Even though I’ve come to conclusions about my family, most of which are beyond a reasonable doubt, I’m still assailed by doubts. Have I examined my memories too selectively? Have I misinterpreted their meaning? Were things really as bad as I imagine them to have been? Am I too sensitive? Have I just been trying to justify a selfish attitude to the family?
There’s no doubt in my mind, on the other hand, that the family would smugly answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions, and not give the issue any second thoughts. They would insist that I am the real narcissist of the family (recall that, in their imagination, narcissistic = “autistic“), and that I am playing the victim, projecting my faults onto them.
Where do I get my doubts from? A gradual accumulation of episodes of having been subjected to gaslighting. AsI’veexplainedinmanypostsalready, my late–probably narcissistic–mother lied to me about having an autism spectrum disorder. My realization of the untruth of her words came not so much from 1) two psychotherapists telling me they saw no autistic symptoms in me, and 2) my score of a mere 13/50 on the Autism Quotient test [a score of at least 26-32/50 would be needed to establish the mere suspicion of clinically autistic traits] as it did from her wildly hyperbolic description of my supposed mental state as a child–i.e., the mythical psychiatrists’ recommendation to “lock [me] up in an asylum and throw away the key,” and her wondering, “Would I ever even make a good garbageman?”
Mom’s purpose wasn’t to make me believe I am retarded, for she claimed “a miracle from God” (she was never religious) had pulled me out of my supposedly hopeless mental state by the time I was around eight to ten years old…a clearly absurd claim. Her purpose was to make me believe I am somehow ‘feeble-minded’ in a more general way, that I am ‘behind’ everyone else.
This gaslighting, combined with her general winking at the bullying (from my elder siblings, R., F., and J., Mom’s flying monkeys) that she knew I was being subjected to, was all calculated to hinder my ability to build up self-confidence, to trust my instincts, and to question any of the family’s nonsense. Hence, my second-guessing.
In contrast to that, their smug assurance that they’ve done no significant wrong to me came from Mom’s constant justifying of my siblings’ actions and general defence of them at my expense–their reward for giving her a steady feeding of narcissistic supply.
One example of my mother’s gaslighting through the autism fabrication was back in the early 2000s, when she’d been insisting, with no apparent need to check with a psychiatrist, that I have Asperger Syndrome (AS). She emailed me an article about a young man with AS. His life story of having been bullied for being different was meant, through her sharing it with me, to say that I am just like him. What’s more, the article stated several times that ‘he perceives the world differently’ from everyone else. I’m convinced my mother wanted me to think that my perception of everything is different, too. Translation: I understand the world incorrectly.
Similarly, R., F., and J. were fond of calling me a “dip,” a “dork,” stupid, etc., when I was growing up. R., as an example of his meanness, liked scowling at me and telling me, “Think,” implying I never do. Being subjected to this kind of emotional abuse regularly, throughout one’s upbringing and even well into one’s later adulthood, leads inevitably to the victim second-guessing his perception of everything…especially the emotional abuse.
Bukowski once said, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” Not to toot my own horn about my intelligence, and furthermore, I’m implying a lack of emotional intelligence in my abusers (they aren’t inherently stupid people); but all of this once again demonstrates the dialectical, yin-and-yang nature of reality. Another relevant quote: “To realize that our knowledge is ignorance, this is a noble insight. To regard our ignorance as knowledge, this is mental sickness.” (Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, 71)
My point, Dear Reader, is that if you–having suffered emotional abuse and gaslighting–second-guess yourself all the time, and are full of doubts about how badly your abusers treated you, remember that the big irony of all this is how your very second-guessing is one of the proofs that you really were mistreated.
Conversely, the self-satisfied attitude of your abusers, who never feel a dram of remorse, also helps prove how right you are about how much they’ve wronged you; for people who truly care will wonder if they’ve wronged you, even if they haven’t–it’s called empathy. Bad people, on the other hand, kid themselves all the time that they’re doing right: if you don’t believe me, just look at your average politician.
Now, does this mean that we victims must torment ourselves with self-doubt for the rest of our lives, just to feel paradoxically vindicated? Of course not: over time, the gradual process of healing from our psychological wounds will allow us to feel reassured without any need to fear that we’re using our pride to blind ourselves to our faults.
When we victims, on the other hand, project vice onto our abusers, we’re merely giving back to them what they originally dumped onto us; we’re merely putting the vices back where they belong. As for our actual faults…well, let’s let the genuinely good people in our lives tell us about those.
He wrote the book in response to a bitter divorce from a psychologically abusive, alcoholic ex-wife whose manipulation was pushing him to the breaking point. The one good thing she did, though, was to advise him to see a doctor because of his overwhelming health problems at the time; that doctor, in turn, after finding no physiological problems with him, advised that he seek psychotherapy (page iii). When he got that therapy, vast depths of repressed pain surfaced…from problems he’d had long before she entered his life.
The reason he’d been so susceptible to such a manipulative woman, a wife who repeatedly kicked him out of their apartment in wild rages, was that he’d developed a codependent mindset as a result of years of emotional abuse from his narcissistic parents and their golden child, his similarly narcissistic older sister.
After going through many memories detailing one painful episode after another, he goes into how he has been doing the healing work. As of the writing of his book, he is amazed at how much progress he’s made, in spite of knowing he still has a long way to go.
He writes of his childhood experiences as a bit of a loner, with few friends, in the first chapter. He writes, however, as if he were describing the childhood of someone else, a friend. Projecting himself into another boy has a sympathizing effect for the reader, at least from the writer’s point of view: we often don’t want to read of someone complaining about his own problems; but if he pleads the case of someone else, he doesn’t seem so ‘selfish’ about it, and this caring for another makes us want to empathize not only with that ‘someone else,’ but also with the writer.
Though this imagining of his sad childhood to have been that of a friend is an effective writing technique to arouse compassion in the reader, I for one was able to feel plenty of empathy for Brien just reading of his experiences as his own. Indeed, I was touched by how frank and honest he is about baring his soul to the reader; it took a lot of courage to reveal what he did…read the book yourself to see what I mean!
Though I, thank the gods, never experienced an abusive spouse or an acrimonious divorce, as he did, I nonetheless can relate to his childhood experiences of narcissism in the family. My parents weren’t alcoholics, and my father’s worst vices were his bigotry and mental slavery to conservatism, rather than narcissism. But my mother,…
As with Brien, I have a golden child sister, a narcissistic know-it-all who speaks when she should listen. Brien’s sister did things to him when a child that were, understatement of the year, sexually inappropriate. So did my sister play inappropriate games with me, when I was about eight or nine.
I don’t wish to go through everything he discusses in his book because, of course, it’s best to let him do it himself, in his own words. Suffice it to say, my take on why he went from an abusive family upbringing to an abusive marriage is from what I’ve learned from object relations theory.
The badinternalized objects we get from abusive parent/elder siblings reside in our minds like ghosts. These become a kind of blueprint for our later relationships, predicting with remarkable precision how they’ll be. If we’ve been abused as kids, we expect such relationships elsewhere; an abusive relationship becomes our normal.
Brien’s book, however, is not a pity party, as some idiot anonymous troll claimed it to be in the comments on the book’s Amazon page. In the later chapters, Brien focuses on what we can do to heal our trauma, such as repeating positive self-affirmations of beliefs contrary to the poisonous words we heard during our years of abuse.
One affirmation in particular that he gave touched me: “I am completely normal” (p. 137). Anyone who has read my blog posts on how my late, probably narcissistic mother subjected me to gaslighting (by claiming, in the most absurdly extreme language possible when I was a kid, that I have an autism spectrum disorder I’ve since learned I don’t have) will know why this affirmation resonates with me.
I’m at one with Brien in saying that positive affirmations, done repeatedly over a long enough period of time and felt to be true in one’s heart, can help in eventually healing psychological trauma. Going back to my point about object relations, I’d add that it helps, through autohypnosis and meditation, to imagine and introject new, loving objects who are the dialectical opposites of those abusive ones in our past.
In our suggestible hypnotic state, we can imagine those internalized objects (i.e, imagined new parents) saying those affirmations to us with loving eyes. The powerful emotional effect of hearing and seeing them, in our mind’s eyes and ears, should help to drive home the affirmations even better.
In chapter ten, Brien writes of “Silencing the Rebel,” which seems to be his way of referring to what is usually called the inner critic. It’s a rebel, because it rebels against our true selves, replacing who we really are with a false version of who we are, a projection of all the worst parts of our abusers. To heal, we must silence this inner bad object, exorcise the demon, even.
Brien also writes about his relationship with a higher power. Though we all have diverging opinions on religious and spiritual matters, it is common for survivors of emotional abuse to use some form of spirituality to help them heal and give them peace.
I do that through what I call The Three Unities: the Unity of Space, symbolized by a Brahman-like infinite ocean of universal oneness, which helps me to feel connected with the world, thus ending my isolation; the Unity of Time, at once a cyclical, wave-like conception of time and also the eternal NOW, which helps me to focus on my living, present reality, and not on my painful past, or worrying about my future; and the Unity of Action, a dialectical monism symbolized by the ouroboros, which helps me to know that whatever ill may befall me, it will eventually, in one form or another, flow back into good.
Whatever direction you choose to take, Dear Reader, whether it be spiritual or not, I recommend you read Enough Is Enough. For even when we’ve removed the abusers from our lives, we’re still haunted by the pain they’ve caused us; and apart from Brien’s advice about saying affirmations and using spirituality, reading his story is a helpful exercise in empathy.
The stronger empathy we feel for him (or for any C-PTSD sufferer, for that matter), the more we can be assured that we’re better than our non-empathic abusers. For remember, one of our abusers’ most powerful weapons against us is to make us believe we have their vices. In empathizing with Brien, though, we know we don’t have those vices.
In many ways, we C-PTSD sufferers are our own worst enemies. I don’t mean that in a shaming way, of course, but rather in a compassionate way, and with the intention of motivating us to stop one bad habit of ours in particular: rumination.
We can be obsessive in going over our pain, again and again, with no end to the ruminating in sight. Why? What psychological purpose does it serve? What emotional need does it attempt to satisfy? It seems masochistic, for all we seem to be doing is feeling an endless replay of a tape loop of old pain.
Here’s the thing: after our narcissistic abusers are gone, the mental abuse continues in our victimized heads; we do it to ourselves. We become our own psychological abusers, however much we may not want to.
I have a tendency of waking up after only three or four hours of sleep (needing to use the washroom); then, when I go back to bed,…all the bad thoughts come back into my head. My inner critic reminds me of many a social failure I’ve had, hurtful things the family said to me, whether in the recent or the remote past, or worse!…imagined cruel retorts to anything I might say to assert myself. After that has started, I can generally forget about getting the other four or five hours of sleep I need. Sound familiar?
So, how do we stop all this ruminating? One obvious thing we should do is mentally to say to ourselves, “Stop it!” as soon as we realize we’re doing it again. Even more obvious, though, is that this is easier said than done.
It might help to remind ourselves of why we need to stop. Keep your list of reasons short and sweet, so your mind doesn’t wander off into more nonsense. Here are mine:
Rumination doesn’t help me at all.
Rumination is an addiction. Kick the habit.
I already know how I feel about my abusers. Why go over it again?
I already know why I feel that way about them. Why analyze it again?
I call them abusers for a reason.
They have the problem, not me. (See #3, 4, and 5.)
My faults are no reason to gaslight me. Abuse doesn’t improve people.
I imagine my new, internalized good objects saying such things as the following. Father: “It was all them that did the bad. None of it was you, son.” Mother: “You’re a beautiful, wonderful human being, and we love you. We’d never treat you so hurtfully. You need to forgive yourself for your faults. We won’t judge you so harshly.”
