Articles Veganism

The New European: The Vegan Manifesto

The rise of veganism is impossible to ignore. This year’s ‘Veganuary’ – a campaign that encourages people to go plant-based for a month – had more participants than the previous four years combined, with over 250,000 sign-ups and millions more taking part unofficially. Highlights of Veganuary 2019 included new plant-based ranges being unrolled by Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Aldi, and – lest we forget – Piers Morgan having a meltdown over a vegan sausage roll.

Opponents of veganism may find the idea of a meatless sausage roll infuriating, but what is it about the vegan movement that makes some people so cross? I’ve pondered this a lot, especially since my run-in with former Waitrose editor William Sitwell went viral. That episode, and the divisive reaction to it, confirmed what we already knew: that not eating meat is a highly emotive topic. VICE explored the causes of “vegaphobia”, while The Daily Mail hysterically urged their readers to “stand up to vegan terrorists!”.

So what’s behind the rise of veganism – and what does its escalating popularity mean for our planet and our politics?

The rise of veganism, a fringe movement

Let’s start at the beginning. The word “veganism” first entered the lexicon in 1944, when teacher Donald Watson founded The Vegan Society in Leicester. 75 years later, the definition of veganism remains the same: it’s a “philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

While veganism remained a fringe movement for decades, in the past few years it’s soared into the public consciousness. There are three powerful, yet wholly separate, reasons for its rapid rise in popularity: health, the environment, and animal rights.

Eating less meat is better for the planet – that’s no longer disputed – yet the urgency of the situation perhaps isn’t so known. Last year the UN warned that we have just 12 years to limit climate change before our world is lost forever. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of environmental destruction, species extinction, ocean dead zones and water pollution, yet we do little to counter it. While campaigns to ban plastic straws have been widely embraced, in truth stunts like these are futile: plastic straws amount for 0.3% of the 8 million metric tons of plastic that annually enters our oceans.

The leading cause of plastic in the ocean is actually abandoned fishing gear. Known as “ghost gear”, it kills millions of marine animals each year. It is, according to an extensive 2018 report, “the most harmful form of debris.” Further illustrating this is the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, a drifting stretch of refuse twice the size of France that weighs 79,000 tons; nearly half the weight of rubbish (46%) is abandoned fishing nets. Despite all the talk of reducing single-use plastic, the leading cause of it is rarely even acknowledged, let alone tackled.

Studies prove that swapping to a vegan diet is the single biggest way to reduce our impact on earth. Critics of veganism frequently argue that soya is unsustainable, yet only 6% of all soya is used for human consumption – the overwhelming majority is used for animal feed. Shockingly, the prevalence of industrial farming on this scale is driving the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth.

Health matters

Health is another leading cause of the rise of veganism. Countless studies link major diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes to the consumption of animal protein. Switching to a plant-based diet has been proven to prevent, treat and even reverse heart disease and type two diabetes. The largest organisation of nutritional professionals in the world implicitly stated that a vegan diet is adequately healthy for all stages of life, including pregnancy.

It wasn’t too long ago that vegans were seen as thin and malnourished, but the health benefits of a plant-based diet have never been clearer. Tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, F1’s Lewis Hamilton, boxer David Haye and many other elite athletes have all cited their vegan diet as reasons for their success, claiming they feel stronger and faster and their recovery is quicker. The old protein-deficient vegan trope has (almost) been retired.

So, now, most of us agree that one can be healthy on a vegan diet. We can also agree that animal agriculture is harming the planet. What we can’t seem to agree on is how we should treat animals.

Undoubtedly, this is the most divisive aspect of veganism – and indeed, for vegans this is the crux of the debate. Vegans oppose the unnecessary slaughter of living beings – but if we know that humans don’t need animal products to stay healthy, can this ever really constitute as “necessary”?

My opinion is no, but then again, as a vegan I’m often told my beliefs are “extreme”; vegetarianism is acceptable, but veganism is going “too far”. The only reason people view one as tolerable and the other as excessive is because the cruelty – or the simple fact that an animal lost their life – is overt in meat. Conversely, the insidious nature of the dairy and egg industries means the general public is mostly unaware of standard procedures – and to explore this issue properly we need to lift the veil.

