Targets of mobbing are subjected
to psychological terror repeatedly, often for many
years. The following article examines the psychology
of torture and it's devastating impact on the lives
of targets and their families. The harrowing effects
of psychological torture are just as brutal when they
are committed in the workplace as anywhere. Torture
is torture no matter where it occurs.
This article is licensed under the
Free Documentation License.
It uses material from the Wikipedia
article "Pschology of torture".
Psychology of Torture
is the intentional infliction of severe physical or
psychological torment as an expression of cruelty,
a means of intimidation, deterrent, revenge or punishment,
or as a tool for the extraction of information or
confessions. The common concept of torture is that
torture causes pain (or a threat of pain) to the body,
but it can also cause terrible effects and associated
damage to the psyche. This article studies the psychological
effects associated with torture, and how psychological
suffering coupled with physiological pain affects
the torture subject and serves the (conscious) torturer's
The torture process
Immediate psychological aspects of torture
to family and friends
The perversion of
of the torturer's perspective
Post-torture psychological effects of
The torture process to the torturer
Motivation to torture
Effects of torture
on the torturer
Overcoming psychological effects to the
Torture is common in situations
where disparities in interpersonal power and control
occur. It is a well known theme in religious, political,
and military histories. It is less well known in social
contexts such as domestic abuse, child abuse, incest,
rape, mobbing and elder abuse.
Torture to children, in particular,
can induce a particularly terrible traumas because,
in addition to the suffering studied below, children
absorb torture with little ability to limit its effects,
lose childhood development opportunities forever and
often encode the torturer's distortions instead. This
article focuses on the psychological effects of torture
in adults. It is not intended to document the unique
psychological effects of torture in children.
Torture can be physical and/or
psychological. Physical torture is well known, is
sometimes brutal, and can be either very obvious,
or extremely hard to detect, depending upon methods
used. Psychological torture is less well known, and
tends to be subtle and much easier to conceal. Torturers
often inflict both types of torture in combination
to compound the associated effects.
It is important to distinguish
physical torture from psychological torture, although
in practice these distinctions often become blurred.
Physical torture is the inflicting of pain on the
body. In contrast, psychological torture is directed
at the psyche with calculated violations of psychological
needs, along with deep damage to psychological structures
and the breakage of beliefs underpinning normal sanity.
Psychological torture also includes deliberate use
of extreme stressors and situations such as mock execution,
shunning, violation of deep-seated social or sexual
norms and taboos, or extended solitary confinement.
Because psychological torture needs no physical violence
to be effective, it is possible to induce severe psychological
pain, suffering, and trauma with no externally visible
Torture induces associated psychological
effects on those who inflict it too. To understand
the full psychological effects of torture it is essential
that its impact on the torturer be studied as well.
Therefore, this article discusses the psychological
effects of torture on those who are tortured and on
those who torture too.
Psychological pain is pain caused
by psychological stress and by psychological trauma,
as distinct from that caused by physiological injuries
and other physical syndromes. The practice of torture
induces psychological pain through various acts that
often involve both physiological torture and psychological
torture to achieve the torturers goal(s).
Examples of psychological stress
include: paralysing fear of death or pain, uncertainty,
unfulfilled anticipation, fear for (and of) others
and desire for (and of) others. But torture also creates
other extreme dynamics, and can disrupt usual cognitive
processes to such an extent that the subject is unable
to retain the usual sense of personal boundaries,
friends and enemies, love and hate, and other major
human psychological dynamics.
Some well-known animal experiments
performed in the 20th century show that in addition
to these, the subject's own strengths and weaknesses
can be enhanced by psychological stress to the point
that they will enter a "grey" mental world
of great suggestibility, where certain critical faculties
in the brain shut down under overload. This renders
them less able to judge what they believe and refute,
to conduct logical argument or reject the views of
interrogators, and can cause them in some cases even
to side with the torturer in confusion. Such torture
methods were dealt with, in depth, in the fictional
novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, as well
as in the 1995 motion picture Murder
in the First written by Dan Gordon.
