Alyson Kissner

Field Notes

There are universal methods for training compliance,
to eradicate another’s sense of self

and selfcontrol.

In the 1950s,
a social scientist named Albert Biderman interviewed returned prisoners of the Korean war

to determine why US soldiers had defected.

His government was gravely concerned.

They believed communists had developed the ability to brainwash.

Their men’s actions did not make sense to them.

They informed on fellow captives,
gave false confessions,

broadcast live against their countrymen.

Despite reports of cruelty in the camps,
upon release,

many soldiers left for China,

denouncing their former lives for those who’d been their torturers.

What Biderman found,

was not mindcontrol but a worldwide system of inciting submission.

He organised his research into Biderman’s Chart of Coercion,
identifying 8 categories of human behaviours.

8 categories which induced dependency,

and dread.

When linked,
he said,

these actions could break anyone.

Physical violence was not “a necessary nor particularly effective method” in controlling
one’s targets or maintaining devotion.

It was not violence but the fear of violence
which made them serve.

General MethodEffects (Purposes)Variants
1. IsolationDeprives victim of social support and their ability to resist. Victim develops an intense concern with self as a means of survival. Makes the victim dependent upon their captor.Although the cliché is that power corrupts,

The truth is that power reveals.

The first day you tested me was the first day we had keys.
2. Monopolisation of PerceptionFixes the victim’s attention upon immediate predicament. Fosters introspection. Eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by the captor. Frustrates all action not consistent with compliance.Like windchimes before we hang them and the trees remember to quake,

Like like to the word likening when there’s nothing left to compare it to.
3. Induced
Debilitation and
Weakens victim’s mental and physical ability to think, to reason, to resist.Never ask if I grew up without an eyelash,

Whether I’m washing my face with microbeads,

If I sound pretentious
when I ask waiters for meals without fries.

How wearisome to hold to one’s consciousness
like a favourite coat
fluttering mortality in a
storm flap.

How wearing to ask you to stay.
4. ThreatsThreats need only be veiled or implied to cultivate anxiety and despair.In 20 years from now there will be more female serial killers than men and they’ll target friends and family if you don’t behave yourself then I won’t be a part of this family I’m kidding you’re kidding me I saw a bus walking home and almost threw myself beneath it I know that I’m a narcissist but I might be a psychopath you have no idea what you’ve done to me I have no idea what I could do if you were threated if you threatened me in just the right way.
5. Occasional IndulgencesProvides positive motivation for the victim’s compliance. Hinders adjustment to deprivation. Will cause a spike of dopamine at the release of threatening conditions. Stress and release become addictive over time.I was so relieved when you touched me at the park, in front of our friends and family, when you had not looked me in the eyes for days—

—when you remember your keys
—when you lock up
—when you open the door
6. Demonstrating “Omnipotence” and “Omniscience”Suggests futility of the victim’s resistance. Positions the captor’s opinions, thoughts, and reality as superior to the victim’s own.—But I never look anyone in the eyes why would I have looked you in the eye why would you look at me?

Look at me.
7. DegradationMakes cost of the victim’s resistance more damaging to self-esteem than capitulation. Reduces the victim to “animal level” concerns.LovelovelovelovelovelovelovelovelovLovelovelovelovelovelovelovelovelovLovelovelovelovelovelovelovelovelovLovelovelovelovelovelovelovelovelovLovelovelovelovelovelovelovelovelovLovelovelovelovelovelovelovelove
8. Enforcing
Trivial Demands
Re-establishes the captor’s needs as central to the victim’s routine. Drains energy. Demands a constant focus. Changes goal-posts. Creates a relentless question—But you grew up with this too didn’t you this is your voice and your abusers’ and when their voices come first how can you tell where his ends and where you begin where she ends where he ends and where they begin how can you tell which self is the one which means to hurt you if you deserved it if you asked for it if you liked it if you did this all to yourself?Lay your tables counterclockwise,

Set your orchids out of season,

Stop verbalising this poem you write to get clean.

Then lay your head
against your mattress,

For as long as night lays its head against shipwrecks underwater.

Your thousand ghosts are not worth spilling to the dark.1

1 The following chart is adapted from Biderman’s Chart of Coercion, also called Biderman’s Principles, published by Amnesty International in 1973. Denoting the universal tools of torture and coercion, my “Effects (Purposes)” column has been lifted almost verbatim from this document. Diana Russell, Judith Herman, Jess Hill, and other feminist scholars have since noted the similarities of these methods to the patterns of domestic abusers. The only difference they found was that, unlike soldiers or kidnappers, abusive people perpetuate these actions without being trained.


Alyson Kissner is a Canadian-born poet completing her doctorate in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. In 2022, Alyson was co-winner of the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award for Scottish-based poets under 30, as well as shortlisted for the Rebecca Swift Foundation’s Women Poets’ Prize. Her writing has appeared in various journals including The Rumpus and Frontier Poetry, with work forthcoming in Anthropocene and Longleaf Review. She can be found on Twitter @alykissner.