The animal issue

What we forget, when we pick up products from the supermarket shelves, is that the meat, dairy and egg industries are some of the most powerful in the world. Their marketing reflects this. People see labels like ‘humane milk’ and ‘humane meat’ and they believe them – yet these are myths, marketing ploys that exist only to make us feel better. The word humane means compassionate and kind – and because it means this, neither meat nor dairy can ever be considered it.

Dairy cows are forcibly impregnated to produce milk. Their calves are taken at birth: if he’s male, he’s often shot because he won’t produce milk, or he may be dumped, still alive, in ditches like garbage. Alternatively he’ll be locked in a pen, unable to move, touch grass, or even lie down – and when his muscles are soft enough, he’ll be killed and sold as veal. If the calf is female, she’ll lead the same life as her mother: repeatedly impregnated, her calves taken, and when she’s too spent to produce enough milk (around six years old) she’ll be sent to the slaughterhouse. Cows naturally live to 25 years old.

The fact that all dairy cows end up as cheap beef isn’t widely know. Neither is the abhorrent treatment of newborn calves. But public ignorance is what the industry wants, and so the truths are kept hidden and the myths perpetuated. There’s no disputing how well it’s worked; for example, very few people see problems with “happy eggs” from “free-range, happy hens”. Yet beneath its cheerful veneer the egg industry is just as dark.

The public aren’t told about the practice of “chick culling” – the slaughter of billions of newly-hatched chicks every year. Male chicks are by-products of the egg industry – worthless because they don’t lay eggs – so they are macerated alive in high-speed grinders, asphyxiated by carbon dioxide, or suffocated in plastic bins. The British Egg Information Service say the culling of male chicks has been in place “as long as the industry has been there”.

What about pigs, among the most intelligent, emotional and cognitively complex animals in the world? Sows are kept in metal ‘gestation crates’ so small they can’t even turn around. They are mutilated at birth, their tails cut off, their teeth pulled, their ears tagged. In this country, we think the “humane” way of killing them is to gas them. Forced into carbon dioxide gas chambers, pigs’ bodies burn from the inside as they suffocate. Their panicked, agonised screams can be heard far outside the chambers.

‘Humane’ gestation crates.

Moving forward

“If I want to eat meat, that’s my choice.” I hear this a lot. Vegans are frequently accused of being militant, forcing their beliefs on people while refusing to respect others’ personal choices. But the minute someone else is harmed by your “personal choice”, it stops being “personal”. A living being has been victimised by your choice – in the case of meat, a living being has lost their life. It can never be a “personal choice” when there’s a victim involved.

Unfortunately, animals have been victimised to the point where they’re not even considered victims anymore. In the UK, we’re appalled by the Yulin dog meat festival, dismayed by the Faroe Island pilot whale hunt, but cows, pigs, chickens? They don’t count. The animals themselves disappear; they’re no longer living, breathing, feeling individuals – they’re commodities, walking hunks of flesh waiting to be killed. This isn’t even about meat anymore: it’s about the industrialisation of living creatures.

When I speak to people about the realities of farming, I’m often asked if animals are self-aware. But this question misses the point. The question we should be asking isn’t “Are they self-aware?” but “Do they suffer?”. Do these animals feel fear, as they’re lead into the slaughterhouse over ground coated in blood? Do they feel pain, as they’re hung upside down and a knife is thrust into their throat? We know, from the abattoir footage no-one wants to watch, that the answers to these questions is yes. So let’s consider another question.

If we could live in a world where we could not only survive but thrive without eating animal products… if there was an abundance of plant-based food at our disposal… if eating this way was infinitely less harmful to the environment… should we still choose to kill animals? If these three hypotheses are true, can there ever be a moral justification for doing what we do to animals?

Vegans are called “extremists”, but what really is more extreme? Gratuitously exploiting and killing living beings for their milk, eggs and meat – or trying to encourage people not to kill unnecessarily? The reality is that in 2019 there is no meaningful argument against veganism. And now, as the clock ticks and our awareness heightens, we have a choice: we can continue our mindless slaughter, our wilful destruction of our planet – or we can move forward compassionately. We can grow, as a species. We can evolve.

