Steve Jobs was widely celebrated after he had died. But he left behind a very questionable legacy in terms of how he treated other human beings. His abusive behaviours have been documented in his biography by Walter Isaacson, by his friends, by his daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs, and by Chrisann Brennan (Lisa’s mother and Steve Jobs’ ex-girlfriend). Jobs had famously denied paternity of his daughter and absurdly claimed in court papers that he was “sterile and infertile”. His daughter and ex-girlfriend have detailed his emotional abuse in their books. Lisa discusses how her father continued to put her down shortly before his death and that she had given up on “the possibility of a grand reconciliation, the kind in the movies”.
As a society, we need to stop enabling abuse. Emotional violence occasionally has a cost to shareholders. More importantly, it has devastating effects on its victims. We need to stop whitewashing “successful” people simply because we admire their achievements and accomplishments.
Abuse rarely looks like society’s stereotypes about an alcoholic father hitting his battered wife and children. The two main forms of abuse in the real world are as follows:
- Narcissistic abuse. Narcissists need to feel like they have social status. Unfortunately, their addiction to admiration eventually causes them to hurt others. They are willing to bully and belittle others to feel superior. Their maladaptive strategies for dealing with criticism (e.g. rage, attacking the messenger, etc.) are unhealthy.
- Control. These are the more malignant abusers. They need to control others to feel safe. They associate the feeling of not being in control with their traumas (e.g. parental abuse, bullying), so their brain tells them that they need to avoid powerlessness at all costs. They will intentionally hurt their victims (physically/emotionally/sexually) to verify that they’re in control and to try to increase their control over the victim. Some of these abusers are constantly trying to manipulate everybody around them; others restrict their deranged compulsions to those closest to them such as their partner and their children.
Elon Musk is an example of a narcissist. His inability to accept criticism over his involvement in the Thailand cave rescue led to him attacking his critic Vernon Unsworth as a “pedo guy”. Unsworth and Musk are involved in a defamation lawsuit because Musk has decided to continue his original attack (as described in the court documents). Musk’s toxicity has made it difficult for him to maintain close relationships with other human beings. His first ex-wife has written publicly about his abusive behaviours in their marriage.
Steve Jobs is an example of a malignant abuser whose toxicity is about control. Jony Ive is quoted in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs as saying:
His way to achieve catharsis is to hurt somebody. And I think he feels he has a liberty and a license to do that. The normal rules of social engagement, he feels, don’t apply to him. Because of how very sensitive he is, he knows exactly how to efficiently and effectively hurt someone. And he does do that.
Jobs denied paternity of his daughter and pushed the mother into poverty (despite his wealth) to try to control the mother financially. His constant attacks on his daughter’s self-worth (e.g. telling her that she smells like a toilet) is a means to control her emotionally. Doing “good” deeds for his daughter such as paying for her university education gives his daughter false hope. Lisa writes about “the possibility of a grand reconciliation, the kind in the movies” because she wants what every child deserves: she wants to be loved and to be treated like a human being. Jobs has gaslighted her into thinking that she might one day be “good enough” to finally win the love that he never gave her.
But here’s one of the most unintuitive facts of abuse that society won’t tell you about: the majority of abuse victims do not leave right away. It often takes them years before they finally leave for good. A few victims never leave. The victim’s brains make an erroneous connection between (A) the abuse that they are receiving and (B) their self-worth or their actions. Their brains illogically tell them that they somehow “caused” the abuse because they aren’t good enough or because they didn’t love their abuser hard enough. As a result, they seek validation from their abuser. They want one of the following:
- For their abuser to change and finally love them. Elon Musk has publicly discussed his attempts at changing his evil father. The pop star Rihanna, who was brutally beaten by her ex-boyfriend, has publicly discussed her desire in changing her abuser. Her ex has since violated parole, attracted restraining orders from different women, and continues to blames Rihanna for the attack.
- For their abuser to apologize.
- For the world to recognize that their abuser has wronged them. This is a theme in Justine Musk’s Marie Claire article.
Even after the abuse ends and/or the abuser has died, many abuse victims are not able to move on. They still seek validation (which they will never get). Some abuse victims like Elon Musk turned into abusers themselves.
Effects on shareholders
On one hand, narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths often have qualities that have helped them become highly successful:
- Willingness to ignore moral rules.
- Experience and practice in manipulating others. This helps them raise capital, attract good employees, inspire others, etc.
- Willingness to take insane risks.
On the other hand, abusive people can have problems in the business world when their toxic impulses cause problems and the abuser is unable to turn them off. Elon Musk and Tesla shareholders each need to pay a $20M penalty simply because Elon Musk could not exercise self-control on his Twitter account and misled the public about a supposed Tesla takeover. Tesla ex-employees have talked about how Musk’s management style is detrimental to the health of the company:
- Cristina Balan, an ex-Tesla engineer, has Tweeted and blogged about her attempts to fix problems at Tesla. However, because Tesla’s culture doesn’t tolerate criticism, she was pushed out of Tesla.
- Martin Tripp tried to fix problems with excessive waste and unsafe batteries at Tesla. When his attempts were unsuccessful, he started leaking information to the press. Instead of working on its waste problems, Tesla has harassed Tripp with a report of him planning a mass shooting. Tesla is currently suing Tripp for $167M.
