A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

Jaycee Dugard whom I often mistake for Elizabeth Smart was 11 when she was abducted in 1991. She spent 18 years at her abductor’s home and had two daughters with him. Her abductor also had an accomplice, his wife. As a civil libertarian, I often wonder whether we should all surrender our privacy in exchange for a non-profit to be able to enter anyone’s home to make sure they are not housing any kidnapping victim or sex slave. I wonder if my freewill and privacy are so valuable that it costs thousands of people their freedom and liberties. Perhaps some time in the future, we will get this choice. We will eventually get chip implants in our brain, but it would also provide the option of taking over our behavior in stressful situations or perhaps in a situation where we are tempted to commit a violent crime. Not only would it stop us from saying hurtful things to people under duress, but it would also stop us from doing hurtful things. Would you get one?

Early on, you discover some rather interesting and ironic things about the Dugard story. Their family moved from Orange County to Lake Tahoe, because they thought it would be safer. Apparently, her stepdad did a great job of preparing her to live with an asshole. He once was so disgusted by her dinner manners, he forced her to watch herself eat in the mirror in the bathroom. He also made her walk to school in elementary school. It is entirely plausible that one reason Dugard was not as aggressive in trying to escape was that she felt like nobody except her mother wanted her, that perhaps she was better off with her abductor.

Later on, you’ll come to realize that Dugard finally chose to stay with her abductor. This will come as startling and disturbing, but if you know anything about Stockholm Syndrome and simply the fact that she was abducted at such a young age, you start to understand why she made this decision. Her abductor brainwashed her and manipulated her psychologically. I actually don’t think Dugard would admit that she agreed to live with her abductor instead of try to escape but rather, in a somewhat twisted way, she felt that she was helpless and she relied on others to initiate her rescue. She keeps making excuses for staying like protecting her kids from what she was made to believe was a dangerous world with even worse sexual predators. There are countless instances where Dugard could have run away or asked for help. She had access to a CB radio and the Internet. Although she couldn’t drive, she had access to the car. Later on, she wasn’t even locked up. The craziest thing of all is that after a while, she had access to the main house (she was usually hidden in a small building in the backyard), and one time a parole officer not only encountered her daughter but her. This blows your mind, because her abductor was known as a pedophile, so what the f*ck is he doing with two strange girls in his house??? Dugard also blames two of her abductor’s therapists for enabling him, but unfortunately, you realize, she is behaving a bit like her abductor by shifting blame away from herself. Fact was, despite being brainwashed, she was the best shot at saving herself and her children. I am sure she cannot understand this, and in order to reconcile the fact that she didn’t rescue herself and her children, she must rationalize and make excuses or else succumb to endless self-criticism and self-loathing just like her abductor. She is undergoing therapy, but I hope one day she realizes that it was ultimately her responsibility to rescue herself, that she didn’t because since the first day of her abduction, she had been manipulated and terrorized, that she learned to cope by cooperation (Stockholm Syndrome) and eventually even when escape was available, she had already succumbed to the brainwashing and logical traps of her abductor.

I like how the story doesn’t end with her abduction but continues through her initial transition into the outside world. Likewise, her torment doesn’t end when she was rescued. There are three things I believe that change behavior, 1. repetition, 2. internal reward, and 3. external social reinforcement. Likewise, there will be three things that will help her recover, 1. repetition of making her own choices and doing healthy normal things, 2. the natural internal rewards that come from doing healthy, normal things and feeling empowered by your own decisions both good and bad, and 3. maintaining strong relationships with her new family and friends. Of course, there will be setbacks, many. I never experienced her abuse, especially as long as she had, but I understand what happens when you find yourself in an intractable, horrible, painful experience where you don’t feel in control and can’t make decisions for yourself. When people are in this situation, they tend to both retreat to inside their heads, but they are also drawn to explanations of external agency. In other words, they think something else out there is controlling their situation and events for the better. I sometimes catch myself doing this. I often think of how improbably my life is and perhaps something out there is controlling it for some entertaining or informational purpose. People like this are prone to religion, superstitions, and the phrase, “there are no such things as coincidences.” There are. People with internal agency tend to think that their actions and thoughts are the reasons things happen to them both good and bad. They therefore first attempt to change their actions and thoughts to change their circumstances.

Dugard will also probably catch herself being oddly drawn to people who are controlling, crazy, anti-social, and off-center. It will be a magnetic compelling force, but at the same time, she will also catch herself and realize these types of people are not healthy and not good for her, and her family and friends will question why she is hanging around them. When that person tries to isolate her, she should realize it’s a trap and leave them immediately. People like this also tend to be overly sensitive to the suffering of others as well as capable of incredible insensitivity and casualness when others are suffering greatly, especially when they are partially responsible for their suffering. The road is long and hard, and there are countless people who don’t make it out of the darkness and evil of their past, but many who do. She may also find herself envious of the normal people or idealized people, but there is no such thing. We are all damaged in one way or another, all abnormal in some way. Some people who are never abused and receive nothing but love and adoration may also be highly fearful of losing everything and never take chances and avoid unfortunate people for fear of ruining their good lives. People like Dugard can sometimes be blessed in that they can reach out to unfortunate and other abused people and help them. Nobody else can truly know what they are going through. There is always a silver lining, but there is often no deeper, greater meaning. If some entity out there had planned on her being kidnapped and raped as a child, I would argue that entity is just as evil and sick as her abductor. This entity never gave her the choice to suffer all this for whatever greater purpose they had in mind. This entity victimized her as much as her abductor. Chances are, there is no entity and no greater purpose, but a silver lining.

When I realize just how closely tied the search for external agency is with abuse and suffering, I truly wonder if I am mistaken about any greater being or entity out there. My idea is not the Christian god in the bible that acts more like a tyrant but perhaps some extremely complex, super intelligent entity that really loves us and ultimately protects us. But is that because of my past and not pure reasoning? Does this mean that once humanity finds a way to eliminate suffering and evil, we won’t look for or need an external agent and perhaps it won’t exist if it ever had? Perhaps if that entity were selfish and desired self-preservation, it would perpetuate suffering to perpetuate demand for itself just like government does? Lastly, since Dugard did mention the failures of government in helping her, I would add that people’s belief in external agency, in religions, is also the same phenomenon behind their desire for a massive, benevolent government with great powers. I believe and I have witnessed with firsthand experience, that government is selfish and desires self-preservation and that means perpetuating suffering which in turn perpetuates the desire to keep a massive government. People think Americans aren’t suffering anymore because we have all the benefits and advances of modern civilization, but Americans are suffering as much if not more, because they live solitary, alienated lives, misguided into believing in a materialistic, consumerist system that simply exploits and preys on them. The answer is not external agency but internal agency, acting on their own behalf to form relationships and social networks. Is it possible the powers be have perpetuated religion and now government as opiates of the masses, an external agent that will provide for them, love them, protect them, and people then just sit back and do nothing when they should really ditch the external agency concept and start believing more in themselves as internal agents of change???



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