This article originally appeared on The New European.



Articles Veganism

BBC News: Why Do People Mock Vegans?

It began slowly. “Selene Nelson is a vile disgusting bitch,” the first tweet read, “she deserves a disease.” The next, a few minutes later, was worse: “I hope this self-righteous, vindictive bitch never appears on a byline again,” it went. “Lonely miserable (here there was a four-letter-word) with no substance in her life.” For a few days the abuse came in thick and fast, as did the media requests – Good Morning Britain, LBC, The Daily Mail and many foreign publications too, from New Zealand and Australia to the US.

In between scrolling through meat gifs people presumably thought would offend me and sighing at the tabloid media’s attempts to smear me, I was genuinely bemused at the level of vitriol being bandied around. Bemused, yet not surprised, because we all know what Twitter is like – and as a vegan, I’m well aware how angry my way of living can make people. After a while, the abuse simply became boring, so I turned my phone to aeroplane mode, switched off my social media notifications, declined all comment requests and tried to get on with my work.

The divisiveness of veganism

What was at the heart of this social media storm? I had revealed an email I was sent from William Sitwell, the then editor of Waitrose Food, after I pitched a series on plant-based cooking. Sitwell’s reply suggested a series on “killing vegans, one by one. Ways to trap them? How to interrogate them properly? Expose their hypocrisy? Force-feed them meat.” He has since said he meant the email to be “in some ways affectionate”, but that wasn’t how I read it.

Behind the facetious nature of the email I saw what I so often see when people hear the word “vegan” – hostility, defensiveness, even anger. As a vegan, I expect this from certain people, but not from an editor working for Waitrose, a company that had just rolled out its new vegan range amid much fanfare. The standard “uninterested” response from editors is to not reply at all, and I found it hard to understand why a highly respected, successful editor, in a position of power, would go out of his way to undermine a freelancer simply pitching for work.

The next day, after sleeping on it, I pitched an op-ed to BuzzFeed examining why just the mention of veganism can inspire such hostility from others. BuzzFeed wanted to run it as a news story about Sitwell’s email instead. It ran on Monday and by Wednesday, Sitwell had stepped down.

This weekend Sitwell spoke to The Mail on Sunday about the online abuse he’s received since the story broke. The graphic threats of violence directed at him, as well as his wife and baby son, are abhorrent. But the idea that “Nobody bays for blood like a raging vegan“, as The Mail’s frenzied headline proclaims, is comical, and ignores the fact that I received the same level of abuse as Sitwell, and threats too. Raging omnivores, it seems, are more than a match for raging vegans.

The rise of “Vegaphobia”

To learn more about the drama that engulfed us both, we need to look at the wider reaction. Good Morning Britain ran a segment called, “Is hating vegans the new norm?”. “Stand up to the vegan terrorists!“, The Daily Mail entreated its readers, while Vice wrote about “vegaphobia“. Aside from the “normal” reasons people claim to hate vegans (we’re supposedly annoying, pious and hypocritical), the Vice story suggested a deeper reason; people see veganism as a threat to “their sense of identity, values and beliefs,” the author wrote, partly because it challenges the deeply held belief of human superiority over non-humans.

There is a risk that coining a word like “vegaphobia” plays into the snowflake-vegan trope – this lingering belief that vegans are overly sensitive, militant, convinced we’re an oppressed minority. Vegans aren’t an oppressed minority, and to suggest we are is absurd. But the way we see it, we are speaking for an oppressed majority: the animals, millions of whom, right at this moment, are being hung upside down and slaughtered.

I believe there’s another underlying cause for hostility towards veganism: a refusal to recognise the suffering of animals. Mocking vegans is easier than listening to them, because it allows people to disregard animals’ pain: if you don’t confront it, does it even exist? Whatever the media likes to insist, vegans aren’t seeking to shame non-vegans – but we do want people to know the truth about animal agriculture. If someone is aware of the extent of animal suffering and is still happy to eat animal products, that’s an informed decision. But right now, for most people who consume meat, dairy and eggs on a daily basis, it isn’t.

