Analysis of ‘Carrie’

Carrie is a horror novel written by Stephen King, his first published novel, which came out in 1974. The title character is a troubled teen, bullied by her high school classmates and abused by her Christian fundamentalist mother. She also has telekinetic powers (TK), strong enough to kill anyone who hurts her, as the people of her town, fictional Chamberlain, in Maine, learn.

A superb movie version was made in 1976, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Sissy Spacek in the title role, and Piper Laurie as the mother (both actresses receiving Oscar nominations); it co-starred  John Travolta as Billy Nolan, Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen, and Amy Irving as Sue Snell. Other film versions were made, though they weren’t as successful.

The dominant themes of the novel are bullying and abuse, the illusion of omnipotence, failed communication, and the motif of blood. Apart from these, I’ll be doing a psychoanalytic reading of the novel’s symbolism.

Much of the narrative is given in epistolary form, with passages from newspaper or magazine articles, books about the Carrie White affair (The Shadow Exploded, My Name Is Susan Snell), transcripts of an inquiry (The White Commission Report) into the tragedy, etc. This breaking up of the narrative flow into fragments, telling the story from different angles, symbolically suggests failed communication, with its starts and stops. This failed communication is much of the root cause of the bullying and abuse that Carrie suffers.

Like most victims of school bullying, Carrie is different from her classmates. This difference comes from how she’s raised by her mother, Margaret White (white as the Christian innocence she tries–and fails–to preserve), whose religious fundamentalism won’t allow her to expose her daughter to the ‘sinful’ ways of the modern world. This failure to communicate needed information leaves Carrie in a state of arrested development, infantilizing her. Psychologically, Carrie White (white as a baby’s innocence) is a baby going to school with teenagers.

This infantilizing is made clear when her mother fails to tell her about menstruation, her first period being her rite of passage, as it were, into womanhood. So when she’s bleeding in the shower during gym class, what should be a simple matter of using a tampon ends up a terrifying moment for her: all that blood makes her think she’s going to die.

Adding to her trauma are all her bullying classmates, who start laughing at her and throwing tampons at her, chanting, “Plug it up! Plug it up!” Since, as noted above, she is psychologically a baby among teenagers here, instead of this being a passage from girlhood to womanhood, she’s held back by one phase of life, passing from unborn to born, from unknowing innocence to the terrors of the real world, like a newborn baby. Thus, this naked, terrified ‘baby’, dripping wet and bawling her eyes out, is symbolically experiencing a birth trauma, or at least the triggered reliving of it.

Blood as a motif symbolizing death runs throughout the novel. The flow of blood signifies movement from ignorance to knowledge. Carrie finally learns about menstruation, and she is angry with her mother for not telling her about it; but her mother (pages 62-66) equates the blood with sin (e.g., the Tree of Knowledge, of which eating the forbidden fruit, symbolic of sexual indulgence, leads to death).

“…the first Sin was Intercourse. And the Lord visited Eve with a Curse, and the Curse was the Curse of Blood. And Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden and into the World…” (page 63) Out of the Garden of Eden and into the world of sin parallels Carrie’s bloody movement out of the world of innocence into knowledge, out of a peaceful, psychological in utero state and into birth, into the physical, painful world, a world of blood. “And then there was a second Curse, and this was the Curse of Childbearing, and Eve brought forth Cain in sweat and blood.” (pages 63-64) Again, we have an association of blood with newborn babies, curses, pain, suffering, and death (Cain, the first murderer).

Later, the pigs’ blood, first being the result of the pigs’ deaths, of course, later becomes the cause of so many deaths not only in the high school, but all over Chamberlain, too. And with the splashing of that blood all over her comes the realization that her enemies are still enemies. The outflowing of her menstrual blood is her projected destructive instincts; the pigs’ blood poured on her is that death instinct re-introjected.

With the flowing of her blood from her mother’s stab (page 250) comes her knowledge that her filicidal mother is no less an enemy than her school bullies. Margaret is all the ‘bad motherobject; not even the slightest trace of the ‘good mother’ object exists in her. After Carrie finally dies in the presence of Sue Snell, one of the few people who tried to be a friend to Carrie, Sue leaves in a state of abject horror, in a knowledge of that horror and death, with her own menstrual blood running down her leg (page 277).

In the contemporary world, with all of our advanced science, technology, and modern knowledge, being raised in a fundamentalist family is a terrible handicap. So much ignorance of today’s world abounds in such a setting; it’s like being a naïve child among a crowd of adults. This is what I mean when I call Carrie a psychological baby among teenagers. Thus, I feel justified in using her story as an allegory for the pathological infant’s psychological state.

When we see a baby, we usually think of an adorable child smiling up at us. We don’t think of the terror that a vulnerable child feels so very often, weeping its frustrations at not getting what it needs. Normally, a good enough parent (to use D.W. Winnicott‘s terminology) provides for all of the baby’s needs well enough in the beginning that the baby is given the illusion that it magically provides for itself: the breast magically appears as soon as the baby wants it.

“The mother, at the beginning, by an almost 100 per cent adaptation affords the infant the opportunity for the illusion that her breast is part of the infant. It is, as it were, under magical control. The same can be said in terms of infant care in general, in the quiet times between excitements. Omnipotence is nearly a fact of experience. The mother’s eventual task is gradually to disillusion the infant, but she has no hope of success unless at first she has been able to give sufficient opportunity for illusion.” (Winnicott, page 238, his emphasis)

With Margaret’s calling Carrie’s breasts her “dirtypillows” (page 142), thus showing that she considers the breast to be only a ‘bad breast’, it can be safely assumed that she hardly, if ever, breast-fed Carrie when she was a baby. It’s not just the milk that the baby enjoys; the texture of the nipple provides pleasure, too, so bottles aren’t always a good substitute. Thus, Margaret is what Melanie Klein called the bad mother, whose frustrating bad breast rarely if ever gave suck to baby Carrie. This willful refusal to provide her baby with a basic need shows a child neglect that would soon grow into full-blown child abuse.

This failure to provide a good enough environment can lead to pathologies in the infant, as Winnicott noted. Margaret, with her prudish attitude towards sex and the body, would have been loath to hold her child or give her any physical affection. This is more emotional neglect, aggravating Carrie’s mental pathology. Carrie’s whole problem is a lack of love, which needs to be grounded in the body.

A healthy infancy involves a child’s peaceful “going on being,” without impingements frustrating that natural, peaceful, passive continuity in life. Not only isn’t she receiving a loving, holding environment, people frequently cut into her private space, bothering her, abusing her, and bullying her. If it isn’t her classmates throwing tampons at her, it’s her mother locking her in a small closet with frightening religious icons so she can pray for forgiveness (pages 65-67), when surely she is one more sinn’d against than sinning.

A baby in such an uncaring, hostile environment goes through terrible persecutory anxiety, the paranoid-schizoid position, as Carrie is going through. When asked out to the prom by Tommy Ross, she can only assume that it’s another trick from her bullying classmates to set her up for humiliation. The impingements she regularly suffers make her want to isolate herself from the world, as Winnicott said a child would want to do: an overly-aggressive environment makes for “…faulty adaptation to the child, resulting in impingement of the environment so that the individual must become a reactor to that impingement. The sense of self is lost in this situation and is only regained by a return to isolation.” (Winnicott, page 222)

“The persecutors in the new phenomenon, the outside, become neutralized in ordinary healthy development by the fact of the mother’s loving care, which physically (as in holding) and psychologically (as in understanding or empathy, enabling sensitive adaptation), makes the individual’s primary isolation a fact. Environmental failure just here starts the individual off with a paranoid potential…In defence against the terrible anxieties of the paranoid state in very early life there is not infrequently organized a state which has been given various names (defensive pathological introversion, etc.) The infant lives permanently in his or her own inner world which is not, however, firmly organized.” (Winnicott, pages 226-227) Recall Carrie’s words to Sue as she’s dying: “(why didn’t you just leave me alone)” (page 275).

Defenceless and without the infantile illusion of omnipotence that a good enough mother provides in normal circumstances, Carrie is forced to retreat into phantasy to provide herself with that omnipotence, which is symbolized by her telekinesis. “…a rain of stones fell from a clear blue sky…principally on the home of Mrs. Margaret White, damaging the roof extensively…Mrs. White, a widow, lives with her three-year-old daughter, Carietta.” (page 3) Her ability to move things with her mind is symbolic of the baby magically making the breast appear at feeding time, when Margaret probably never did it herself. This frustrating bad mother provokes wishes for revenge in Carrie’s phantasy life, represented by her TK.

People who are abused or bullied are essentially infantilized, treated as if weak and helpless, but never given compassion: their feelings and opinions are trivialized and invalidated. Carrie’s mother shows no interest in the pain Carrie feels from having been laughed at for not knowing about menstruation, nor does Margaret care that Carrie is mad at her for not telling her about it.

Carrie’s feelings are cared for so little that even when people do care, she thinks they don’t, as when the assistant principal, Mr. Morton, tries to speak kindly to her, but keeps getting her name wrong (pages 18-19). This is also why she indiscriminately kills people all over Chamberlain instead of just killing Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan, the ones responsible for the prank with the pigs’ blood.

A few people want to show genuine kindness to Carrie, though it’s a case of too little, too late: Miss Desjardin, the gym teacher (Miss Collins in the 1976 movie, played by Betty Buckley, who also played Margaret White in the Broadway musical version of 1988), Sue Snell, and Tommy Ross. Sue, feeling remorseful over having participated in the “plug it up” teasing, wants her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom, to get her to mix with people and build her self-confidence (pages 95-98).

This getting insular Carrie to socialize is symbolically like a baby experiencing the transitional phase between the illusory state of omnipotence (able to summon Mother at will) and reality-testing, where the baby progressively learns to accept that Mother isn’t always there for it, and environmental impingements are at a tolerable level. During this transitional period, the baby has a transitional object (a stuffed animal, a blanket, or, by extension into adult life, creative or imaginative stimuli like the arts or religion). As Winnicott states, “The transitional object stands for the breast, or the object of the first relationship.” (Winnicott, page 236)

For Carrie, the dress she makes for the prom can be seen to represent this transitional object (recall how, when her mother sees her wearing it, she can see her breasts, i.e., note the association of the dress, the transitional object, with breasts). She bought the materials (page 107) and made the dress (a soft material, like that of a security blanket), similar to how the arts and creativity are like an extension of the transitional object into later life. This making of the dress represents aspects of the task of reality-acceptance, away from the illusion of infantile omnipotence: “It is assumed here that the task of reality-acceptance is never completed, that no human being is free from the strain of relating inner and outer reality, and that relief from this strain is provided by an intermediate area of experience which is not challenged (arts, religion, etc.).” (Winnicott, page 240)

By wearing the dress when Tommy takes her to the prom, she symbolically demonstrates the transitional phenomena of going from “me,” the isolated world of dependence on Mother when the baby sees Mother as an extension of itself, to a “not-me” understanding, based on a growing independence from Mother. Carrie’s leaving home with Tommy, in open defiance of her mother, symbolizes this separation of “me” from “not-me”. “It is usual to refer to ‘reality-testing’, and to make a clear distinction between apperception and perception. I am here staking a claim for an intermediate state between a baby’s inability and growing ability to recognize and accept reality. I am therefore studying the substance of illusion, that which is allowed to the infant, and which in adult life is inherent in art and religion.” (Winnicott, page 230, his emphasis)

At the prom, she has a brief moment of happiness, finally feeling accepted by the external world. She has even forgotten her telekinesis, since she doesn’t seem to need it (i.e., she’s letting go of her need of the infantile illusion of omnipotence). But Chris’s cruel prank (ruining her dress, her transitional object, and thus rendering impossible her transition from inner fantasy to outer reality) reminds her of her ever-present persecutors, and like a baby suffering in the paranoid-schizoid position and fighting back against a frustrating outer world in phantasy, so does Carrie get her revenge. “She was forgetting (!! THE POWER !!) It was time to teach them a lesson.” (page 220)

Having been subjected to bullying and emotional abuse myself from family and school, I find myself cheering Carrie on whenever I watch the 1976 movie and she’s using her TK to trap and kill everyone in the high school gym. “Flex.” (page 222)

But her TK doesn’t give her the omnipotence against the danger of her knife-wielding mother, who won’t “suffer a witch to live” (page 175). Nor will Margaret’s fundamentalist faith give her an omnipotent God to save her from Carrie (who kills her in the novel by slowing down and stopping her heartbeat; in the 1976 film, Carrie kills her by making knives fly in the air and stab her to death in a manner similar to the death of St. Sebastian).

Chris imagines her lawyer father can help her get revenge on the school for not firing Desjardin for hitting her (pages 77-84); and she’s bitterly disappointed to know he can’t. This spoiled girl doesn’t have the omnipotence she thinks she has. She never considers how her meanness has consequences. Even after Carrie has already destroyed much of Chamberlain, killed many of the people there, and given everyone the uncanny sense, psychically, that she was responsible for all the mayhem, Chris and Billy imagine they can kill her by hitting her with his car (pages 260-262). Instead, she kills them.

One indication of Carrie’s infantile mental state is her calling her mother, ‘Momma’, one of the first sounds a baby makes in its baby talk; hence the reason that some variation on ‘mama‘ is common in languages around the world for the first object relation most of us form in early life.

Many paradoxes can be seen in this novel (“…she was weeping even as she laughed…” page 226). Blood is associated with death and birth (remember Margaret’s words: “Eve brought forth Cain in sweat and blood.” page 64; also, “I fell down and I lost the baby and that was God’s judgment. I felt that the sin had been expiated. By blood. But sin never dies. Sin…never…dies.” page 247). There are failures to communicate, then there’s Carrie’s uncanny ability to make everyone in town know, psychically, that she’s responsible for the destruction of Chamberlain (pages 213, 229-30, 232-33, 235, 241, 244, and 256).

Also paradoxical about this story is how people seem powerful, but are really powerless, and this applies especially to Carrie. With all of her formidable powers of telekinesis, and all the death and destruction she causes just by thinking it, she is still, in her mind, just a baby: sensitive, vulnerable, fragile, and helpless. One stab to her shoulder kills her. “Able to start fires, pull down electric cables, able to kill almost by thought alone; lying here unable to turn herself over.” (page 272)

Similarly, her bullies think they’re immune to punishment when they’re throwing tampons at her, then find themselves in detention, doing exercises with Desjardin in gym class (page 74). Chris and Billy don’t think anything will happen to them after they drop the pigs’ blood on Carrie. And Margaret assumes she’ll go straight to heaven after death, even when she stabs her own daughter.

So often, we think about our own vulnerability so much that we forget about that of our enemies; and so often, this is the basis for our hurting each other, without end.

At the beginning of the story, Carrie fears bleeding to death when she needn’t; at the end, after she’s reached the height of her destructive powers, she bleeds to death for real. As she’s dying, she whines, like a baby, “(momma would be alive i killed my momma i want her o it hurts my chest hurts my shoulder o o o i want my momma…o momma i’m scared momma MOMMA)” (page 275). She is going through the depressive position, wishing to have reparation with her mother, despairing at her loss.

Though Sue wants to show Carrie love, it’s too late: psychological baby Carrie has lived her whole short life unloved, and is hated all the more after death “CARRIE WHITE IS BURNING FOR HER SINS JESUS NEVER FAILS” (page 287).

Could anything be more horrifying than wishing death and eternal suffering on a baby, a baby that was never even truly loved in the first place?

“Graffiti scratched on a desk of the Barker Street Grammar School in Chamberlain:

Carrie White eats shit.” (page 4)

Stephen King, Carrie, Anchor Books, New York, 1974

D.W. Winnicott, Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis: Collected Papers, Brunner-Routledge, London, 1992

Review and Analysis of ‘Mayan Blue’

Mayan Blue is a horror novel written by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, also known as the ‘Sisters of Slaughter’. As the novel’s title implies, it involves grisly rites of human sacrifice, as well as the darker aspects of Mayan myth, featuring the underworld, Xibalba, the Place of Fear, which is ruled by Ah-Puch, the Lord of Death.

Professor Lipton has discovered proof of his theory that a group of Mayans migrated from what is now Mexico to a forest in Georgia. To provide proof of his findings, he has removed a disc there, a seal preventing the demons of Xibalba from emerging in the land of the living and finding more victims. His removal of the seal has made him the first modern victim, of course.

Before this, however, he has informed his young assistant, Wes, and four university students–Alissa, Tyler, Dennis, and Kelly–of his findings. They all come into the forest in Georgia to meet with him by the entrance to the Mayan world. But instead of meeting with him, they encounter a living nightmare.

This debut novel has been met with near-universal praise, and for good reason. It is not only an exhilarating read, a story that draws you in and keeps your attention to the end, but it is also well-written in terms of prose style. There is a poetic musicality to the assonant narration, full of vivid, figurative description.

Technical errors and typos are so rare as to be easily overlooked. This is a novel that is begging for a movie adaptation. Indeed, provided that such a production will have a talented director and actors, as well as a budget that will do justice to the special effects (preferably a maximum of practical effects and a minimum of CGI), and above all, of course, a well-written script (ideally, written by the Sisters of Slaughter themselves!), such an adaptation should make for a powerful film experience.

Analysis…SPOILER ALERT!

I’m going to do a largely psychoanalytic reading of this novel; now, the Sisters of Slaughter, in all likelihood, think of their novel as meant just for entertainment (and entertaining it most assuredly is!), and therefore probably don’t think it necessary to intellectualize their work (something I get a kick out of). Nonetheless, the point of psychoanalysis, which I dabble in, is to find meaning in the story that I suspect the writers put into their story unconsciously.