The torture process
Although torture induces both physiological
and psychological effects, the psychological impact
is often greater and tends to remain with the subject
long after the actual activity is discontinued.
The process of torture is designed
to invade and destroy the belief of the subjects in
their independence as a human being, to destroy presumptions
of privacy, intimacy, and inviolability assumed by
the subjects, and to destroy their unspoken trust
that these things (or indeed society as a whole) cares,
or can save them. Beyond merely invading the subjects'
mental, physical independence on a one-to-one level,
such acts can be made more damaging via public humiliation,
incessant repetition, depersonalization, and sadistic
glee, and, on occasion, their opposites, false public
praise, insidious pandering, false personalization,
and masochistic manipulation.
The CIA, in its "Human Resource
Exploitation Training Manual – 1983" (reprinted
in the April 1997 issue of Harper's Magazine), summed
up the theory of coercion thus:
"The purpose of all coercive
techniques is to induce psychological regression
in the subject by bringing a superior outside force
to bear on his will to resist. Regression is basically
a loss of autonomy, a reversion to an earlier behavioral
level. As the subject regresses, his learned personality
traits fall away in reverse chronological order.
He begins to lose the capacity to carry out the
highest creative activities, to deal with complex
situations, or to cope with stressful interpersonal
relationships or repeated frustrations."
Psychologically, torture often
creates a state where the mind works against the best
interests of the individual, due to the inducement
of such emotions as shame, worthlessness, dependency,
and a feeling of lacking uniqueness. Cunning torturers
often induce pandered pride, specious worthiness,
false favoritism, and grandiose specialness to further
fool the subject. These and other responses can lead
to a mutated, fragmented, or discredited personality
and belief structure. Even the subject's normal bodily
needs and functions (e.g., sleep, sustenance, excretion,
etc.) can be changed and made to be construed as self-degrading,
animalistic, and dehumanizing.
Torture can rob the subject of
the most basic modes of relating to reality, and thus
can be the equivalent of cognitive death. A person's
sense of self can be shattered. The tortured often
have nothing familiar to hold on to: family, home,
personal belongings, loved ones, language, name. They
can lose their mental resilience and sense of freedom.
They can feel alienated—unable to communicate,
relate, attach, or empathize with others.
aspects of torture
As normal developing human beings,
people internalize certain concepts needed to support
their ability to face life. For example, they come
to understand that there are people and authorities
who will support them, they psychologically become
independent and individual from their peer group (individuation),
they believe they have validity purpose and "a
place" simply by virtue of being a human being
and that they are not simply an "object",
they have many life-experiences which give them pride
and self-confidence, and so on. These are a very profound
platform for growth; if it is removed or damaged,
a person's entire ability to know what and who they
are in relationship to the world can be devastated.
Torture splinters these by guile
and sheer force, using both psychological design and
the impact of massive unavoidable sustained physical
pain. In doing so, it shatters deep down narcissistic
fantasies of uniqueness, omnipotence, invulnerability,
and impenetrability which help sustain personality.
Seeking an alternate means to comprehend the changed
world, torture subjects grow into a fantasy of merging
with an idealized and omnipotent (though not benign)
other—the inflicter of agony. The twin processes
of individuation and separation which sustain independent
adulthood are reversed.
Beatrice Patsalides describes this
transmogrification thus in "Ethics of the unspeakable:
Torture survivors in psychoanalytic treatment":
"As the gap between the
'I' and the 'me' deepens, dissociation and alienation
increase. The subject that, under torture, was forced
into the position of pure object has lost his or
her sense of interiority, intimacy, and privacy.
Time is experienced now, in the present only, and
perspective—that which allows for a sense
of relativity—is foreclosed. Thoughts and
dreams attack the mind and invade the body as if
the protective skin that normally contains our thoughts,
gives us space to breathe in between the thought
and the thing being thought about, and separates
between inside and outside, past and present, me
and you, was lost."
effects of pain
"Pain is also unsharable
in that it is resistant to language ... All our
interior states of consciousness: emotional, perceptual,
cognitive and somatic can be described as having
an object in the external world ... This affirms
our capacity to move beyond the boundaries of our
body into the external, sharable world. This is
the space in which we interact and communicate with
our environment. But when we explore the interior
state of physical pain we find that there is no
object "out there"—no external,
referential content. Pain is not of, or for, anything.
