I believe Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory can shed a light on generational violence. A light that will help survivors of abuse understand and heal from their traumatic experience. The goal is to stop episodes of abuse in victims’ lives and prevent the cycles of abuse from being passed to the generations who follow. The purpose of 180rule.com is to explore the application of Rene Girard’s mimetic theory toward an understanding of the pathological behaviors of abusers.
Girard’s Mimetic Theory is uniquely suited to this application because it observes that shame and envy are motivating forces which drive human behavior and shape our culture. Shame and envy are also the roots of narcissism. The dramatic, Cluster B personality disorders –anti-social, narcissistic, and borderline– are most often associated with domestic violence.
In his book, A Theatre of Envy, Girard writes,
“We often brag that no word can scandalize us anymore, but what about “envy”? Our supposedly insatiable appetite for the forbidden stops short of envy. Primitive cultures fear and repress envy so much that they have no word for it; we hardly use the one we have, and this fact must be significant. We no longer prohibit many actions that generate envy, but silently ostracize whatever can remind us of its presence in our midst.”(4)
Shame is word which might be even more scandalous. The feeling of shame can be so unbearable that humans employ denial mechanisms against it. Narcissism is one of those mechanisms. The narcissist’s feelings of shame are so unbearable that he behaves shamelessly (Hotchkiss, 5) Shame is what happens when we compare ourselves to other people and measure up short in our own view. Envy is felt toward the model we compared ourselves with. The shame is repressed into the subconscious so, as in Girard’s hidden scapegoat mechanism, we are unaware of the shame. Yet, envy is the sign that shame exists. As Girard states, “Envy involuntarily testifies to the lack of being that puts the envious to shame” (A Theatre of Envy, 4)
Girard’s Mimetic theory was formed through the study of numerous texts which, in many ways, parallel the deceptions of psychopaths. These texts were the mythologies of our ancestors. Girard explains that myths were the foundation of culture and religion based on a murder and a lie. The myths were about the murder of a scapegoat victim and the lie to cover up his innocence. The community must believe in a victim’s guilt for catharsis to occur after the murder and for order to be restored to the chaotic community. A myth is the story told about the scapegoat’s crimes after the community has accused, slandered and killed him.
Psychopaths are notoriously difficult to study because every word that comes out of their mouths is a deception. Considering that the only words you will ever hear from a psychopath are myths with the truth inverted 180 degrees, Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory might be the perfect tool for understanding the behavior of a pathological liar.
Using the lens of Mimetic Theory I will compare primitive rituals and mythology with the pathological behaviors of the Cluster B personality disorders. I believe the common denominators will reveal that the red flags of hidden abuse are the same ones Rene Girard uncovered when he unveiled the scapegoat mechanism.