Let’s start with the title: Mayan Blue. Why blue? If you recall Mel Gibson’s movie, Apocalypto, you’ll remember that the Mayans’ sacrificial victims were covered in a blue dye before being killed, as the victims are so coloured in this novel (page 71). I see a deeper symbolism in the colour blue, though.

Blue can represent all kinds of things to people, depending on their situation: blue skies suggest happy days; blue can suggest icy coldness; blue can also mean sadness, the extreme of which leads to despair and even suicide. Now we’re getting closer to the meaning of blue in this novel, with all the killing and death in it. (Ixtab, the Goddess of Suicide, is referred to on page 74.)

Connected with sadness, despair, and suicide is the deadly sin of sloth. There is more to sloth than mere laziness. Sloth involves a loss of meaning or direction in life, related to sadness and despair. It’s been said that many people are addicted to porn because they’re unhappy. They over-indulge in physical pleasure because they lack meaning in their lives, or more crucially, lack strong human relationships. These porn addicts are more guilty of sloth than of lust. Remember the man in Se7en who, having lost his Christian faith, was labelled with the sin of sloth? The killer didn’t complain of him being too lazy: he called him a “drug-dealing pederast”.

Consider these ideas in light of Tyler, Dennis, and Kelly in Mayan Blue. All they want to do is smoke marijuana, get drunk (pages 22-24), party, and have sex (pages 44-46). They have no deep interest in the professor’s discovery, as Wes and Alissa do in contrast. And these three partiers are killed off first, despairing as they crawl toward death.

These five young people, as well as the professor, are from the university world, from city life, civilization, suggestive of the conscious mind, with its censors against bad behaviour and thoughts. The underworld caverns, tunnels, and shadows of Xibalba, the Place of Fear, with its demons and their bloodlust, symbolize the unconscious, the turbulent, non-rational world of not only libido, but also of Thanatos, the death instinct. The surrounding forest, a potentially dangerous place also untouched by civilization, suggests the preconscious mind, where unconscious thoughts may surface, as the attacking owls do (pages 78-79).

Normally, the mind houses a fairly even combination of internalized good and bad object relations (based on our relationships with our primary caregivers, especially Mother), the good and bad aspects being reasonably integrated to give a person a healthy, realistic view of the world, a mix of good and bad. A despairing mind, however, will know mostly, if not all, bad objects; hence the army of demonic tormentors that the five young victims and the professor suffer. Only the Skeleton Queen, along with the Shadow Priestess (who, guiding Alissa with her whistling, represents both the ‘good mother’ and Jung’s Shadow) and her Skeleton Coats, provide help and hope. They are the only good internalized objects in the despairing unconscious mind symbolized by Xibalba.

WRD Fairbairn, in an early paper (Fairbairn, pages 249-252, ‘Psychology as a Prescribed and as a Proscribed Subject’), discussed the universities’ dismissing of psychoanalysis as a kind of pseudoscience, explaining that such a dismissive attitude comes from a fear of exploring the demons, as it were, in our unconscious minds. In his wish to prove to his university the validity of his theories, Professor Lipton dares to explore the Mayan world that symbolizes the unconscious; and he learns of its dangers after removing the disc, which Wes and Alissa must use to reseal the entrance to Xibalba, to keep bestial urges repressed.

In a later paper, Fairbairn compared the bad object relationships we internalize to demons that possess us (Fairbairn, page 67, ‘The Dynamics of the Influence of Bad Objects’, Part 5 of ‘The Repression and the Return of Bad Objects’).  “…it is worth considering whence bad objects derive their power over the individual. If the child’s objects are bad, how does he ever come to internalize them? Why does he not simply reject them…?…However much he may want to reject them, he cannot get away from them. They force themselves upon him; and he cannot resist them because they have power over him. He is accordingly compelled to internalize them in an effort to control them. But, in attempting to control them in this way, he is internalizing objects which have wielded power over him in the external world; and these objects retain their prestige for power over him in the inner world. In a word, he is ‘possessed’ by them, as if by evil spirits. This is not all, however. The child not only internalizes his bad objects because they force themselves upon him and he seeks to control them, but also, and above all, because he needs them. If a child’s parents are bad objects, he cannot reject them, even if they do not force themselves upon him; for he cannot do without them. Even if they neglect him, he cannot reject them; for, if they neglect him, his need for them is increased.”

Fairbairn also noted how we may pursue superficial pleasures (e.g., drugs, alcohol, sex, porn) when we cannot find joy in human relationships (Fairbairn, pages 139-140, ‘Object Relationships and Dynamic Structure’). “…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.”

Tyler, Dennis, and Kelly pursue superficial pleasures, while Alissa would rather find joy in human relationships, for she has a crush on Wes. Wes’s admiration for Professor Lipton shows his preference of relationships, too, hence his and Alissa’s ability to hang on to hope, over the other three victims’ quick succumbing to despair.

A brief digression into psychoanalytical theory, if you’ll indulge, Dear Reader: I’ll relate this to the novel soon enough.

Melanie Klein noted that a baby’s first object relation is with his or her mother–or more accurately, her breasts as part-objects; then later in the baby’s first year, it recognizes the mother as a whole object. When the breast provides milk for the baby, this is the ‘good breast’, coming from the ‘good mother’ object; and when no milk is given, this is the ‘bad breast’ of the ‘bad mother’ object. This dichotomous thinking leads to splitting in the baby’s mind, to love for the ‘good mother’ on one side, and hostility to her (the ‘bad mother’) on the other, the paranoid-schizoid position.

As the baby feels this hostility, it bites at the breast, like the thorns that “were embedded deeply in [Wes’s and Alissa’s] flesh, suckling from their blood” (page 266, my emphasis). For the vines, human blood is their milk. On page 132, the sucking, biting thorns, which “sink in [Wes’s] skin like the teeth of a hidden predator”, are on “vampire vines” that are “yearning for the blood of the living”. So Wes’s and Alissa’s skin is symbolically a large breast of blood-milk, if you will.

This biting at the breast is part of the stage of oral sadism, also called the cannibalistic phase. Remember the half-human, half-beast demons that feed on the flesh (page 146) of their dead victims, Tyler, Dennis, and Kelly, and hope to feast on Wes and Alissa: “Their mouths slavered like hungry carnivores…Ah-Puch plunged his arms into the dead man’s abdominal cavity to gather gifts for his men. Each was granted a fistful of gore on which to feast voraciously, spreading their terrible countenances with blood.”

Oral sadism is originally an infantile phase, but those hostile urges can remain, repressed in the unconscious, especially in the case of oral fixation, which is manifested in such things as smoking (including marijuana), drinking (remember Kelly’s bottle of whiskey, page 22), and oral sex (something Tyler and Dennis were probably hoping to enjoy from Kelly).

These oral fixations and sadistic hostilities can be projected onto others, and they are, when Kelly’s skin is worn by one of the flying demons: “[Dennis saw]…a flying creature…[that] wore a face as a mask, Kelly’s sweet angelic visage with bloodied edges, and that’s when Dennis realized it had breasts…not breasts of its own, but it wore Kelly’s tanned skin like a suit stretched over its own deformed body, morphed into something between man and bird, with its feathers protruding through her soft skin.” (pages 139-140)

What is projection from the first person is introjection into the second person. As Melanie Klein explained in “Weaning” (1936): “To begin with, the breast of the mother is the object of his [i.e., the baby’s] constant desire, and therefore this is the first thing to be introjected. In phantasy the child sucks the breast into himself, chews it up and swallows it; thus he feels that he has actually got it there, that he possesses the mother’s breast within himself, in both its good and in its bad aspects.” (Klein, page 291)

So, the flying creature has introjected Kelly’s projected oral fixations, symbolized by her face, skin, and breasts, as a baby sucks in its mother’s milk and, in unconscious phantasy, breasts.

Healthy emotional development for a baby, particularly in its relationship with its mother (symbolized in this novel by Xibalba, the underworld, chthonian Mother Earth, the collective unconscious of instincts and feelings we share with those who came before us, including Mother, and the Mayan civilization of centuries past), comes by passing out of the paranoid-schizoid position, with all its persecutory anxiety (the Place of Fear), and through the depressive position, a period of painful reconciliation with the mother, after fearing the consequences of the baby’s former hostility to a mother who sometimes didn’t give milk. To save themselves from Xibalba’s horrors, Wes and Alissa must reconcile themselves to this underworld of the unconscious.

The thorns that cut into Wes’s and Alissa’s skin can represent the teething, biting baby in its destructive envy; but through introjection, the mother can be in the baby’s unconscious, meaning the ‘bad mother’ object (of which the Blood Maiden can be seen as a manifestation), angry from the biting, or hostility in general (towards the Blood Maiden in Alissa’s blinding of her [page 206]; or towards the ‘bad father’ object, represented by Ah-Puch, angry with Wes’s defiant hope), may want revenge. Hence, Xibalba switches roles, from hostile baby to hostile parent.

The paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions are phases alternated back and forth throughout one’s life; they only begin in infancy. These shifts back and forth between hostility and the need for reparation, between splitting and integration, are felt not only for Mother, but are later displaced onto other people. Alissa feels annoyed and contemptuous of Kelly, Tyler, and Dennis, inwardly giggling from the foul marijuana she’s given them to smoke (pages 16-17).

Later, when the Blood Maiden (the ‘bad mother’ object) is sucking away Alissa’s energy and showing her a vision of Kelly’s suffering, Alissa feels guilty over having brought Kelly, Tyler, and Dennis to this place of death (pages 199-200). She would have reparation with them. This depressive position is part of the sadness engulfing Xibalba. The absence of Mother brings about the depressive position, a fear that the child has in unconscious phantasy destroyed Mother; the baby waits in terror for Mother to return, as Alissa does when Shadow Priestess (the ‘good mother’ object) temporarily leaves: “Alissa trembled as she awaited the shadow’s return.” (Chapter Fourteen, page 193)

But Alissa and Wes would keep hope, and fight their way out of Xibalba, wishing to die “[their] way and not his [i.e., Ah-Puch’s]” (page 251). This is a successful going-through of the depressive position, the way to health, back up to the forest. So when they die, it’s a selfless sacrifice to save the living world from the living nightmare of Xibalba. They don’t die of despair. Their spirits are good internalized objects in the hellish unconscious.

Indeed, Xibalba is a land of bad dreams, where one never truly dies (page 139). The spirits of dead Kelly, Tyler, and Dennis are Ah-Puch’s possessions. One is reminded of Hamlet’s soliloquy: “To die, to sleep;/To sleep, perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/Must give us pause.” (Act III, scene i, lines 64-68)

And the interpretation of dreams, Freud reminds us, is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious. While too much repression of the id can lead to neurosis, overindulgence in its bestial impulses can lead to the dangers symbolized by the owls and demons coming out into the forest. Some repression (Wes’s and Alissa’s resealing of the entrance) is needed.

Inspiration for this novel came from learning of a theory that some Maya migrated to parts of the southern US. This migration, I’m guessing, may have been in response to the Conquistadors‘ taking over of what is now Yucatan Mexico and parts of Central America. Despair at European imperialism’s destruction of their world may have prompted the Mayan move, and part of the despair of the priestess when sacrificing the boys to seal the entrance to Xibalba the first time (Prologue, pages 7-9).

Despair leads to Hell, and Xibalba is in more than a few ways comparable to Dante’s Inferno (‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’ Canto III, line 9), with its windy second circle (for those guilty of lust), the Mayan equivalent of which Wes must endure (page 226); though since Wes isn’t susceptible to lust as Kelly, Tyler, and Dennis are, he laughs defiantly, feeling immune to it. Later, there is the blue maw of a cenote, similar to any of Satan’s three mouths in the centre of Dante’s Hell, mouths that eat traitors like Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. The defiant hope of Wes and Alissa can be seen as a kind of treason in Xibalba, where fear and despair reign supreme.

When our two heroes fight their way to the surface, resolving that “if it was going to end, it would end her way [and Wes’s]” (page 262), they are reconciling themselves to the bad objects (Ah-Puch, the half-human, half-beast Wayob and Nagual, as well as the Blood Mistress) by joining the good objects (Shadow Priestess and Skeleton Coats); this is the integration of good and bad that leads to better health. Wes and Alissa know they cannot return to the world of the living, but they’ll be damned (literally) if they die in despair and suffer the living death of Kelly, Tyler, and Dennis, the “sleep of death” that “must give us pause”. Remember that Wayob comes from a word meaning “sleep”, and they can transform into an animal while asleep in order to do harm. And sleep and dreams represent unconscious processes.

There are dialectical tensions at work here: we can’t have one opposite without the other. Xibalba, like any Hell, is a living death. As Bane told Bruce Wayne, “There can be no true despair without hope.” The deep despair of the demons is coupled with the hope of passing their pain onto others, hence their delight in tormenting Wes and Alissa: “The crowd gathering at the bottom of the stairs shrieked eagerly as [Wes] was paraded by. A beating of wings above him told him the Wayobs had joined the train…A chunk of broken roadway was picked up then tossed at his face by a mummified onlooker. His blood brought them great satisfaction for they howled in triumph as it burned his eyes. This prompted a handful of other malevolent creatures to do the same, stoning him with any debris their decrepit hands could attain.” (pages 236-7)

Our two heroes feel a mix of hope and despair, knowing they’ll die, but not to die as despairing Tyler, Dennis, and Kelly did. Wes and Alissa save the lives of those in the upper world, and their own souls, by killing themselves so their blood will reseal the entrance to Xibalba. Their souls will join the Shadow Priestess and Skeleton Coats in battling Ah-Puch’s tyranny. Similarly, the Skeleton Queen dies in thwarting the Blood Maiden (pages 268-9). Hope in despair. Life in death: like the heartbeat-like drum that presages death. “The drumming was the signal: she had witnessed it before. It was the instrument bringing about the change from living to living dead.” (page 238)

Blue and Red, in a way, are also dialectical opposites: cold, blue death and despair, versus hot, red life and hope. Wes has the blue dye all over him, mixed with his blood, the draining away of his life and hope. Still, the heat of his angry defiance helps him survive the freezing room. The mixing of red and blue also symbolizes the needed integration of good and bad objects to return to health, never a perfect mental health, but one good enough to deal with life’s horrors, as Wes and Alissa learn to do when their spirits re-enter Xibalba.

In Christian myth, Satan is the ultimate one to despair, especially after Christ’s crucifixion. The mutual sacrifice of Wes and Alissa–suicides considered honourable to Ixtab–is obviously Christ-like, too, sealing the doom of Ah-Puch, the Mayan Satan (for the purposes of this novel and analysis), and his demonic brethren, who now have no more hope even of sharing their pain with new victims.

Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, Mayan Blue, Sinister Grin Press, Austin, 2016

WRD Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, New York, 1952

Melanie Klein, Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works 1921-1945, The Free Press, 1975

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), also known as complex trauma, is a proposed diagnostic category of mental illness, one not yet recognized by the DSM, though more and more voices are shouting to have it included in the next edition. As its name implies, it is similar to PTSD, though crucial differences are to be noted.

Victims of PTSD generally experience one traumatic event (war, rape, disaster, or other life-threatening event); whereas C-PTSD victims experience repeated, ongoing traumatic events (continuous physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, day-to-day life in combat situations as a soldier, ordeals as POWs or in concentration camps), such that the victims either have no means of escape or feel as though they have none.

If one has ever read the Marquis de Sade‘s unfinished novel, The 120 Days of Sodom, or seen Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s film adaptation of it, Salò, the casual observation of the plight of the victims–adolescent boys and girls who are forced to indulge the paraphilias of four wealthy, politically powerful libertines–would cause one to draw the unmistakeable conclusion that the victims, assuming any of them survive the four-month ordeal, will each develop a severe case of C-PTSD. They are stripped naked, sexually abused, humiliated, force-fed shit, and made to endure numerous other torments, all for the sadistic pleasure of a duke, a banker, a judge, and an archbishop (the story is, in part, an allegory of political corruption).

Other differences between PTSD and C-PTSD include flashbacks (PTSD) vs. emotional flashbacks (C-PTSD), the former involving reliving the traumatic experience with the five senses, as if having been taken back by time machine to when it originally happened; whereas emotional flashbacks lack the physicality of the relived experience, and instead the painful emotions (fear, despair, anger) are re-experienced.

C-PTSD also involves many symptoms often not felt so much by PTSD sufferers, including the following: difficulty regulating emotions (explosive or inhibited anger, making catastrophes out of everything, etc.); difficulty relating to others socially, a feeling of being irreconcilably different from others; a lack of a sense of meaning or hope in life; preoccupation with the abuser (a sense that the abuser is all-powerful, while also feeling an urge to get revenge on him or her), overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, and self-hatred; and dissociation, including the forgetting of traumatic memories.

Symptoms common to both PTSD and C-PTSD sufferers include nightmares, intense anxiety, emotional numbing, and avoidance of anything that, or anyone who, may trigger the traumatic memories. A veteran with PTSD will avoid places with loud noises, such as bursting fire-crackers, which may remind him of machine gun fire. A rape victim may avoid all romantic contact with men out of fear of a sexual encounter that would make her relive the rape. And a C-PTSD sufferer who has been in a concentration camp perhaps may try to avoid seeing anyone in a uniform, which gives memories of guards or prisoners in uniform.

When children develop C-PTSD as a result of ongoing physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, they may become clumsy, unable to concentrate, or lacking in empathy. Nervousness and fear can cause the clumsiness, self-hate and shame can cause the inability to concentrate (and vice versa, going in a vicious circle), and a lack of empathy can be the natural result of growing up in an environment devoid of empathy for the victim. “If they don’t care about me, why should I care about them?” is an attitude easily adopted.

