Bereaved – by her abductor’s suicide

Published The Times August 25 2006
THE first and most important rule of trauma management is to be guided by the
patient. While Natascha Kampusch has undoubtedly suffered one of the worst kinds
of human incarceration, there is no way of saying in advance what precise effect it
will have had.
We do know that children have survived the most grotesque cruelties that adults can
devise, from living in the sewage tanks of prison camps to being raised as pigs.
In Natascha’s case it appears that she passed eight years living in a cellar, believed
her surroundings to be rigged with explosives, and was sexually abused. All contact
with her familiar world had been lost. Aged 10, on the cusp of pre-puberty, her
expectation that the grown-ups who loved her were not only benign but all-powerful
was shattered. Wolfgang Priklopil, at a stroke, became her possessor, educator and
life arbiter.
Probably the most damaged feelings she will retain as a result will be found in one
specific related memory: why could my family not rescue me? It is not a rational
thought, of course, but children of 10 do not get to choose such constructs. Her
second difficulty will focus on some aspect of Stockholm syndrome because it will
have been impossible not to identify to some extent with the jailer who, for better or
worse, “brought her up”.
A child’s principal duty is to survive her parents: if this means learning to adapt to a
dysfunctional replacement such as Priklopil, so be it.
Her specialists will need to monitor for specific trauma symptoms including
flashbacks and depression, for which there are therapies ranging from simple family
love to courses of eye movement desensitising and reprocessing (EMDR).
Both tackle the same issue — how to download memories associated with despair
and death safely into natural storage instead of having them continually replayed
across the retina.
Natascha must be given the freedom to express the full effects of her ordeal,
including the perverse fact that Priklopil’s suicide will create in her a sense of
bereavement.

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