As you can see, we all need to practice self-compassion: 1) speaking these words of kindness to ourselves; 2) remembering how everyone experiences these feelings of failure and suffering, in one form or another; and 3) being mindful of whenever we lapse back into bashing ourselves.
For all this to help you, you have to practice it regularly. Remember that the reason you doubt your justification to go no contact, to think well of yourself, and to recognize that your abusers really wronged you (i.e., you are not being over-sensitive) is because they’ve programmed you to think that way, to control you.
We call them abusers for a reason. We also call ourselves victims for a reason. It’s high time we put the feelings of victimization behind us.
The Dead Zone is a supernatural thriller novel by Stephen King that was published in 1979. It’s about a man, Johnny Smith, who has psychic powers of precognition and clairvoyance, which give him visions of the past or future of whomever he touches.
“But the people didn’t elect buffoons to Washington. Well—hardly ever.” (p. 199)
“Did I grow a third eye?” –Johnny, p. 98
“Nothing is ever lost, Sarah. Nothing that can’t be found.” (p. 402)
“It’s been my experience that ninety-five percent of the people who walk the earth are simply inert, Johnny. One percent are saints, and one percent are assholes. The other three percent are the people who do what they say they can do.” –Roger Chatsworth, p. 285
“PRECOGNITION, TELEPATHY, BULLSHIT! EAT MY DONG, YOU EXTRASENSORY TURKEY!” –hate letter to Johnny, p. 181
“Well, we all do what we can, and it has to be good enough…and if it isn’t good enough, it has to do.” –Johnny’s letter to Sarah, p. 401
“…some things are better lost than found.” –Dr. Sam Weizak, to Johnny, p. 223
From the film:
‘”Bless me”? Do you know what God did for me? He threw an 18-wheeled truck at me and bounced me into nowhere for five years! When I woke up, my girl was gone, my job was gone, my legs are just about useless… Blessed me? God’s been a real sport to me!’ –Johnny Smith
“I need your support, I need your expertise, I need your input, and most importantly, I need your money.” [laughter] –Greg Stillson
“I have had a vision that I am going to be President of the United States someday. And nobody, and I mean nobody is going to stop me!” –Stillson
“Let’s send Greg Stillson to the United States Senate – and mediocrity to hell!” –Stillson […]
Johnny Smith: I’ve been tutoring this boy named Stuart. In the vision, I saw him drown. But that’s not the point. In the vision, something was missing.
Dr. Sam Weizak: How – how do you mean?
Johnny Smith: It was like… a blank spot, a dead zone.
Dr. Sam Weizak: First of all, tell me, did the boy, in fact, drown?
Johnny Smith: His father wanted him to play hockey. I talked him out of it. The boy’s alive.
Dr. Sam Weizak: Ah. Yes. Don’t you see how clear it is? Not only can you see the future, you can…
Johnny Smith: I can change it.
Dr. Sam Weizak: You can change it, exactly. Here. Yes, John. That is your… your “dead zone.” The possibility of… of altering the outcome of your premonitions. It’s fascinating. Let me make a note. […]
Johnny Smith: [touching the mother of serial killer Frank Dodd] You knew? Didn’t you?
Henrietta Dodd: You… you’re a devil, sent from Hell!
In spite of his special powers of knowing what most people couldn’t know, Johnny also has a limit to that unique knowledge, a realm of unknowing that he calls the dead zone: ‘The tumor lies in that area which I always called “the dead zone.”‘ (p. 396) This leads us to a central theme in the novel, a dialectical understanding of the relationship between knowing and unknowing. The biting head of the ouroboros (where dialectical opposites meet) of extrasensory knowledge leads to the bitten tail of unknowing.
Connected to this yin-and-yang concept of knowledge and ignorance is the relationship between organized religion–an authoritarian establishment often associated with superstition and fundamentalist bigotry towards any other forms of knowledge contradictory to its dogma–and intuitive mysticism and spirituality. Johnny’s mother, Vera, adheres to the former; Greg Stillson peddles the former as a Bible salesman in the 1950s; and Johnny demonstrates the latter with his psychic powers.
In this connection, consider what theTao Te Ching says: “To realize that our knowledge is ignorance, this is a noble insight. To regard our ignorance as knowledge, this is mental sickness.” (71) Also, “He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know.” (56) Vera’s overconfidence in the ‘truth’ of her Christian fundamentalism, with her attendant neuroticism, demonstrates how she thinks she knows the truth, but doesn’t. Johnny’s admitted “dead zone” of unknowing, along with his unassuming nature, evading the spotlight, shows how he knows, because he doesn’t know.
Added to this virtue is Johnny’s loving, empathic nature. Those who insist on fundamentalist interpretations of Biblical prophecy, obsessing over how Scripture supposedly warns us of 20th and 21st century evils, things its writers couldn’t possibly have known, ought to recall what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “…though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)
Johnny has oceans of this love: he has it for his father, his mother (as irritating as her fundamentalism may be), and for his girl, Sarah, whom he would have married, if not for his car accident and four-and-a-half-year coma, a kind of extended stay in the belly of the great fish, making Jonah‘s sojourn a mere pit-stop in comparison.
In relation to the rest of the events of the story (and to Jonah’s, and to Jesus’ death and resurrection, to which Johnny’s coma is symbolically associated), the timing of Johnny’s coma is unusual. The coma occurs towards the beginning of the novel/film, before his hesitancy to use his abilities for the good of the world; whereas Jonah’s wish to escape having to obey God’s command preceded his time in the belly of the great fish. The same goes for Jesus’ harrowing of Hell, between his death and resurrection: this harrowing occurs towards the end of the four Gospels, after his temptation by the devil in the wilderness, and after his spiritual struggle in Gethsemane, as we know.
Johnny’s name is a pun on Jonah; it also shares a J with Jesus (Yeshua being a variant of Joshua). Johnny is a teacher, with a good heart, like Jesus (who was often called ‘rabbi’), and also like carpenter Jesus, he’s a man of modest means. Contrast Johnny with Trump-like, narcissistic Stillson, whose ambition is to become the US president one day, and to prove his daddy wrong, that he’s better than Daddy claimed he is (‘…his father was…bellowing, “You’re no good, runt! You’re no fucking good!”‘p. 9).
Heinz Kohut wrote of how the narcissisticpersonality grows from a lack of parental empathy, and this is clearly what Stillson lacked in childhood. Johnny, in contrast, has deeply loving parents, instilling a self-love in him that cultivates humility. Just as there’s a dialectical relationship between knowing and unknowing, so is there such a relationship between humility/self-love and narcissism/self-hate.
As it is within, so is it without: Johnny gives out love as best he can to the world, even when cruel, bad luck takes away his job and the love of his life (ironically and dialectically, right after his amazingly good luck on the Wheel of Fortune); Stillson, on the other hand, abuses a dog (when selling Bibles!–pp. 5-7), and bullies those around him to make them comply with his ambitions (e.g., Chapter 18). Even in the alternate future Johnny prevents, with Stillson achieving his presidential ambition, he chooses nuclear genocide over diplomacy with the Soviets. Johnny projects and introjects good, Stillson, evil, regardless of good or ill fortune.
In the end, though Johnny dies, his spirit is felt by Sarah: his Christ-like spiritual body (i.e., his hand–p. 401) touches her. In the novel, we don’t read of Stillson’s suicide, as we see it in the film; he is, however, spiritually destroyed by the scandal caused by his using a child as a human shield against Johnny’s rifle. In the end, Greg is still just the son of his contemptuous father. Johnny, however, is more of a son of God, not just through his abilities, but also through his selfless sacrifice for humanity.
Indeed, in many ways, Johnny’s life can be paralleled with Christ’s, though the order of events seem scrambled, reversed, or even of a contrary nature when compared to the narrative of the Gospels. As I’ve stated above, Johnny’s ‘death-and-resurrection’ coma occurs towards the beginning, rather than at the end, of the story. His final act of sacrifice to save humanity involves trying to kill a malefactor (Stillson) rather than save one, as Jesus does when he says, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
When Johnny is shot, a bullet hits him in the hand (in the movie), suggesting the stigmata. According to the novel, the last bullet to hit him goes “into the left side of his midsection” (p. 384), comparable to the spear stuck in Christ’s side (John 19:34), the last piercing of his skin. Stillson’s use of the child as a human shield suggests the self-centredness of the other crucified malefactor: “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.” (Luke 23:39)
Sarah’s relationship with Johnny, still a love relationship after she married Walt Hazlett during Johnny’s coma, is an illicit one, since she commits adultery by sleeping with Johnny. Her adultery invites comparison with Mary Magdalene, who visited Christ’s tomb when he, risen from the dead, spoke her name (John 20:16). The comparison is clearer when Sarah feels the hand of Johnny’s spirit on her neck (p. 401)
So Johnny is the Jesus of anti-authoritarianism, symbolically in his ‘death-resurrection’ coma happening at the beginning of the story, rather than at the end, as in the Gospels; in his salvific assassination attempt on Stillson; in the superiority of Johnny’s psychic powers to the dogma of Christian fundamentalism.
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Johnny may have a dead zone, but he still has more in him than mortal knowledge, for he is full of love for humanity.
And even Vera’s unknowing has its limits, for she is right that Johnny should use his divine gift to help humanity. He is reluctant to at first, and in this way his struggle parallels Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, or Jonah’s attempted flight from God.
But Johnny eventually relents, helping the police catch a serial killer/rapist, who as it turns out is a cop himself, Frank Dodd! Here again, we see the anti-authoritarian Jesus in Johnny, exposing a killer among the authorities, the cops–something that upsets Sheriff Bannerman, who has held Dodd in high regard up to this point. This anti-authority Johnny is in this respect like anti-authoritarian Jesus, who exposed the moral hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the legal and religious authorities of his time. (Matthew 23)
Dodd, as a serial killer/rapist, is of the Norman Bates/Ed Gein variety: he lives at home with his mother, Henrietta, from whom he’s received his pathologies, in particular, the notion of “those cheap slutty women that’d be happy to give a nice boy like my Frank an incurable disease” (p. 252). Henrietta is so obsessed with ‘protecting’ her son from “those cheap slutty women” that she “put a clothespin on it so [little Frank would] know how it felt…when you got a disease. A disease from one of those nasty-fuckers, they’re all nasty-fuckers, and they have to be stopped…” (p. 240)
The attitude that Dodd got from his mother, that ‘all women are whores,’ while his mother is apparently the only feminine angel (she who pierced his dick with a clothespin when he was a child!), is an example of psychological splitting, a common defence mechanism, but one here that is taken to a pathological level.
Thus we see in Dodd, as we see in Stillson, a common origin of authoritarian thinking: toxic parenting (consider Philip Larkin‘s famous poem in this regard). The Biblical injunction to “honour thy father and thy mother” is transferred, by the victims of toxic parents, onto a similarly pathological honouring of authority figures–police, politicians, and religious leaders, even to the point of revering scriptural conceptions of divinity.
Now, Johnny has quite a flawed mother, one whose religious excesses he even compares to Henrietta’s pathologies: “there was something in her eyes, narrowed to glittering slits in their puffy sockets, that reminded him unpleasantly of the way his mother’s eyes had sometimes looked when Vera Smith was transported into one of her religious frenzies.” (p. 251)
But Vera’s faults don’t cause Johnny to split his internal and external worlds into narcissistic idealizing and devaluing, as Stillson’s and Dodd’s parents do. Johnny’s psychic gift symbolizes his empathy, for it connects and unifies him with the external world, rather than alienates him from it. His precognition and clairvoyance also link the past, present, and future for him. Finally, the paradox of his knowing and unknowing, his psychic authority (coupled with his spiritual anti-authoritarianism), the living death of his coma, and his saving of the world by trying to murder Stillson, all show how his actions unify opposites.