Sensitivity to loud noises of any kind will be intolerable to victims of PTSD and C-PTSD. Startling noises can, if unconsciously, remind the victim of sudden slaps on the face, shouting, bombs going off, airstrikes, gunfire, etc.

I believe myself to be a sufferer of a mild form of C-PTSD, for I appear to have most of the symptoms. I must emphasize the word mild, for two reasons: first, having lived far from my emotional abusers for over twenty years has caused my symptoms to abate considerably; and second, I feel my suffering pales in comparison to that of people like Lilly Hope Lucario, whose wonderful website alerted me to this mental health issue. Perhaps I am wrong to say my suffering is less; after all, traumas are more a matter of being different than of being ‘lesser’ or ‘greater’ than each other.

I will now detail my symptoms to illustrate even further the experience of the sufferer of complex trauma.

Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, I was subjected to various forms of emotional abuse, including gaslighting from my mother, who fabricated an autism diagnosis out of thin air, independently corroborated by no psychiatrists (in fact, two psychiatrists I’d received therapy from said they saw no signs of autism in me); constant bullying and belittling from my older brothers and sister, from whom I’d received virtually no defence from my ‘loving’ mother; explosive outbursts of verbal abuse from everyone in the family, usually for only mildly irritating things that I’d done; and bullying from my classmates at school, from coworkers on the job, and strangers on the street. I saw no escape, anywhere, and this was all during crucial developmental years in my life.

Enduring this kind of thing from people outside the family wasn’t so bad as it was from within, because one expects more of a loving attitude from one’s own flesh and blood. I feel betrayed by the five I grew up with; in my early twenties, I’d fantasize about getting far away from them, escaping from Ontario and going to Quebec. When I ended up in Taiwan, my fantasy had come true.

Sometimes I remember those painful episodes from my past (which often included my brother, F., not only threatening and verbally abusing me with the shouting of four-letter words, but also slapping, shoving, and spitting on me, then gaslighting me about supposedly never having done anything wrong to me), and fantasize about what I’d say if I tried to stick up for myself; but the feeling of overwhelming power that my tormentors had over me meant I felt that asserting myself would be futile. In my fantasies, I’d get overly emotional, bursting with a rage I couldn’t control, even acting it out. My bullies almost seemed to be there, right in front of me and receiving my rage, instead of me really being all alone in the room. I’d snap out of it and end up feeling even more worthless than before, because of how foolish I’d feel, like that moment in Hamlet when the title character says:

“Am I a coward?/Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?/Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face?/Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i’ the throat,/As deep as to the lungs? who does me this?/Ha!’swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be/But I am pigeon-liver’d and lack gall/To make oppression bitter, or ere this/I should have fatted all the region kites/With this slave’s offal: bloody, bawdy villain!/Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!/O, vengeance!/Why, what an ass am I!” (Act II, scene ii)

I think these experiences I’ve had are examples of emotional flashbacks.

I have always had difficulty regulating my emotions, in particular, my explosive anger, something I learned from my family, since for them, blowing up was the solution to every problem. My wife finds it a terrible trial when I go crazy over every minor problem; but her minimal, controlled anger with my emotional excesses proves that my family’s explosive anger with me was not unavoidable–I hadn’t left them with no choice but to blow up. They just rarely considered other options.

Whenever I have a problem, or even contemplate the possibility of a problem, I tend to make a catastrophe of it in my mind; then, the problem usually gets resolved with relative ease, and I wonder why I got so upset about it. I’m a prophet of doom and disaster for my life. I lie in bed, imagining disasters befalling me, and my anxiety ensures that I often don’t sleep properly.

All that bullying from my family created bad object relations that resulted in bullying at school and elsewhere, causing me to have difficulty relating to others in general. The early relationships one has with one’s primary caregivers are crucial, for they provide the blueprints, as it were, for all future relationships. So if those early caregivers bully you, belittle you, and otherwise betray your trust, you take that with you and assume people elsewhere will treat you in the same way; for as a little kid, you scarcely know any other kind of relationship.

Though people with C-PTSD typically feel isolated from the world, none of us are islands. Every human personality is in symbiotic relationships with others of some kind or another, including the worst relationships that cause the loneliness of the C-PTSD sufferer. We internalize bad object relations, those of our abusers, and they frighten us away from the rest of the world. Those bad internal objects form the inner critic, an internalization of our abusive parents, elder siblings, bullying classmates, and anyone else who may have hurt us, and we ‘learn’ that this is just the way the world is.

These bad object relations haunt our minds like ghosts, like demons possessing us. WRD Fairbairn elaborated on this idea in his book, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality. In my analyses of The Exorcist and The Shining, I quote the relevant passages, so if you’re interested, you can look them up there.

In my mind, I do battle with an inner critic every day. I hear him accusing me of various things: lacking consideration for others when, for example, I’m riding my scooter to and from home (i.e., road rage); being mean or selfish; or doing stupid things in general. I feel myself fighting back against this inner critic, trying to show justification for my actions; and while many might agree with my justifications, my inner critic is never convinced, for he is an internalization of my ever-bullying family members.

My mother used the autism lie to make me feel irreconcilably different from others. She explicitly said to me, “You’re different,” in a heavily condescending tone when she rationalized excluding me from being involved with my sister, J., and her dying husband back in the mid-2000s (see my blog post, Emotional Abuse, where I discuss my sister’s husband dying of cancer, and my mother not wanting me to fly back to Canada to visit the family). The consistent lack of empathy the family showed me, whenever I tried to tell them of my pain, added to this feeling of being too different to fit in socially, as well as to my learned helplessness.

I’m obsessively preoccupied with my abusers. In their assumption that I don’t care about anyone but myself (one of their rationalizations for abusing me), my surviving family members (R., F., and J.) probably think that I rarely think about them. How wrong-headed such an idea is! I think of them, as well as my dead parents, every day without fail. I rarely think of them with kindness, though, just as they assuredly never give me such consideration, despite their bogus claims of loving me. I’ve dreamed of revenge, or punishment, more accurately, on my late mother and siblings, not as spite for spite’s sake, but to get them to understand the wrongs they’d done me; since just telling them wasn’t enough, I had to hit them over the head, so to speak, with a sledgehammer.

But even hitting them with that figurative sledgehammer wouldn’t be enough, for they will never listen, so assured are they of their own would-be righteousness. They feel all-powerful to me, impossible to get through to, for they’re always ready with a rationalization, a minimizing of their guilt, or an invalidation to silence me. Even my mother seems all-powerful in death, since her internalized object remains forever in my head, as Norman Bates’s mother is in his head.

My abusers’ omnipotence in my mind leads inevitably to undying feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness in me, even though it was their emotional abuse of me that provoked my disowning of them. No contact was the only way to keep them from meddling in my mind; and this was especially true of my manipulative mother during her last few years on this earth, for she’d been the ringleader of them all.

As a child, I had an odd habit of playing alone, in a solitary world of my own imagination, since my devastation over losing my childhood friend, Neil–from a 1977 move from Toronto to Hamilton–combined with the bullying I received in my new schools (as the ‘new boy’) and neighbourhood, made me feel powerless to make new friends (see Emotional Abuse for more on that story). On top of these problems, my brother, F., and sister, J., were bullying me, and my mother was gaslighting me with the autism lie. My escape into a world of imagination–along with a bad habit of talking to myself–seems to have been a mild manifestation of dissociation, or maladaptive daydreaming, a retreat from the painful world around me.

What my remaining family–my siblings, R., F., and J., as well as their families–imagines is my contempt for them (i.e., my refusal to communicate with any of them), is actually my need to maintain avoidance of them, to protect myself from future abuse. My ‘uncaring’ nature is really emotional numbness.

My mother claimed that my clumsiness was from Asperger Syndrome; I’d say it was from the complex trauma I’d acquired already from childhood, combined with a lack of playing sports, in which I’ve never had any interest. My difficulty concentrating, sometimes resulting in foolish mistakes or absent-mindedness, would be disparaged by the family as ‘stupidity’. My relative lack of empathy was something I’d learned, as a child, from those five stony-hearted people. On top of that, I can’t bear loud noises, which again is typical of a sufferer of C-PTSD.

I really do hope C-PTSD gets acknowledged in the next DSM. I also hope therapies for it improve, and that we sufferers get a chance to be healed by them one day. For now, though, we have to engage in self-care: this means being gentle with ourselves when we make mistakes, paying more attention to our strengths and talents, rather than our faults; it also means using self-compassion, or being a friend to ourselves, that kind, sympathetic ear we never got from those who should have given it to us. Other effective ways to heal ourselves include meditation and writing about our pain, as I have done here.

All those university students who complain about how exposure to controversial political opinions is “triggering”, and claim they need “safe spaces” so they don’t have to be exposed to ideas they don’t like, should consider redirecting their wrath towards its far likelier cause–an emotionally abusive or neglecting family. Research has shown that in the U.S., such family dysfunction is almost universal. Taking one’s anger out on people who have nothing to do with it not only fails to solve one’s problems, but also adds to everyone’s.

When we feel pain, we must take it to its source, not displace it onto people or things we only associate with the source of that pain. Bad object relations with abusive and/or neglectful primary caregivers is a common source.

Analysis of ‘Gaslight’

Gaslight is a 1944 thriller film starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten, and co-starring Angela Lansbury and Dame May Whitty. It was directed by George Cukor, and based on the 1938 stage play Gas Light, written by Patrick Hamilton. Another movie version was done in 1940, adhering more closely to the original play; but when MGM did the 1944 remake so soon after this first film, they wanted to have all existing prints of it destroyed. Fortunately, the original film wasn’t ever destroyed, but this 1944 version still eclipsed it.

Bergman won her first Academy Award for Best Actress with this movie, while Boyer was nominated for Best Actor, and Angela Lansbury was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, and it won Best Art Direction. The film got a total of seven Oscar nominations.

It is from this film that the term ‘gaslighting‘ originated, for the villain, Gregory Anton (Boyer), uses this very tactic–tricking his wife, Paula (Bergman), into doubting her own perception, memory, and sanity by staging bizarre scenarios for her–in an elaborate scheme to drive her mad, have her committed to an insane asylum, then take possession of her old London house, originally owned by her aunt, Alice Alquist, whom he murdered years before.

Normally, emotional abuse is used on a victim for the purpose of having power and control over him or her; but Gregory, or Sergius Bauer, to use his real name, only wants to get rid of Paula so he can freely search about that old house, to find the coveted items he killed Alquist to steal–her jewels.

In one scene, he speaks of his great lust for precious jewels (about a half-hour into the movie). In another scene, we see him in the attic, searching furiously for those jewels, using a knife to hack through the cushion of the back of an old chair in a desperate hope to find them (about an hour and a half into the movie). This ruthless searching for treasure, violating other people’s property in the process, reminds us of the plunder of the Third World for resources, diamonds, etc., by Western imperialists. Remember that, just as an emotional abuser often controls his victim’s finances, imperialism deliberately stifles the economic growth of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Since Patrick Hamilton had communist sympathies, especially in the late 1930s, when he wrote Gas Light, I feel at least some justification in making a leftist allegory out of this movie.

Gregory, who–as I see it–represents bourgeois imperialism, tricks Paula, who represents both the proletariat and those ‘brutal dictators’ that imperialism wants to remove, into thinking she is a forgetful kleptomaniac. He does this by deliberately moving items when she isn’t looking, then claiming she took them and forgot she had. He reveals her ‘forgotten thefts’ with a cruel frown, causing her to be frightened and hysterical.

When he leaves her alone in the house, ostensibly to go out somewhere and work on composing classical music, but actually to sneak up into the attic from the back to search for the jewels, she notices the gaslight dimming in the rooms. This frightens her, for she has no idea who is causing it to dim. The servants honestly deny any knowledge of the gaslight dimming (just as the average worker doesn’t know of the ruling class’s tricks), and Gregory pretends not to know either; for it is he who is dimming it–hence the term ‘gaslighting’.

Always claiming Paula is ill, Gregory never lets her out of the house to be sociable, like a typical emotional abuser. (Symbolically, this isolation is also like how imperialism economically isolates such countries as Cuba by imposing embargoes on them, to bring an end to the regimes of those ‘brutal dictators’.) The servants believe she’s ill, too, and are cool towards her, upsetting her all the more. Of course, it is Gregory who has made the servants believe she’s ill, through triangulation; just as the corporate mainstream media tricks us into thinking ‘brutal dictators’ like Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, et al, are madmen who must be removed from power.

By the climax of the film, Paula has been manipulated so thoroughly that she plods about, eyes half shut, as if she’s half-asleep, just like the average Western citizen, brainwashed and distracted by media nonsense. She believes her mind is going, that all she sees and hears is just a dream, as her cruel husband has convinced her.

I have elsewhere gone into detail about the nature and effects of emotional abuse, as well as about narcissism; hence my political interpretation of this film, instead of just elaborating on psychological abuse again. I feel a political interpretation is useful and necessary, because I see political gaslighting going on everywhere, all the time.

The media tricks Americans, for example, into thinking that one political party is evil, while the other is good, or at least has the potential for good, once the ‘good’ political party has been cleansed of corruption; when in reality, both political parties are working for the plutocrats, as are the media.

We are tricked into forgetting the imperialist crimes of previous years and decades, and even made to think that the Western imperialists are among the victims, rather than the victimizers. Here we see the microcosm of the narcissist, seeing himself as the victim and projecting his guilt outward, expanded into the macrocosm of the imperialists, who blame Muslims for terrorism instead of taking responsibility for US or NATO bombings of, or proxy wars in, places like Libya, Syria, Kosovo, or Iraq. Like Gregory, capitalists are murderers.

Gregory accuses Paula of stealing and forgetting her thefts, when in fact he is the thief (and a murderer). Similarly, the capitalist class excoriates socialists and social democrats for ‘stealing’ the money of the wealthy (through progressive income taxes), when in fact it’s the capitalists who originally stole from the workers (by overworking and underpaying them). Furthermore, the Western media has propagandized against socialist states like the USSR, calling them ‘totalitarian dictatorships’, when currently America has by far the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, and polls have consistently shown that a majority of Russians prefer the USSR to their current state of affairs. All of this media deception can be called political gaslighting.

Gregory leaves Paula alone, and the gaslight dims, frightening her; then he denies this dimming. This is symbolic of capitalism’s alienating of workers, leaving them in a darkness of misery, then denying that the capitalist system is responsible for these problems. The servants go along with Gregory’s thinking, just as so many workers, police officers, and soldiers refuse to resist the system.

Scotland Yard Inspector Brian Cameron (Cotten), who revives the case of Paula’s murdered aunt, Alice Alquist, after the police have considered it unsolvable, admired Alquist’s singing; this admiration arouses his empathy for Paula, and he puts the pieces together and saves her. Now he is a policeman, and therefore an unlikely hero in any anti-capitalist allegory; but because he’s the only inspector among the British police still interested in this case, out of his empathy for Paula, his authority can be seen to represent one other than that of the establishment. (Furthermore, in the 1940 film version, there’s a scene in which the inspector–originally named Rough–invites a group of poor street urchins into a pastry shop to buy them something to eat [about 21 minutes or so into the film], suggesting his sympathy for the poor. Recall in this context Hamilton’s communist sympathies around the time of the writing of his play.) His fighting with and subduing of Gregory can thus represent the vanguard of a revolution against the imperialist bourgeoisie.

I admit that my allegorizing here isn’t as smooth as that of my previous analyses, but I feel it’s necessary to make a link between gaslighting in relationships and that of politics; for I see the latter as an extension of the former, an extension that mustn’t be overlooked. Now, if my emphasis on contemporary imperialism seems odd when allegorizing a story written so many decades earlier, consider how much older capitalist imperialism really is: equally disturbing examples of it can be seen in Churchill’s disparaging of Muslims and the Indians he allowed to starve to death in the Bengal Famine; or in the late Victorian Holocausts of the late 19th century.

Emotional abuse in families, extending to other relationships, is a lot more common than most people realize. In the US, it has been found to be almost universal. America is a country where authoritarianism, disguising itself as ‘liberty‘ (check out the gaslighting there!), is also rampant; religious fundamentalism, an intrusive state, mass incarceration, police brutality, and neoliberal capitalism being the most notable manifestations. It isn’t a wide leap of logic to go from American dysfunctional families to this authoritarianism, then to imperialism: it’s all about power imbalances.

A useful link between family abuse and the authoritarian political establishment, given from the perspective of a prickly American cop, is in this disturbing video (a scene from the TV series Southland), in which a truant pre-teen boy with a ‘bleeding-heart liberal’ attitude is lectured that “discipline is not child abuse”–this after his mother has hit him with a belt two or three times for truancy. To some, this may seem like a mild punishment in itself, but many families have wildly different interpretations of what ‘mild punishment’ is, especially as regards hitting a boy with a belt. Consider the end of this scene in Goodfellas, again, ‘punishment’ for truancy.

The point is that there is always a ’cause’ for the abuser to fly off the handle and assault the victim either verbally, physically, or even sexually. This ’cause’ does not justify an abusive reaction, which is then minimized as “discipline” or ‘punishment’.

Similarly, and by extension, Western imperialists always have ’causes’ for their bombings of other countries, typically vilifying the leaders of those countries by calling them ‘brutal dictators’. To be sure, the dictators of the world have more than their share of flaws; but for the West to be judging them, given all the corruption that favours the rich and powerful in the West, is really the pot calling the kettle black. The corporate-owned media, ever in the service of imperialism, engages in gaslighting by giving us biased accounts of what is happening in, for example, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and now Russia, so we will see the bombings as ‘humanitarian’, a truly obscene series of lies.