It’s disappointing, but the main thing I’ve taken away from this experience is how many people don’t know what veganism actually is. They understand vegetarianism, but veganism is going “too far”. It’s “extreme”. Veganism isn’t a diet, or a fad, or a way to annoy the people around you; it’s a deeply held philosophical belief, a way of living that seeks – as far as is practical and possible – to avoid all forms of cruelty to, and exploitation of, other living creatures. There is nothing extreme about that.

Moving forward

This week I met William Sitwell for the first time. I was contacted by The One Show, who told me they’d spoken to William and were keen to bring us together to talk about our experiences. The idea made me feel somewhat apprehensive, but there were other feelings there too: curiosity, defiance, hopefulness. Surely it could only be a good thing to discuss our individual experiences, which were overwhelming and stressful for us both? And if along the way we could actually have a (polite) discussion about veganism, all the better.

As much as we are different people with very different opinions, William has been nothing but kind since we met. I was deeply appreciative of his warmth and goodwill, and how, in spite of the gusto with which he regaled me with his favourite meat dishes – “Pigs trotters stuffed with chicken!” – he was willing to listen, too. He’s since said that most vegans “pursue their lifestyle choices from a moral standpoint that I cannot argue with” – a comment that I respect and admire (and of course, agree with).

But as I have tried to explain, for me this wasn’t really about William Sitwell, or why he resigned, or why I emailed him in the first place. It was about why it’s accepted or considered funny to treat vegans with hostility and anger. I am sorry that William Sitwell lost his job, but I don’t regret exposing his email. It ignited a conversation about veganism and the way we perceive it, and that’s a conversation that needs to be had.

I’m thrilled William is happy to be a part of this discussion too. In The Times, he has said he hopes we can work together to “explain the world of food and describe it to people of our persuasions”. I hope so too, and I think it sends a powerful message: if two people with different opinions – particularly two people depicted as adversaries in the media – can come together, speak intelligently and explore this issue without hurling abuse, then we’ve actually got somewhere. We’ve made progress, as a species.

Read the full article over on BBC News.

Articles Lifestyle Veganism

Evening Standard: How To Have A Vegan Christmas

No mince pies, no creamy liqueurs, No cheeseboard. Admittedly, that does sound sad. Yet it is far from the reality of a vegan Christmas. This has been the year that veganism went mainstream. From dedicated vegan aisles in supermarkets to veggie burgers that look and taste eerily like the real thing, the plant-based movement has never been more prevalent — and as a vegan, I couldn’t be happier. Gone are the days when people thought we only ate lentils and salad; almost gone are the days where we’re continually asked: “But what about protein?” 

Read the full article over on the Evening Standard.

Articles Lifestyle Veganism

The Independent: What I Learned From Pitching Waitrose

Last week, I pitched an article to my favourite food magazine. Inspired by Waitrose’s announcement that plant-based sales had soared 85 per cent, I emailed Waitrose Food‘s editor, William Sitwell, about a new series on vegan food: plant-based recipes, tips from vegan chefs, new ways of cooking with new ingredients. This series wouldn’t just appeal to vegans, I wrote, but anyone looking to eat more healthily and sustainably. The email was sent in a professional capacity, to the email address Sitwell publicises on his website – not, as claimed, a “private email”.

The response I received to my pitch shocked me. It claimed he should instead commission a series about “killing vegans”, to “expose their hypocrisy” and “force-feed them meat”. I responded to the email in a lighthearted way. I tried to engage Sitwell in conversation, to find out why he had such negative feelings about vegans and why he felt that was an appropriate response to an earnest pitch. I didn’t get any answers.

Today it’s been announced that Sitwell has stepped down from his role as Waitrose editor, after his response received backlash on social media. In the past few hours I’ve been asked repeatedly for my thoughts on the matter. I can’t comment on the precise circumstances of William Sitwell’s departure, but I do think his response – to a pitch from a journalist expecting a professional reply – was a shame, and speaks to a wider problem.

