(noun) The whipsaw, also known as the “roller coaster” and the “push/pull”, is a psychopathic manipulation intended to unbalance the victim’s emotions by alternating benevolence with malevolence.
For the psychopath, this is mostly a game of exerting his power. He also uses it to test his victim’s limits. How much will she take? What will make her run? Will I be able to chase her and convince her to come back?
But there is an even more insidious effect on the victim, from the whipsaw: it creates a trauma with the psychopath. Psychopaths cause pain to the victim so that they can be the ones who also provide solace. Girardian Theorists might be familiar with this theme. Girard writes,
“…the double nature of all primitive divinities, the blending of beneficent and maleficent that characterizes all mythical figures who involve themselves in mortal affairs.” (Violence and The Sacred 265)
Victims of domestic violence experience this in the trauma bond. When the psychopathic partner sabotages his victim’s life, it provides him the opportunity to “rescue” his victim, thus increasing her dependency on him.
Psychopaths understand the nature of addiction and dependency. They know that the highs make the lows seem so much lower in comparison and the victim will crave a return to the highs she felt when she was in his good graces. The victim becomes addicted to the psychopath’s benevolence. We can think of the roller coaster as a series of mini-cycles in the larger cycle of the final and inevitable idealize, devalue and discard.
It does not require a relationship with a psychopath to be subjected to the whipsaw. I’ve seen it being used many times from the very first moment of meeting. I watched a narcissist pay close attention to a new acquaintance, a man who was obviously very impressed with the narcissist. Then the narcissist would alternate ignoring the victim with focusing all his attention on him. It ended with a complete discarding of the victim in less than an hour. Later, when I described my observation to the victim, he said he felt perplexed and abandoned. Ironically, the victim was a psychopath himself.« Back to Glossary Index