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Ethical and Cultural Issues Arising from the Psychology of Terrorism

Section 10
Trauma Survivor's Worksheet for
Feelings of Superiority, Entitlement, and Jealousy
by Aphrodite Matsakis

Question 10 | Test | Table of Contents

Trauma-Related Mind-Sets
Trauma can not only change your biochemistry, but also the way you think. There are predictable patterns of thinking; you will become able to catch yourself in these patterns as you become aware of your mind-sets.

Trauma Mind-Set #1: All-or-Nothing and Now-or-Never Thinking
Absolutist, all-or-nothing thinking is characteristic of those who have experienced a traumatic event. Since there is so much at stake during a traumatic event, issues can become black or white.
Ask yourself the following questions:
• Who was there during the trauma, or immediately before of after the trauma?
• Were there fellow survivors, authority figures, rescuers, or bystanders?
• What did they say? Did anyone give instructions or orders or threats?
• Did anyone make all-or-nothing comments?
• Did your thinking change because of what others said, or did not say, right before, during, or immediately following the trauma? How did your thinking change?

Trauma Mind-Set #2: Intolerance of Mistakes and Perfectionism
• When others make errors similar to your trauma-related mistakes
• Perfectionism, Superiority, Entitlement, and Jealousy

Trauma Mind-Set #3: Denial of Personal Difficulties

Superiority, Entitlement, and Jealousy
Coming to terms with contradictory feelings within ourselves is one of the hardest parts of being human. Life would be so much simpler if we felt only one way about ourselves and others, instead of feeling one way one time, and a different way the next time, and sometimes feeling two contradictory ways at the same time.

Not all trauma survivors feel both inferior and superior to others at the same time; neither do they feel they deserve nothing and are entitled to almost everything at the same time. But some trauma survivors do feel such contradictory feelings, and for them the tension between these kinds of extreme feelings creates its own confusion and pain.

This section will not apply to all survivors, but it does apply to you if you answer “yes” to the following questions:
• Have you ever felt so worthless, ashamed, and guilty because of your trauma and the scars it left that you feel you deserve very little out of life?
• On the other hand, do you sometimes feel that precisely because you suffered so much as the result of your trauma, you are now superior to others and entitled to the best that life has to offer?
• Do you sometimes think, “I’ve paid my dues. Now the world owes me!”
• Does a part of you feel ashamed of your scars (whether they be psychological, physical, or both) while another part of you wears them as a badge of honor?
• Do you feel that the hardships you’ve had set you above those who have never known true suffering or defeat?

If you experience these kinds of contradictory feelings -- feelings of inferiority alternating with feelings of superiority, and feelings of worthlessness alternating with feelings of entitlement -- you may discover that when relating to others, you are simultaneously both jealous and contemptuous.

For example, you may be jealous of others because they don’t have to deal with nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or triggers and life seems to have dealt them a better hand, whereas you have been cheated of aspects of your physical and mental health, and perhaps, years of your life. On the other hand, you may be contemptuous of the nontraumatized because they don’t know what “real life” is all about. Unlike you, they haven’t been tested and they still naively believe that the world is just and fair and that people are basically good at heart. You know better. You know about cruelty and injustice, or bad luck and in that knowledge, you might feel superior to those who assume that life is one positive experience after another, interrupted only by the ordinary, normal stresses of life, such as flat tires or lost baggage at airline terminals.You may feel that, because of all you have been through, the rest of your life should not be stressful, and that you are entitled to an easier time of it than others. At the very least, you may feel that no more traumas should ever happen to you again because, after all, you’ve had your share. Furthermore, allowances should be made for you at work, in relationships, or elsewhere that take into account your limitations and triggers.

Exercise: Being Honest About Feeling Superior
Do you feel entitled to special favors or services from others because you have been traumatized and have suffered? What are the special favors or exceptions you feel you deserve? Have you directly asked for these special arrangements in any of your relationships? Have you asked for them, or expected them, indirectly? Have you not asked for these certain arrangements either directly or indirectly, and then become angry when they were not provided?

Exercise: Being Honest About Being Jealous
People are often reluctant to admit to feelings of jealousy because such an admission reveals a lack in one’s self. There are two types of jealousy:

The first is a kind of pathological possessiveness of another person that seeks to control that person and keep that person all to oneself. In this type of jealousy, you aren’t jealous of the qualities of the person, you are afraid of losing that person’s affection or commitment to you. You seek to ensure that person’s allegiance through various means of control, and you possessively guard that person from being influenced by others. Almost anyone, or any force outside of your relationship is seen as a potential threat to the relationship. For example, the other person’s family, vocational interests, friends, intellectual interests, or, indeed, any interest other than you is viewed as threatening.

The second type of jealousy is jealousy of another person’s traits or achievements, which you admire and wish you had. You may see a dancer in a movie, for example, and be jealous of the dancer’s grace and skill. You may hear someone give a speech and envy the smoothness and effectiveness of the presentation. You may read an essay written by a friend and be envious of your friend’s achievement.

Exercise: Channeling Your Jealous Energies Productively

1. Were you jealous of any of these people? Did you want to control them so that you could be assured of their affection for you? What did you fear would happen if you lost that person?

2. Were you the object of someone else’s jealousy? What do you think this person was afraid of if he/she lost you? If you have left this person, what happened following your departure?

3. If you are currently behaving in a jealous manner toward someone, how does your behavior affect the relationship? Is your behavior useful in controlling the other and assuring you that this person won’t leave you, or does your behavior have another effect? What is that effect?

4. Examine the relationships you wrote about in chapter 1 again. Were any of these relationships affected by jealousy arising from your in­security? How did your jealousy affect the relationship? Are you currently feeling insecure and jealous within an important relationship? What is the source of your insecurity? How does your jealousy affect you and the relationship?

5. Are you, or have you been, jealous of what someone else is doing or how someone else behaves? Would you like to be more like that person? In what ways is possible for you to become what you are jealous of? In what ways it not possible? In what ways is your jealousy a mirror of the losses you sustained as a result of the trauma?

6. What stops you from becoming the kind of person of whom you are jealous? For example, if you are jealous of people who are physically fit, what stops you from emulating them and becoming more fit? Even if you take steps to become more like the person you envy, what might be the limits of such action? What can you realistically hope to achieve?
- Matsakis, Ph.D., Aphrodite. Trust After Trauma. New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, 1998.

Personal Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained a Client Worksheet. List two case studies regarding the possible applications of this Client Worksheet.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Ferguson, N., & McAuley, J. W. (2021). Dedicated to the cause: Identity development and violent extremism. European Psychologist, 26(1), 6–14.

Logan, M. K., Damadzic, A., Medeiros, K., Ligon, G. S., & Derrick, D. C. (2021). Constraints to malevolent innovation in terrorist attacks. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Advance online publication.

Mac Giollabhui, N., Hamilton, J. L., Nielsen, J., Connolly, S. L., Stange, J. P., Varga, S., Burdette, E., Olino, T. M., Abramson, L. Y., & Alloy, L. B. (2018). Negative cognitive style interacts with negative life events to predict first onset of a major depressive episode in adolescence via hopelessness. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 127(1), 1–11.

QUESTION 10: What are three possible Mind-Sets a trauma survivor may exhibit? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 11
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