Once the bombing campaign is over and the victimized country is subjugated (if not more or less destroyed), the ‘brutal dictator’ is removed or killed, and the imperialists take over, just as Gregory tries to remove Paula, then take ownership of her home so he can finally search freely for the jewels, which could be seen to represent the oil and other resources of the conquered countries.

Remember how Iraq was regarded sympathetically by America during the Iran/Iraq War, then the US turned on Saddam Hussein in the 1990s? Or how Osama bin Laden and the mujahideen had the sympathy of the US when repelling the USSR from Afghanistan (we all know what happened after that)? Remember how the West briefly warmed up to Gaddafi during the 2000s…then in 2011…? Or how Syria was an intermittent ally until the 2010s? Gregory’s attitude to Paula can be seen to symbolize this kind of political relationship. At first, the victims have their uses; then they’re devalued and discarded.

In order to solve the problems of political oppression around the world, we must first solve the problems of our own social relations. This must begin with the family, the foundation of all social relations.

To optimize family relations, parents must be as sensitive as they can to the emotional development of their children, starting right from the first months of infancy. Attachment theory explains the different ways a child learns how to connect with primary caregivers, then with other people; this includes unhealthy forms of attachment. When these forms of attachment are unhealthy, the child grows up with these bad object relations, which become the blueprint for all future relationships.

This leaves such a person vulnerable to the schemes of psychopaths like Gregory. Paula’s childhood trauma, of having seen the dead body of her strangled aunt, would represent the kind of ruptured attachment, or bad object relation, that has led to her being susceptible to the charms of Gregory, who idealized her during their courtship, devalued her during their married life in London, and almost discarded her into a mental institution, but for the intervention of Inspector Cameron.

Just as we must be warned of the idealize/devalue/discard tactics of psychopaths, sociopaths, or narcissists, we must also do the necessary healing work if we’ve already been traumatized by them, be they our ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-husbands, ex-wives, or bullying parents. The healing work includes learning about toxic people, engaging in self-care and self-compassion, meditation, cathartic writing about one’s own problems, and joining communities (including online ones) of other survivors, to give them support as well as receive it from them.

When the needed emotional health is either established, through good parenting (not ‘perfect’ parenting, but the good enough parenting that DW Winnicott advocated), maintained, by being wary of the fake idealizing of potential toxic boyfriends or girlfriends, or restored after surviving an ordeal of emotional abuse, then people can organize into communities, and develop the solidarity needed to combat the greatest emotional abusers of them all–the capitalist class and their stooge governments, their political flying monkeys.

As for the Cluster B individuals themselves, psychiatrists must work tirelessly to discover a cure for each of those pathologies, whether those pathologies be genetically basedphysiologically based, or caused by trauma.

We as a people need to learn what love really is: not just a pretty-sounding word, not empty sentimentality, but a genuine connection between people, a connection brought about not by stern moralizing or authoritarian forms of religion, but by empathy…the empathy Inspector Cameron felt for Paula, because of how she reminded him of her aunt.

Only through empathy can we hope to build a better world, one in which bosses don’t rule over workers by overworking and underpaying them, and by gaslighting them into thinking they are worthless if they can’t help bosses make a profit; a world where all racial, ethnic and religious groups are treated as equals, and gaslighting isn’t used to make people equate blacks with criminals or Muslims with terrorists; where the sexes are regarded as equals, and gaslighting isn’t used to make women feel worthless if they don’t provide pleasure, or to make men feel worthless if they don’t provide money; where LGBT people are given dignity, and gaslighting isn’t used to make them seem perverted.

To fix the world, we must start with the family, the foundation of society.

Analysis of ‘The Shining’

The Shining is a supernatural horror novel written by Stephen King and published in 1977. It was his third published novel, after Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot. It was made into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1980; and while the initial critical response to the film was mixed (with King especially disliking how Kubrick changed huge portions of the story), it is now considered one of the best horror movies ever made. King had a well-received made-for-TV miniseries version done in 1997, one that, naturally, was much more faithful to his novel.

His novel is a classic in the horror genre, and while his and Kubrick’s visions of the story differ so vastly, I find enough thematic material common to both that I will cite both versions in my analysis to make my point. These themes include the self-destructiveness of alcoholism, family abuse, the return of repressed bad internal object relations, repetition compulsion, and the death drive.

Though analyses of the themes in Kubrick’s film (the white man’s oppression of Native Americans, etc.) are well worth exploring, since they have already been looked into, I won’t be exploring them.

Jack Torrance has accepted a job as caretaker for the Overlook Hotel; and just as the hotel has a dark history, so does Jack. A former drinker and teacher, he has been on the wagon for fourteen months (in Kubrick’s film, five months) after having not only hit a student, George Hatfield (and lost his teaching job for it, ‘Up On the Roof’, pages 162-170), but also injured his own son, Danny (pages 23-25, ‘Watson’).

Ghosts inhabit the Overlook, which not only overlooks a beautiful mountain view in the Colorado Rockies, but also ‘overlooks’ (ignores, or doesn’t take responsibility for) the crimes that have been committed there. Jack’s connection with the Overlook–more and more complete as he goes mad in his attachment to the place, trying ensure that he and his family never leave–shows how he is at one with the hotel. He has “always been the caretaker” (page 532, ‘Conversations At the Party’). The physical building represents his mind, with the boiler in the basement needing to be checked (to relieve the pressure) twice a day and once at night, for it symbolizes the death drive of his unconscious. There’s an interesting juxtaposition of ideas at the beginning of chapter 3, ‘Watson’, on page 22:

You lost your temper, Ullman had said.

‘”OK, here’s your furnace,” Watson said, turning on a light in the dark, musty-smelling room…Boiler’s on the other side of the wall. I’ll take you around.”‘

Jack’s anger and the furnace are mentioned side by side because they, and the boiler, are all one and the same thing. On the next few pages, Jack remembers injuring Danny for messing up his writing papers.

We learn through the course of the novel that Jack’s father had been abusive to him and his mother (‘Dreamland’, pages 335-338). Being abusive to Danny would be ‘normal’ to Jack, since his own dad’s abuse of him seemed normal: “In those days it had not seemed strange to Jack that the father won all his arguments with his children by use of his fists, and it had not seemed strange that his own love should go hand-in-hand with his fear…” (page 335). Similarly, his wife, Wendy, had a bad relationship with her mother. These bad object relations would haunt Jack and Wendy like ghosts…just as the ghosts of the Overlook will.

Wendy herself contemplates how the ghosts of her mother and Jack’s father could be among those in the hotel, when she thinks of Danny’s trauma: “(Oh we are wrecking this boy. It’s not just Jack, it’s me too, and maybe it’s not even just us, Jack’s father, my mother, are they here too? Sure, why not? The place is lousy with ghosts anyway, why not a couple more?…Oh Danny I’m so sorry).” (‘On the Stairs’, pages 491-492)

The isolation of the hotel, on a snowy mountain during a bitter winter, symbolizes the kind of social disconnect that often leads to problems like alcoholism and family abuse. In direct contrast, Danny’s psychic gift, the “shining”, as fellow shiner Dick Hallorann and his grandmother call it (‘The Shining’, page 117), connects him with people, and with the future, in an enhanced way. Jack and Wendy cannot contact the outside world (because Jack has destroyed the CB radio [‘Dreamland’, page 342], just as he’s ensured they can’t ride away in the snowmobile–‘The Snowmobile’, page 426), but Danny can “shine” all the way from Colorado to Florida to tell Hallorann of the threat to his family’s life.

The ghosts of the Overlook represent the ghosts of Jack’s past (and Wendy’s, to a lesser extent); but Danny, explicitly as such in Stephen King’s miniseries, points to the future, since “Tony” is actually Danny as a young adult (“Daniel Anthony Torrance”, page 639), advising his younger self to beware the dangers of the hotel (‘Shadowland’, pages 37-50). Thus, Tony is really Danny being a friend to himself, a form of self-compassion that can help victims of abuse to heal.

Redrum, or murder spelled backwards, represents not only the destructiveness of alcoholism–red rum, as red as blood–but also the destructiveness of looking backwards into the past, and letting internalized bad objects continue to dominate you, or letting bad old habits resurface and be compulsively repeated.

This brings me to my next point, what Freud called “the compulsion to repeat” in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Up until the horrors of World War I, he saw instinctual drives as geared exclusively towards pleasure, libido. The destruction of that war (Freud, page 281) compelled him to revise his theories and acknowledge a death instinct, what his followers would call Thanatos, which is opposed to Eros, the will to live. He now admitted that dreams aren’t always the fulfillment of wishes (Freud, page 304).

Sometimes his patients would compulsively repeat actions that seemed meaningless or without a clearly pleasurable aim, such a when an infant boy threw out a toy and reeled it back, perhaps to master the sensation of loss, as when his mother wasn’t with him (Freud, pages 284-285). Similarly, Freud treated traumatized veterans who repeated irrational acts in the form of flashbacks, traumatic dreams (Freud, page 282), and the reliving of battlefield events.

Jack’s inability to control his anger and compulsive drinking are manifestations of this death instinct and its compulsion to repeat. He was destructive and drinking before, and he will be destructive and drinking again.

The topiary animals make for interesting symbolism. Normally, the presence of plants gives us a feeling of peace, of pleasure, especially when they have been shaped into aesthetically pleasing forms, like animals–how charming. Yet the Overlook’s topiary is of animals that move when you aren’t looking (‘In the Playground’, pages 311-314). By the time Hallorann returns to help Danny, the topiary lion attacks him (‘Hallorann Arrives’, pages 617-618). So what we have are plants that are superficially charming, yet bestial and frightening when one knows them better. And since they are the Overlook’s topiary, they are an extension of Jack’s personality: charming and sweet on the surface, his ego ideal, but inside…

Then there’s Danny’s frightening experience with the fire extinguisher hose, which seems to unravel all by itself (‘Outside 217’, pages 258-262). Again, seen in light of the idea that the hotel represents Jack’s mind, we see something that, on the surface, is meant to protect and ensure safety, as a father is supposed to do. Instead, the hose, a near phallic symbol, moves surreptitiously, slithering, suggestive of a snake.

Because the hotel represents Jack’s mind, the ghosts in turn represent his internal object relations. Delbert Grady could be seen to represent Jack’s internalized abusive father, since grey-haired Grady eggs Jack on to kill his own family, just as the voice of Jack’s father, heard on the CB radio, urges him to kill them (‘Dreamland’, page 341).

The ghosts want Danny for all his psychic powers, that ability to connect with others that Jack lacks. When Danny rejects the ghosts, they go after Jack. Thus the ghosts initially represent, in WRD Fairbairn‘s revising of Freud’s id, the libidinal ego in its relationship with the exciting object; then, when Danny has rejected the ghosts, they represent Fairbairn’s revising of the superego, the internal saboteur or anti-libidinal ego, with its turbulent relationship with the rejecting object (both objects being symbolized by Danny).

Since I assume, Dear Reader, that you aren’t familiar with Fairbairn’s revision of Freud’s id/ego/superego conception of the mind, and since I further assume you haven’t read my analysis of The Exorcist, in which I discuss this revision, I’ll present the relevant quotes again here:

“…the intolerably depriving, rejecting aspect of the other person is internalized as the ‘rejecting object’, attached to the ‘anti-libidinal ego’…[,] the split-off ego fragment that is bonded to the rejecting object. We can think of it as the ‘anti-wanting I’, the aspect of the self that is contemptuous of neediness. Rejection gives rise to unbearable anger, split off from the central self or ego and disowned by it. Fairbairn originally termed this element the ‘internal saboteur’, indicating that in despising rather than acknowledging our neediness, we ensure that we neither seek nor get what we want. The anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object configuration is the cynical, angry self which is too dangerously hostile for us to acknowledge. When it emerges from repression we may experience it as chaotic rage or hatred, sometimes with persecutory guilt.” (Gomez, pages 63-64)

Fairbairn’s revising of Freud’s drive theory replaces the drive to pleasure/destruction with an object-seeking purpose, for which instinctual drives are mere avenues to seeking or dealing with objects. Fairbairn may have rejected Freud’s drive theory, including the death instinct and the compulsion to repeat, as superfluous (Fairbairn, pages 78-79), but I find both useful in explaining the symbolism of the Overlook, two ways of looking at King’s novel from different angles. Grady, the symbolic ghost of Jack’s abusive father, is pushing Jack to kill because Jack needs his father-object, regardless of whether it is good or bad for him.

Let’s consider what Fairbairn had to say about needing bad objects. “…it is worth considering whence bad objects derive their power over the individual. If the child’s objects are bad, how does he ever come to internalize them? Why does he not simply reject them…?…However much he may want to reject them, he cannot get away from them. They force themselves upon him; and he cannot resist them because they have power over him. He is accordingly compelled to internalize them in an effort to control them. But, in attempting to control them in this way, he is internalizing objects which have wielded power over him in the external world; and these objects retain their prestige for power over him in the inner world. In a word, he is ‘possessed’ by them, as if by evil spirits. This is not all, however. The child not only internalizes his bad objects because they force themselves upon him and he seeks to control them, but also, and above all, because he needs them. If a child’s parents are bad objects, he cannot reject them, even if they do not force themselves upon him; for he cannot do without them. Even if they neglect him, he cannot reject them; for, if they neglect him, his need for them is increased.” (Fairbairn, page 67)

Going back to drinking represents finding a pleasurable thing as an object to replace the meaningful objects, Wendy and Danny, that Jack needs. As Fairbairn explains, “…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.” (Fairbairn, p. 139-140) In the Overlook, Jack is isolated in his own mind, driving him to self-destruction and other-destruction.

Jack uses a bug bomb to kill a nest of wasps found on the roof of the Overlook, where he’s been doing repairs and been stung by one of them (‘Up On the Roof’, page 153). Danny is fascinated with the wasp nest, and wants to keep it. Wendy is unsure if it’s safe, but Jack insists all the wasps have been killed (‘Down In the Front Yard’, pages 177-178). The ghosts of the hotel reanimate the wasps that night, though, and Danny is stung (‘Danny’, pages 195-203). Since the ghosts and hotel represent Jack’s mind, the stings represent a return to Jack’s abusiveness (and self-destructiveness, since he’s the first one to get stung); and his assuring that the wasps are dead and harmless represents his denial of abusive intent, gaslighting, and his empty promise that he’ll never repeat injuring Danny.

The Overlook, Jack’s symbolic mind, full of the ghosts of bad internal objects, and with a boiler of anger that Jack must regularly “dump…off a little” (‘Watson’, page 28) to relieve the pressure, always repeats its aggressions. Kubrick’s adaptation brilliantly brings out this repetition compulsion in such symbols as rug patterns, the phrase “forever, and ever, and ever”, and Jack’s “writing project”, an endless repetition of the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Similarly, we see repetitive columns, doors, wallpaper patterns, and the sound of Danny driving his little three-wheeled bike on and off rugs and the hardwood floor, over and over again…sound-silence-sound-silence-sound-silence.

Danny refuses to believe that Jack, swinging the roque mallet, is his real father (page 639); it’s just the ghosts controlling him. But the ghosts, the hotel, and the roque-mallet-swinging madman are all Jack. Typical with abuse victims, they can’t bring themselves to admit their abusers really are abusers–it’s Stockholm Syndrome, or traumatic bonding.

Jack is supposed to be writing a play, a goal pointing to the future; but instead, he finds a scrapbook of old newspaper clippings related to the history of the Overlook (‘The Scrapbook’, pages 227-249). Now he decides, instead of writing the play, to write about the hotel: a project pointing into the future is replaced with one pointing back into the past. (In the miniseries, the scrapbook is titled My Memory Book, implying a symbolic connection with Jack’s past.)

Jack phones Mr. Ullman–the stern owner of the hotel and Jack’s symbolic superego (“Officious little prick“, ‘Job Interview’, page 3), a man who has hired him with the utmost reluctance (‘Job Interview’, page 7)–to talk to him about writing a book about The Overlook (‘Talking to Mr. Ullman’, pages 269-274). Ullman is furious with Jack for wanting to do such a thing, as he is with Jack’s impertinent attitude…just as the superego will be resistant to any surfacing of repressed, unacceptable desires.

Ullman has good reason to oppose Jack’s plan to publicize The Overlook’s shady past. It is a past filled with violence–mafia killings, a woman having committed suicide in a bathtub (“Inside 217′, pages 326-327), and Grady’s violence against his family. The scrapbook is found in the basement, Jack’s symbolic unconscious, and the violent contents represent his repressed bad internal objects (i.e., his father). The old parties represent his past of alcoholism. (“Unmask! Unmask!“) [‘The Ballroom’, page 464], Show your real self, Jack.

The ghosts of the Overlook want Danny, which means Jack needs a good internal object to replace his intolerably bad objects, a notion in Fairbairn’s therapeutic methods. Since Danny resists the ghosts, they want Jack, meaning the repressed bad objects resurface, causing mayhem. Having Danny, a good boy whose “shining” represents strong empathy and an urge to connect with others, would redeem Jack’s bad objects and help him to be a good man again, looking ahead to a future free of the past; but their evil is too great, so Jack instead spirals downward and backward into his violent, alcoholic past.

Dick Hallorann goes to great lengths to help a boy and a family he barely knows, because like Danny, his “shining” abilities give him strong empathy and an urge to connect, unlike the isolated, freezing cold world surrounding Jack’s mind, the Overlook. After Dick, Wendy, and Danny escape, we find them all together in Maine the following summer, Dick being almost like a new father to the boy. Danny and Wendy have escaped the dark, abusive past that Jack couldn’t escape, because ‘the shining’ is a light leading to a future of freedom and love.