Pain is. And it draws us away from the space of
interaction, the sharable world, inwards. It draws
us into the boundaries of our body."
to family and friends
A common factor of psychological
torture, at times the only factor, is to extend the
activity to family, friends, and others for whom the
subject has a deep concern (the "social body").
This further disrupts the individual's familiar expectations
of their environment, their control over their circumstances,
and the strength of (and ability to help and be helped
by) their closest relationships and lifelong support
network. Shunning, a form of social/sexual torture
used by some groups against former members, is a one
example of the systemic extension of psychological
torture to spouses, family and friends.
Torture is the ultimate act of
perverted intimacy. The torturer invades the subject's
body, pervades his psyche, and possesses his mind.
Deprived of contact with others and starved for human
interactions, the prey bonds with the predator. "Traumatic
bonding," akin to Stockholm syndrome, is about
hope and the search for meaning in the brutal and
indifferent and nightmarish universe of the torture
The abuser or user becomes the
black hole at the center of the victim's surrealistic
galaxy, sucking in the sufferer's universal need for
solace. The subject tries to "control" his
or her tormentor by becoming one with him or her (introjecting)
and appealing in vain to the monster's presumably
dormant humanity and empathy.
This bonding is especially strong
when the torturer and the tortured form a dyad and
"collaborate" in the rituals and acts of
torture (for instance, when the victim is coerced
into selecting the torture implements and the types
of torment to be inflicted, or to be forced to choose
between two evils named by the torturer).
The psychologist Shirley Spitz
offers this powerful overview of the contradictory
nature of torture in a seminar titled "The Psychology
of Torture" (1989):
"Torture is an obscenity
in that it joins what is most private with what
is most public. Torture entails all the isolation
and extreme solitude of privacy with none of the
usual security embodied therein ... Torture entails
at the same time all the self exposure of the utterly
public with none of its possibilities for camaraderie
or shared experience. (The presence of an all powerful
other with whom to merge, without the security of
the other's benign intentions.)"
A further obscenity of torture
is the inversion it makes of intimate human relationships.
The interrogation is a form of social encounter in
which the normal rules of communicating, of relating,
of intimacy are manipulated. Dependency needs are
elicited by the interrogator, but not so they may
be met as in close relationships, but to weaken and
confuse. Independence that is offered in return for
"betrayal" is a lie. Silence is intentionally
misinterpreted either as confirmation of information
or as guilt for 'complicity.'
of the torturer's perspective
Torture combines complete humiliating
exposure with utter devastating isolation. The final
products and outcome of torture are a scarred and
often shattered subject and an empty display of the
fiction of power and control. It is about reprogramming
the subject to succumb to an alternative exegesis
of the world, proffered by the abuser or user. It
is an act of deep, indelible, traumatic indoctrination.
The abused or used also swallows whole and assimilates
the torturer's negative view of him and often, as
a result, is rendered suicidal, self-destructive,
Obsessed by endless agonized ruminations,
demented by pain and a continuum of sleeplessness
or sleepfulness, unable to stand back and see the
past, present and future in neutral perspective, the
subject regresses, shedding all but the most primitive
defense mechanisms: splitting, narcissism, dissociation,
projective identification, introjection, and cognitive
dissonance. The subject constructs an alternative
world, often suffering from depersonalization and
derealization, hallucinations, ideas of reference,
delusions, and psychotic episodes.
Sometimes the subject comes to
crave pain—very much as self-mutilators do—because
it is a proof and a reminder of his or her individuated
existence otherwise blurred by the incessant torture.
Pain shields the sufferer from disintegration and
capitulation. It preserves the veracity of his or
her unthinkable and unspeakable experiences.
