wonderful so that their fragile world does not crumble. They already bear so much of a burden of blame, and Pollyanna fantasies offer them some placation as well as a powerful hope which allows them to hold up under so much or too much reality.
The fantasy sustains the surviving until they can find their way to a better alternative. Some people chose to make the bargain to stay where they are, as the devil you know is safer than the devil you don’t. And such speaks to the pervasive nature of pessimism when a soul believes that everyone dons a halo, except for them.
Neglecting the Destructive Nature of Halos
Part of the reason why I don’t write about idealizing others as destructive concerns the nature of the recovery process. The timing of such a message to someone in acute pain who has just realized that they’ve been a willing participant in a cultic system that causes harm needs to encouragement. They need to understand the way abusers take advantage of those they harm and exploit so that they can recover and develop a sense of wholeness. They were not the aggressors in the process. Someone either knowingly or unknowingly fell into a trap and used them through deception and subterfuge. Coping with this and recovering from that harm takes a lot of time and self-love and self-forgiveness.
I think that there is an ever present awareness felt by everyone who exits an exploitative relationship that hero worship and halos do prove to be destructive, even if they don’t understand things in those terms. To me, the outer layers of that realization create the pain one feels when they start to realize that their group or their relationship is not all that they’d thought. It’s necessary at this point for the wounded individual get to a safe place to work on finding a sense of wholeness. Emotionally, you’re like someone with a critical wound that needs emergency care to stop the bleeding and time to allow for healing. Those considerations take precedence. If you’ve ever had abdominal surgery, especially as you become older, you develop a great appreciation for just how long recovery can take.
It is so easy to blame the aggressor who is well deserving of their own burden of blame, but the passive side of abuse that seems like it’s not so bad. And morally – it’s not. As a survival mechanism when a person is depleted and has few or no resources, it’s not. But once those wounds have healed sufficiently, the problems of using too many halos come to bear. They don’t work in the wider world. Halos become destructive to those who put them on everyone for they become vulnerable to harm by those who don’t deserve the trust that comes along with them. Hurting oneself isn’t as destructive as hurting others (which always hurts the perpetrator in some way), but it is destructive just the same. And the time will come when the person who is far too free with bestowing halos in a Pollyanna view of the world or even just a hobby horse part of it feels the pain of the loss that it brings.
The halo places the idealized person who never seeks such a pedestal in a hard place which does them a disservice. They find that others expect the impossible of them. Because they are inflated to something other than who and what they are, they become vulnerable to unfair standards and their own feelings which easily give way into inferiority. They find that they are compared to some object of fantasy, and while they may be thought of in a positive light, it also reduces them to something else.
The Other Reason for Neglect
Plain and simply, this CRI is one of those that hits so close to home for me, so I find it painful to acknowledge, especially so openly for so many to read. Though like my post on playing poker, those who get to know me quickly learn that I wish to think well of too many. (I’m not giving away any secrets by writing about such things!) If I’m not vigilant or when I’m a bit off center, it becomes my path of least resistance. It was what I lived from the cradle, and I have my bad days, though their number is no longer as great.
I remember when I first read the analogy of emotional healing as that of peeling an onion. In self-hatred which I assumed from those horns that I believed that I’d been born with, I asked God to just slice me down the middle to perfect me, avoid the longer process of ongoing growth and healing. I was terrified, and because I felt like annihilation was always just a breath and one mistake away, it seemed preferable. Such fear is common and comes about from a neurophysiologic process in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Soon after I learned about thought reform and felt this way, I found myself challenged by a quote from an unlikely source – Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I read the book for the first time after seeing the quote printed on the tag of a bag of herbal tea as it danced along the side of my Far Side mug. (What an example of jumping from the sublime to the ridiculous!) Upon reading the book, I learned that Salinger quoted Wilhem Stekel, “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” Christians treasure the virtue of sacrifice, but they most often come as daily, small ones that few notice.
In Lifton’s book, the Nazi Doctors, the first section of chapters bears the title of “Life Unworthy of Life.” That was the deeper lesson that I learned through those seeds of scandal planted in my young heart and from the shaping of my perception through PTSD. In a sense, this is the same message that my friend grappled with after growing up in a dysfunctional family to find herself living in a dysfunctional marriage. She sought out the religious patriarchy movement as some remedy, but patriarchy only amplified her sense of unworthiness. She had many choices before her when she left parents, yet she selected a mate that was not healthy for her, and she turned to a religion that was worse. She made bad choices, just like I did and still do along with the rest of the human race.
We who survive are still alive, and when we heal, we can grow beyond those things which we used to just survive. We can learn better ways to live fully that honor ourselves, others, and ideals that mean so much to us. (I’m still growing and learning and hope to continue so long as I live.) Maybe we might even apprehend that abundant life stuff that Jesus said that He came to bring to the broken, wounded, and bruised.
Cindy is a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.
Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.
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