Amanda Berry returned home 10 years after her abduction.
Associated Press

Threats to our self-worth, mental health and physical safety exist all around us. In extreme circumstances, such as kidnappings and assaults, the opposing forces working against us come not from the environment, but from criminals with horrible intentions. In these unlawful scenarios, survival is less determined by maintaining core temperature and providing sustenance, but rather by preventing another person from imposing their will upon you and breaking you.

The 2013 case of Ariel Castro highlights the incredible willpower of three young women held captive and abused for over a decade. Their unending will to survive and positive mental attitude worked to their benefit and ultimately caused their liberation. These young women embody the girls next door, your little sisters, your friends and anyone vulnerable to the criminal element. From examining their story, lessons can be learned to prepare for the unthinkable.

Survival Instincts

Kidnappings have common elements such as planning, abduction, captivity and so forth. There are lessons to learn in each stage, but willpower can be best examined in extended captivity. It is during this time that the captive decides how to feel.

Regardless of what is done to the captive short of murder, the captive can fight off the will of the kidnapper and never let him/her break them. Multiple survivors of these encounters describe creating a hollow shell of themselves or thinking of being somewhere else, only allowing the kidnapper to have their body and not their mind. They used their mind, their willpower and their survival instincts to prevent the kidnapper from having complete control over them. Having control over some aspect of any scenario gives you strength and it preserves your self-worth. In the case of the Ariel Castro captives, they endured years of sexual and physical abuse, sensory deprivation, isolation and unmentionable acts of violence.

Kidnappers don’t fit a single profile, either. Resentful spouses, sexual deviants and serial killers represent some of the possible perpetrators. From the kidnapped perspective, the relationship to the kidnapper may aggravate the circumstances. Knowing the person who has abducted you or has assaulted you will give you more questions than answers.

In times like this, focusing on the facts and having a plan is more important than deriving a motive for your abduction. Dwelling on the past will not help you as much as orienting yourself to the present and planning for the future. Create a plan and be prepared for an opportunity to execute it. When Ariel Castro left a door open, one of his captives took advantage of this situation and escaped. Awareness of surroundings cued her to the chance to escape and willpower gave her the strength to exploit her captor’s mistake.

Never Give Up

It is unpleasant to imagine the experience of being kidnapped, assaulted and having your willpower tested. Then again, it is unpleasant to imagine freezing, starving and fighting off the forces of Mother Nature. In the same way we can learn from the traumatic experiences of the outdoorsmen before us, we can also analyze the survival stories that hit closer to home. Assuming we are abducted, abused and tormented, we may not have complete control of our situation, but we can always use our mental strength and willpower to endure the seemingly impossible. Think of the horrors others have experienced, survived and lived to talk about it.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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