Sometimes victim comes to crave pain – very much as self-mutilators do – because it is a proof and a reminder of his individuated existence otherwise blurred by incessant torture. Pain shields sufferer from disintegration and capitulation. It preserves veracity of his unthinkable and unspeakable experiences.
This dual process of victim's alienation and addiction to anguish complements perpetrator's view of his quarry as "inhuman", or "subhuman". The torturer assumes position of sole authority, exclusive fount of meaning and interpretation, source of both evil and good.
Torture is about reprogramming victim to succumb to an alternative exegesis of world, proffered by abuser. It is an act of deep, indelible, traumatic indoctrination. The abused also swallows whole and assimilates torturer's negative view of him and often, as a result, is rendered suicidal, self-destructive, or self-defeating.
Thus, torture has no cut-off date. The sounds, voices, smells, sensations reverberate long after episode has ended – both in nightmares and in waking moments. The victim's ability to trust other people – i.e., to assume that their motives are at least rational, if not necessarily benign – has been irrevocably undermined. Social institutions are perceived as precariously poised on verge of an ominous, Kafkaesque mutation. Nothing is either safe, or credible anymore.
Victims typically react by undulating between emotional numbing and increased arousal: insomnia, irritability, restlessness, and attention deficits. Recollections of traumatic events intrude in form of dreams, night terrors, flashbacks, and distressing associations.
The tortured develop compulsive rituals to fend off obsessive thoughts. Other psychological sequelae reported include cognitive impairment, reduced capacity to learn, memory disorders, sexual dysfunction, social withdrawal, inability to maintain long-term relationships, or even mere intimacy, phobias, ideas of reference and superstitions, delusions, hallucinations, psychotic microepisodes, and emotional flatness.
Depression and anxiety are very common. These are forms and manifestations of self-directed aggression. The sufferer rages at his own victimhood and resulting multiple dysfunction. He feels shamed by his new disabilities and responsible, or even guilty, somehow, for his predicament and dire consequences borne by his nearest and dearest. His sense of self-worth and self-esteem are crippled.
In a nutshell, torture victims suffer from a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Their strong feelings of anxiety, guilt, and shame are also typical of victims of childhood abuse, domestic violence, and rape. They feel anxious because perpetrator's behavior is seemingly arbitrary and unpredictable – or mechanically and inhumanly regular.
They feel guilty and disgraced because, to restore a semblance of order to their shattered world and a modicum of dominion over their chaotic life, they need to transform themselves into cause of their own degradation and accomplices of their tormentors.
The CIA, in its "Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual – 1983" (reprinted in April 1997 issue of Harper's Magazine), summed up theory of coercion thus:
"The purpose of all coercive techniques is to induce psychological regression in subject by bringing a superior outside force to bear on his will to resist. Regression is basically a loss of autonomy, a reversion to an earlier behavioral level. As subject regresses, his learned personality traits fall away in reverse chronological order. He begins to lose capacity to carry out highest creative activities, to deal with complex situations, or to cope with stressful interpersonal relationships or repeated frustrations."
Inevitably, in aftermath of torture, its victims feel helpless and powerless. This loss of control over one's life and body is manifested physically in impotence, attention deficits, and insomnia. This is often exacerbated by disbelief many torture victims encounter, especially if they are unable to produce scars, or other "objective" proof of their ordeal. Language cannot communicate such an intensely private experience as pain.
Spitz makes following observation:
"Pain is also unsharable in that it is resistant to language... All our interior states of consciousness: emotional, perceptual, cognitive and somatic can be described as having an object in external world... This affirms our capacity to move beyond boundaries of our body into external, sharable world. This is space in which we interact and communicate with our environment. But when we explore interior state of physical pain we find that there is no object 'out there' – no external, referential content. Pain is not of, or for, anything. Pain is. And it draws us away from space of interaction, sharable world, inwards. It draws us into boundaries of our body."