Stephen King, The Shining, Pocket Books, New York, 1977

WRD Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, New York, 1952

Lavinia Gomez, An Introduction to Object Relations, Free Association Books, London, 1997

Sigmund Freud, 11. On Metapsychology, the Theory of Psychoanalysis: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, The Ego and the Id and Other Works, Pelican Books, Middlesex, England, 1984

Narcissism in the Family

Everyone has narcissistic tendencies to some extent, but there are healthy and unhealthy forms of self-love. Those with the unhealthy kind can manifest their egotism in a variety of ways, with varying levels of intensity.

Some, like Donald Trump, display their narcissism blatantly, by constantly bragging, pretending they have abilities far greater than those they really have, always needing to be the centre of attention, and openly showing their contempt for other people’s feelings.

While such people are certainly annoying, at least they’re easy to spot, and therefore to avoid. Other narcissists, however, are more cunning than that. This second kind of narcissist, the covert narcissist, is who I will be focusing on, because he or she is so much more dangerous.

This kind of narcissist knows he or she cannot get away with the childish antics of the Donald. This narcissist needs to establish a social setting that will be conducive to the attainment of his or her narcissistic supply, while ensuring safety from being found out. This usually involves two categories of people: allies and, of necessity, victims.

The narcissist may find a victim in the form of a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a family member. The victim will typically be a sensitive, trusting sort, an empathetic person who’s easily manipulated into the relationship. A son or daughter, during the tender years of childhood, is an especially easy target.

When allies are used by the narcissist, they are showered with charm and flattery, and given loads of love, in order to convince them that the narcissist is actually a good, kind-hearted, generous person. So when the victim is oppressed by the narcissist, no one will believe that so ‘loving’ a person as the perpetrator could ever do wrong. The victim must be crazy; he’s also a terrible slanderer, apparently; it couldn’t possibly be that he is the one being slandered.

The narcissist who exploits through one-on-one relationships makes the victim into an alternating friend and enemy. He starts with charm and flattery, love-bombing the victim into being deceived that he’s a wonderful find. As the relationship progresses, however, his true colours gradually come out, and the victim discovers that something is seriously wrong. The friend has become an enemy, and when things come to a head, there’s an explosive confrontation. Then the narcissist uses guile and manipulation to trick the victim into thinking it was all or mostly her fault, while he pays lip-service to whatever ‘miniscule’ part of the problem was his fault.  A peaceful honeymoon ensues, things go back to normal, and before long, the cycle of abuse begins all over again.

If this nightmare of a relationship doesn’t repeat itself in a seemingly endless cycle, the victim is simply devalued and discarded one time, and left emotionally devastated. Now, this kind of one-on-one relationship with a narcissistic boyfriend or girlfriend (or husband or wife) is hard enough; but a break-up or divorce can provide (though not, of course, guarantee) an escape. Similarly, the group situation with a narcissist and his or her allies (in, for example, the work environment) can be avoided by quitting the job or leaving those false friends. It becomes infinitely harder, though, when the narcissist and his or her flying monkeys all make up your family.

The narcissistic parent is a true terror. Though the narcissistic father is a formidable bully, I suspect the narcissistic mother is, in many ways, often much worse, if for no other reason than that she can cunningly exploit the stereotype of the angelic, saintly mother who criticizes her victim only out of ‘concern’. Remember that while we normally think of narcissists as self-absorbed egotists, many can come across convincingly as selfless and altruistic, all for the purpose of gaining narcissistic supply from being thought of as such saintly types.

Narcissists often get their supply from being the master of puppets. They project their inadequacies, through projective identification, manipulating their victims into introjecting that phoney identification. This manipulative kind of projection is necessary because of how important it is to the narcissist to maintain the image of his or her False Self, that phoney self-image that portrays him or her as a fountain of virtues, wisdom, and talents to him- or herself, as well as to everyone else. So the abuser has a phoney self-image as well as the victim.

Maintaining all this phoniness is done, of course, through lying–the narcissist lying to himself, to his victim(s), and to his enablers. Imagine the cruelty of doing this in the family, when a covert narcissistic mother is pulling the strings, knowing she can take advantage of both the ‘angelic, saintly mother’ stereotype and her kids’ sense of filial duty to her. Triangulation between the narcissistic mother, the enabler sibling(s), and the victim is especially damaging. Narcissists will believe their own lies, too, even when the lies are obvious. Their egos won’t tolerate the cognitive dissonance when confronted with their lying.

The narcissistic parent will choose one son or daughter, or several, to be the ‘black sheep,’ the scapegoat(s) on whom as much blame and grief will be imposed as the parent can get away with. The other son(s) and/or daughter(s) will be the ‘golden children’, the narcissist’s allies (the enablers or ‘flying monkeys’) who are encouraged to help the parent, in every way viable, to vilify, ridicule, and abuse the victim(s), justifying the cruelty by saying that the ‘black sheep’ deserve(s) it.

How can a victim escape such a nightmarish situation, especially if he or she is still a child? The child’s trauma will be ongoing, during crucial developmental years in his or her life, with no way out in sight. That the very people, who are supposed to love him or her, are constantly causing emotional–or maybe even physical or sexual–harm means the victim will grow up with an impaired sense of trust in people in general. If you can’t trust your own family, how can you trust the world? The victim will develop complex PTSD.

I know that I have suffered ongoing emotional abuse from my family, my mother having been the architect of that abuse. My story can be found here. I’ll never know for sure if she was actually a narcissist (she was never diagnosed), so I’m only speculating now. I will provide evidence here to make a case of covert narcissism in her, though I’m no expert and have no authority to say for sure if she had it.

Yes, my mother really died of cancer last May. If you read my article on Emotional Abuse, you’ll note that I speculated that she could have been lying about dying of cancer to get my attention, and manipulate me into flying back to Canada to see her. I was wrong about that, though my suspicions were understandable at the time, given her other lies over the years; so I didn’t update that in the previous article. Still, my mistaken speculation doesn’t disprove the rest of what I said in that article.

Now I will share a number of memories of mine to continue making the case (keeping in mind all of what I said in the previous article) that she could have been a narcissist, with the rest of my family–my brothers and sister in particular–as her allies, her ‘golden children’, and with me as the ‘black sheep’.

As I explained in Emotional Abuse, my mother tricked me into believing I had classic autism as a child back in the late 1970s (if you haven’t read that post, please don’t read this until you have, because I will make references to it that will make little sense unless you have), describing my ‘condition’ in extreme ways and using the most melodramatic language. I’d been going to grade school with normal classmates, yet she associated me with mentally retarded people. She also tended to grin like a Cheshire cat whenever she spoke of my ‘autism’. She seemed to enjoy talking about it, something most parents would never be happy about; she also spoke of it as if it were narcissism that I really had…projective identification, remember?

I’m sure she didn’t want me to think I was retarded, but instead that I ‘miraculously’ came out of a more extreme form of autism. Her plan was to make me believe I was, and still am, ‘behind’ everyone else. The fact that I actually don’t have an atom of autism in me (two psychiatrists who, in the mid-1990s, had examined me each over several months, told me they saw no autistic symptoms in me; and I did the Autism Quotient test back in the early 2010s, and I got a score [13] far below even the slightest of autistic traits [at least 32 being “clinically significant”, with any score below 26 effectively ruling out Asperger’s Syndrome], thus reconfirming the psychiatrists’ conclusions), even of the highest functioning type, shows what brutal gaslighting she’d been subjecting me to…and gaslighting is a typical form of abuse narcs use on their victims.

My mother sometimes showed explosive rage, at times when it didn’t seem at all necessary; this is a trait of narcissists, when they feel their worth is being somehow doubted. One time when I was about eight or nine years old, I was talking with my mother in the kitchen, and while I forget the context of the conversation, the relevant part came when she said dumb, meaning ‘stupid’ (Was she calling me dumb? I don’t remember). I corrected her by saying that “dumb means you can’t talk.” I meant no harm, but I must have sounded cheeky, for she slapped me hard and growled, “Don’t be [SMACK!] lippy with me!”

I can understand her being annoyed with my cheekiness, but surely slapping me hard on the face, and shouting in a fury over such a small thing, was a bit much. I suspect she was feeling narcissistic rage and injury at the time. This wasn’t an isolated incident; there were many examples of this narcissistic rage and injury that she manifested, of which I’ll give a few more examples.

Other moments of such narcissistic injury seem to have occurred on her birthday, on two occasions. One time, when I was a kid, she got upset with my father for not being or doing as he should have, and she stormed away in tears, shouting, “…and on my birthday!“, just like a child who’d had her dolls taken away.

Another time, when I was about twenty, was when my father and my brother, F. (and I was falsely accused of having), forgot her sacred birthday. Just as a parenthetical note, before I go into the details of this story: whenever my birthday is forgotten or regarded slightly, I don’t get one one-hundredth as upset as my mother did; yet the family consensus is that I have an over-estimated opinion of myself (the definition of autism, apparently), rather than her. I’ll go into a theoretical explanation of why I’m branded this way instead of her later on.

A day or so prior to her birthday, I found myself unable to think of a suitable gift to buy her. I discussed the problem with my sister, J., one or two nights before Mom’s birthday. I remember taking a bus downtown the day before her birthday with the express purpose of looking for a gift for her, unfortunately with no success. My mother had spoken of needing a wheelbarrow, but there was no way I could have afforded one, and lugging one onto a bus to take home would have been awkward, to say the least.

On her birthday, a Sunday afternoon, J. gave Mom a gift; J.’s plans later that day were to get together with a friend of hers. Agitated that I hadn’t gotten Mom anything, I talked to her about it; she kindly said I didn’t have to get it for her that day–she also mentioned a gardening book she wanted.

Now I knew what to buy her; but in the meantime I’d buy her a birthday card, so I did. When I gave it to Mom, she received it in the TV room with a smile. Then I went over to J., who was in the bathroom. I said jokingly, “I gave Mom a down payment.”

Then J. got all snotty and bitchy on me, all of a sudden. She was obviously irked that I hadn’t provided a parcel for Mom “on time”. I pointed out how arrogant she was being (not a nice thing to say, but it was the truth), and she started yelling at me, accusing me of forgetting Mom’s birthday (Had Mom told her I’d forgotten, when I hadn’t?). When I asked why it was sooooooo necessary to be punctilious about birthdays, she shouted, “It’s your mother’s birthday!!!

Then I snapped. “And a birthday is this great god we have to worship!” I shouted. Though it hadn’t been my intention to trivialize my mother’s feelings (I was just criticizing the need to follow social conventions so blindly), unfortunately, it came out that way.

Now my mother started screaming at me. “Go away!” she shouted. “Fuck off! You arrogant, egotistical…” etc. etc. (It’s interesting how she’d switched so quickly from kind and gentle to so vicious, all because of one remark I’d made.)

Shaking, I tried to apologize for what I’d said, to placate her, but to no avail. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I said sincerely, over and over.

“Yes, you did!” she shouted. “Go away!”

The very same day, I went to a shopping mall and bought her that gardening book. When I gave it to her, a got a muted apology from her for yelling at me.

A little later on, I ran into J. in front of a nearby variety store. “Hi,” she said to me, as if a fight hadn’t occurred at all that day. (Amazing how people’s moods can swing so quickly.)

When I tried to clarify my position on the whole gift-giving custom, saying, “I thought it was the thought that counts,” I got a contemptuous scowl from J.

Then she explained the root of the problem: our father had forgotten Mom’s birthday. Similarly, neither F. nor his wife were anywhere to be found to give Mom anything. (And I, as usual, was the last to be informed of any of this problem, because I’m the least important family member.)

Then J. acknowledged that I had taken the brunt of Mom’s wrath (scapegoating is a typical tactic used by narcs and their enablers); J. never apologized for that, of course, but instead rubbed it in further, first by accusing me again of forgetting Mom’s birthday, then by shouting, “Think of other people! Don’t think about yourself!” and saying that I shouldn’t think of getting Mom’s gift fast, so the rest of the day could be a “Me-day!” (Of course, the idea was lost on J. that maybe I was trying to get Mom her gift on time, precisely what J. had said I should have done, because I’d been thinking of Mom rather than myself.) By the way, J. was about to have a “Me-day” of her own with a friend, now that her ‘debt’ to Mom had been paid, fortunately for J., “on time”, so she was guiltless.

Then J., always Mom’s faithful flying monkey, manipulated me into saying that I thought buying a gift for Mom was a “chore” (she actually introduced the idea into the conversation, projecting that bad attitude onto me); then she guilt-tripped me by saying, “If you think giving Mom a gift is a chore, then that’s your problem,” then she walked off in a self-righteous huff.

So, there you have it: both J. and Mom were mad at me because Dad forgot Mom’s precious birthday, as F. had seemed to do. I never forgot it, as you’ll recall, and in fact made a decent effort to find something for her, but was unlucky. Even though J. surely remembered my asking her what to get Mom a day or two before Sunday, she accused me twice of forgetting what I obviously hadn’t. (She and Mom were displacing their anger at Dad onto me.)

My mother was flying into a fit about trivializing her sacred birthday, something I’d hardly get mad about if it had been my birthday, yet I am the “egotistical” one.

Several months after this absurd birthday incident, I talked with J. in the kitchen about it again. She gave me another one of her condescending lectures about how awful it is to treat a birthday as if it were a mere chore, a job to be done (Something I’d never thought: I just didn’t give birthdays the holy status she and my mother were giving them, especially my Mom’s birthday.)

Then J. droned on about how we as a family weren’t very “lovey-dovey”, and “that’s OK” (WTF?). Therefore, we compensate for this lack of affection through gift-giving, a rather superficial showing of love, in my opinion. The idea that maybe, just maybe, we as a family could make an effort to show more love to each other as a regular habit, instead of putting all our eggs in one birthday basket, was never even to be considered, of course.

During this same conversation, I told J. about my long-existing doubts about whether I was truly loved by the family, and she responded by saying, “We love you, Mawr,” half-sneering and avoiding my eyes, suggesting no sincerity at all, and certainly giving no demonstrable proof of this professed love. I also asked for help and reassurances against the insecurities I was having at the time (insecurities largely caused by the emotional abuse and bullying I’d been subjected to by the family); she said, in her typically derisive tone, “That’s a pretty big order, Mawr.”

Gee, who has a problem with chores now?

Another occasion of Mom’s explosive anger came when I was about eighteen. I was at home with her, in the TV room, where she’d been sitting on the sofa. I was standing at the doorway, and she told me she would need me to do some dishwashing work at the family restaurant. She’d got me to substitute unavailable or sick dishwashers on many occasions, and I was irritated by this. I showed my annoyance by interrupting her before she could finish explaining the situation.

Now, I admit that by interrupting her, I was being impolite, and I’ve had a bad habit of doing that with people; but her explosion of rage immediately following my interruption was surely excessive. At the time, I’d imagined her overreaction was a result of the accumulated stress of her owning and managing a restaurant with my father for almost ten years…but at the time of her blow-up, she’d been sitting comfortably in the TV room, watching the boob tube, as she very often did. So I doubt stress was her problem.

Narcissistic injury seems a better explanation.

First she said, “Shut up!” Had she stopped there, she would have found me quiet and listening to her. Instead, she exploded: “Jeez, you’re rude!“, then began ranting at me like a psychotic. I tried to keep my cool, not yelling back for the sake of avoiding escalation, but it was no use: she was determined to be as verbally abusive as she liked.

Apparently, my calm was infuriatingly arrogant, whereas her self-indulgent rage was nothing to criticize. My response, “Has the volcano finished erupting?”, was a tad incisive, but understandable. She insisted that I was making her even angrier, when she hardly needed any encouragement from me. Was my cool just reminding her of what a jackass she was behaving like? I never called her that, but she hardly needed to be called that by anyone, so obviously was she making herself lose face in front of me. The only thing more obvious than that was how much she was hurting me…not that she cared.

Somewhere in the middle of her high-decibel rant, she shouted, “Do you think you’re the only person in this whole god-damned house?” (The lady doth project too much, methinks.)

Finally, she decided my calm was too outrageous to bear, and she shouted, “Get out of here! Who needs ya?” As I walked up the stairs to my bedroom, I then heard, “You arrogant little bastard!”

I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I replied, “Hateful person.”

She roared at me once again, “Get out of here! Who needs you?”

And all of this, just because I’d interrupted her.

Later, after she’d finally calmed down, I returned, saying, “I’ll apologize to you if you apologize to me.” She, of course, would never apologize, calling me a “prick” after I told her how hurtful “arrogant little bastard” sounded. Then, she expressed her offence at my saying she was “hateful”. She insisted, frowning, “Of course I love you. You’re my son.”As if that even means anything: love is as love does. We need to show love, not just talk about it.

After that pathetic attempt at reconciliation, I returned to my room and bawled my eyes out. How could a mother’s “love” be so shamelessly phoney? I was loved only because technically I was a member of the family; yet merely for interrupting her, and trying to keep my cool during her tirade, I ‘deserved’ that avalanche of verbal abuse?

Some time after, I complained about that incident to J., who as Mom’s enabler, her flying monkey, defended Mom to the hilt as usual, without even properly hearing my side of the story. J. talked a load of nonsense about teenagers thinking they know everything, which had nothing to do with what I was talking about; I just didn’t see why I needed to be screamed at for merely interrupting Mom. Impoliteness deserves viciousness, it seems.

And speaking of impoliteness, she was hardly innocent of that.