Today Good Morning Britain included a segment entitled “Is hating vegans the new norm?”. What a strange and sad headline. Veganism isn’t about trying to make people feel bad. It isn’t about shaming or pointing fingers. It’s a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals. Away from the ethics, a vegan diet has become increasingly popular with people exploring ways to improve their footprint and health. These are not things to mock.

This month, the UN stated that we have just 12 years before the world we know is lost forever. Studies at the University of Oxford show that veganism is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on earth. The world’s largest organisation of nutritional professionals have stated that a vegan diet is sufficiently healthy at every stage of life, including pregnancy. This isn’t “vegan propaganda”. Being vegan doesn’t mean you’re virtue-signalling or pretending to be perfect. It means you’re trying to align your actions with your morals. When did this become something to scorn?

Those who defend Sitwell say it was “just a joke.” That of course he was being facetious. But that’s not the point. This isn’t about Sitwell or why he resigned, it’s about why it’s accepted or considered funny to speak to vegans with hostility and anger.

The lentil-munching, tree-hugging vegan trope is outdated and unhelpful, and the idea that vegans are militant aggressors seeking only to shame and convert people to a hippy, hemp-based lifestyle is simply untrue. There are now more than 3.5 million vegans in the UK, and many are as far removed from the old stereotype as you can get: Lewis Hamilton, David Haye… Yes, some vegans are annoying. So are some meat-eaters. Some are preachy. Some are not. You cannot generalise about millions of people.

Vegans are often criticised for being dogmatic, militant, too extreme or unnecessarily antagonistic. But if this disappointing exchange exposes anything, it’s the belligerent attitude that, sadly, many vegans experience every day, simply for trying to make a positive lifestyle change. Vegans are not “snowflakes”. Perhaps the real “snowflakes”, if we insist upon using this term, are those who become defensive and abusive when anyone dares question the status quo.

From this experience I will take away only the positives: how encouraging the widespread support for veganism has been, how Waitrose and other major retailers are investing in plant-based food, and how – despite waves of irrational anger and aggression from some quarters – there is a mounting support for eating a more ethical and sustainable diet.

Read the original article over on The Independent.
Articles Crime Society

The Daily Dot: My Mother, the Psychopath; One Woman’s Story of Abuse

Psychopathy is so hot right now—or so popular culture would have you believe.

In the past 15 years, public awareness of psychopathy and other antisocial personality disorders has rocketed. From the lethal-yet-likeable serial killer we saw in Dexter to the now-iconic Patrick Bateman of American Psycho, it seems both the media and public are drawn to the image of the “elite psychopath.”

The popularity of the elite psychopath trope has preserved the idea that psychopaths are almost a kind of anti-hero; they are crafty, attractive, charming savants, always one step ahead. But the reality of psychopathy is far from glamorous.

Psychopaths lack conscience, remorse, or empathy toward other human beings. Underneath their carefully constructed veneer of charm, they are deceitful, manipulative, narcissistic, and callous. A recent survey found that 95 percent of women involved with psychopathic men experienced emotional abuse.

But what about the child of a psychopath? Put simply, psychopaths are incapable of loving their children the way they deserve to be loved. They cannot instill empathy, morals, or restraint. They can’t teach what they don’t understand.

And yet it is more complicated than that. If you grow up in an environment devoid of parental love and encouragement, where do you find support? Why is it so hard, in the age of the social-media overshare and blogging anonymity, to find a community online? And without these resources, how do you cope when the person you’re supposed to trust most in the world is trying to sabotage your life?

* * * *

“By the time I turned 18, I’d lost count of the number of ways I’d been betrayed, manipulated, or used,” says 24-year-old Katie, who recently cut off contact with her mother, Joan, completely. (All names have been changed for anonymity.)

“So much of my childhood was spent feeling worthless, invisible, or frightened, but it wasn’t until I actually broke contact with my mother last year that I could finally see the effect her behavior had had on me.”

The first time Katie knew that her mother was different was when she was 10. “She told me I wasn’t worth living for,” she says. “That stuck with me. But there were so many instances of control and abuse while I was growing up that I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal.”

