Mackenzie Phillips and the Stockholm Syndrome
The trauma bond of Mackenzie Phillips and her father
Posted Sep 26, 2009
In the aftermath of Mackenzie Phillip's shocking revelations of long term incest with her father, "Papa" John Phillips of the sixties' singing group, the Mamas and the Papas, some people are wondering why the actress allowed the incest to continue for ten years-- into her twenties.
The assumption is that since she was a young adult, she could have stopped it. The reality is that she was not able to due what is known as the Stockholm Syndrome, in which people form what is called a "trauma bond" with their oppressors. Because survival depends upon the good will of the oppressor, the abused become infatuated with and bonded to them. The kidnapped heiress Patricia Hearst was a notable example of this. The trauma bond is common to victims of abuse, be they incested children or battered wives, as well as among prisoners of war, cult members, and victims of torture to name a few.
Traumatized people have traumatized brains which Phillips described on the Oprah show when she alluded to having "flashbacks," unwanted, repeating inner images, which she attempted to compartmentalize and block out. A traumatized brain does not respond or bounce back so easily.
Drug use, also part of her family's behavior helped to annihilate awareness of the sexual episodes, the resulting emotional pain and the unwanted, intrusive memories-- that occurred later.
In the book, Traumatic Experiende and the Brain, author David Ziegler, the director of a treatment program for abused children, writes that "I have often noticed that the degree of loyalty from a child to an abusive parent seems to be in direct proportion to the seriousness of the abuse the child received. In this counterintuitive way, the stronger or more life-threatening the treatment, the stronger the loyalty from the child."
This is due to the way trauma imprints the brain. It's a misunderstanding when people with normal development and limited experience of abuse, incest, or drugs assume that someone with a very different experience would be able to think, function, or act as they do. In addition, a child, who like Mackenzie Phillips is initiated into brain distorting drug use at an early age will have different brain development than a person whose brain has not been tainted by drugs early in life. Moreover, in the Phillips family it appears that drug use was a kind of family pastime. Craving the sense of belonging that most people, and certainly all children feel, a child like Mackenzie was inducted early on into a unique family culture, one that was inherently isolating and further increased the dependency on powerful parents since neither their values, lifestyle, nor behavior were shared by other people.
Further, Mackenzie Phillips reported that John Phillips' philosophy was that he and his family were somehow special and beyond the normal rules of behavior to which others adhered. Until she began her long hard climb to independence and maturity, this was the only frame of reference, young Mackenzie had. Until she began that climb, the distorted, possibly sociopathic mindset she learned from her father was part of her entrapment.
Although I'm concerned that recounting her trauma on Oprah could potentially retraumatize Mackenzie and threaten her fragile discovery, I would hope that the rest of us can accord her the respect she deserves for her courage, and take to heart the implications of the morality tales she offers-- that abuse should be acknowledged even when the abuser is powerful, charismatic, and famous.
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