Thus, Johnny symbolizes the ideal that I callThe Three Unities, those of Space, Time, and Action, a spirituality free of the authoritarianism of organized religion. This dialectical monism is similar to Wilfred Bion‘s concept of O, an ineffable, inscrutable notion of Ultimate Reality that is attained only through an “abandonment of memory, desire, understanding, sense impressions — and perhaps also the abandonment of ego itself.” (Grotstein) This abandonment of understanding almost sounds like a giving-up of knowledge…the dead zone for accessing divine knowledge? Attaining knowing through a cloud of unknowing? How dialectical!
To return to the Christian symbolism of the story, I find it interesting to compare Johnny’s suffering with Jesus’ passion. As I’ve stated above, Johnny’s coma is a symbolic death and resurrection. Jesus’ physical suffering–his scourging, the crown of thorns, the nails through his hands and feet, and the torture of slowly dying on a cross (hence the term excruciating)–is the temporal opposite of Johnny’s psychological suffering–losing Sarah, losing four and a half years of his life, losing his teaching job, and losing his ability to walk normally–which comes after his coma.
This reversal of events symbolizes how Johnny’s a kind of ‘anti-Jesus,’ if you will (not an antichrist, of course!), in that his miraculous acts, his self-sacrifice, and his love of humanity don’t result in a new religion exploiting his memory to establish yet another authoritarian institution. His dead zone, emphasized in the story to the point of being its title, shows how important it is to stress the limitations of one’s talents and knowledge, which is the true basis of humility.
If we pretend we don’t have those limitations, we become like the “slick” Dodd (p, 240), or “The Laughing Tiger” Stillson (p. 293), men whose overweening pride collapses into shame, as when Dodd confesses (p. 255) and kills himself, and in the aftermath of Stillson’s use of a child as a human shield. Tragic irony for the hubristic.
(By the way, another bit of paradoxical irony is seen in how narcissistic Stillson is compared to Trump, and in many ways correctly so, of course: yet, where Stillson as president endangers humanity by wanting to start nuclear war with Russia, Trump’s relative reluctance to show hostility to Russia is what makes the political establishment dislike him. As I’ve argued elsewhere, though, our reasons for disliking him should be the same reasons for disliking that political establishment: they’re all authoritarian narcissists, and they’re all dangerous…but hey! What do I know?)
Whatever energy, positive or negative, that we send out into the world, in one way or another, it comes back to us. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction: even physics, in its own way, acknowledges the reality of karma.
The funny thing about narcissists, though, is their adamant refusal to acknowledge the consequences of their own actions. They can mistreat you, over and over again, and when you react in any way that displeases them, instead of being introspective and contemplating how it is possible that they either caused your displeasing reaction, or at least contributed to it in some way, they will assume your reaction is just further proof that you ‘deserve’ all the mistreatment you get.
This is what that collective of narcissists called my family-of-origin did to me. My siblings bullied me as a child, and my mother subjected me to the most cruel gaslighting. My father did far less of either evil to me, but he also did far too little to protect me from either evil. If you’re interested, Dear Reader, in the whole story, detailed with examples, youcanreadallaboutitintheseposts.
To get to my basic point, though, my late (probably narc) mother lied to me, starting when I was about nine or ten years old, as I can remember, that I supposedly have an autism spectrum disorder.
That I have no such thing was established, beyond a reasonable doubt, by three things: 1) two psychotherapists I’d been seeing during the mid-1990s told me they saw no signs of autism in me; 2) I did the Autism Spectrum Quotient Test, and got a score of only 13/50, far below the minimum of 26-32/50, which would at least raise questions of having a form of autism; and 3) Mom described ‘my autism’ in such absurdly extreme terms (I seemed “retarded” to the mythical shrinks observing me as a little kid; would I “even make a good garbageman?” and, they apparently recommended locking me away “in an asylum and throwing away the key!”) that her improbable account of my early childhood is totally unreliable.
This notion, that I was “born” with my irritating problems (for that’s how ‘autism’ has been understood in my family–a vice to be groaned about and sneered at, not a condition to be pitied in someone) served two purposes for the family: they could avoid taking any responsibility for the effects their bullying and gaslighting were having on me; and they could project their personal issues onto me, then go about their lives kidding themselves that they have few personality problems of their own.
The kind of projection I’m talking about is a special one worthy of examination: it’s called projective identification, first discussed by Melanie Klein, then developed by Wilfred Bion. Projective identification goes a step further than normal projection in that one tricks the receiver of the projections into actually manifesting the projected traits, thus creating the illusion that those traits were never projected, but rather are innate in their receiver.
Bion further elaborated on this process through his conception of container and contained, each respectively represented by the feminine and masculine symbols. The container, symbolized by a yoni, receives the projections, which are the phallic contained.
When treating psychotic patients, Bion found them projecting their hostility and aggression onto him, which he then manifested himself. He found that if he could use his skill as a therapist and receive the aggression patiently, then neutralize it, the energy could be returned to the analysand in a softer form, thus calming the analysand. [See also Mitchell and Black, pages 103-105.]
A mother, in a state of what Bion called reverie, could do the same thing with her baby’s projection of its frustrations; that is, she could be a patient, long-suffering container–like Bion for his analysands–of the baby’s projected anger, anxiety, and frustration, the contained. When the baby’s hostile energy is neutralized in the container of the kind, loving mother, it can be returned to the baby in a benevolent form, giving the baby peace and a capacity for mental growth.
A capable mother, like a skilled therapist, can be such a container. Many mothers, however, don’t have this ability. They fail to contain their babies’ projected anxieties and fears, thus unwittingly worsening them instead of easing them.
I have no way of knowing for sure, of course, but I suspect my maternal grandmother–dealing with the stresses of World War II in England, the death of my maternal grandfather, and her move to Canada soon after with my then-7-or-8-year-old mother–was never able to be my mom’s container. With neither her idealized father nor a mirroring mother to give stability and structure to her bipolar self (<<not bipolar disorder!), my mom–I believe–developed a pathological, even malignant, level of narcissism as a defence against fragmentation, which is a disintegration of the personality.
And without a mother to be a container of her projected anxieties and hostilities, my mother needed to search elsewhere for that container. At first, I believe that my father, older brothers R. and F., and my older sister J., were those containers…then I was born.
I believe she used the autism lie, always describing the condition in the language of narcissism (an antiquated definition of the word autism—auto [“self”] + ism–denoted excessive self-absorption or self-admiration back in the first half of the 20th century, when Mom was a child, and–I suspect–she was often called ‘self-absorbed’ and ‘autistic’ [by this old definition] by her mother), to project her feelings of shame–on contemplating her own egotism–onto me. Thus, we can see how her insistence on my being ‘autistic’ served her own emotional needs rather than mine.
One should never use an impressionable child as a container for one’s own projections, especially if they’re harsh and shameful. As I noted above, only a skilled therapist or a loving, empathic mother can be such a container for, respectively, a deeply disturbed analysand or for a frightened, frustrated baby. Nonetheless, I’m convinced my late mother did exactly this psychic violence to me when I was a kid.
Not knowing what I was doing, I received the contained from her, accepted it as a part of me, and returned her now neutralized energy back to her, allowing her to function normally and enabling her use of a False Self of altruism and benevolence.
R., F., and J. quickly learned how to use me as their container, too; and I received all their viciousness, me being powerless to repel it (recall, I was a child at the time), and like Mom, they became able to function normally. The three of them now go about with False Selves, secure in their delusion that I’m containing all their pathologies.
To put the above crudely, I took all their shit, and in spite of that fact, they’re all full of shit.
You see, here’s the thing: a narcissist never fully rids himself of what’s internally wrong with him, no matter how much projecting he does onto his victims. When I left Canada for Taiwan over twenty years ago, they lost their container, and now needed a new one they could project onto on a daily basis. My cousins, L. and especially G., became Mom’s new targets, and R., F., and J. eagerly went along with Mom’s machinations.
Still, she didn’t have all that much regular contact with her nephews; on top of that, she knew I was going to marry my then-girlfriend in the early 2000s, meaning I’d presumably stay here in East Asia for the rest of my life. So Mom fabricated a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (AS) for me, so I’d still be her container, along with L. and G. I also suspect she was hoping that by labelling me with AS, I’d feel emotionally dependent on her, then return home to Canada one day, so she’d have me around her every day again.
It was how strident she was being with this fake AS labelling, something she–lacking the psychiatric expertise to be authoritative about–insisted was a preordained, proven fact, that made me, for the first time, question her motives. This, combined with how consistently uncaring her attitude was about how much she was hurting me, is what turned me against her.
So, during the 2010s, I grew distant from her and her flying monkeys, R., F., and J. All I was doing at the time was being an agent of karma; they’d created this intolerably toxic environment for me, so I simply sought an escape from it. Because they fail to recognize the karmic effects of their own actions, they misattribute my coldness to them as yet another personal fault of mine, rather than a fault of theirs, however indirectly their fault was projected onto me.
I’ve explained the exact circumstances that led to my unwillingness to talk on the phone to my Mom when she was on her death bed in this post (Part 6: Is My Mother Dead?). The family considers my reaction to her dying as monstrously unfilial, when they know nothing she did that led up to my reaction (Part 5: More Elaborate Lies). Given all she’d done to me over the decades, the enormity of it all, it isn’t difficult to see how my punishment of her was quite mild: I just didn’t want to talk to her.
When I was bullied by R., F., and J. as a child, I was never allowed to fight back in any way (much of this being Mom’s stopping me and justifying them). Despite J.’s occasional paid lip service to the idea that I should assert myself and tell them off whenever they upset me, none of them ever heard me out, especially hypocritical J. You can’t assert yourself to people, or tell them off, if they won’t listen to a word you say.
This non-listening mentality of theirs was nurtured by Mom, who told them, in some form or another, that I was just one of those stupid “autistic” people, who know nothing outside themselves (or however she’d worded it, in any case, that was the message she gave R., F., and J.). It’s never occurred to any of them that they’ve known little outside their own inner social circle, the one Mom circumscribed for them, their folie à quatre.
As for my own karmic burdens, I’ll let my wife, Judy, define my faults, not R., F., or J. The difference? Judy has actually been good to me throughout our relationship of over two decades now; not a perfect relationship, of course, but one a mountain’s height above even the very best my family ever was to me, and I thank my lucky stars for Judy. I’ve been far less than an ideal husband to her, though, so she has the right to complain about me.
I won’t go into the details of how I’ve been a flawed husband (to put it mildly), since obviously that is a private matter. But this confession, however brief, should suffice to show that I’m not kidding myself about being a blameless man. Judy, such a wonderful wife, and deserving of so much better a husband than me, has the right to judge me, not R., F., or J.
Bullying older siblings and toxic parents have no moral authority over their victims (and that goes double for amateurish self-proclaimed ‘psychiatrists’ like my late mother), however morally flawed those victims may be. I’ve gone over the usually minor things I did as a kid to frustrate them in older posts–links in the third paragraph above (slamming doors, eating all the cereal, maladaptive daydreaming, taking too long to wash the dishes, etc.); all of these can easily be explained as karmic reactions–and very mild ones, at that!–to all the hurt they caused me (verbal abuse [all of the family], insults [all of them], name-calling [all of them], gaslighting [Mom], physical threats [F.], shoving [F.], actual hitting me [F.], certain inappropriate games [J.]…remember, I was a kid when much, if not most, of this was happening).