Katie tells me of one early traumatic incident when, at age six, some friends came over to play. Once they arrived, however, Joan locked Katie in the basement, telling her friends not to talk to her. “I could hear them playing above me and I knew she was punishing me, but I didn’t know what I’d done wrong,” Katie says. “It was like I was the child she had but didn’t want. That was how I felt for most of my childhood: confused, guilty, and afraid.”

Katie never knew what would set her mother off—it could be the smallest thing. “I remember one occasion when we were moving into our new house in France. My mother threw me down the stairs because I had ‘a boot face’ and had bumped her with a box.”

Katie says it never mattered what she did or how she behaved because “it was never about that,” she says. “It was about control. Any time she felt like she was losing control over me, that’s when it escalated.”

It often isn’t until a person engages in criminal behavior and enters the prison system that they’re diagnosed as psychopathic (and that’s because nearly all inmates receive mental-health evaluations). Thus, law-abiding psychopaths are almost never diagnosed, allowing them to utilize their characteristic cunning, charm, and ambition without reserve. (As a matter of fact, figures suggest that 4 percent of business leaders are psychopathic, compared to 1 percent of the general population.)

“It was about control. Any time she felt like she was losing control over me, that’s when it escalated.

Having not been to prison, nor having sought help herself, Joan has never had the opportunity for a clinical diagnosis, yet her behavior shows multiple signs of psychopathology.

Of the 20 accepted psychopathic traits within the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, a diagnostic tool used to rate a person’s psychopathic tendencies, Katie scores Joan high in many categories, including manipulativeness, pathological lying, lack of empathy, superficial charm, and an enduring failure to accept responsibility for her own actions.

In the same way that the elite psychopath is able to construct an entirely convincing mask of sanity, Joan too is able to give the illusion of normalcy. She holds down a job teaching children and is, according to her daughter, “perfectly capable of being lovely and hiding her nasty side.”

* * * *

The idea that psychopaths can’t feel sadness, shame, or pain is widely held but incorrect. Psychopaths are capable of feeling all the same emotions as a nondisordered human being, but generally only as it applies to themselves—not other people.

The part of the brain that controls emotions is less active in psychopaths, meaning they don’t experience emotion the same way we do. They are more emotionally flat, and when they do become emotional, the purpose of their outbursts is usually to gain control.

Psychopathic individuals feel they have “ownership rights” over their children. They don’t see their child as a separate human being but as their possession, or an extension of themselves.

This unquenchable desire for control means letting go is nearly impossible for psychopaths. Katie believes it was when she showed her first real signs of independence that Joan to tried to destroy her life.

“I was 16 and had gone to Canada to be a counselor at a summer camp,” Katie says. “She couldn’t bear not having me under her control and started sending me abusive and degrading emails. When I didn’t reply, she began emailing the camp director, telling him I was a terrible person who shouldn’t be in a position of trust with children and should be removed from the camp. It was awful. Mortifying.”

Katie recalls these stories dispassionately, as though she’s told them many times before. But she hasn’t. Shame is an effective silencer, and it’s moments like this that the detachment Katie developed as a coping mechanism becomes more evident.

At 18, Katie thought she could finally escape her mother’s hold by attending college in a different country. But this only made Joan more resentful and eager to infuse herself into Katie’s life.

Katie got several jobs in bars to support herself, and once Joan discovered this, “she took it upon herself to call each of these bars to try to persuade the managers not to give me a job,” Katie says. “She tried to ensure I couldn’t be independent and would need to come crawling back to her for money.”

An email to Katie’s boss reads:

Katie’s inability to be honest, to follow orders and to behave appropriately has led to her being forcibly removed from several schools. With this in mind, and because her reasons for taking this job are solely to hurt me, I ask that you kindly terminate her employment.

The ease with which psychopaths lie is another one of their trademarks. Free from the constraints of guilt or shame, the most outlandish lies can be communicated under the guise of candor.

This was the second time Joan had attempted to destroy her daughter’s independence. But it would not be the last.

* * * *

While there is much online about relationships with psychopathic partners—and even psychopathic children—there is little on parents with the same disorder. Support groups and forums for people recovering from this type of abuse are relatively widespread, but the coverage given to parental relations is minimal. This is something lamented by Katie, who tells me how long it took her to grasp what was wrong with her mother.

