A sense of privilege and entitlement isn’t the only thing that allows predators to thrive in plain sight amongst us. Bill Cosby is the latest in a long string of serial abusers that were able to hide their abuse to continue preying on new victims unabated for years and sometimes decades. Just yesterday another woman has come forward, amid a slew of allegations against Bill Cosby, claiming she was raped by him in 1976. Why did all of his abuse remain so hidden during many decades?
Worship and status isn’t only intoxicating to the serial abuser, it is just as much intoxicating to the fans who stand by their serial abuser, thus providing the serial abuser with an almost impenetrable wall of silence.
Even after exposure, that wall of silence persists. More so than even the Berlin Wall. Tearing down this wall of silence has proven to be almost impossible, and most of the time what are termed “allegations” conveniently blow over. Fans persist in their comfort zone, and the uproar subsides and is soon forgotten. That tried and true concept of divide and conquer pitting the fans against the victim works like a charm: let the infighting proceed and watch from the sidelines until the issue subsides is the advice Bill Cosby is being given. It’s a phenomenon narcissistic abuse survivors are all too familiar with: triangulation………the crazy-making denials and slander of the victims that removes the focus off the perpetrator, so the perpetrator can come off as the actual victim.
This is important to note as a very effective tactic since it also explains why abuse victims wait such a long time to speak up and reveal their abuse. Whether it’s sexual abuse as in the case of Bill Cosby, physical abuse, or emotional abuse, it’s well known that perpetrators who abuse without remorse because of a sense of entitlement and the thrill of getting away with it (the adrenaline rush of living on the edge), often can be characterized as having a narcissistic personality disorder. Their narcissistic personality disorder also hides well behind a mask of humility and kindness.
For this reason victims are initially paralyzed by confusion as they sort out what happened to them. They too find it so hard to believe this actually happened to them, and they are in the midst of processing that trauma. It is therefor unfair to blame them for not speaking out immediately. Since that is the initial reason they remain silent about the abuse, lets look at some of the additional reasons victims stay silent or take such a long time to speak out:
1. Victims are initially paralyzed by the confusion of the traumatic event and need time to process the unthinkable. Especially given the “good guy” status that the perpetrator has everybody believe in.
2.. The abuse is humiliating, and speaking out is embarrassing for the victim.
3. They are afraid they won’t be believed. This is true for all types of abuse whether it’s sexual, physical or emotional……….they are all perpetrated behind closed doors, without witnesses. All hard to prove.
4. Abuse happens to other people, it couldn’t happen to you. You are strong and don’t want to be seen as weak. This cognitive dissonance takes time to sort through. You feel stupid for having “put yourself in that position,” and blame yourself. We internalize the blame that the abuser and society bestows on us.
5. Fear of dismissive responses by the wall of silence of apaths and enablers like “it wasn’t that bad,” or “just move on,” or even absolute silence…….not even acknowledging your message at all. This often leads to being hurt or re-victimized all over again, by a lack of validation.
6. In the case of narcissistic abuse where there is a pattern of daily emotional abuse, with the partner continuously being mocked and disapproved of for dominance and subjugation, the abuse is so covert that it is hard to explain for the victim. The victim being labeled “too sensitive” or bitter about a failed relationship is an all too common belittling defense given for the abuser.
7. Last but certainly not least is the fear of the abuser in terms of their possible retaliation. This fear is most definitely related to the fear of further violence. It is a well-known fact that what the abuser most fears is exposure, and they are known to fly into a violent rage at a victim speaking up. Intimate partner abuse could escalate or the narcissist will work hard to defame you, to undermine your credibility. Having to deal with additional abuse, intimidation and retaliation by the abuser is most likely the greatest deterrent to speaking up.
Apaths and enablers, that comprise the thickest wall of silence, easily hide behind the claim that “they’ve never seen it,” so there is nothing they can do, which is merely a lame truism since by definition “private abuse” doesn’t happen in public. The other excuse to turn a blind eye to it is to shrug it off with “well, he’s my friend,” as if abuse perpetrated by a “friend” of yours is somehow okay.
So, they don’t even bother to seriously consider the validity of what they’ve been told. Instead they come to the defense of the perpetrator admonishing you to stay quiet. They themselves want to remain quiet for fear they may be expelled from the narcissist’s inner circle. Celebrity worship after all is quite cultish. Followers have invested a lot of themselves, to be a “good follower,” so there is a lot of ego involved. They don’t like being wrong about people they thought were good. It’s admitting fault in their own ability to judge others.
As Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited says:
The narcissist is a micro-manager. He exerts control over the minutest details and behaviors. He punishes severely and abuses withholders of information and those who fail to conform to his wishes and goals.
The narcissist does not respect the boundaries and privacy of his (willing or) reluctant adherents. He ignores their (opinions and) wishes and treats them as objects or instruments of gratification. He seeks to control both situations and people compulsively.
The narcissist is a master at his craft, and his kind, caring and humble persona serves him well. His followers often feel an eery closeness as in a sort of
re-enactment of the follower’s early childhood, only this time with an ideal, benevolent parent.
There is thus an undying loyalty among the followers. Nevertheless, it’s important to speak up because if everyone were to remain silent about their experiences, there would be no books, no poetry, no music or film. Most people seem clueless about the importance of sharing experiences, good and bad, with the world. Our valued principles of fairness and freedom from oppression are at stake, and abuse only serves to oppress.
At the very least an apath/enabler should be open-minded enough to understand the value and the bravery it takes for us to speak out. How else are we finally going to make an impact and reduce Violence Against Women and Children world-wide?