Not too long after this incident, she interrupted me in a conversation, which I, without anger, immediately pointed out to her; then she justified it by claiming she’d merely been “anticipating” what I would say. Hadn’t I been “anticipating” rather than being an “arrogant little bastard”? Why was my “anticipating” rude, but hers wasn’t?

Other occasions of her rudeness included several times when, in the restaurant, she had found me standing in her way, and she, presumably busy and stressed, had no alternative, it seemed, but to shout “Get out of my way!” and even shove me to the side once or twice.

On another occasion, when she was in the restaurant kitchen working, and I asked her about something, and she, too stressed out to be nice, couldn’t help shouting, “In your ass!” to me. On yet another occasion, in the kitchen, my questions and trying to get her attention necessitated her throwing a steel ladle in my direction and shouting, “I’m not listening to you!” with the most vicious look in her eyes. I’m a most infuriating conversationalist, apparently.

She also liked grabbing me by the ear and pulling me along wherever she wanted me to go. She didn’t do this merely out of anger or frustration with me: sometimes she did it for the sheer fun of humiliating me. One time, right in front of other people, non-family members, she told them, “This is how you get him to come with you,” then grabbed me by the ear again. I yelled, “No, no, NO!” and struggled to make her let go.

I was about 28-and-a-half at the time.

This, recall, was the mother who ‘gave me the most love’ of anyone in the family, a position my oldest brother, R., another flying monkey of hers, reiterated in a shaming comment to me just after she died (see my article, Emotional Abuse, for the whole story).

Her explosions of temper weren’t directed only at me. As the owner of the family restaurant in the 1980s, she was often nasty towards salespeople, or even just any visitor who, perhaps, she mistook for a salesperson. It took the slightest provocation to make her blow up at any visitor trying to do business with her. Yelling at them like a madwoman was apparently the only way to deal with them walking into the restaurant kitchen to talk to her.

One time, a man who was apparently a friend of one of the staff asked if he could sit in the guest room while eating his meal; she coldly told him he had to sit in the main dining area and walked out of the room. I’d rather not repeat what he said about her after she’d left.

Another time, a man came into the guest room with some innocuous questions, and she, apparently thinking he was another hated salesman, blew up at him, shouting, “I don’t even know who you are!” among other hostile remarks. I had to leave the room because I just couldn’t bear to hear any more of her nastiness, or imagine how she was making him feel. Seriously, what was wrong with her?

It seemed that anyone outside of her inner circle was unwelcome in the extreme, including my cousins and, sometimes, me. She never had a kind word to say about my cousins, particularly the oldest and youngest of the three men. The middle cousin, whom I’ll call S. (previously mentioned in Emotional Abuse), had been spoken of fairly well by her until evidence surfaced of his emotional instability, an instability already seen, according to her smear campaigns, in his two brothers. As soon as S. was seen to be “ill” (her word, one she’d used to describe me when I was a kid with an apparently extreme form of “autism”), she turned on him. My nurse mother cured bodily illness; she cursed mental illness…right after projecting it onto those she despised.

She justified her antipathy to S. by complaining of all the awful things he’d been saying to me in his e-mail rants, accusing me of gossiping about him behind his back with our former teacher friends, completely baseless accusations coming from S.’s paranoid fantasies. In contrast, Mom couldn’t care less about the far crueller things my brothers and sister (Mom’s enablers, remember) would say to me, in their bullying of me throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Mom rationalized their bullying, because they were in her inner circle; she condemned S.’s nastiness, because he wasn’t in that circle.

Instead of trying to feel compassion for S. for having a mental illness, possibly paranoid schizophrenia brought on by excessive substance abuse (LSD, marijuana, hashish, and loads of alcohol, among other drugs), my mother used his scurrilous ravings against me as a convenient excuse not only to dislike him, but to teach the family to dislike him, too. If he really is a “schizy,” to use her pejorative slang, teaching the family to alienate him is the last thing he needs.

So, she spoke pejoratively about their emotional problems just as she had about mine; I believe this bad-mouthing represents a projection of her own probable narcissistic tendencies onto us, since she spoke of my “autism,” or later “Asperger Syndrome,” as well as that which she fabricated of my youngest cousin in descriptions with the language of narcissism (i.e., having an annoyingly self-absorbed personality, etc.).

People with mental illnesses were, in her mind, always thought to be people who trouble others rather than are troubled people themselves, worthy of sympathy.

The family tends toward the belief that “ill” people are ‘born’ with a mental disorder of some kind: my mother encouraged that attitude, I believe, as a way to evade responsibility for how the family caused so much psychological harm to me, to my cousins, and even to each other. R. did poorly at school and dropped out because he was just “stupid” by nature, according to my crusty father, rather than because he was going through a tough time during his early adolescence, a problem made worse by my father’s verbal abuse and insensitivity to to R.’s emotional problems. My father was no narc, but he was mentally unhealthy in as huge a way as my mother.

My cousins aren’t “normal” because of innate personality flaws, or so my mother would have had us believe; not because of poor parenting, or some other cause of childhood trauma.

I tend in the opposite direction of my mother’s theory of ‘innate’ mental illness. In a similar vein, I find it troubling how many psychiatrists tend to focus too much on somatic factors (i.e. chemical imbalances) in the brain to explain various factors of mental abnormality. This approach seems to be used to justify the use of psychiatric drugs to ‘manage’ mental disorders instead of doing the long and hard work of curing the patient. The use of these drugs seems to be an exploiting of people’s pain for profit.

In contrast, I believe mental disturbances are more the result of traumatizing events in one’s life. The use of psychoanalysis (free association, dream analysis, etc.) can gradually bring to the surface all those childhood traumas that have been buried in the unconscious for years. Also, the transference and countertransference in the patient/therapist relationship can help the patient rebuild positive object relations to replace the negative ones from childhood.

R., F., and J. experienced moderate levels of emotional abuse from our parents (I’m convinced that Mom was manipulating them, in different ways and for different purposes, as much as she was me, resulting in my siblings’ having their own mild forms of narcissism, carbon copies of our mom’s), resulting in their own fierceness towards me; my parents also experienced traumatic moments in their childhoods to give them the often irascible personalities they had. This is not to excuse them of their cruel ways in the least, just as my own excessive scolding of some of my child students is not to be excused by my Complex PTSD (as I believe I have); we must own our bad deeds and take full responsibility for them. We must do all we can to heal ourselves to the best of our ability, to minimize the hurting of others.

My mother was born in London, England, in 1938. She moved to Canada with her mother in the 1940s after her father died; she must have experienced, on some level at least, the horrors of World War II. This, combined with the loss of her dear father and the huge change of moving to another country and leaving her old world behind, all at such a tender age, must have been too much for her bear (remember how devastated I was when I moved from Toronto to Hamilton, and had to say goodbye to my best friend, Neil). It would have been a miracle if she hadn’t been traumatized.

As hard as it must have been for her, though, none of it justifies what she did to me or my cousins. What happened to her was beyond her control; her lying to me about autism was a choice she made.

My father was born in Canada in 1928, so he as a child suffered through the Great Depression, teaching him to be tight with money; as a German-Canadian, he would also have had social difficulties as a teenager during World War II. Still, his verbal abusiveness and parsimony were choices he made, not anything forced on him. He justified his meanness as “conservative” thinking. I just call it mean.

One memory my mother was actually fond of telling on at least a few occasions was when she’d been with R. in a shopping mall in, I assume, the mid-late 1960s. He was being a bratty kid, shouting and being demanding. She’d had enough at one point, so she pulled his pants down right there in public, and spanked him. She later bragged, “He never did it again” (i.e., behaved badly in public with her).

Now, if a mother snaps and does something like that, then regrets her excessive punishment, seeing it as a momentary lapse of judgement, that would be forgivable; but my mother boasted about her moment of power, decades later, at a time when people had been coming around to consider spanking, especially such a public kind, to be a form of child abuse.

So here we see some examples of childhood trauma in some of my family members. Now, having suffered childhood traumas gave my parents and siblings the right to grieve their pain; it gave them no special right to inflict that pain on me.

Since my mother’s lying had gone on over a period of decades, along with her manipulating and triangulating tactics with my siblings, I find it reasonable to assume that these were things she’d been doing from childhood, the product of her early life having been turned upside down. I’ll bet that she, as a lonely child and teenager, lied constantly to gain attention; and her mother scolded her about it and shamed her. This resulted in a fragile ego that constantly needed supply, a typical problem with narcissists.

She was smart enough to realize, by the time she’d grown up, that she couldn’t get away with overtly demanding attention and adulation all the time, so she learned what many narcissists learn: how to hide her egocentricity and fake being altruistic. In exchange for doing things for others, she’d expect them to give her narcissistic supply; and if they failed to do so, there’d be hell to pay.

Her choice of vocation, nursing, is interesting in this regard–someone who helps the sick. Her preoccupation with medical matters as a possible source of narcissistic supply (i.e., showing off her nursing knowledge at every opportunity), was extended to a preoccupation with psychiatric matters, which she knew nothing about. Her medical knowledge deserves acknowledgement and respect, but she never deserved that for issues of mental illness. Still, she’d prate away like an expert on autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and even schizophrenia, things she didn’t know the first thing about. (Narcs claiming their victims have mental illnesses seems to be a very common thing, by the way.) A nurse is supposed to be among the most compassionate people around, yet where was her pity for my cousins or me?

I must jump ahead to her last years. When I finally put all the pieces together and realized that all her talk about autism and Asperger Syndrome was lies, I was so overcome with rage at her betrayal that, typical of someone with complex PTSD, I grew obsessed with my abuser, wanting revenge.

I consider punishment a better word for what I did in 2015, in response to her abuse, than revenge, since denying her what she didn’t deserve–me as a source of narcissistic supply–was the perfect punishment. This was also, as I see it, a gentle punishment. I was only avoiding contact with her, as is appropriate with Cluster B individuals. In that final year, I wasn’t hurling verbal abuse at her in e-mails, or anything like that. When I’d complained about her emotionally abusing me, and warned that I’d stop visiting if she didn’t stop, that had been in e-mails sent almost ten years earlier, which contained none of the four-letter words she and the family had always used on me. Finally, she couldn’t have missed me all that much: after all, when she’d told me not to come to see J. and her dying husband, my absence then hadn’t made her heart grow fonder–why would she suddenly hunger for me by her side now?

No, her pain from lacking me in Canada from 2009-2016 was more likely from narcissistic injury. She never took responsibility for anything she’d done: for lying to me about my mental state; for sitting idly by while R., F., and J. bullied me throughout my youth; for not caring enough to lift a finger to help S. when she, a nurse, learned he is mentally ill.

If she was upset about my non-communication with her during the last five or six years of her life, why didn’t she simply do what any normal person would do? Why not e-mail me, asking me if there had been anything she or the family had done to upset me, making me not want to talk to her? Instead, whenever she tried to confront me on the issue, she put it all on me: I wasn’t communicating with the family; she was “hurt and annoyed” that I had “given up on the family.” Given all those years of emotional abuse, why wouldn’t I have? Yet she always put the blame on me, instead of herself, when my previous e-mails (from 2005-2008) clearly expressed all my grievances with the family, and warned her that the family visits would stop if she didn’t stop manipulating me.

The fact is that my narc mom felt perfectly entitled to treating me as she had; and like a queen, she still expected tribute from her subjects. She got that tribute from R., F., and J., so they, her flying monkeys, were treated well. When I failed to pay that tribute, to give her the attention and adulation she needed for her narcissistic supply, I was in the wrong, and not her.

When she was dying of cancer on a hospital bed, R. by her side with his cellphone there, waiting for me to call her, the lies she’d told me the previous late summer (in 2015; see Emotional Abuse) should have been fresh on her mind. Yet she feigned ignorance of all of them, as well as all the others, the same playing dumb that she’d been doing months before. Furthermore, she was high on morphine and full of the stress of imminent death, not to mention feeling the pain of her conflict with me. Surely that stress, and the drugs, would have caused a slip of the tongue, if not a confession of guilt with teary eyes! Surely she could have at least confessed to the 2015 summer lies about S. and my aunt, saying she was desperate to get me to talk to her, and so she lost her head.

Instead, she calmly pretended she had no idea what I’d been talking about in my accusation of her lying, focusing on how I’d hurt her so badly. This is the narcissist playing victim while denying her own guilt. I’d been so shocked by her lie about my aunt saying I’d sent her “over-the-top” e-mails that I couldn’t sleep for most of the night after I’d received Mom’s phoney message; but I had hurt her…I hadn’t merely forced her to take responsibility for hurting me. She was remorseless to the end.

She died of cancer at the age of 77, going on 78, in May of 2016. Though I wasn’t with her when she died (nor did I want to be), I did find myself with conflicting feelings, torn between a sense of filial duty to her and my need to protect myself from her manipulations. Remember that I had reason to believe she was faking her death; though I was wrong, my suspicions were understandable given the lies and manipulating I’d endured from her already. So I had to weigh my need for self-protection and urge for justice (through punishing her) against a need for a filial, compassionate response to her suffering (assuming that her cancer really had metastasized). The stress at the time was driving me mad, for unlike my mother, I have a conscience that perturbs me, even when my harsh actions are sufficiently justified. Such is the power of society’s injunction that one honour one’s father and mother.

Of all those things she said to me during that last phone call, all negative generalizations about me because of my understandable wish to end all contact with a probable narc, the most galling was her claim to have given me more love than to R., F., or J., a preposterous falsehood given all her preferential treatment of her three flying monkeys. R. went into all-out hyperbole for her sake by claiming that she’d loved me “more than anyone else on the planet,” in the context of shaming me for not having returned her love at her death. This is an example of a covert narcissist convincing her flying monkeys that she was practically a saint in life, when her victim secretly knows better. It’s also an example of reaction formation, a pretending to have the noble opposite of one’s real, unacceptable attitude (i.e., Mom’s actually having loved me least, if at all).

Indeed, how does a mother who loves you the most, or even equally to your siblings, do the following eight things: lie that you’re autistic, describing it with extreme language to deprive you, a child, of needed self-confidence; allow your elder siblings to bully, belittle, humiliate, and curse at you without a word of reprimand to them, with only a few rare exceptions; frequently indulge in explosive anger, usually for slight provocations; extend your feelings of childhood social alienation to the remaining years of your life by modifying the autism lie into a more plausible lie about Asperger’s Syndrome; demand your involvement in the family regardless of how you feel, on the one hand, then on the other hand discard you as persona non grata when your involvement becomes inconvenient (i.e., Mom’s telling “tactless” me not to visit J. and her dying husband); make it apparent that she’s engaging in smear campaigns against you, behind your back (i.e., when bad-mouthing my youngest cousin, claiming that he, too, must have Asperger’s Syndrome, this implying that she was doing the same thing to me); do nothing to help a mentally ill cousin, whom you’ve begged her to help, when helping him would be the only assured way of preventing him from harming you; and exploiting your concern for him through lies, along with projecting her obvious spite against you onto someone else (i.e., my aunt’s supposed dismay over my “over-the-top” e-mails, and claiming that my aunt considers me a “burden”, when actually it was my mother who had these feelings)?

Was this a loving mother, or a covert narcissist who feigned altruism to get her supply from her flying monkeys (R., F., and J., her darling golden children), then bad-mouthed, cursed at, and smeared everyone she didn’t like (the black sheep: me, my cousins, salespeople, etc.), for more narcissistic supply? Was her claiming I have an autism spectrum disorder, incorrectly described in the language of narcissism, really her using projective identification on me to rid herself of her bad, True Self, thus making it easier to make her loving, False Self more convincing to the world and to herself?

Was her heartache at my rejection of her really just narcissistic injury, her listing of my vices on R.’s cellphone just her way of getting back at me? And if her death was in any way connected with that heartache (as I imagine R., F., and J. think it is, doubtless with her influence), was it really because she’d forever lost that projected part of herself…what she really loved?

I’ll never know for sure, but I have good reason to think so.

As I said in my previous post on this subject, my mother didn’t always mistreat me. She could be generous if she wanted to be, and she was quite often. I acknowledge that, but only in the context of how narcissists can alternate between being nice and nasty (idealizing, devaluing, and discarding phases). You see, Dear Reader, even her kindest moments cannot compensate for the wrongs she did to me as described above, so I can only conjecture that her good moments ultimately had self-serving motives.

Had I been in a normal family, with healthy and loving, if imperfect parents, my snubbing of my mother during her last moments on this earth would have been inexcusable. But mine was a dysfunctional family, so dysfunctional that they will never admit it to themselves. No contact is a standard defensive move that victims of narcissists and psychopaths will use; when I used it, it just happened to occur during my victimizer’s final hours. And my last talk with her on R.’s cellphone gave her one last chance to redeem herself. She chose not to do that.

Unlike my mother, I take full responsibility for what I did during her final years. I deliberately refused to be loving to her, and the whole family was hurt by that. But in my defence, I was provoked…my whole life…by people who spoke of love all the time, but largely didn’t practice it, except among those in their inner circle.

When I received a package from the family lawyer confirming her death and showing me a copy of her will, my heart sank. I went into a depression for at least a week, my shame weighing down on me like a huge rock on my back. She’d left me a portion of her money equal to what she gave R., F., and J., but I didn’t want it. I sent a release of my portion, preferring instead to have our mother’s money equally divided in thirds between R., F., and J. I didn’t want anything from a mother who refused to give me the basic emotional building blocks to live in a functional way.

