Maude Julien is a therapist specialising in helping people fight against all forms of manipulation and psychological hold, which was a dominant feature of her childhood. Her harrowing experiences, described in her book The Only Girl in the World, in addition to over 20 years of professional experience with patients, form the basis of Julien’s research into psychological hold. She seeks to understand how manipulative relationships start and develop, what the consequences are for victims, and, especially, how one might escape, and attempt to move on and rebuild afterward.

Psychological hold is the relationship between a predator – the ogre – and their victim.

For the predator, his or her own mental world, beliefs, needs, and desires are all that matters. Everyone they encounter is either an instrument to achieve their wants and needs, or an obstacle to be removed

When a predator meets a victim, he sets the trap by leading them to believe he is the embodiment of love — and thus gradually takes possession of the victim. As the victim grows more and more attached to him, she eventually finds herself bound by this attachment. The predator then turns around and treats the victim as a despised object, one whose only value comes from him.

The trap shuts when the victim begins to buy into this degraded image of herself, opening the path for her destruction, which the predator undertakes systematically: physically, intellectually, in their relationships, and in their social life.

The ogre devours his victim’s right to privacy. He insists that he knows best what is “good for her”. He instils a sense of guilt in his victim (“everything I do is for you…”), which evolves into a sense of shame (“I am not good enough, I am despicable.”)

Gradually, the victim’s identity as an individual disappears. The predator creates and establishes a worldview based on “us” versus “them”.

The victim is divested of responsibility, kept in a frozen state, away from her own thoughts and feelings. This traumatism can sometimes lead the victim to identify with the predator, who has become a part of her, similar to the phenomenon known as ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, in which a hostage begins to develop feelings of trust and affection toward their captor

Psychological hold of this nature is psychological murder. It’s a perfect crime – rarely denounced, even more rarely punished. It is very hard to quantify accurately, though we can observe with certainty that it is a widespread phenomenon.

One clear example of psychological hold at work can be found in a sect or cult, but there are also many other contexts: at work or in couples, families, and relationships with caregivers. At certain specific moments in our lives, each of us is likely to be vulnerable to some form of psychological hold.

To break free from a situation of control, one must shatter the model imposed by the predator. It is by gradually creating little cracks in the system, by instilling a sense of doubt, and by setting up the foundations of mental escape, that the victim will be able find the road to freedom. At that point one is then able to begin the challenging work of reconstructing the self and regaining self-esteem.