That they would be so upset that I merely stopped communicating with them, given all I’ve explained above, is an indication of their narcissistic injury. That R. would be so upset about my reciting, obviously with the family in mind, of “This Be the Verse” on YouTube (a video I never sent him, one he never had to watch) shows that the family can dish it out but can’t take it. That he found my bitter recitation “disturbing” merely means he was disturbed by the truth of what I’d said.
[Recall, from a previous post, how Mom had bragged several times, decades after the incident, that–when R. was a little kid–she’d pulled his pants down and spanked him in a public place for behaving badly, humiliating him. How was he behaving badly, I wonder? Was he shouting and being bratty? Possibly. But recall her propensity for lying. In her version of what happened, she’d naturally want to present herself in the best possible light and him in the worst, justifying her actions instead of admitting her reaction was excessive. Maybe he’d just done something to cause her to feel narcissistic rage–I don’t know what really happened, of course, but her blowing up at him over a trivial slight is a real possibility. That’s what I mean by my disturbing truth.]
To get back to the present time, I’m guessing that J. is going through a deep depression at the loss of not only our mother almost three years ago, but also of her husband (about a decade and a half ago), and of her younger brother…this last one due to her (as well as R.’s and F.’s) unwillingness to consider my side of the story.
Her sadness over losing me isn’t so much about losing a ‘loved’ family member: if she really loved me so much, why did she so often want to change huge chunks of who I am in order to be the ideal little brother she wanted me to be? (Love is about accepting people as they are, J., not demanding that they be custom-made for you.) She’s mainly upset that her fantasy family is no more. Every time she looks at a family photo with me in it, she is reminded of how she and the others failed to keep us all together.
(Insofar as I mean anything at all to her, I’ll bet she’s mad as hell at R. for the snarky comment he made on my YouTube video, which of course just deepened my estrangement from the family. It would amuse me–in a Schadenfreude kind of way–to imagine those two fighting over the issue.)
In my siblings’ inability to be introspective, they assume the problem is all about me being a jerk. They’ll never consider the possibility that the sadness they feel over their falling out with me is just karma finally coming back to haunt them.
And now, Dear Reader, enough of my complaining: let’s talk about you. If you are in as impossible a situation as I was with regards to your toxic family or ex-partner, don’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself. Get help if you’re being mistreated; if that doesn’t help, get out! Any suffering they’re going through from your absence, assuming they are as awful as you feel they are (i.e., don’t jump to any rash conclusions about your family if you’re a teenager!), is just their bad karma biting them in the ass.
Writing about your pain is a good idea, too. It’s great therapy, especially if you can’t afford a therapist (let alone find one who speaks your language, as is the situation with me here in East Asia!). The toxic people in your life never respected your side of the story, so in your writing, feel free to focus as much on your side of the story as you like. That’s what I’ve done above, while acknowledging their side of the story, and my own real faults, as appropriate. Your ‘bias’ is just the karmic reaction to their bias.
It is no crime to refuse to be the container of toxic people’s projections. In many ways, removing yourself from their lives is the best thing for them; for it will force them to look at themselves in the mirror and wrestle with their own demons, instead of force-feeding them to you.
In order to overcome the hegemony of the capitalist, we must cultivate an understanding of his inner mental state. I believe that psychoanalysis can help us gain insight into the mind of not only the bourgeoisie, but also all of us who are in their thrall.
I discussed much of this already in such posts as The Self/Other Dialectic, The Narcissism of Capital, and The Psychoanalysis of Narcissistic Parental Abuse; if you read those posts, this one will be easier to follow. Here, I will reorganize and add to those three posts’ ideas by directly following the course of history of psychoanalytic developments, starting with Freud (dwelling only a little on him, though, since he was wrong much more often than he was right, and since his theories are of little help in promoting socialism, for which he had little more than criticism), and ending with Lacan (again, briefly dwelling on him, since his obscurantism and verbosity are of little help to anyone, especially the working class).
Of Freud’s ideas, the superego is probably the most useful, if not the only useful one; for in the superego, we find the cruel, unforgiving inner critic, an internalized object representing our parents, teachers, religious leaders, and other authority figures who berate us and chide us for failing to measure up to the unattainable ego ideal.
The shame that we feel from our failures, be they moral, financial, or career ones, drives us to over-compensate by an appeal to shame’s dialectical opposite: pride. If that pride can’t be felt through success and having power over others, which is the goal of the capitalist, it can be felt through ego defence mechanisms (fully systematized by Freud’s daughter, Anna). If these mechanisms won’t give the capitalist pride, he can at least use them to fend off feelings of shame, often by simply shaming others.
Feelings of moral pride can be felt by the capitalist in the form of reaction formation: he won’t admit that his preferred economic system results in unaccountable private tyranny, including prisonslave labour in the US; instead, he’ll prate about how capitalism promotes ‘freedom‘ (i.e., the deregulation that frees Big Business to overwork and underpay labourers, and to accumulate more and more wealth for himself, at everyone else’s expense), contrasting this ‘freedom‘ with the spurioushistory of ‘tyrannical’ socialist states.
The capitalist often takes pride in his identification with authority figures. The fascist–a hyper-capitalist, really–narcissistically identifies with leaders like Hitler and his in-group, a regime propped up by Big Business; as I’ve said many times before, associating the Nazis (just because of their name, ‘National Socialist’) with the left is sheer idiocy. As we can see, Anna Freud’s notion of identification with the aggressor can be seen as one of many capitalist defence mechanisms.
The capitalist may engage in fantasy, using, for example, his religious beliefs to give him a false sense of moral pride. He may imagine that all his sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ, and that his rigid faith in a fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity (as opposed to those ‘wishy-washy liberal,’ or–egad!–Marxian interpretations, like liberation theology) makes his ‘moral’ position all the more justified.
The capitalist can further rationalize his class status by giving to charity, which, apart from giving him a sweet tax break, also gives him an illusory cleaning of his conscience. Oh, he gave a little money to the poor…what a kind philanthropist! Never mind that the scraps given to charity do little of substance to pull the starving millions in the Third World out of poverty.
The capitalist routinely engages in denial about how his pet economic system leads to terrible wealth inequality, political corruption, and imperialist war. He claims that “taxation is theft” (i.e., taxing the bourgeoisie to give financial aid to the poor), but denies that overworking and underpaying labourers (which includes paying less than the minimum wage) is actual theft. Similarly, he blames political corruption and war on the state, ignoring the bourgeoisie’s role in maintaining the state apparatus.
Part of this denial expresses itself in displacement, as we could see in the above paragraph, by shifting the blame for the world’s woes from capitalism–the rightful blaming of which would cause him unbearable cognitive dissonance–onto the state alone. He could, however, displace the blame onto other scapegoats: immigrants, Jews, Muslims, Freemasons, or anyone else seen as opposing his interests, or those of Church orthodoxy.
Another part of this blame-shifting is expressed in projection, a pushing out of inner guilt onto other people, other organizations, or other political institutions. The capitalist is responsible for the millions who die every year (especially children under five) of malnutrition and starvation, when the entire world could be fed, provided we disregard the profit motive and spread the food around properly while keeping it fresh; yet the capitalist blames communism for ‘creating‘ famines in the Ukraine, China, and Cambodia, without properlyresearching the history behind those problems, or examining how Bolshevism largely ended Russian famines.
The capitalist projects his hunger for power onto communists by falsely equating them with fascism, an ideology not only far closer to capitalism than it could ever be to the left, but also a menace defeated far more by Stalin‘s Red Army than it was by the Western Allies, who joined in the fight only at the last minute, and sacrificed far fewer lives. Communists, on the other hand, want the power to end hunger.
The fundamentalist Christian capitalist will project his hunger for global domination onto any group (not just the communists) who deny that his world vision is exclusively the correct one. A large part of the motive for European countries to colonize the world in previous centuries was to make the whole world Christian, by force if necessary. They also wanted to dominate the global market. Therefore, losing such dominance, both religious and economic, is most upsetting to them.
Groups like the Jews, Freemasons, and the Illuminati denied the ‘exclusive truth’ of the Church, whose black-and-white worldview considers such an inclusive position to be anti-Christian, therefore Satanic. It isn’t a far leap to go from these ‘Satanic’ beliefs to a paranoid fear that these groups wish to spread this ‘Satanism’ worldwide. The secrecy of the Freemasons, coupled with the spread of secularism over the past two hundred years, makes it easy for the paranoid fundamentalist Christian conspiracy theorist to project his own wish for global domination onto these ‘Devil worshippers.’ Ditto for the imagined leftist global dominance.
This projection is coupled with the defence mechanism of splitting into absolute good (i.e., fundamentalist Christians and ‘free market’ capitalists) and absolute evil (i.e., ‘Devil worshippers’ and socialists). With their black vs. white worldview, people with right-wing thinking can’t deal with ambiguity, or the possibility of a grey area in between.
This dichotomous thinking is psychologically, unconsciously rooted, according to Melanie Klein, in the baby’s relationship with its mother, when she is perceived only as a part-object, namely, the breast. When it gives milk, it’s the “good breast“; when it doesn’t, it’s the “bad breast.” This part-object is perceived to be an extension of the baby.
Later, the baby comes to realize the breast is part of a complete human being, separate from the baby–a whole object, its mother. When she satisfies the baby’s needs and desires, she’s the “good mother”; when she frustrates the baby, she’s the “bad mother.” The same applies to its father in his good and bad aspects.
The baby’s irritation with the “bad mother” causes it to use splitting as a defence mechanism, resulting in the paranoid-schizoid position. The baby’s hostility makes it want to harm its mother in unconscious phantasy. Later, if the baby doesn’t see its mother for a lengthy time, it wonders if its hostility has either killed its mother or provoked a vengeful attitude in her. Now, it’s in the depressive position, longing for reparation with her, and soon seeing the “good” and “bad mother” merged into one person.
These two positions aren’t experienced only in infancy. They reappear again and again throughout life; we feel a swinging back and forth between the two, like a pendulum, all the way to our deaths, but instead of feeling them only for our parents, we can feel them for anybody or any organization of people we encounter in life.
The paranoid-schizoid position, or splitting as a defence mechanism, is like the confrontation of the thesis with its negation, where the ouroboros bites its tail on a circular continuum at which extreme opposites meet. The depressive position, where one learns to appreciate ambivalence, is the sublation of the dialectical contradictions, the circular middle of the serpent’s body, every intermediate point on the continuum, between the extreme opposites. This middle area is where contradictions are reconciled.
With their dualistic theology, fundamentalist Christians can’t grasp any reality other than where the serpent’s teeth are biting into its tail: God vs. Satan. Consequently, any belief system other than their own is seen as being of the Devil: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8) Furthermore, any capitalism (Keynesian, social democratic, New Democrat-oriented) other than that of the “free market” variety is really just a variation, it would seem, of socialism! You’re with us, or you’re the enemy.
We Marxists, on the other hand, aren’t so black and white in our thinking as the average Christian fundamentalist or neoliberal capitalist. For, as opposed to capitalism as we are, we nonetheless acknowledge its place in our materialist conception of history. The bourgeois French Revolution, for example, was a necessary development away from feudalism, though its results were far from our communist ideal.
Similarly, Lenin’s NEP was an acknowledgement of the need for a temporary “state capitalism” to resolve the problems of the USSR in the 1920s. Yugoslavia’s Titoism was also a market socialism. China‘s and Vietnam‘s bringing back of the market, albeit in a heavily state regulated form, is yet another example of the socialist’s ambivalent attitude towards capitalism; andwhileIhavemydoubtsabout the validity of the extent to which this attempted reconciliation of the market with Marxism-Leninism has gone, we must nonetheless acknowledge that many Marxist-Leninists are capable of such ambivalence about what we’re ideologically opposed to.
