Lessons on Abuse and Trauma from Pol Pot the Tyrant
Pol Pot was a Cambodian Hitler, a psychopath who wormed his way into power in the post-Vietnam-War era. You have probably seen documentaries and movies and read books on The Killing Fields where some two million people were slaughtered. You’ve got the same cruel mess up in North Korea now at the hands of the current demon running the dictatorship.
As I watched a documentary recently on Pol Pot, I noticed a phenomenon that relates directly to abuse. After all, what is one of these tyrants but an abuser on a massive scale? Pol Pot and his gang would torture and question anyone they deemed a threat, accusing them, for example, of working for the CIA. You can bet that most all of the prisoners had no connection with the CIA at all, and yet before the torturing and interrogation were over, these innocent people would not only confess to being CIA, they actually BELIEVED the charges themselves!
See the connection? Abusers torture and interrogate. We all know the methods they use, drawing their favorites from the emotional, spiritual, or physical abuse drawers as they deem necessary. They blame. They make accusations. They rewrite history and alter facts seamlessly in a conversation with the victim. They gaslight. They demean. “You are the worst mother in the world! You never do anything right!” You know the drill.
Now, just like Pol Pot’s victims in the torture chamber, abuse victims pretty soon start to believe the accusations. I mean, after years of being accused by a person who looks soooo certain and can lie soooo convincingly, and after years of having the abuser’s allies agree with him about your guilt and worthlessness, what person doesn’t start to believe the charges? Of course the whole thing is a lie, but still, you start thinking you really are CIA. And therefore, that you deserve to be punished accordingly.
This kind of brainwashing goes far in explaining why abuse victims act the way they do so often. Twenty or thirty years of this stuff breaks down the stoutest sort. This is why I so much enjoy telling abuse victims who talk to me – “And so you have been right all along, haven’t you? All those fears. All those doubts and second thoughts about what he was doing and saying – it turns out you were right!” That has to be good stuff for a recently freed prisoner to hear. “No I’m not.” “No; I did not do that.” “No; that never happened.” “No; I do love the children and I am a good mother.” “Go ply your evil tricks on someone else. They don’t work here anymore.” [NOTE: not every abuse victim can safely say these things out loud while still in danger from their abuser. But we can certainly say them to ourselves!]
Most people routinely underestimate and misread the effects of trauma on victims.