The Wounds of Authoritarianism Take the Longest to Heal

The Wounds of Authoritarianism Take the Longest to Heal
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

The humiliation, aggression, and domination… The wounds of authoritarianism heal very slowly, and they leave scars that may stay with us forever. Thus, the shadow of an authoritarian mother or father, a dominant partner, or a narcissistic and authoritarian boss may stay with us for years in the form of a knot we can’t undo.

In this regard, it’s always important to talk about authoritarianism. Whether from a psychological or social point of view, it never hurts to analyze this topic that caused so much historical havoc. Theodor Adorno theorized about the authoritarian personality in his 1950 book. Since then, the research on authoritarians has greatly advanced due to social psychology and multiple research investigations.

However, while the literature on this type of psychological profile is increasingly broad and reliable, we still don’t have many publications on the impact that authoritarians can have. In this sense, we’re not only talking about the impact of an authoritarian parent. We’re also referring to romantic relationships and work relationships controlled by a clearly authoritarian figure.

Relationships with an authoritarian can be debilitating, harmful. In addition, we may not always know how to handle those relationships. Hence, this is a very important issue worth delving deeper into.

man with branches on his back

The wounds of authoritarianism create lasting scars

The poet Luis Cernuda said that we’re all echoes of something. We all drag a voice, a weight, a burden that stays with us consciously or subconsciously. For example, we know that a childhood of abuse and neglect has a traumatic impact that affects the child at every level: emotionally, psychologically, developmentally, etc. Now, the veil of authoritarianism is present in many ways in our society. Moreover, authoritarians not only live amongst us, but we allow them to live with us.

There are mothers and fathers who underestimate their children and exercise abusive control over them, which limits their children’s emotional development. Likewise, this occurs in the same way in many organizations and companies. We value innovation, creativity, and human capital, but there are still figures in management positions who prefer docility. These types of managers don’t hesitate to belittle and control their workers.

Dr. Eric R. Maisel, a well-known psychologist and writer at the University of California, validated a questionnaire in 2017 to assess the wounds of authoritarianism. This interesting instrument allows us to explore that impact of authoritarian dynamics and how they impact human beings. After Maisel administered this test in universities, health centers, and well-known companies, the researchers were able to conclude that a large part of the population carry the scars of authoritarianism, meaning that an authoritarian had imprinted on them at some point in their lives. 

girl sitting in field

The impact of authoritarianism

Maisel’s scale measures ten dimensions that occur in any relationship, whether it be a family relationship, with a partner, or a working relationship. Identifying these dimensions can help us to decrease the negative impact of authoritarianism and to act accordingly before the authoritarian’s negative impact affects the way we think and act.

These are the dimensions:

  • Threats and the use of fear of blackmail.
  • Undervaluing others.
  • Quixotic rules (unclear, meaningless, or vague rules).
  • Hate: this emotion is always present, and they project it onto us or others. The authoritarian always has his “blacklist”, people they hate and consider their enemies.
  • They have their own truth, scene, and perception of what the world is like. The rest is wrong to them.
  • They are controlling, but the need for control in the authoritarian personality goes a lot farther. Also, they enjoy ridiculing and humiliating others.
  • Rigid thinking.
  • They’re intrusive.
  • They distrust everything and everyone.
  • Absolute lack of empathy.

The anatomy of authoritarian wounds

The wounds from authoritarians are traumatic. They can change our personality, alter our choices, and tarnish the way we see ourselves. All of this depends on the amount of time we’ve been in contact with the authoritarian figure and the way in which we ended the relationship with that person.

Let’s take a look at the effects that this type of abuse and control can have on us:

  • Low self-esteem.
  • A sensation that we have no control over ourselves.
  • Insecurity.
  • Anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
  • Feelings of ineffectiveness or worthlessness.
  • Frustration and accumulated anger that we don’t know how to channel.
girl laying on branches

How do we heal the wounds of authoritarianism?

There are many people who go to therapy after years of working at a company. After leaving that job, they feel the need to free themselves from many emotions. They suffered in this job and their dignity was violated. In their jobs, authority figures exercised abuse, control, and even humiliation.

In this regard, the same happens in many relationships where one of the members acted the same. Therefore, something we must take into account is that we’re experiencing abuse in these cases where we experience a restriction of freedom in any of its forms. It may not leave a physical imprint. Perhaps our criminal code wouldn’t register these behaviors as an object of complaint. However, those authoritarian actions threaten our rights, and we must defend ourselves.

In these cases, psychological intervention should focus on restoring lost self-esteem. Patients need to verbally share these harmful situations. They must discover, understand, and accept that they’re victims of psychological abuse. In addition, therapies such as EMDR (desensitization and reprocessing) are being increasingly used to treat unpleasant or traumatic events, reduce anxiety, and promote emotional recovery.

To conclude, we should never allow authoritarianism to creep into our lives without us realizing it. The consequences of this may be severe.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.