Capitalists, on the other hand, don’t have the same level of ambivalence towards socialism. While such social democratic systems as the Nordic Model have adapted their market economies to accommodate the needs of workers, and have free education and healthcare, they are nonetheless forms of capitalism, they have retained the class character of society, and they plunder the Third World as rapaciously, if not so much in a military sense, as the more overtly capitalist countries. Their concessions to the poor are meant to stave off communist revolution, not to encourage it.
WRD Fairbairn made a more systematic study of splitting. He replaced Freud’s id/ego/superego personality structure with one in which libido is object-directed, not drive-directed. For Fairbairn, Freud’s ego became the Central Ego, linked to an Ideal Object, since having relationships with real people is the ideal for mental health. (Here, ‘object‘ = other people.)
Inevitably, though, and in varying degrees, depending on the severity of our parents’ lack of empathy for us, we feel portions of our Central Ego/Ideal Object break off and split into a Libidinal Ego, which is linked to an Exciting Object (approximately paralleling Freud’s id), and an Anti-libidinal Ego, linked to a Rejecting Object (vaguely corresponding to Freud’s superego).
With the Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object configuration, we find ourselves replacing relationships with friends and family, with mere pleasure-seeking (drugs, sex, money, etc.). The Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object configuration causes us to be nasty, alienating, and rejecting of other people. The viciousness and rudeness in today’s world seems an epidemic.
Herein we can see a link with capitalist alienation. The lack of kindness and empathy in the early family situation inhibits the development of proper human relationships, the Central Ego and its Ideal Object, which are replaced by internal ego/object relations that are divorced from reality.
Fairbairn pointed out that explicit pleasure-seeking indicates a failure of object-relationships, since for him, the libido is aimed at relationships with people, not things like money [Fairbairn: “…from the point of view of object-relationship psychology, explicit pleasure-seeking represents a deterioration of behaviour…Explicit pleasure-seeking has as its essential aim the relieving of the tension of libidinal need for the mere sake of relieving this tension. Such a process does, of course, occur commonly enough; but, since libidinal need is object-need, simple tension-relieving implies some failure of object-relationships.” (p. 139-140)].
I’ve written in otherposts about characters in fiction and film whose social alienation results, on the individual level, in either miserliness or violence…on the social level, we find it ballooning into extreme income inequality and imperialism.
The lack of empathic parents to look up to as idealizing role models, coupled with a lack of empathic mirroring of a child’s own narcissism, causes the child to fail to develop mature, restrained narcissism, which is supposed to be let down in bearable, gradual steps. Instead, narcissism balloons into a bloated, unhealthy state, and the afflicted individual looks for others to idealize, such as political demagogues with similar narcissistic tendencies. A narcissist identifying with another of his ilk will feel narcissistic injury and rage if his idealized leader is criticized.
I’ve been subjected to such rage whenever my readers come across passages in which I point out Trump’s narcissism, a point so obvious it hardly seems controversial. Added to the narcissistic identification with, and idealization of, Trump, is the black-and-white thinking of splitting. And the Trump supporters aren’t the only ones who have that problem: he’s God-appointed (absurdly) to his supporters; and to the liberals who oppose him, he’s the Devil incarnate (also an absurd position–his faults are of the standard bourgeois type), and Hillary is idealized instead (even more absurdly).
Again, we communists have a more nuanced, ambivalent take on Trump. Yes, he’s awful, but we can give credit where credit is due: he opposes war with Russia, which should be a no-brainer for liberals. His pulling American troops out of Syria (and maybe Afghanistan) is something we see as in itself a good thing, though I question his motives for doing so (boosting his popularity, saving government revenue by having other countries–and mercenaries–do the fighting for the US…in other words, the wars are not ending!…while having kept military spending needlessly bloated [does he mean it when he calls this spending ‘crazy‘?] instead of using that money to help the American poor).
Liberals refuse to acknowledge him doing anything right for the same narcissistic reasons that Trump conservatives refuse to admit he’s ever done anything wrong. Thus, pussy-hat-wearing liberals support equally narcissistic Hillary Clinton, whom they idealize instead. It’s all splitting, and identifying with him or with his antithesis.
So, as I’ve said, the cure to all of this alienating and splitting is to cultivate more empathy in the family situation, and in our interpersonal relationships in general. That will mean focusing on what unifies us over what divides us.
Such unifying thinking is perfectly harmonious with Marxist thought, as dialectical materialism is all about reconciling contradictions. Part of reconciling the contradiction between rich and poor will involve reconciling psychological splitting, replacing the black-and-white mentality, or us vs. them thinking, with WE thinking, replacing alienation with solidarity.
I believe an understanding of object relations theory can help us in this regard, for Klein, Fairbairn, and DW Winnicott–among the other theorists in this psychoanalytic school–demonstrated how our relationships with others are based on our original relationships with our early caregivers. Whatever is going wrong in our current relationships is probably based, at least to a large extent, on our faulty relationships with our parents; for the faults in those early experiences create a kind of blueprint for what ensues.
Authoritarian parents, especially religious ones, tend to cause us to choose authoritarian leaders and forms of religion, as well as authoritarian economic systems like the boss vs. wage slave hierarchical relationship in capitalism. This latter relationship causes one to have what Erich Fromm called the “having” (as opposed to “being”) way of living.
This “having” mentality causes one to base one’s happiness on how much stuff one owns, gaining narcissistic supply (and thus, a False Self, too) from conspicuous consumption; whereas a “being” way of life focuses more on how to be happy by being one’s own True Self, with a happiness coming from enjoying object relationships (family, friends, community, etc.). Togetherness with others is how we all were meant to be, not living just to help a boss make profits.
On the ‘having mode of existence,’ in Fromm’s own words: “[The] dead, sterile aspect of gold is shown in the myth of King Midas. He was so avaricious that his wish was granted that everything he touched became gold. Eventually, he had to die precisely because one cannot live from gold. In this myth is a clear vision of the sterility of gold, and it is by no means the highest value…” (Fromm, p. 61)
And, Fromm on the ‘being mode of existence’: “There is more: this being-in-the-world, this giving-oneself-to-the-world, this self-transformation in the act of life, is only possible when man loses his greediness and stinginess and abandons his self as an isolated, fixed ego that stands opposed to the world. Only when man abandons this self, when he can empty himself (to use the language of mystics), only then can he fill himself entirely. For he must be empty of his egotistical self in order to become full of what comes to him from the world.” (Fromm, p. 65)
Furthermore: “Joy, energy, happiness, all this depends on the degree to which we are related, to which we are concerned, and that is to say, to which we are in touch with the reality of our feelings, with the reality of other people, and not to experience them as abstractions that we can look at like the commodities at the market. Secondly, in this process of being related, we experience ourselves as entities, as I, who is related to the world. I become one with the world in my relatedness to the world, but I also experience myself as a self, as an individuality, as something unique, because in this process of relatedness, I am at the same time the subject of this activity, of this process, of relating myself. I am I, and I am the other person, but I am I too. I become one with the object of my concern, but in this process, I experience myself also as a subject.” (Fromm, pages 66-67)
Finally: “In this state of experience, the separation of subject from object disappears, they become unified by the bond of human active relatedness to the object.” (Fromm, p. 67)
To raise children in this healthier way needn’t require anything even approaching ‘perfect’ parenting–after all, what is ‘perfect parenting‘ anyway? All that’s needed is what Winnicott called good enough parenting, to help infants make the transition from the paranoid-schizoid position, one also where the baby makes no distinction between self and other, to the capacity for concern, as Winnicott called it, where the baby recognizes both good and bad in its parents (and, by extension, both good and bad in all people), as well as acknowledging the parents (and, by extension, all other people) as not an extension of itself (realizing ‘me’ vs. ‘not-me’).
We paradoxically recognize our togetherness, yet also our individual integrity, so that we’re united enough to feel mutual empathy, yet also distinct enough from each other to realize we don’t have the right to exploit others, out of a misguided belief that others are extensions of ourselves.
So, by fixing the psychological splits, alienation, and fragmentation in ourselves, we can begin to fix what’s broken in society. By not narcissistically identifying with an idealized, but illusory and self-alienating, mirror (as Lacan observed), and replacing these false images (including idealized self-images projected onto demagogues) with the communal symbols of language (i.e., real, meaningful communication), we can cultivate mutual love.
…and from love, we can create a revolutionary situation, toppling the narcissists and psychopaths at the top of the social and economic hierarchy, and thus create a community of equals. As Che Guevara once said, ““The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”
I’ve written much about the False Self of the narcissist and of the golden child, and of how they can’t bear to confront their True Selves. The scapegoat, or identified patient, also has a False Self, though, one imposed on him or her, a projection from the abuser, of the hated parts of the abuser’s self, just as the golden child’s False Self is based on projections from the narcissistic parent’s idealized version of him/herself.
My late, probably narcissistic mother (she was never formally diagnosed, so I, unlike her, won’t pin a psychiatric label on her as if I were 100% proven right; I merely call her what I, in my limited knowledge, believe she was) tried aggressively to make me believe I have an autism spectrum disorder.
Two psychiatrists I was seeing for depression back in the mid-1990s, each of them over a period of several months, told me they saw no signs of autistic symptoms in me. About seven or eight years ago, I took the Autism Quotient Test, and my low score (13/50) reconfirmed the two men’s observations.
My mother’s pushing of the classic autism label on me in my childhood, then fifteen years ago deciding I have Asperger Syndrome (the fact that I don’t manifest any autistic symptoms, let alone extreme ones, should be obvious to anyone talking to me for a few minutes, so she fabricated a ‘milder diagnosis’ for my idiosyncrasies, for the sake of plausibility), is best explained as her projecting her own narcissistic traits onto me; for she’d always describe “my autism/Asperger’s” in the language of narcissism (I’m “self-absorbed,” “egotistical,” etc.), talk which also displayed her total ignorance of psychiatric concepts.
In her condescension, a typical narcissistic trait, she insisted that her “objective” conclusions about me were only motivated by a wish to “help” me. Call me crazy, but I fail to see how making me feel inferior, isolated, and alienated from everyone was supposed to help me.
No, she wasn’t labelling me in this way for my sake: she was doing it as a dysfunctional solution to her own emotional problems. As with any bully, the purpose of calling the victim ‘abnormal,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘weak,’ etc., is to make the bully feel less shitty about himself, by making the victim feel shitty. This is the exact opposite of help, especially when it comes in the form of blatant lies.
So if you, Dear Reader, have been subjected to a barrage of verbal abuse, gaslighting, lies, manipulation, and threats from an emotional abuser, remember that that is all shit coming from his mouth. It’s his, not yours.
Since all of those hurtful words were nonsensical rot coming from your abuser, and they have nothing to do with who you really are (in spite of whatever faults you may actually have, which may have given him an excuse to blow up at you or insult you); I am now giving you the right to regard yourself as being the opposite of all those mean labels.
So, to negate your abuser’s thesis about you is to say to yourself that the real you is none of those awful things he or she called you. You can’t just know this intellectually; you must feel it, and repeat an affirmation of all that is good about you, over and over again, as a negation of all that verbal abuse you heard. You must transform the negative beliefs you currently, instinctually believe, into positive beliefs, also instinctually believed.
This will be a gradual process; the change won’t occur overnight. Resist the urge to repeat in your mind the negative self-talk your abuser imposed onto you, and repeat, like a mantra, the positive opposites of all that verbal abuse. It won’t be easy, for as I said above, what I’m proposing isn’t mere sentimentality.
List out every horrible thing he or she said to you, to manipulate you into thinking you’re stupid, wimpy, selfish, immature, irresponsible, talentless, or whatever nonsense he or she was projecting onto you. Then, beside each nasty descriptive, write its opposite: intelligent, strong, caring, mature, responsible, talented, etc. Don’t be afraid to consider the possibility that you have, at least in part, those good qualities.