I’ve gotten over the worst of my grieving so far. Though it was hard for me to do what I did, I feel no contact was the right thing to do. If you, Dear Reader, have been emotionally abused, especially by family, who should have loved you and inspired your trust, you should feel no compunction whatsoever about not giving them a love they didn’t deserve. You owe them nothing. You need to love yourself and take care of yourself, what they never did for your emotional needs.

Learn about self-compassion. Meditate. Write about your experiences, as I have done here; it’s cathartic. Find support groups, whether on social media or in your physical area. Get a therapist if you can find one. Do whatever you have to do to heal, taking as long as you need. Take care of yourself because you are worthy of a happy, healthy life. You did not deserve what happened to you, at all. You deserved much, much better.

Love yourself, and be at peace.

Analysis of ‘The Exorcist’

The Exorcist is a 1973 supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin and starring Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNeil), Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil), Max von Sydow (Father Lankester Merrin), and Jason Miller (Father Damien Karras). It is based on the 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, the movie screenplay having been adapted by the author. The novel in turn was based on the real-life exorcism in 1949 of a boy (‘Roland Doe’, about fourteen years old at the time) who allegedly was possessed of a demon.

Speaking of demons, during production, there were stories of people being injured, which added to the legend of the ‘cursed’ film. Similarly Satanic stories have been told of the productions of The Omen (1976) and Macbeth.

The Exorcist is considered one of the scariest, and therefore one of the best, horror films ever made. It had a huge influence on Black Sabbath, and on Ozzy Osbourne in particular, who sat through many screenings of it. It’s particularly frightening for Christians, not only, I believe, because they would consider the supernatural events something that could really happen, but because Christians unconsciously sense how the film is an allegory of the modern loss of faith, and of the attendant harm done to relationships.

Here are some quotes:

“There’s not a day in my life that I don’t feel like a fraud. Other priests, doctors, lawyers – I talk to them all. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t felt that.” –Karras

“It’s more than psychiatry, and you know that Tom. Some of their problems come down to faith, their vocation and meaning of their lives, and I can’t cut it anymore. I need out. I’m unfit. I think I’ve lost my faith, Tom.” –Karras

“Pathological states can induce abnormal strength. Accelerated motor performance. Now, for example, say a 90 pound woman sees her child pinned under the wheel of a truck. Runs out and lifts the wheels a half a foot up off the ground – you’ve heard the story – same thing here. Same principle, I mean.” –Dr. Taney

“There is one outside chance for a cure. I think of it as shock treatment – as I said, it’s a very outside chance…Have you ever heard of exorcism? Well, it’s a stylized ritual in which the rabbi or the priest try to drive out the so-called invading spirit. It’s been pretty much discarded these days except by the Catholics who keep it in the closet as a sort of an embarrassment, but uh, it has worked. In fact, although not for the reasons they think, of course. It’s purely a force of suggestion. The victim’s belief in possession is what helped cause it, so in that same way, a belief in the power of exorcism can make it disappear.” –Dr. Barringer

Karras: Where’s Regan?
Regan: In here. With us.

“Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon. We may ask what is relevant but anything beyond that is dangerous. He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, Damien, and powerful. So don’t listen to him. Remember that – do not listen.” –Merrin, to Karras

Karras: Why her? Why this girl?
Merrin: I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as… animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.

The movie begins in Iraq, where religious faith is still strong, though it’s the Islamic, rather than Christian, faith. Father Merrin, who personifies Christian faith in the story, is nonetheless old and in ill health, needing to take nitroglycerin for a heart condition. When he finds an amulet, an image of Pazuzu, a demon he once exorcized in Africa many years before, he knows he must face it again.

When discussing the situation and the image with a Mosul curator of antiquities, the curator says, “Evil against evil.” (page 6 in the Prologue of the novel) If there is no God to fight the Devil, then there’s no good, in the religious sense, to fight evil; other forms of evil will have to do to stop Pazuzu. We will see the significance of this idea at the climax of the movie, when Father Damien Karras (note the pun on demon), a doubting priest, uses a decidedly un-Christian method to get the demon out of Regan’s body.

This is what makes the story so scary to Christians, as I see it. From their point of view, good comes only from the Christian God. If He doesn’t exist, then there is no real good to fight evil; there are only other forms of ‘evil’ to fight it, namely, the gods of all those ‘false’ religions: including Islam, whose God, Allah, is acknowledged by Muslims to have created evil as well as good (Allah is not a father, either–see below for the significance of this idea); or paganism, from which Pazuzu originally came. A world of only evil, without God, is Hell, a terrifying notion to Christians.

In Georgetown, Washington DC, Pazuzu has already arrived, and is making noises in Chris MacNeil’s attic. It takes quite a while for the demon actually to enter the body of Regan, her twelve-year-old daughter. Back in the early 1970s, moviegoers’ attention spans weren’t as short as are those of moviegoers today, people who always require quick thrills; more importantly, this slow buildup suggests the insidious nature of growing evil.

Father Karras, far more suited to psychiatry than to preaching, complains to another priest of his loss of faith. Even before this revelation, it is telling how he reacts when he hears Burke Dennings, the enfant terrible director of the film Chris is acting in, tell her that the writer of the film’s screenplay is in Paris “Fucking.” Karras laughs with all the others watching the filming, instead of taking offence at the bad language (page 20: “Chris…darted a furtive, embarrassed glance to a nearby Jesuit, checking to see if he’d heard the obscenity…He’d heard. He was smiling.”). Karras curses a number of times himself elsewhere in the story.

Christians fear that if we lose faith in Christ, we will turn into bestial people; we’ll lose our innocence, speaking and performing obscenities and blasphemies, as Regan does when Pazuzu takes over. Christians believe we must accept the Kingdom of God as a child (Mark 10:14-15); salvation comes not through good works, but by grace through faith (Romans 3:20-28). Despair, however, leads to damnation (Romans 14:23).

As those of us who live secular lives understand, though, the problem of evil is a much more complex one than a mere matter of falling from God’s grace and losing The Garden of Eden, then of being restored to that state of grace by believing in Jesus. MacNeil understands this need for self-reliance, since she is an atheist, as explicitly stated in the novel: “An atheist, she had never taught Regan religion. She thought it dishonest.” (page 47)

The loss of faith isn’t limited, however, to a religious one. Neither the doctors nor the psychiatrists can help Regan, leading her mother to lose faith in them. When the psychiatrists ask Chris of her religious beliefs, or of Regan’s, they suggest exorcism as a cure; though they’re careful to emphasize that, since Regan merely believes she’s possessed, the belief in exorcism, through the “force of suggestion,” can cure her. Ironically, her atheist mother now searches for priests…and the priest she finds–Karras–wants to help as a psychiatrist!

After the scene when Regan has been bouncing on the bed and has struck Dr. Klein, Dr. Taney speaks of how “Pathological states can induce abnormal strength. Accelerated motor performance.” (In the novel, Dr. Klein says it on page 126.) I watched this scene in a theatre here in Taiwan, where the locals in the audience were actually laughing at the doctor’s words. Being firm believers in ghosts, the Taiwanese found it absurd that it hadn’t even occurred to these doctors that Regan was most obviously possessed of a demon. But that’s the point of the story–the loss of religious faith is that profound in mainstream Western society.

After Karras has examined her, he has seen enough proof of possession in Regan–her speaking in languages, Latin and French, which she presumably has never studied (pages 300-301, which also include German); using telekinesis (opening a drawer with her mind); manifesting knowledge of Karras’s dead mother; imitating the voice of a derelict Karras failed to help–he tells another priest he still isn’t convinced of the reality of Pazuzu inside Regan. On page 313: ‘”I’ve made a prudent judgement that it meets the conditions set forth in the Ritual,” answered Karras evasively. He still did not dare believe. Not his mind but his heart had tugged him to this moment; pity and the hope for a cure through suggestion.’ He thinks Regan’s problem is a case of dissociative identity disorder (pages 310, 337).

When Merrin arrives for the exorcism, Karras tries to tell him about her psychiatric history, but Merrin considers this a waste of time. When Karras speaks of three personalities in Regan, Merrin–the personification of faith–insists there is only one.

Merrin emphasizes that “the demon is a liar” who “would lie to confuse” them. The priests mustn’t listen, just as Christians try not to listen to the ideas of modern science, including evolutionary theory, which show the falsity of a literal interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis.

Disproving the six-day Creation, as well as the story of Adam and Eve, is devastating to the Christian faith. If man evolved from the ape, what basis is there for believing in The Fall? How did our animal instincts for self-preservation and survival, including selfishness, the procreative sex drive, and aggression, suddenly become evil once we evolved to the species of homo sapiens? A metaphorical, allegorical interpretation of the Adam and Eve story doesn’t work, either: for Christian soteriology to be effective, the first few chapters of Genesis must be taken as literal, historical fact. If there was no historical Fall of Man, why should we believe in a Divine Rescuer who, by dying on the Cross, gave us a chance to be restored to a state of grace that hadn’t originally existed anyway? (For further reading, see Spong, 1992.)

In light of modern scientific knowledge, we must understand that continuing to preach Christian dogma and Bible stories as literal, historic fact can no longer be merely viewed as a perpetuation of ignorance; now it is just cognitive dissonance, if not tantamount to outright lying. Threatened by modern knowledge, Christians–especially fundamentalists–are compelled to project their mendacity onto evolutionists, as Merrin has projected the idea of lying onto Pazuzu. When Merrin says the demon mixes lies with the truth, this seems an almost grudging concession that Pazuzu may, to an extent at least, be right.

Even without evolutionary theory, Christian theodicies are inadequate. They try to reconcile a perfectly good, omnipotent, omniscient God with a world in which evil exists by talking about Adam and Eve exercising free will by disobeying God; even though they, originally in a state of grace and having its attendant moral wisdom, surely would have had the sense to know that by eating the forbidden fruit, they were ruining themselves. To make an analogy, merely having the free will to put one’s hand on a stove’s red hot burner won’t make a sensible person any more willing to scald his hand; nor will one eat one’s own damnation, provided one has the moral perfection to know the consequences. One would be too morally strong to give in to the temptation of acquiring god-like knowledge.

This is why it’s dangerous to listen to Pazuzu’s words, for they will destroy faith. Merrin makes the point, that it is to make us despair, to make us think we’re animal, and that God would never love us, because we’re so unworthy. And love, particularly the love of our mothers and fathers, is crucial to our mental health; for those primary caregivers of our childhood provide a psychological blueprint for all of our later relationships, which leads me to my next point.

In object relations theory, our loving, good objects–internalized imagos of our parents, which reside in our minds like ghosts in a haunted house–help us to have integrated, healthy personalities, allowing us to have happy, loving relationships. God is the ideal internalized object, the ‘good Father’, and if we lose Him, we’re helpless against our internalized bad objects. Without sufficient good objects, one experiences a splitting of the personality into extreme good and bad objects. Enter Pazuzu…into Regan’s body.

When we don’t believe we’re loved, we develop what WRD Fairbairn called a schizoid personality (not to be confused with schizophrenia, which he considered an extreme schizoid manifestation), a personality split between good and bad internalized objects, something even the most normal people have, to at least some extent (Fairbairn, pages 3-27). This bad internal object, split off from the good ones, is what the demon in Regan could be said to symbolize.

When we don’t feel sufficiently loved–as Regan must feel when her father, in the middle of an acrimonious divorce from Chris, doesn’t call Regan on her birthday (p. 48)–we begin to feel persecutory anxiety, what Melanie Klein called the paranoid-schizoid position. Hence Pazuzu, Regan’s symbolic internalized bad object, is persecuting her.

Interestingly, Fairbairn compared bad objects to demonic possession (pages 67-72). “…it is worth considering whence bad objects derive their power over the individual. If the child’s objects are bad, how does he ever come to internalize them? Why does he not simply reject them…?…However much he may want to reject them, he cannot get away from them. They force themselves upon him; and he cannot resist them because they have power over him. He is accordingly compelled to internalize them in an effort to control them. But, in attempting to control them in this way, he is internalizing objects which have wielded power over him in the external world; and these objects retain their prestige for power over him in the inner world. In a word, he is ‘possessed’ by them, as if by evil spirits. This is not all, however. The child not only internalizes his bad objects because they force themselves upon him and he seeks to control them, but also, and above all, because he needs them. If a child’s parents are bad objects, he cannot reject them, even if they do not force themselves upon him; for he cannot do without them. Even if they neglect him, he cannot reject them; for, if they neglect him [as Regan’s father has neglected her], his need for them is increased.” (Fairbairn p. 67)

Chris’s love for Regan, in contrast, brings out the girl’s sweetness, her good internal object, the ‘good mother’ imago (p. 43). While we know Regan’s maniacal, violent behaviour is caused by an actual demon, and therefore Chris considers it a mistake to have originally believed that Regan’s pathology was caused by her father’s absence, we can nonetheless see the demon as symbolizing repressed anger over her father’s absence. We are, after all, reminded of her missing father even late into the story (p. 328; in the film, there’s no mention of the father calling and wanting to talk to Regan).

Remember also what Pazuzu says: “I am no one.” (page 308) This symbolically represents what Melanie Klein called the omnipotent denial of a bad object. Indeed, is Pazuzu a real demon, or just an internal bad object?

Projection and re-introjection of good and bad objects carry on in a cycle throughout one’s life, in varying levels of intensity. Possessed Regan’s vomiting (and urinating on the rug at the party) symbolize the projection. Freud associated libido with instinctual drives towards pleasure, but Fairbairn believed libido was directed at seeking objects (e.g., looking for people to give love to and receive love from). “Actually some of the activities to which so-called libidinal aims have been attributed are activities which I should hesitate to describe as primarily libidinal at all, e.g. anal and urinary activities; for the inherent aim of these activities, in common with that of vomiting, is not the establishment of a relationship with objects, but the rejection of objects which, from the point of view of the organism, constitute foreign bodies.” (Fairbairn p. 138) Regan’s puking and pissing can in one way be considered her futile attempt at exorcising her bad objects.

If we can’t find the loving objects we need, then our behaviour deteriorates to mere pleasure-seeking, as Regan’s obscene and blasphemous acts indicate. She violently rejects the loving help of father figures, and instead behaves obscenely. Instead of wanting to be saved by God, she masturbates with a crucifix; instead of receiving the priests’ help, she wants them to fuck her, or one another; she also grabs a hypnotherapist by the balls; and she hits one of the male doctors, then calls out to them: “Fuck me! Fuck me!”

Fairbairn elaborates: “…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) Similarly, addiction of any kind (drugs, sex, gambling, the internet, pornography) can be seen as an attempt to connect when normal human connection has failed for the addict.

As far as introjection and re-introjection are concerned, we can see it symbolically in Regan’s masturbating with the crucifix, her jamming and re-jamming of that thing inside her bloodied vagina, saying, “Let Jesus fuck you! Let Jesus fuck you!” Jesus is the Son of God, but He’s also homooúsios with God the Father, that is, equal to Him. When confronting Father Merrin, she says, “Stick your cock up her ass…” These two blasphemies and obscenities represent a wish for introjection of a father figure, and also symbolize the female Oedipus situation of a girl whose father is no longer part of her life. Telling her mother, and forcing her to “Lick me! Lick me!” represents a briefly inverted Oedipus conflict, and her hitting of Chris is a return to the normal Oedipus situation. Pursuit of pleasure for its own sake is all Regan has, because the acquiring of her needed loving object (her father) is impossible.

When Merrin dies at the end, faith dies. Karras desperately tries to revive him, but to no avail. Pazuzu seems awed at first by his final victory over Merrin, then he laughs in Schadenfreude. Enraged, Karras grabs Regan and beats the demon out of her–evil against evil, he punches her like a boxer. He wants to introject the demon, the bad object, not only to save her, I believe, but to punish himself for his loss of faith and absence when his mother died (his presumably dead father, by the way, is never mentioned in the movie). With the demon inside Karras, she is safe…except for the fact that Damien the demon is now eyeing her with a view to assault her…perhaps sexually. Swelling with self-hate and an urge to redeem himself, Karras shouts “No!” and jumps out the window, sacrificing his life for the girl’s. Evil against evil. Instead of salvation by faith, we have salvation by suicide, the ultimate act of faithlessness.

A weeping Father Dyer gives Karras absolution as he’s dying. Karras seems to have regained his faith (though it seems to be a belief only in devils, rather than in God; also, is his moving hand, in Dyer’s, really an expression of repentance?) while dying; in any case, his suicide still symbolizes a paradoxical salvation by faithlessness. His receiving of absolution would seem an affirmation of faith at the end of the story; but consider how Karras’s ‘exorcism’ of Regan involved no use of the Roman Catholic ritual at all. No prayers to God. He just beat the girl. ‘God’ wasn’t anywhere. No miracles came from Him; the supernatural occurrences came only from Pazuzu. Indeed, the two priests look ludicrously ineffectual as they are chanting, over and over, “The power of Christ compels you!” Does Pazuzu lower the levitated Regan by the priests’ compulsion, or of his own free will? Indeed, the demon has been toying with the priests the whole time.

When the family moves out, Chris tells Father Dyer that Regan remembers nothing of the demon. The bad internal object, that of her neglectful father, has been repressed, pushed back into Regan’s unconscious, and so there’s no longer a threat…or so we assume.

Regan projects her ‘bad father’ imago, Pazuzu, into Father Karras, and when he’s killed himself, she can feel satisfaction from that. When she quickly gives Father Dyer a hug and kiss, we wonder, for a second, will she attack him?