“I was in my early teens and didn’t know anything about personality disorders,” she says. “Maybe that’s why there’s so little online—because young people in the position I was in just don’t know enough about it. Unless you already have that knowledge about different personality disorders, you can’t begin piecing it together.

“It wasn’t until I read an article about the warning signs you may be dating a psychopath that I began to understand,” she continues. “The person they were describing was my mother. Even though the dynamic was different, it was still our exact relationship—the one we’d always had, down to a T.”

“Maybe that’s why there’s so little online [about psychopathic parents]—because young people in the position I was in just don’t know enough about it.”

Websites like Psychopaths and Love and Love Fraud may be excellent at highlighting the telltale signs of abuse and supporting victims, but there appears to be a gaping chasm online when it comes to how these issues apply to parents.

“Were you in an emotionally abusive relationship or marriage with a psychopath?” asks Psychopath Free, an online victim support forum. If yes, then “this is your place for support and recovery.” And here was Katie’s problem: If the relationships presented on these sites are almost always romantic, how does this “support and recovery” translate to parental relationships?

Even in the ‘Families and Parenting’ section of Psychopath Free, the coverage on disordered parents, and the subsequent advice for their children, is nearly nonexistent. Discussions instead center around havingchildren with a psychopath. This absence of information for children is especially troubling when you consider that they are usually far younger and more impressionable than those in serious romantic relationships.

But, as Katie states, while romantic psychopathic relationships have been studied in much greater detail than parental, many of the same patterns appear in both relationship cycles.

In their book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, psychologist Paul Babiak and psychopathy expert Robert D. Hare (creator of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist) outline the three stages in any psychopathic relationship. These three stages are often repeated over and over within the same relationship: idealize, devalue, discard.

According to Babiak and Hare, the idealization stage is a form of “love bombing,” where the psychopath appears so appealing and attentive that their target truly believes they are the best thing in their life. Katie recalls occasions when Joan would spend thousands on her during shopping trips and shower her with attention. This stage, while extremely believable, is a façade designed to create the psychopathic bond—and make the target susceptible to later manipulation.

The devaluation stage comes next. The psychopath gradually pushes the victim’s boundaries, slowly making them feel worthless and destroying their self-respect. This relationship cycle can last for days up through years, but the end result is the same: The victim will be discarded.

Babiak and Hare claim that “once psychopaths have drained all the value from a victim—that is, when the victim is no longer useful—they abandon them and move on to someone else.” However, with a parent and child, these three stages can be repeated indefinitely. A psychopath’s child may never be definitively discarded.

When Katie finally broke all contact with her mother last year, she was subjected to a yearlong, relentless campaign of abuse. Despite countless statements from Katie asserting that their harmful relationship was over, she continued to receive unwelcome and distressing phone calls, emails, and letters.

Often, Joan would attempt emotional manipulation, sending her daughter old baby photos with notes attached saying, “Remember these happier times?”’ Other times, she would be more overtly cruel.

In one email titled “You Ridiculous Little Slut,” she writes:

Dear Katie, I have nothing ever to say to you again, thank you for dumping me as a mother. You are a sick pervert, I would be ashamed to still be called your mother. After meeting you last year, the baby girl I had given birth to, I felt no connection with you at all. You are dead in my heart… a guilty, ashamed, vulnerable wreck hiding in a dark underground flat with your sad and ugly cat.

Though they stung, Katie ignored these emails, letters, and calls. She blocked Joan’s phone number and email, but Joan’s desire to punish her daughter for breaking away was unshakeable. Unable to control, manipulate, or even penetrate Katie’s wall of silence, Joan turned her attention elsewhere. Her new aim? Derailing her daughter’s career.

“She couldn’t bear that I was getting on with my life, that I was independent, that I wasn’t even giving her a response,” Katie says. “So she dug up some old photos from when I was a teenager—I was drunk and fooling around, just being silly with friends. She tried to email those photos around my office to discredit me.”