No, you aren’t fooling yourself: you’re offsetting years of verbal poisoning squirted into your ears, squirted in to fool you into thinking you are whatever the narcissist needed you to be. By repeating these affirmations over time, you’ll be transitioning into a new you…your True Self.
As for your actual flaws and imperfections, that’s where the sublation of the dialectic comes in. This working-through process of resolving the contradiction between the narcissist’s cruel thesis of you, as cancelled out with your self-caring negation of those cruel words, will sublate into a realistic assessment of your faults.
…and you won’t hear those faults in the voice of a narc.
Last time when I wrote about narcissism in my family, I discussed smear campaigns. I pointed out how no truly loving parent would ever spread phoney gossip about his or her sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, or anyone in the family. There is a huge difference between legitimate criticism of a family member, on the one hand, and slandering him or her, on the other…though many a narcissist can make the latter seem like the former.
Narcissists also love sowing division among people, and the family is no exception. Constructing a phoney reality, and manipulating people into believing it, gives great narcissistic supply in the form of a power trip. Narcissists love to conquer people by succeeding in deceiving them, making them believe whatever the narcissist wants them to believe…especially when it makes them fight with each other.
Narcissistic supply doesn’t have to be all about flattering the narc: it can also be negative…as long as it draws attention to him or her; being the centre of everyone else’s universe is what the narc wants. Narcissists love to create drama, and while they may sigh and pretend to lament all the fighting around them, they secretly love having been clever enough to have tricked people into fighting.
This is especially so if the fighting is over who gets to have the narcissist’s love or favour; if family members are competing over which one is ‘the worthiest’ of the narc’s love, the narc’s supply must feel like a cocaine high.
Note how, in these situations of conflict, it’s all about the narcissist. He or she craves being the centre of attention. The winner in the competition is usually the ass-kissing golden child, and the loser is usually the ass-kicked scapegoat. I’ve already gone over, inmanyblogposts, how I finished last in these competitions.
My older sister, J., was the golden child, who was in first place in these contests. Now, I heard my late (probably) narc mother on at least two occasions say that my older brother, F., was her favourite (because he’s the ‘quiet’ one, though I always found his bullying of me rather loud, to put it mildly); I’m convinced Mom was lying about him, for her favouring of J. was obvious.
I’m sure she’d said she favoured F. over even J.–which, incidentally, she said in front of J. on the second of the two occasions–to stir up more rancour and division in the family. As I’ve said inpreviousposts, I suspect she lied to J., F., and R. (my eldest brother), telling them she favoured me in order to stir up jealousy in them, to give them all a motive to bully me.
I’ll bet that was her motive, conscious or unconscious, in telling me on R.’s cellphone (i.e., in front of him) that she’d given me “the most love” during my preteen years…when she’d actually been lying repeatedly about me having an autism spectrum disorder that I don’t have, as well as winking at my siblings’ bullying of me…and likely doing smear campaigns against me behind my back!
I’m convinced she got a secret thrill out of the idea of all four of us trying to outdo each other in being “the worthiest” of her love. Being the scapegoat, and knowing I’d never get first place, I had little motive to compete…which probably made Mom want to scapegoat me all the more, for having caused her narcissistic injury.
J. jealously guarded her first place position, often either helping Mom berate R., F., and especially me, of course, whenever our love didn’t measure up to expectation. J.’s phoney virtue is what I’ve always despised about her; she fancies herself as having been as perfectly loving to me as she supposedly is to everyone else in the family, such self-flattery being an example of her own narcissism, actually, since her self-righteous, condescending attitude to my faults was far too hurtful to be anywhere even approaching love.
J.’s barking at me to say goodbye to grandpa at the end of grandma’s funeral; her yelling at me for being late in buying Mom a birthday gift; her nagging me to visit Mom in hospital back when I was in university, and I desperately needed all the time I could get to work on a difficult essay (my shortened time after the visit surely contributed to my lower grade)–all of these, and many more, were examples of J.’s virtue signalling to get our mother’s favour.
Our mother loved all this division and competition so much that she called our part of the family “the team” (for which one would “score another point”), as opposed to my cousins’ family, whom she not only despised, but also worked tirelessly to get the rest of “the team” (and me) to loathe.
The streak of seven lies she told me, the summer before she died, were a magnum opus of triangulation, all done not only to upset me, but also to sow more division in the family. She claimed my cousin, S.–the revelation of whose mental instability gave her a convenient excuse to include him on her list of ‘undesirable’ family members–was again ranting and raving about how I’d ‘wronged’ him (when he actually hadn’t said anything against me–certainly not directly to me, which he surely would have done, at least online–in at least a few years, so why now, all of a sudden?).
On top of this, Mom tried to stir up antagonism in me against my aunt (S.’s mother) by falsely claiming she couldn’t bear reading any of my “over-the-top” emails (which I’d never sent her…but had sent a few, I admit, to my provoking mother!) and that my aunt supposedly thought I’d surely been “a burden” for my mom to raise. In all likelihood, it was my mother, not my aunt, who’d thought of me as a burden.
As you can see from the above examples, Dear Reader (click on the above links provided, to get the complete story behind each example), stirring up needless division in a family is no way to hold it together, but that stirring is exactly what my late mother was doing. And yet, her flying monkeys, my siblings, regard her as just a few cuts below sainthood. They can’t see her malice because they’re too busy believing her every word uncritically.
They fail to understand that she mixed lies in with the truth, a cunning trick every good liar knows how to do. Just because my cousins and I, the disfavoured members of the family, manifested some of the faults she catalogued, doesn’t mean we manifested all of them.
Parents are supposed to love their sons and daughters unconditionally. While complaining about their children’s faults is appropriate under reasonable conditions, cultivating bitterness between them–especially through little, almost imperceptible lies peppered in with the truth, often a truth taken out of context–is unmotherly in the extreme.
If you fear, Dear Reader, that your family is being critical of you in this kind of unreasonable way, and you know that this has been an ongoing problem lasting over many years, even decades, you shouldn’t feel guilty about getting away from those people in a permanent way.
I’m not condoning the idea of teenagers capriciously running away from home after one or two fights; I’m talking about thinking carefully about what’s going on in your family, seeing if you can reason it out with them, and judging if their response is empathic and non-manipulative.
If you’re young and you’re having family troubles, don’t jump to any rash conclusions. Don’t make any decisions while upset; you may regret them later in life.
I came to my conclusion about my family after decades of emotional abuse, gaslighting, scapegoating, and bullying…all from a family that never listened to me, never empathized (except for the rarest of exceptions), never validated my experiences, and generally stopped at nothing to undermine my ability to develop self-confidence. I thought it through for years before finally deciding to go NO CONTACT no sooner than when I’d reached my forties.
Once you’ve gotten out, you’ll have to do healing work. I’ve written anumberofblogposts with meditations and philosophical musings that I think can help people put their shattered world back together again. If you don’t agree with my ideas, there are plenty of other writers out there who may have advice you’ll like much better.
Once you get away from all the division and mind games, you’ll feel your inner fragmentation reunifying and merging, and in time, you’ll conquer your emotions, instead of being conquered by them.
Viridiana: I know my own weakness, and whatever I do will be humble. But, however little it is, I want to do it alone.
Jorge: I always knew that you and I were going to end up playing cards together!
Verdiana was the name of a generous, charitable saint who secluded herself for 34 years to focus on her faith. The Viridiana of this film is similarly, if not so extremely, reclusive, but just as generous and charitable. Her name comes from a word meaning ‘green’: I think of an old meaning of green, from back in Shakespeare’s time, meaning ‘youthful, inexperienced, immature’; but also, ‘fresh, recent, new’ (Crystal and Crystal, page 205), strongly implying ‘pure.’ There is, indeed, a strong sense that this novice embodies all of these definitions, in more ways than one.
She also happens to be a beautiful young blonde, most desirable to men; her choice to become a nun seems to be, at least in part, motivated by a fear of sexually predatory men. Her virgin purity makes her all the more attractive to her uncle, Don Jaime (Rey), who finds that she reminds him of his late bride, who died before he could even consummate their marriage.
His preoccupation with her beauty and purity reminds me of Heinrich Heine‘s poem:
Du bist wie eine Blume, So hold und schön und rein; Ich schau’ dich an, und Wehmut Schleicht mir ins Herz hinein.
Mir ist, als ob ich die Hände Aufs Haupt dir legen sollt’, Betend, dass Gott dich erhalte So rein und schön und hold.
You are like a flower, So lovely, fair and pure; I gaze at you and wistful Melancholy slips into my heart.
It’s as though I ought to place My hands upon your head And pray God to ever keep you So pure, fair, and lovely.
This notion of extreme purity leads to an exploration of the themes of modesty, humility, and every other point on the circular continuum I symbolize with the ouroboros, including the dialectical opposites of pride (the serpent’s biting head) vs. shame (the bitten tail). Viridiana is so particular about her maidenly modesty, it’s a source of narcissistic pride for her. Thus, even the mere suggestion of male physical closeness feels like a violation to her.
This excessive modesty comes from her stern Catholic upbringing, once again Buñuel’s satirical target. She has no interest in visiting her Uncle Jaime, whom she’s met only once; but she’s pressured into visiting him by her mother superior. She’d rather stay secluded and cloistered, suggesting she regards the Church as more of a family than her biological one. I suspect she had an unhappy family upbringing, driving her to the Church for a replacement.
The Virgin Mary seems to be an idealized parental imago for Viridiana, the perfect mother who represents an ego ideal to which she aspires. We get a sense of this when she prays the Angelus with the homeless people. Mary is “full of grace” (κεχαριτωμένη), which the Catholic Church interprets as a kind of purity existing from birth, the Immaculate Conception. Viridiana would thus want to identify with Mary, for narcissistic reasons.
Any man even making a pass at her threatens this purity she so covets, causing her narcissistic injury. Viridiana, I suspect, has transferred her feelings of maternal love to Mary, just as Don Jaime, admiring Viridiana’s beauty and purity, transfers his love of his deceased bride onto her, especially since the two women look so alike. Indeed, transference is a major theme in this Freudo-Marxist film.
Normally, one thinks of transference in the psychoanalytical setting; the patient transfers the feelings of a powerful emotional bond, especially one from childhood, onto the therapist. Viridiana has made this kind of transference onto Mary, her ‘therapist.’ Similarly, Viridiana has become, however unwittingly, Jaime’s ‘therapist.’ They are using their transferences in an attempt to heal, though these attempts ultimately fail.
On the first night of Viridiana’s visit, we see her in her bedroom, taking off black stockings to reveal her delicious legs; Buñuel’s lustful camera does a closeup on them, another example of his irreverence towards Church authority. She unpacks a large wooden crucifix and a crown of thorns. She’s so devoted to her faith, she’d rather sleep on the hard floor, as Jaime’s servant, Ramona, notes.
Now, Ramona is an interesting character to compare and contrast with Viridiana. Jaime’s servant is dutiful, bashful, and modest, but also lacking in the novice’s religious pretensions. This is another of Buñuel’s jabs at the Church. And who, I’m curious, is the father of Ramona’s naughty, nosy daughter Rita? Jaime has been kind enough to take mother and daughter in: is the girl an illegitimate child, as Jaime’s son, Jorge, is? Again, we see Buñuel’s alternative morality to the hypocritical one of the Church.
I suspect that Ramona has a secret love for Jaime, an Oedipal feeling, perhaps, transferred from her father onto her master, but a feeling she’s too shy to express openly. In any case, after he hangs himself and she meets Jorge, she transfers her love from father to handsome son…and feels that love more overtly, this time.