This dual process of the subject's
alienation and addiction to anguish complements the
perpetrator's view of his or her quarry as "inhuman"
or "subhuman." The torturer assumes the
position of the sole authority, the exclusive fount
of meaning and interpretation, the source of both
evil and good.
Thus, torture seems forever. The
sounds, the voices, the smells, the sensations reverberate
long after the episode has ended—both in nightmares
and in waking moments. The subject's ability to trust
other people—i.e., to assume that their motives
are at least rational, if not necessarily benign—has
been irrevocably undermined. Social institutions are
perceived as precariously poised on the verge of an
ominous, Kafkaesque mutation. Nothing is either safe,
or credible anymore.
effects of torture
Torture subjects often suffer from
a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Their strong
feelings of hate, rage, terror, guilt, shame, and
sorrow are also typical of subjects of mobbing, childhood
abuse, domestic violence, domestic vice, rape and
incest, all contexts which contain chronic torture
too. They feel anxious because the perpetrator's behavior
is seemingly arbitrary and unpredictable—or
mechanically and inhumanly regular.
They feel guilty and disgraced
because, to restore a semblance of order to their
shattered world and a modicum of dominion over their
chaotic life, they need to transform themselves into
the cause of their own degradation and the accomplices
of their tormentors.
Inevitably, in the aftermath of
torture, its subjects feel helpless and powerless.
This loss of control over one's life and body is manifested
physically in impotence, attention deficits, and insomnia.
This is often exacerbated by the disbelief many torture
subjects encounter, especially if they are unable
to produce scars, or other "objective" proof
of their ordeal. Language cannot communicate such
an intensely private experience as pain.
Subjects typically oscillate between
emotional numbing and highly sensitive arousal: insomnia,
irritability, restlessness, and attention deficits.
Recollections of the traumatic events intrude in the
form of dreams, night terrors, flashbacks, and distressing
Long-term coping mechanisms include
the development of compulsive rituals to fend off
obsessive thoughts. Other psychological consequences
include cognitive impairment, reduced capacity to
learn, memory disorders, sexual dysfunction, social
withdrawal, inability to maintain long-term relationships,
or even mere intimacy, phobias, ideas of reference
and superstitions, delusions, hallucinations, psychotic
microepisodes, and emotional flatness.
Depression and anxiety are very
common. These are forms and manifestations of self-directed
aggression. The sufferer rages at their own suffering
and resulting multiple dysfunction. They feel shamed
by their new disabilities and responsible, or even
guilty, somehow, for their predicament and the dire
consequences borne by their nearest and dearest. Their
sense of self-worth and self-esteem are crippled.
Torturers and bystanders resent
the tortured because the tortured make the perpetrators
and bystanders who collude with the torture feel guilty
and ashamed for having tortured and/or for having
done nothing to prevent the atrocity. The sufferers
threaten their sense of security and their much-needed
belief in predictability, justice, and rule of law.
The sufferers, on their part, do not believe that
it is possible to effectively communicate to "outsiders"
what they have been through. Author K. Zetnik is on
record calling the Auschwitz torture chambers "another
galaxy", during his testimony at the Eichmann
trial in Jerusalem in 1961.
Kenneth Pope, in "Torture,"
a chapter he wrote for the "Encyclopedia of Women
and Gender: Sex Similarities and Differences and the
Impact of Society on Gender," quotes Harvard
psychiatrist Judith Herman:
"It is very tempting to
take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator
asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals
to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak
no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander
to share the burden of pain. The victim demands
action, engagement, and remembering."
But, more often, continued attempts
to repress fearful memories result in psychosomatic
illnesses (conversion). The subject wishes to forget
the torture, to avoid re-experiencing the often life
threatening abuse and to shield their human environment
from the horrors. In conjunction with the subject's
pervasive distrust, this is frequently interpreted
as hypervigilance, or even paranoia. It seems that
the subject can't win. Torture seems forever.