That wasn’t all. Joan sent abusive emails to Katie’s friends and colleagues. She contacted the CEO of the company claiming Katie was harassing her during work hours. She responded to Katie’s cease and desist letter by announcing she was suing her daughter for all the money she’d spent on her throughout her childhood.

Katie is now taking out a restraining order against Joan, because otherwise “she won’t stop.”

* * * *

Children of pathologically disordered parents already have much to overcome, but because they often don’t recognize what a healthy relationship looks like, children of psychopaths may be more likely to become involved in abusive partnerships. Such a dynamic appears normal to them.

At age 18, Katie entered into a four-year relationship with a man who was also psychopathic. His control over her was not dissimilar to her mother’s; neither was the vitriol she would receive when things didn’t go his way. Joan was one of her boyfriend’s biggest fans. When Katie finally broke it off with him, Joan lashed out. She wrote to Katie in an email that she had “more feelings for him than you, and I always will.”

Katie says when she tried to approach her mother about having a personality disorder or mental illness, it ”didn’t go down well. She says I’m the one with the problem. In her last email to me she called me her ‘schizophrenic daughter.’”

Katie says even if Joan were diagnosed, she still couldn’t forgive her. “I know there’s something wrong with her, but not to the point it absolves her,” she says. “She’s not crazy. I’m the only one she targets—it’s malicious, calculated behavior.”

Whether or not psychopathy can be regarded as a “proper” mental illness is hotly debated. Personality disorders like psychopathy and narcissism have no significant effect on mood, neither do they affect judgment or cause psychosis. Yet if someone is physically hard-wired to have a deficiency of empathy, how much can they be held responsible for what would normally be deemed callous or cruel?

It is also not entirely unreasonable to suggest that aside from lacking empathy, Joan also lacks the cognition to fully comprehend the devastating effects of her actions. Her daughter may reject these notions, but in truth there are no definitive answers to these questions yet. Nonetheless, recent studies suggest that people suffering from empathy-deficit disorders like psychopathy are actually able to feel empathy—they just don’t want to.

New research by Ohio State University and the University of Toronto found that this empathy deficiency stems more from a lack of motivation to care about other people, rather than an actual lack of ability to do so. To Katie at least, it is this lack of motivation that’s especially painful; not that her mother can’t, that she won’t.

Considering her upbringing and what she’s endured in recent years, Katie today seems a remarkably level-headed young woman. She has a good job, an active social life, a new, supportive boyfriend. She doesn’t seem damaged. But it would be foolish to minimize the effects of such a childhood.

“I certainly had and still do tend to have very low self-worth. My own mother says I wasn’t worth living for, that she has no maternal connection to me, that she loves and respects my abusive ex-boyfriend more than me,” Katie says. “I can’t forget those things, but I’m getting better at moving past them. Every day that goes by is a reminder that I’ve survived this. I feel at peace, for the first time in my life.”

“When it comes to other people’s personal issues, I often think, ‘For God’s sake, get over it.’ And then I get so upset that I think these things. I’m not like her.”

But there are other ways it’s affected her. Katie believes she now lacks empathy and can sometimes feel numb to things that require an empathic outlook. “When it comes to other people’s personal issues or illnesses and things like that, I often just think, ‘For God’s sake, get over it. We’re all dealing with shit.’ And then I get so upset that I think these things. I hate it. I’m not like her.”

Katie says if she could tell one thing to a person in the same position, it would be to “get out. Get as far away as possible and get on your own two feet. Know that they’ll never change. They can’t. Never allow anyone to hold you captive psychologically.”

Though it’s been many months since Katie communicated with her mother, cutting her out entirely is harder than she anticipated. Just this month, Joan set up her fifth Twitter account to send her daughter a series of bizarre and ostensibly random tweets. Unable to contact Katie by phone, email or even letter, Joan’s dogged pursuit of her daughter has moved on to social media. Blocked four times previously, she shows no sign of stopping.

To Katie, these newest tweets—while seemingly innocuous—are like a wound that won’t heal. They are Joan’s way of proving that she’s still around, that Katie has not won. “Here I am,” is what each tweet is really saying. “You tried to escape me, but here I am. I’m still here.”

This article was written for The Daily Dot.

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