The morning of the second day of Viridiana’s visit, she goes to a servant milking a cow. She tries pulling on one of the cow’s teats; but they are long, even phallic in length. She can’t bring herself to handle them, as doing so, it seems, far too much resembles masturbating a man to orgasm (i.e., the squirting out of the milk). Her pious modesty is so extreme, she cannot do anything even vaguely redolent of sexuality.
Then, naughty Rita agitates her by saying she saw her in her nightgown the night before, having sneaked a peek from a nearby terrace. Viridiana blenches at even having been spied on by a pre-teen girl.
That night, Jaime has been fetishizing the bridal clothes of his deceased wife; he puts his too-large foot into one of her high heels (symbolic intercourse wish-fulfillment), then stands before a mirror while almost trying on her girdle. Apart from the erotic overtones of these actions, we sense his pathetic yearning for his lost love, his unfulfillable wish to be at one with her.
Then he sees Viridiana sleepwalking in that white nightgown, with her pretty bare feet and lower legs exposed. She is doubly vulnerable before him, in a relative state of undress, and unaware of it. The thought of his predatory eyes on her will terrify her when he tells her what he’s seen the next morning.
During her sleepwalking, she’s also psychologically naked and vulnerable, for her unconscious is let loose, expressing her hidden desires, if only symbolically. Kneeling at his fireplace, she empties a basket of yarn and needles into the fire, representing an unconscious wish to be rid of clothing, the antithesis of a nun’s modesty. She has a bad habit, it seems.
Then she gathers ashes in the basket and takes them to his bedroom, then sprinkles them on his bed; the ashes, we learn the next day, are a symbol of penitence…and death. What has she to repent of…secret, repressed sexual desires? Death associated with his bed suggests onceagain the marriage of the life (e.g., sex) and death drives.
The next day, Don Jaime, so captivated by Viridiana’s beauty, her purity (So hold und schön und rein), and of course her resemblance to her deceased aunt, asks her to dress up in her bridal gown, another shocking thing to do, in Viridiana’s view. The deceased bride, having worn white to the wedding, was in all probability a virgin (especially given the conservative mores of the time); but Viridiana–though complying–still feels uncomfortable doing it, as she feels like a sex object.
She of course is being objectified and ogled by her uncle, who has Ramona drug Viridiana’s coffee. Ramona, wholly devoted to her master, will do whatever he wants her to do, even as wicked a thing as helping him take advantage of his unconscious niece! Why? I suspect because Ramona secretly wishes Jaime desired her in the same way…also, allowing Viridiana to be deflowered–and thus, shamed–would serve Ramona because of sexual jealousy. Hence, she doesn’t mind telling Viridiana of Jaime’s shameful wish to marry his niece. Still, he’s a good man, in Ramona’s mind.
Viridiana is already uneasy enough knowing her uncle is the father of an illegitimate child (Jorge), for such is her lofty moral ideal. Her purity is part of what makes her so attractive to him; she looks so sexy in that virginal white dress…and she knows exactly how he feels about her.
Being in that dress with him at night is, of course, a reenacting of his wedding night with her aunt, when she died of a heart attack before he could consummate the marriage. This lonely, reclusive man has yearned to have that night given back to him, and now he can have it back through Viridiana.
Even before Ramona has given her the drugged coffee, Viridiana can sense her uncle’s lust; wearing that bridal gown strongly implies a soon-t0-be-lost virginity, which is anathema, horrifying to her. By helping Jaime satisfy his desire, though, Ramona can satisfy hers vicariously through Viridiana. Meanwhile, little Rita is frightened by a bull she claims entered her bedroom; the animal represents a sexually predatory male…is this an omen of what’s to come between Jaime and Viridiana?
While sexual assault (of anyone, woman, man, or child) is of course never defensible, especially to a communist like Buñuel, Viridiana’s predicament can be seen unconsciously, symbolically as a wish-fulfillment in that it desecrates the Catholic ideal of sexual purity in a woman. Destroying this impossible ideal by demonstrating its unattainability can liberate women sexually, by making them give up on it. Indeed, Viridiana will be so liberated at the end of the film.
Note that Jaime never carries out his plan to deflower her. While she’s unconscious, and Mozart‘s Requiem Mass is playing (symbolizing a fusion of the libido and death drive), he kisses her on the lips, unbuttons her top to reveal her creamy cleavage, then kisses her there (and naughty Rita spies on them); but moral scruple makes him come to his senses, and he stops. He mustn’t stain such divine purity.
So hold und schön und rein.
The next morning, when he tells her he took advantage of her while she was out cold, even when he later insists he never actually penetrated her, she can’t be certain of which statement is the truth, and which the lie–has he, or has he not raped her? So she, “for mere suspicion in that kind, will do as if for surety,” and imagine the worst. But how can she be unsure of what’s happened? Surely she knows that she will feel vaginal soreness, pain from a ruptured hymen, that there will be blood, if he’s had her.
He lies about having intercourse with her while she slept (later admitting he’s lied) so she’ll think her ‘stained’ body will make her unworthy of being a nun, then she’ll have nowhere else to go but to live with him. She’s afraid of male sexual predation to a far greater degree than the average woman, religiously devoted or not—why?
I don’t think we’re supposed to believe she was sexually abused at an earlier period of her life (though she, in all likelihood, has endured men’s leers and groping hands on many occasions throughout her life); for if she was raped, given the strict Catholic morality of her world, she surely would have already considered herself too ‘unclean’ to be a nun.
Now, for her, the meaning of sexual assault is expanded to mean “that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Furthermore, given the way rape victims tend to be slut-shamed, especially in Viridiana’s prudish world, she will feel as guilty, however unjustifiably, of having ‘tempted’ her attackers as they are of attacking her.
So her fears about whatever Don Jaime has done while she’s been unconscious are not based on a fear of possibly having been penetrated, nor do they seem to be a kind of PTSD reliving of what may have happened to her sometime before the beginning of this film. His having touched her, kissed her, and partially undressed her are rape enough.
And how far did he undress her? She has no idea. We know he only unbuttoned her top: he saw her cleavage, but not her whole breasts. Still, how does she know he didn’t undress her further? Does he know what her whole naked body looks like? Did he fondle her nakedness? Taste it? How many of her anatomical secrets does he know of?
Even the few of those secrets that Don Jaime knows would be enough to make any woman cringe, because they have been divulged without consent (consider the complaints against lecherous Bill Cosby to see my point). But for a woman as proud of keeping her secrets hidden as Viridiana is, her uncle’s–however slight–‘breaking and entering,’ as it were, is all the more outrageous and unbearable.
She feels the shame, but don’t forget that he does, too. After all, he’s the sinner, not she…and no one is more aware of his exclusive guilt than he is. He’s so tearfully desperate to get her forgiveness that, when he doesn’t get it, he hangs himself.
What we must remember is that he doesn’t merely lust after her–he’s fallen in love with her (which is not to excuse him for his scurrilous scheming), out of her resemblance, in her looks, her walk, her voice, in every way, to his beloved late bride. He’s transferred that deep passion onto Viridiana.
Buñuel has been said to have valued sex over love: this seems to be a vulgar, bourgeois interpretation of his frank depiction of sexuality in his films, and it’s utter nonsense. Buñuel uses sex to enhance love, to free it from the bourgeois chains of Church morality.
Another theme in this film is that of solitude. Viridiana prefers being cut off from the larger society: if not hidden from it in the convent, then in the outbuilding section of late Jaime’s estate, which he’s left to her and Jorge. Her religious solitude, as I’ve said above, echoes that of the saint who shares her name; but is this solitude out of spiritual conviction, or social alienation?
Jaime’s solitude is certainly out of alienation, for he, as a bourgeois, rentier capitalist, is inevitably affected by the estrangement that capitalism causes. He has some goodness, though, as all the characters in Viridiana are each a mix of good and bad. For example, Jaime has taken in Ramona and Rita, and he even saves a bee from drowning.
His illegitimate son, Jorge, has a sexual interest in Viridiana that bothers both her and his jealous, live-in girlfriend, Lucia, who soon leaves him; but he isn’t the type to rape a woman. The worst he does is to walk into Viridiana’s bedroom without her permission. He kisses Ramona on the lips only because he knows, from the longing in her eyes, that she is aching for his kiss.
Still yearning to be a good Christian even though she feels unworthy of being a nun, Viridiana takes in a group of beggars to live in the outbuilding part of the house. As pitiable as these wretches are, though, they’re far from virtuous; they make one of them, a bald fellow without his upper front teeth, into a pariah because his varicose veins seem to them to be a symptom of leprosy.
Out in the field with Viridiana, they pray the Angelus with her while Jorge’s hired workers are renovating the house and surrounding area; in other words, the first group is engaging in faith, while the second group is actually working. Here is another example of Buñuel taking a jab at the Church, which values grace through faith over good works. She and the beggars are praying a useless prayer to her idol, Mary, while Jorge’s men are making themselves useful–working, because il faut cultiver notre jardin.
One of the beggars, El Cojo (‘the lame one,’ played by José Manuel Martin), fancies himself a faithful Catholic and not only helps Viridiana in leading the Angelus prayer, but also paints a portrait of the Madonna; still, he’s a bad, even violent fellow, for he threatens the ‘leper,’ and later Jorge, with a knife, and even tries to rape Viridiana toward the end of the film. Again, Buñuel demonstrates the emptiness of faith as against good works.
When she, Jorge, Ramona, and Rita leave the house on business (the servants have also left, out of disgust with the beggars), the beggars decide to go in the house and have a party. They’ll clean up after, and no one will be the wiser…or so they imagine.
This party symbolizes a proletarian seizing of the means of production…though it’s a poorly planned ‘revolution,’ more like anarchist Catalonia, or the Ukrainian Free Territory under Makhno, than anything like the Bolshevik takeover of Russia. Accordingly, their ‘insurrection’ doesn’t last.
During their dinner, they take a group photo at the long table. Buñuel deliberately has the actors pose in a manner parodying Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper, with the blind Don Amalio (played by José Calvo) in the middle, in Christ’s place. When Enedina (played by Lola Gaos) takes the photo, her lifting up of her dress is the ‘flash!’
After that, the ‘leper’ puts on a record of Händel‘s Hallelujah Chorus, and he dresses up in some of Jaime’s bride’s clothing, repeating the suicide’s cross-dressing, though in a comical, rather than pathetic, way. His dancing around to the music is more of Buñuel making fun of religious piety. He tosses to the floor the feathers of a dove, symbolic of the Holy Spirit, he found earlier.
Furthermore, this juxtaposition of these would-be lumpenproletariat revolutionaries with Christian music and iconography represents how the infantile disorder of ‘left’ communism is as unrealistic as is Viridiana’s idealization of Marian Catholicism. Just as there is no way to be a morally perfect woman, there is also no way to have a perfect communist revolution, all in one fell swoop. The beggars have no vanguard to educate and organize them, so their ‘revolution’ is practically still-born.
And so, because these people are, in varying degrees, degenerates, their party degenerates, too. A man takes Enedina behind the sofa and has her. An older beggar, Manuel, who has a penchant for gossip, tells Don Amalio about the screwing around, but he won’t lead the jealous blind man over to the sofa to beat the man for taking his woman; so Don Amalio smashes his cane on the dinner table, destroying the dishes.
As we can see, their ‘revolution’ is a bit too Makhnovist for comfort. Jorge, Viridiana, Ramona, and Rita return early to find out what’s been happening. El Cojo and the “leper” subdue Jorge while Ramona goes off in the car to get the police; this leaves Viridiana to the mercy of El Cojo’s lust. She fights the good fight to get him off of her.