- One former executive has stated: “Everyone in Tesla is in an abusive relationship with Elon.”
Effects on victims
Abuse often has devastating effects the victim’s mental health. Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can hurt you in ways that modern healthcare can’t easily heal.
- A loss of self-esteem and sense of worthlessness. This is extremely common in prolonged abuse as victims irrationally believe that they are somehow responsible for what happened to them.
- PTSD or complex PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
- Phobias of situations that superficially resemble abuse: being touched by others, emotional intimacy, sexual intimacy, leaving the house, people shouting, the sound of a door slamming, etc.
- Social anxiety. This mainly affects victims of parental abuse and makes it difficult for those victims to make money in the workforce.
- Suicide. Victims of extreme abuse do try to take their own life.
- The phenomenon where many abuse victims do not leave. Stories like Rihanna’s is what typical domestic violence looks like (Rihanna went back to her ex after being beaten by him). Regrettably, this common mental health problem is not in the DSM diagnostic manual used by the mental health profession. The phenomenon has been called battered women syndrome, Stockholm syndrome, an addiction, brainwashing, and trauma bonding.
Unfortunately, our current healthcare system does not do a good job at healing victims of abuse (even though there are scientifically proven treatments for PTSD1 and phobias2). Many psychiatrists entered the field because they were victims of abuse yet they practice without having resolved their traumas. Alice Miller, a famous psychoanalyst who wrote a popular book on child abuse called The Drama of the Gifted Child, was an abuse victim herself and abused her own son Martin Miller. Martin Miller also became a therapist and states that he failed therapy 14 times in trying to heal from the abuse he suffered at the hands of his parents.
Lastly, abuse causes some of its victims to turn into abusers themselves. The prognosis for abusers overcoming their compulsions to hurt others is poor. A metanalysis of domestic violence treatment programs found that “effects due to treatment were in the small range, meaning that the current interventions have a minimal impact on reducing recidivism beyond the effect of being arrested”.3
The reality is that abuse leaves its victims with severe mental health issues that remain with the victim. The lasting effects of abuse often prevent victims from leading healthy, fulfilling lives. It is not healthy for Lisa Brennan-Jobs to acknowledge on Twitter that she smelled like a toilet. It is not healthy for her to say about the man who controlled and manipulated her: “I lost the chance to have more friendship with him. I wished that we had more time together.” It is not healthy for her to whitewash the abusive relationship as “complicated”. Like many abuse victims, she has not healed.
Enabling begins with ignorance
When Steve Jobs’ flaws as downplayed as him simply being a “jerk”, we fail to see the motivation behind his toxic behaviour. His toxicity does not come from a place of being self-centered or being mean-spirited. It’s darker and more sinister than that. He is trying to control other human beings through whatever means necessary, whether it’s paying for his daughter’s college education or denying paternity of that same daughter (to control the mother financially). He has waged psychological warfare against his victims so that they question whether or not they were really abused.
When victims of abuse publicly defend their abuser, we should take their comments with a grain of salt. Even if abuse victims claim otherwise, let’s be clear: abuse has occurred, the abuse was wrong, and the victims did not deserve their abuse. While abuse victims commonly stay in abusive relationships for years, it is not in their best interests. We need to recognize that abuse victims often don’t protect themselves and we should not shame them for it.
We need to discard our myths and stereotypes regarding abuse. The reality is that both men and women are abusers. According to Google Search, the support community r/RaisedByNarcissists has about roughly 36k mentions of nmom (narcissistic mother) versus 18k mentions of ndad (narcissistic father). (It is likely that the actual ratio of women versus men abusers is close to 1:1 rather than 2:1.) Sexual and physical violence does not happen exclusively to women- it happens to males too and it happens in non-heterosexual relationships. According to 2015 CDC data, the lifetime prevalence of constant sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner was 36.5% for women and 33.6% for men.4 We should encourage victims of non-stereotypical abuse to seek help and we should not stigmatize them for doing so.
Lastly, the world should follow the UK, Ireland, and France in implementing laws against coercive control. Emotional abuse is quite damaging to its victims and should be made illegal.
Abhishek Gattani, former CEO of Cuberon, has faced domestic violence charges for abusing his wife Neha Rastogi. See:
- A brutal domestic violence case has shaken Silicon Valley and the Indian American community
- Silicon Valley CEO Pleads ‘No Contest’ to Abusing His Wife—and Is Offered a Deal for Less Than 30 Days in Jail
- Rauch SA, Eftekhari A, Ruzek JI. Review of exposure therapy: a gold standard for PTSD treatment. Journal of rehabilitation research and development. 2012 Aug 1;49(5):679-88.
- Wolitzky-Taylor KB, Horowitz JD, Powers MB, Telch MJ. Psychological approaches in the treatment of specific phobias: A meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review. 2008 Jul 1;28(6):1021-37.
- Babcock JC, Green CE, Robie C. Does batterers’ treatment work? A meta-analytic review of domestic violence treatment. Clinical psychology review. 2004 Jan 1;23(8):1023-53. (Full paper.)
- See figures 8 and 9 in the data brief for the 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.