I think a lot about Jaycee Dugard. Kidnapped at 11 and held by a pedophile meth head and his wife. She had two children as a result of his constant rapes.
And everyone is doe eyes over her.
To be clear, they should be. She has a really amazing outlook, is fiercely resilient, and is anything but prone to emotional or negative rumination.
But I feel like it sets people who experienced less well-covered or less sensational – and I don’t mean to be insensitive or diminish her experience by that choice in words, but she has the advantage of arriving in front of any audience to find all ears pre-tuned to the sympathetic channel – cumulative trauma to be measured against her.
In a demographic that (a) already feels measured against the rest of the world, (b) already is likely to engage in some pretty bleak self-comparisons and find themselves lacking, and (c) is subjected early and often to invalidation and crazy-making as a tactic to perpetuate the conditions for ongoing victimization, I feel conflicted with her.
On the one hand, of course. She’s everything she appears to be to everyone else. Everyone who has no idea what lifelong relational trauma even is, let alone what it feels like and how corrosive it can be. She’s a symbol of hope and power and strength.
But on the other hand, she feels to me like an impossible standard to which we’re being held. I know that it’s not a pissing contest, and that everyone’s trauma matters and blah blah blah. But most people who go through longitudinal pathologically stressful situations have at least some small sense, often implanted there by perpetrators themselves, that theirs is less than. The very idea of comparing their experiences and fallouts to Jaycee’s would be sacrilege. Hell, the hubris it takes to even say “I experienced trauma,” is unthinkable to many and would be met with swift, feorce retaliation. So if their trauma is of such a diminished value as hers, if it seems to pale in comparison, yet she can be so well-adjusted, positive, and upbeat, then the unspoken question becomes “why the hell can’t we?”
If Jaycee Dugard went through that absolute hell and came out smiling on the other side of it, owning a petting zoo and chatting up Diane Sawyer, then what the hell are we still holding on to our grief and fear for? What’s our excuse?
“Why can’t you just be more like her,” the latent question becomes on the part of anyone who brings Jaycee Dugard up to me.
Because I can’t. Because I like my anger. Because I have been told for years and years that I’m not entitled to it, and holding on to it is the only way for me to maintain any control at all in an interpersonal situation that will always, always end up with me on the bottom. Holding on to it means it really happened, when others would love nothing more than for me to believe that it never, ever did. Why does it all have to look like Jaycee Dugard? Why is that the only model of successful recovery?
And in terms of the whole Stockholm Syndrome war… I get the argument, but I’m not on board. Saying that trauma bonding doesn’t exist is invalidating to every trauma survivor for whom it’s ever rung true. And when your trauma comes from an attachment figure in early life? Forget it. Here’s one way that Jaycee Dugard was luckier than a lot of longitudinal trauma survivors: she was abducted at 11. She had 11 years of strong, healthy attachment to a primary caregiver to draw strength from from within the situation. What happens when your primary caregiver, the one you depend on to keep you alive, is unsafe, unpredictable, and unreliable?
How about trauma bonding now?
It’s a thing. Let’s not pretend it’s not. When you’re a little child who needs a caregiver to keep them alive, you’re going to find a way to develop some sort of a bond with that person no matter how dysfunctional your relationship is because you are a child and you don’t have a choice. And when you don’t have a legitimate, healthy attachment from early childhood, any trauma you’re subjected to later is amplified because you don’t have that initial experience of existential and psychological safety from which to draw.
The very idea is as alien to you as the idea of living on Pluto. So dysfunction feels as close.to normal as you’ve ever known. Of course you’re going to settle for dysfunction more quickly and easily than someone who had a healthy attachment early on.
Attachment is our model for normalcy from day one. If it is abnormal, we’re going to struggle even to know when something is dangerous or dysfunctional.
I don’t know why Jaycee Dugard is on my mind today but she is.
Maybe I’m just jealous she can afford horses.