All her efforts to be a good Christian, to show charity and compassion to the beggars and to give them moral instruction, have been for naught. Jorge, however, promises money to the “leper” if he’ll beat El Cojo on the head with a small shovel to stop him from raping her. Though El Cojo is stopped, she, overwhelmed with trauma, faints…just as she was unconscious when Jaime–almost–had her.
Note how, only when unconscious, will she allow any man to touch her. This shows how, only in her unconscious mind, will she allow herself any expression of sexuality. The conscious wish to be an imitator of Christ, of Mary, is clearly a reaction formation against her deepest, most repressed desires, expressed when she was sleepwalking.
The wish to lead a life of chastity rubs against its dialectical opposite, the secret wish to be sexual. Jorge, in contrast, is neither extreme: he accepts the ephemeral nature of sexual relationships, and is none too upset when Lucia leaves him. At the same time, he doesn’t force sex on anyone, unlike El Cojo, the ‘good Catholic.’
Viridiana’s trauma from the attempted rape has, for what it’s worth, one good side effect: she’s been liberated from her attachment to an impossible moral ideal–perfect chastity. As painful as this has been for her, at least she can now get off her high horse and join humanity…and become truly humble, not affectedly so.
She looks at herself in a small mirror, Lacan‘s mirror, as a tear runs down her cheek. That nun she’s seen in the reflection was an illusion, not the real her, but an idealization that has alienated her from herself. Her ability to be ‘pure’ cannot be eternal and unchanging. She must accept this painful truth.
She joins Jorge and Ramona in the main part of the house. He’s pleasantly surprised to see Viridiana at the door. Since Ramona is already his lover, Viridiana’s involvement is implying a ménage à trois, surely to the chagrin of the Francoist censors, but this ending was allowed nonetheless. Instead of listening to pompous religious music, the three would rather hear some fun popular music, Ashley Beaumont’s Shimmy Doll.
Their sitting at table together to play cards suggests an equality the beggars couldn’t attain: that of male and female, of master and servant. Jorge’s moderate ‘socialism,’ if you will, is rather like Dengism; one incrementally moves from capitalism to communism, as Xi Jinping‘s government is doing. His sexuality is similarly neither prudish nor overly licentious. No idealistic rushes to extremes here, but rather a cautious creeping ahead.
Jorge doesn’t like the degenerate beggars any more than the other workers in his home. He considers Viridiana’s charitable duties to them pointless; he does, however, tolerate them for a while…until they commit their crimes on him and her. He also takes compassion on a dog, Canelo, and he offers money to the “leper” to stop lustful El Cojo. Though Jorge, representing industrial capitalism, is the bourgeois owner of the house given to him by his father, he’s clearly more generous than the average capitalist.
So, Jorge’s morality is a comfortable middle ground between Viridiana’s Catholic idealism and the reckless anarchism of the beggars. It’s like a Marxist sublation of the Christian thesis of an unattainable moral perfection, and its Makhnovist negation. This is the alternative morality Buñuel is proposing, and it’s a refreshing alternative to all the rubbish we’ve had thrown in our faces for so long.
When people do smear campaigns against you, the idea that they might love you should be one of the last things you’d include in their motives. People who love you want what’s best for you: how is smearing you behind your back part of what’s best for you? How do the smears benefit you, as opposed to benefitting the smearer in some twisted way?
When people smear you at work, or at school, or in some other social setting, it isn’t difficult to believe that such bad-mouthing can occur. After all, the notion of false friends is almost a proverbial truth. When smear campaigns go on in family settings, however, it’s considered too shocking to be possible, for the institution of the family unit is believed to be practically sacred.
Still, smear campaigns can happen in families no less than they can happen anywhere else. Just because the family should be a setting of unconditional love and solidarity, doesn’t mean it generally is such a place. The family is a social unit, much like any other; some members are liked, others aren’t. Some are treated well; others aren’t.
So, if you’re in a family where you suspect that either you are, or someone else is, being bad-mouthed; yet when you raise these concerns with a family member–especially one who is highly regarded in that group–and that person denies any possibility of the bad-mouthing, consider your suspicions more justified, not less.
The golden child of the family has the strongest motives to maintain the mythical reputation of the ‘loving family,’ that collective False Self that the family uses to hide the genuine pathologies that so embarrass everyone involved.
Now, part of preserving the loving mask used to conceal the collective narcissism of the pathological family is to do smear campaigns against a designated scapegoat, or identified patient, as if to imply, “Oh, we’re all OK; it’s just him/her who is the problem.” Either their collective pathology is projected onto that unlucky person, or the immediate narcissistic family unit projects the pathology onto a neighbouring family unit, e.g., one’s cousins/aunts/uncles.
Both of these kinds of projections were foisted onto my cousins and me. I’ve already goneovermanytimes how I was scapegoated by my emotionally abusive family, as well as how my late (probably) narc mother spoke ill of my cousins, aunt, and uncle (she also, by the way, once bragged on the phone that our immediate family had none of the pathologies that apparently have plagued my cousins’ family). Still, my flying monkey siblings (R., F., and J.) regard her as having been an exemplary parent.
Her bad-mouthing of my cousins goes way back, as early as the 80s and even a bit into the 70s. She used to lead the family in laughing at whatever presents our aunt and uncle, who naturally had no idea what we liked, bought for us. Really, the gifts weren’t all that absurd.
She really had it in for my youngest cousin, G., for whom she never had a kind word to say. In previous posts, I’ve mentioned a time when she’d complained, back in the late 80s, when he’d sworn in the family restaurant. He’d spoken in a conversational voice, not too loud, referring to–I suspect–a bully as “a prick, a real asshole,” hoping for some sympathy and validation of the hurt he must have felt from this person.
My mother, never one to empathize with anyone apart from her inner circle of enablers, pretended to be scandalized by his naughty words (even though I’d known her to use much worse language, at much louder volumes).
Added to this, she claimed that I, who was in the restaurant with them when he said the two bad words, had “told him off good and proper” (I never did). The purpose of Mom’s lie, something I’d eventually learn to be a habit of hers, seems to have been to reinforce her smear campaign against G. by saying, “See? Even Mawr agrees that G. is a jerk!”
There are many examples of her smear campaigns against him and his family, as I’ve mentioned in the blog posts I’ve provided links to above. As I’ve also stated in those blog posts, Mom’s smears against G. strongly implied that she’d been smearing me, by her having labelled both of us, fraudulently, with Asperger Syndrome (AS), thus making him as much of an identified patient as I.
I don’t wish to restate in detail all those smears levelled against G.’s family and me: if you’re interested, Dear Reader, you can learn all about that from the above links. The point is that smear campaigns have no place in a loving family.
The point should be obvious, except that so many of us victims of narcissistic abuse feel addled by contradictory messages we get from our abusers, be they family, ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, or ex-spouses. They ‘love’ us so much, yet it’s so clear that those who ‘love’ us also bad-mouth us.
A feeling of cognitive dissonance is commonly felt among us suffering from narcissistic abuse syndrome: we find it difficult to believe that we are being abused, because the abuser ‘loves’ us; yet the abuse feels so real…so, is the love real? Our minds sway like pendulums between the two contradictory ideas.
I liberated myself from these contradictions by acknowledging that, in my family, the word love is essentially meaningless. All it means in the family is that one has responsibilities toward everyone in the family, and even the carrying out of that responsibility was often lacking, for it was such an annoying burden to have to take care of one of the non-favoured members of the family. You see, the words that did mean something in my family were like and dislike.
R., F., and J. (my two older brothers and my golden child elder sister, respectively) are liked, as are their kids. Neither my cousins nor I are liked, though, to be sure, we’re all ‘loved.’ Mom’s smear campaigns ensured this. So, how can I know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that my late narc mother bad-mouthed me behind my back, if I wasn’t in the room to hear her do it, and thus confirm it?
As I’ve stated in the other posts (links above), her having lied to me all my life about an autism spectrum disorder I don’t have is more than enough to make me doubt her real motives when it comes to anything she said about me, or about anyone else.
Her allowing R., F., and J. to bully and humiliate me throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, with nary a word of reproach from her, but instead, with plenty of rationalizations for and minimizations of even their worst behaviour (virtually never defending me to them), strongly implies her teaming up with them.
Her explosive anger (as well as that of my siblings) directed at me, usually over not much more than minor things I’d done to frustrate or annoy them, implies that they were all being taught (and encouraged to teach themselves) to believe I deserved to be subjected to such intense verbal viciousness.
As I’ve said in those earlier posts, I’m not beyond reproach. I have quite a list of faults that can drive anyone crazy. I don’t fault anyone with being mad at me from time to time, even my family. My wife is often mad at me about various things I’ve done, or failed to do, that should have been otherwise. But even in her harshest anger, she’s never come close to their level of abusiveness, proving that their excesses were indeed avoidable.
Elder siblings can be mad at younger ones without being mean. Parents can easily observe the bullying of their elder children against the younger ones, and nip the problem in the bud. My mother virtually never told R., F., and J. to grow up and deal with their frustrations with me in a reasonable way, nor did she tell them that, if I actually was autistic, that they should be patient with me.
Instead, she legitimized their bullying, even describing it as an improvement on F.’s particularly thuggish manner, by saying R. (my eldest brother) was “more mature” about it, and J. (the female sibling) was “more loving.” Wow: bullying can actually be “more mature” and “more loving.” How convenient stereotypes can be!
Mom’s constant bad-mouthing of her nephews, whom she should have loved, is revealing of her, and the family’s, attitude towards me. R., F., and J., her flying monkeys, believed every soiling of my cousins’ reputations without ever challenging or questioning it, just as they surely, uncritically, believed whatever nonsense she’d told them about me.
My cousins were judged, as I was, by our rather awkward outer appearance. No thought was ever given to the real, or even possible, root causes of why we are the way we are; instead, there was just Mom’s mythologizing of our lives and personalities.
The sharp paralleling of her attitude of G. to me, of his reputation in the family with mine, of R., F., and J.’s contempt for him and for me, and most of all, Mom’s claiming both G. and I have AS as a presumed cause for our ‘unlikeable’ personalty traits: all of this was reasonable, if circumstantial, evidence that she was bad-mouthing me every bit as much as she was smearing him.
…and they fancy themselves a ‘loving family,’ knowing full well that they speak so ill of people they hardly even know. Really!…my siblings know very little of the real me.
Smear campaigns tend to limit that kind of knowledge.
So, why did this ‘loving’ mother of mine do all of this smearing of her own family? Part of the reason seems to have been spite against any of us who had caused her narcissistic injury…and that was definitely me, from time to time. It also seems to have been motivated by a desire to spread rancour for its own sake.
Recall when I recounted, in this post, a string of seven lies she told me the summer before she died. Apart from the other motives I’ve ascribed to her for these lies (hoovering me, getting narcissistic supply out of me by baiting me and playing emotional games with me, and mere spite for my having rarely communicated with her over the early-to-mid 2010s), it was clear that she was doing this as yet another smear campaign to continue the denigration of not only my middle cousin, S. (who has been suffering from serious mental health issues and needs help, which my mother never wanted to help him get), but also to make my aunt look bad in my eyes!
Again, I must ask: what ‘loving mother’ deliberately tries to create such division within her own family? Even the best of parents have some faults here and there, ones that are easily compensated for by their more loving actions; but when a parent engages in such toxic behaviour, with such concentrated intensity, proving in all likelihood that such behaviour has been a habit for decades, if not a lifelong habit, what goodness can compensate for it? Here’s where narcissism lapses into malignant narcissism.
For this reason, I consider her to have lost all moral authority over me; and that goes triple for her flying monkeys, my siblings, who assuredly blacken my name every time I become the topic of conversation during their ‘loving’ family get-togethers.
Like narc mother, like flying monkey sons/daughters. This is why smear campaigns kill families, and this is why I disowned mine.