The terrorizing/terrified white knight is the subtype most likely to have experienced overwhelming fear and shame as a child. This white knight tends to have had a traumatic early childhood that may have included sexual, emotional, or physical abuse. Such an extremely difficult childhood has left him with limited skills to handle his psychological burden.
Given her chaotic inner world, the terrorizing/terrified white knight believes she must take extreme measures to maintain a sense of emotional safety, stay close to her partner, and avoid abandonment. These measures often involve physically and emotionally controlling her partner and can involve the use of sex and jealousy to achieve that control.
To keep his vulnerability hidden, the terrorizing/terrified white knight creates situations where others feel afraid or shamed. Through various behaviors, the terrorizing/terrified white knight makes his partner feel the same feelings that he struggles to avoid-emptiness, jealousy, shame, anger, and fear of abandonment. He may be accusatory, critical, or mocking in an attempt to relieve himself of shame by shaming her.
The following case, a composite of many individuals, illustrates how the terrorizing/terrified white knight's unhealthy attempts to feel in control and safe damages her relationships.
Twenty-five-year-old Lexie came to therapy as a condition imposed by a court order. Her fights with her boyfriend, Jason, had led to the destruction of property and injuries to him. Lexie had justified her actions by saying, "I wasn't going to just sit there and take it."
Lexie's mother had been a prostitute. Because Lexie's mother was also a drug addict and often incapacitated, Lexie had been left unprotected from sexual and physical assaults by her
mother's boyfriend. When Lexie was eight years old, she'd told her mother about the boyfriend's assaults. Her mother had confronted her boyfriend, who'd responded by punching Lexie's mother and knocking her out. As a result, Lexie promised herself she would never complain about anything to her mother again.
Several months later, a teacher, after noticing Lexie's bruises, had called child protective services. Ultimately, Lexie was placed in foster care with her mother's cousin, in a nearby town. Shortly after, Lexie's mother died of a drug overdose, for which Lexie blamed her mother's boyfriend.
Although her mother's cousin had provided a loving home, throughout elementary and junior high school, Lexie was frequently suspended for fighting, using profanity, and cruel teasing. At sixteen, she'd joined a gang, whose main activities centered around drug abuse and car theft.
With her mother's cousin's help, Lexie had started a car-detailing business and for a short period of time she stayed away from her gang associates, gave up using drugs, and became celibate. But after her mother's cousin died, Lexie had resumed both her drug use and promiscuous behavior.
Lexie met Jason when she literally rescued him from the roadside. He was staring at his car's engine, totally lost, bewildered, and overwhelmed when Lexie drove by. She stopped to help and quickly got the engine running.
Jason, twenty-two, worked at a local grocery store. His parents were active "swingers" who throughout his childhood had embarrassed him with their flagrant sexual behavior. As a result, he'd had few sexual experiences and had become addicted to Internet pornography. Lexie became his literal idol, someone who could do or handle anything.
At first, Lexie enjoyed introducing Jason to sexuality and various recreational drugs, but as time went by, she became frustrated by his passivity. She thought he was allowing his supervisor to "push him around," and would rage at him for coming home late from work. On several occasions, she put his job in jeopardy by calling the supervisor about changing his work schedule. Jason crumbled at her criticism and retreated to pornography. She responded by viciously insulting him, provoking him to engage. Invariably, their quarrels would end with the neighbors or Jason calling the police.
Given Lexie's terrifying background, it is not surprising that she developed such a tough exterior. She carried a burden of tremendous guilt and shame that she had caused her mother to be injured by revealing the sexual abuse and by not hiding the bruises which had caused her removal from the home and left her mother unprotected. As an adolescent, she'd found solace and friendship with other terrified adolescents, who in turn, had terrified others.
Lexie found another fearful person in Jason, but rather than being aggressive, Jason's fears had pushed him inward. Although she had helped him to feel sexual and become more assertive, in the end, the consequences of Jason's early life experiences were beyond Lexie's ability to help. In order to cope with Jason's withdrawal and her own sense of helplessness, she responded much as she had throughout her life, by turning her fear into anger and rage.
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