The torture process
to the torturer
It was long thought that "good"
people would not torture and only "bad"
ones would, under normal circumstances. Research over
the past 50 years suggests a disquieting alternative
view, that under the right circumstances and with
the appropriate encouragement and setting, most people
can be encouraged to actively torture others. Stages
of torture mentality include:
- Reluctant or peripheral participation
- Official encouragement: As the
Stanford prison experiment and Milgram experiment
show, many people will follow the direction of an
authority figure (such as a superior officer) in
an official setting (especially if presented as
mandatory), even if they have personal uncertainty.
The main motivations for this appear to be fear
of loss of status or respect, and the desire to
be seen as a "good citizen" or "good
- Peer encouragement: to accept
torture as necessary, acceptable or deserved, or
to comply from a wish to not reject peer group beliefs.
This may potentially lead to torture gangs roaming
the streets seeking dominant torture status.
- Dehumanization: seeing victims
as objects of curiosity and experimentation, where
pain becomes just another test to see how it affects
- Disinhibition: socio-cultural
and situational pressures may cause torturers to
undergo a lessening of moral inhibitions and as
a result act in ways not normally countenanced by
law, custom and conscience.
- Organisationally, like many
other procedures, once torture becomes established
as part of internally acceptable norms under certain
circumstances, its use often becomes institutionalised
and self-perpetuating over time, as what was once
used exceptionally for perceived necessity finds
more reasons claimed to justify wider use.
One of the apparent ringleaders
of the Abu Ghraib prison torture incident, Charles
Graner Jr., exemplified some of these when he was
reported to have said, "The Christian in me says
it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says,
'I love to make a grown man piss himself.'"
Effects of torture
on the torturer
French author Alec Mellor writing,
in 1972, about French General Jacques Massu's use
of torture in Algeria quotes a former French career
soldier, now a priest, Pere Gilbert, SJ, thus:
"But let us admit for
a moment that it might be possible to justify torture
for the 'noble motives': have they (those who justify
torture) thought for one moment of the individual
who does it, that is, of the man whom, whether he
wishes or not, one is going to turn into a torturer?
I have received enough confidences in Algeria and
in France to know into what injuries, perhaps irreparable,
torture can lead the human conscience. Many young
men have 'taken up the game' and have thereby passed
from mental health and stability into terrifying
states of decay, from which some will probably never
effects to the tortured
Although torture, indeed, seems
forever, it is possible to transform such terrible
suffering. Torture subjects do take back their identities
after even the most terrible tortures. Torture subjects
do re-member their horrible memories, do release their
reasonable rages and do restore their original wholeness.
Victimhood is a stage, not a destination.
Overcoming torture-induced trauma
requires immense dedication, patience and support.
Since little such support is available to torture
victims today, most see no choice but to choose (unconscious)
victimhood forever. One consequence is that, despite
their best efforts, most victims victimize less capable
people with their unconscious psychological torture
(and terror) displacements and so the cycle repeats
No torture subject need indulge
in victimhood, forever, with no hope. Some torture
subjects do overcome the associated psychological
pain, suffering and trauma of torture. However, the
costs of transforming torture are terrible and the
long term losses that torture causes are irreplaceable.
- McCoy, Alfred, A Question
of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War
to the War on Terror (Hardcover)
- Conroy, John, Unspeakable
Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture,
Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
- Glasser, William, WARNING:
Psychiatry Can be Dangerous to Your Health,
- Millet, Kate, The Politics
of Cruelty: An Essay on the Literature of Political
Imprisonment, W. W. Norton, 1994.
- Peters, Edward, Torture,
Basil Blackwell, 1985.
- Levine Peter, and Frederick, Ann,
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate
Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences,
North Atlantic, 1997.
- Stover, Eric and Nightingale,
Elena, The Breaking of Bodies and Minds: Torture,
Psychiatric Abuse and the Health Professions,
W.H. Freeman, 1985.
- CIA, KUBARK Counterintelligence
Interrogation, July 1963
- CIA, Human Resource Exploitation
Training Manual - 1983