No, he’s safe, for she has successfully repressed her internal saboteur (Fairbairn p. 102-105), her “anti-libidinal ego [, which] is the split-off ego fragment that is bonded with the rejecting object. We can think of it as the ‘anti-wanting I’, the aspect of the self that is contemptuous of neediness. Rejection gives rise to unbearable anger, split off from the central self or ego [corresponding roughly to Freud’s ego] and disowned by it. Fairbairn originally termed this element the ‘internal saboteur’, indicating that in despising rather than acknowledging our neediness, we ensure that we neither seek nor get what we want. The anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object configuration is the cynical, angry self which is too dangerously hostile for us to acknowledge. When it emerges from repression we may experience it as chaotic rage or hatred, sometimes with persecutory guilt.” (Gomez p. 63-64)

Earlier in the story, Regan’s libidinal ego (the part of Fairbairn’s endo-psychic structure corresponding roughly to Freud’s id) is attached to Burke as a possible stepfather, what Fairbairn would have called an ‘exciting object’ (Fairbairn p. 102-105; Gomez p. 62); for she is hoping her mother will marry him, speaking to her mother of how she (Chris) likes him (p. 43-44). Then, her anti-libidinal ego, the internal saboteur, symbolized by Pazuzu, considers Burke a copy of her rejecting object/father and kills him (and since her rejecting object is inside her psyche, Regan imitates Burke’s voice and twists her head around, as Burke’s was when found dead). Pazuzu, the name of her ‘bad father’ imago, could be considered a pun on ‘Pa’. Is Pazuzu jealous of Regan’s preferring Burke to him as a father-object? Similarly, Pazuzu wants to kill the other two Fathers, Merrin and Karras.

But to return to the end of the story: having reintegrated her bad objects with her good ones, Regan has thus restored her mental health. Unconsciously, she can now accept the independent existence of her far-away father. She has given up the omnipotence symbolized by the supernatural powers of the demon, for she no longer needs to deny the bad aspects of her object relations. Now she wants reparation with fathers, so she doesn’t hurt Dyer.

Regan’s parents’ divorce amounted to a loss of faith in their marriage, resulting in the girl’s loss of faith in fathers–biological ones, possible stepfathers (Burke), Catholic Fathers, male doctors/hypnotherapists/psychiatrists, or God the Father Himself. Because the priests cannot replace her actual father any more than Burke can, Pazuzu’s first words to Merrin include, “…you motherfucking, worthless cocksucker!” What else is your father, but the man who is fucking your mother? (And leaving her, i.e., divorcing her and abandoning Regan, is fucking Chris in a different way…making him worthless to Regan.) When Merrin throws holy water on Regan, Pazuzu the rejecting object writhes in pain and has scars on her leg to show his rejection of the Father.

Killing fathers, whether potential surrogates like Burke, or religious ones like Karras or Merrin, is what Pazuzu is all about: the anti-libidinal ego that is attached to the internalized ‘rejecting object’ (Regan’s absent father). As I see it, Pazuzu is both the anti-libidinal ego and the internalized rejecting object at the same time. Pazuzu rejects fathers for the same reason he rejects God. After all, paternity is an act of faith in itself. Note what Don Pedro and Leonato, Hero’s father, say about her in a dialogue in Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, Scene i, lines 88-89:

DON PEDRO: I think this is your daughter.

LEONATO: Her mother hath many times told me so.

Or, consider a quote in James Joyce’s Ulysses: “Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man. It is a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten…founded…Upon incertitude, upon unlikelihood…Paternity may be a legal fiction.” (Joyce, page 266)

Our fathers, who are in Heaven (or here on Earth): hollow seem their names. This is what The Exorcist seems to be telling us…and that’s what is so frightening about the film.

William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist, HarperCollinsPublishers, New York NY, 1971

W. Ronald D. Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952

John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: a Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture, Harper, San Francisco, 1992

Lavinia Gomez, An Introduction to Object Relations, Free Association Books, London, 1997

James Joyce, Ulysses: Annotated Student Edition, Penguin Books, London, first published 1922

Analysis of ‘Psycho’

Psycho is a psychological suspense/horror film produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1960.  It is based on the Robert Bloch novel of the same name, published the year before; the novel, in turn, was based on the Ed Gein murders.

Ed Gein was a serial killer in Wisconsin in the 1950s.  A ‘mama’s boy,’ Gein was devastated by the death of his mother in 1945, and felt all alone in the world; when she was alive, she was a domineering, prudish woman, teaching him that all women were sexually promiscuous instruments of the devil.

Soon after her death, Ed began making a “woman suit” so he could “be” his mother by crawling into a woman’s skin.  For this purpose, he tanned the skins of women.  He also admitted to robbing nine graves.  Body parts were found all over his house as ghoulish works of art.  These macabre crimes were the inspiration not only for Psycho, but also The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Buffalo Bill character in Silence of the Lambs, and numerous other horror movies.

Psycho is considered the first slasher film; and while it had received only mixed reviews on its release, it is now considered one of Hitchcock’s best films, and one of the greatest films of all time.  The Ed Gein of the movie, Norman Bates (played by Anthony Perkins), was ranked the second greatest movie villain of all time by the American Film Institute (AFI), after Hannibal Lecter and before Darth Vader.  The first of the following two quotes was ranked by the AFI as #56 of the greatest movie quotes of all time; the second was nominated for the list.

1. “A boy’s best friend is his mother.” –Norman Bates

2. “We all go a little mad sometimes.” –Norman Bates

A few motifs in Psycho are birds, showers (those in the bathtub, and of rain), and mirrors (including reflections in glass).  These all have specific symbolic meanings.

The bird motif is generally of motionless birds, those in pictures–trapped, as it were, inside frames–or stuffed birds.  Normally, we think of free birds, those free to fly anywhere they wish; but the birds in Psycho are very much trapped and immobile.

Marion Crane (Mary in the novel) is a ‘bird’ in a kind of “private trap.”  She wants to marry her boyfriend, Sam Loomis, but he has debts and alimony to pay, thus making marriage with him not very feasible.  By stealing $40,000, she tries to her escape her trap, the trap of Phoenix, Arizona.  She tries rising like a phoenix from the ashes, so to speak, of her dead-end life there, but a suspecting policeman (along with the suspicions of a used car salesman) begins a pursuit of her that ensures that Crane cannot escape the trap she’s put herself in.  The phoenix can’t rise out of Phoenix.

Norman’s stuffing of birds, as well as the stuffing of another ‘bird’ (British slang for a sexually desirable woman), his mother (for whom he has an unresolved Oedipal fixation, something discussed in Chapter One of Bloch’s novel), represents the trap he is in.  “We scratch and claw” (my emphasis), Norman says, but we can’t get out of our “private traps.”

He kills Marion Crane in the shower–he knocks off that bird–but he’s still in his trap, and he knows it.  Hence his shock at the sight of her body lying over the side of the bathtub, causing him to jerk his body around, hit the wall outside the entrance to the bathroom, and cause the picture of a bird to fall to the floor.  He’s knocked off another bird.  Just like all those birds, Norman Bates is forever trapped.

Showers symbolize purification and redemption, or at least an attempt at it.  The rain that showers on Marion’s car at night, just before she reaches the Bates Motel, happens at a point when she has been thinking about all the trouble she’s gotten herself into.  She realizes that she has aroused not only the suspicion of a cop who saw her in a nervous hurry, and of a used car salesman whom she’s given $700 in cash for a rushed trade of cars, but also of her boss, who saw her nervously drive out of Phoenix when she was supposed to be sleeping off a headache.  With the cleansing rain comes her realization that she must return to Phoenix and take responsibility for what she’s done.

She’s only a little wet from the rain when honking her car horn to get Norman’s attention from up in his house.  During her conversation with him in the parlour room, she admits that she must get out of the private trap she’s put herself in.  Then she takes a shower, whose purifying water washes away the rest of her guilt, refreshing her and putting a smile on her face.  The birds of this movie, however, are always trapped, and we all know what happens next…

We catch people’s reflections many times in this film, either from windows or from mirrors.  These reflected images represent psychological projectionPsycho is very much a psychoanalytic movie, for Hitchcock was heavily influenced by Freud (another notably Freudian film of his was 1945’s Spellbound, with Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck).

An early example of projection is when Marion imagines the angry reaction of the rich man after she has stolen his $40,000: she imagines him saying that she was “flirting with [him]” when he laid the money before her, when we all know he was flirting with her.  Of course, her imagining him saying that is her projecting back at him.

Another example of projection, directly symbolized by mirror reflections, is when Lila Crane is looking around in Mrs. Bates’s bedroom.  She sees her reflection in a large mirror, but forgets that another mirror is behind her; for a second, she thinks–as do we, the audience–that a woman (Mrs. Bates?) is behind her, but it’s actually just another mirror reflection of Lila.  She has projected her intrusion into the Bates family’s private space onto Mrs. Bates, briefly imagining Norman’s mother is intruding into Lila’s personal space.  (The theme of intrusion will be dealt with later here.)

The crowning example of projection, however, is that of Norman Bates onto his mother…and of the mother personality projecting back onto Norman.  When talking to Marion in the parlour, he speaks of how Mother “goes a little mad sometimes.”  (See also Quote #2 above.)  He is clearly projecting his own insanity onto her, and onto the rest of the world, as is seen in the second quote above.  As the psychiatrist explains at the end of the movie, Norman’s mother was “a clinging, demanding woman,” but she wasn’t mad.  Norman, on the other hand, had been “dangerously disturbed…ever since his father died.”

Norman himself, in a powerful moment of dramatic irony, admits that his mother is “as harmless as one those stuffed birds.”  The mother personality, just after musing over Norman’s guilt at the film’s end, and projecting her guilt back onto him, says that she can’t allow everyone to believe she’d “killed those girls, and that man,” when all she could do was “sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds.”  The fact that Norman had actually practiced his hobby of taxidermy on her corpse illustrates perfectly, and eerily, the irony of ‘Mother’s’ words.

Norman’s mother, like Ed Gein’s, has a puritanical attitude towards sex, and considers all women to be whores.  When she met a man, however, and had a sexual relationship with him ten years before the story’s beginning, Norman–with his Oedipal fixation–went insane with jealousy and murdered her and her lover with strychnine.  As the psychiatrist points out, “because he was so pathologically jealous of her, he assumed that she was as jealous of him,” and “the mother side of him would go wild” if she ever discovered him to be attracted to another woman; hence Marion’s murder, and those of two other (presumably attractive) girls.  Norman has projected his insane jealousy onto the mother personality.

A particularly important theme that runs throughout this movie is that of intrusion, penetration, or the invasion of privacy.  Hitchcock’s camera has us invade Marion’s and Sam’s privacy in their hotel room at the very beginning of the film, with him bare chested and her in her bra on the bed.

Later, when Marion is in the office at work, the rich man, Tom Cassidy, comes in with her boss; Cassidy begins ogling the beautiful young woman, even sitting on her desk as his eyes are going up and down her body.  He’s had a few drinks, so someone who’s probably normally a gentleman seems to have an excuse not to be now.  Again, we have intruding on someone’s personal space.

After driving out of Phoenix with the $40,000 she’s embezzled, Marion gets tired at night and pulls over to the side of the road to rest.  She’s slept there all night, though, and wakes up to the knocking sound of a policeman tapping on her car window the next day.  Looking through the window and wearing sunglasses that threateningly hide the expression in his eyes, the cop is invading her personal space.

He continues nosing in on her personal business by following her to a used car lot and parking across the road.  Leaning against his car, he’s watching her; and after she’s traded in her car for a new one, he’s in the parking lot, noting the new licence plate.

When she comes to the Bates Motel, she’s now in Norman’s private world, a motel doing bad business because a new highway has made the road to his motel rarely used; hence, he is all alone in his “private trap” with “Mother.”

As he chats with Marion in the parlour room, he shows his sensitivity to private matters by saying, “I didn’t mean to pry,” after asking where she is going.  The prudish young man can’t even say “bathroom” in front of beautiful Marion (for the things done there are so extremely private); and later, when Detective Arbogast asks if Norman spent the night with Marion, he, offended, says, “No!”

Norman is similarly offended when Marion suggests putting “Mother” in an institution, with all those “cruel eyes studying [her],” invading ‘her’ privacy.  Of course, the man his mother had a relationship with also invaded Norman’s private world, and he was so offended with that intrusion that he killed them both.

After the conversation between Norman and Marion in the parlour, he invades her privacy by watching her undress through a peephole in the wall shared by the parlour room and her cabin.

Of course, the shower scene is the ultimate invasion of privacy.  I can imagine this scene being particularly frightening to women, for that phallic knife invading a naked woman’s body is more that a murder: symbolically, it’s a rape.  In Bloch’s novel, she’s decapitated; but a penetrating knife is more symbolically appropriate for the film.

When Lila is talking to Sam in his hardware store about Marion’s disappearance, Detective Arbogast sticks his nose into their personal business by eavesdropping, at the ajar front door, on the conversation, then by interrupting it.  Later, the detective comes into Norman’s private world by asking about Marion, then about his mother, something that especially agitates Norman.

Finally, Arbogast walks right into Norman’s house without any permission to enter, and snoops around, going upstairs.  ‘Mother’s’ knife then invades his personal space, slashing his face and stabbing into him: he who lives by intrusion shall die by intrusion.  After that, the sheriff and police snoop around Norman’s house, forcing him to hide ‘Mother’ in the fruit cellar.

Leading up to the movie’s climax, Sam and Lila intrude on Norman’s private world by pretending to be a married couple looking for a room in the motel.

Sam keeps Norman occupied at the registration desk by chatting with him while Lila goes up to the house.  Sam’s questions get more and more intrusive, aggressive, and accusing, agitating Norman to the point of him telling them just to leave.  Meanwhile, Lila has been snooping in ‘Mother’s’ and Norman’s bedrooms.  In his room, she sees his stuffed toy rabbit, an odd sleeping companion for a grown man, and a book whose inner contents make her shudder.  (In Bloch’s novel, it’s pornography.)

At the film’s climax, Lila hides by the stairs to the basement while Norman is running into the house.  Instead of running outside to safety once he’s gone upstairs, she decides to snoop some more and go down into the basement, which Slavoj Zizek, in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, says represents Norman’s repressed id.  This is his most private place of all, and Lila’s invasion of that privacy allows us to learn the truth about ‘Mother.’

One last thing should be examined: the symbolism of hot and cold in the movie.  At the beginning, in Phoenix, it’s a hot day, first in the hotel with Sam and Marion after a sexual encounter, then in her office, which has no air conditioning, and where that rich lecher is leering at her.  The heat represents Freud’s concept of libido, or the sexual instincts.

Later, when the murders have been committed in the Fairvale area of California, we notice how people are colder.  Lila needs to get her coat before she and Sam go the sheriff’s house; in the police station at the end, the sheriff asks if she’s warm enough; and Norman “feels a slight chill,” and wants a blanket.  The cold represents the psychoanalytic concept of Thanatos, or the death drive.

Freud and Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was the father of psychoanalysis.  He was born in the Moravian town of Pribor, then part of the Austrian Empire, now part of the Czech Republic.  While he certainly didn’t invent the idea of the unconscious mind, he created a kind of road map, as it were, for navigating the unconscious; and the resulting insights have made him one of the most important psychiatric thinkers of the twentieth century, influencing art, literature, and film.

Here are some famous quotes of his:

“The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.”  —The Interpretation of Dreams

“A person who feels pleasure in producing pain in someone else in a sexual relationship is also capable of enjoying as pleasure any pain which he may himself derive from sexual relations. A sadist is always at the same time a masochist.”  —Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

“Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness.”  –Letter to an American mother’s plea to cure her son’s homosexuality (1935)

‘The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “What does a woman want?” –said once to Marie Bonaparte; Sigmund Freud: Life and Work (Hogarth Press, 1953) by Ernest Jones, Vol. 2, Pt. 3, Ch. 16. In a footnote Jones gives the original German, “Was will das Weib?

“It is easy to see that the ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world.”  —The Ego and the Id

“What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books.”  –Letter to Ernest Jones (1933), as quoted in The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993) by Robert Andrews, p. 779

I: Early Years

Freud was immensely learned, being proficient in many languages, including German, Hebrew, classical Greek and Latin, English, Italian, Spanish, and French.  He could actually read Shakespeare in the original English…from a young age!  Indeed, Shakespeare’s insight into human nature influenced Freud, who interpreted much in Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and other plays.  Other writers to have a strong influence on Freud were Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche.

He graduated with a medical degree, but never practiced internal medicine.  Instead, he studied cerebral anatomy, neurology, neuropathology (on which he was a lecturer from 1885 to the beginning years of the 20th century), cerebral palsy, and he even did investigations to find the location of the sexual organs of eels (!).

His research into neuropathology led to him trying to help patients with ‘nervous illness’ (neurosis).  He went to Paris to study and attend demonstrations of hypnosis by Jean-Martin Charcot.  Impressed by its apparent effectiveness in treating hysterical patients, Freud tried hypnosis on several hysterical patients of his during the 1880s, the most famous of whom was “Anna O,” who called Freud’s particular application of hypnosis, involving her speaking while hypnotized, the “talking cure.”  He published his Studies on Hysteria with his colleague of the time, Josef Breuer.

II: Free Association

He found, however, that hypnosis didn’t seem to effect a lasting cure for hysteria or neurosis, so he began to devise his own method called free association.  He could have the patient lie supine on a couch, thus relaxing the patient to the point of being in a state comparable to hypnosis, which would allow the patient’s unconscious mind to be open and accessible to the therapist.  Freud would then tell the patient to speak of anything on his or her mind.  There would be no rules at all: the patient just had to talk and talk.  There was no need to censor subject matter considered rude, sexually inappropriate, or in any way ‘irrelevant’; in fact, it would be necessary to include such talk, for this would give the therapist free flowing access to the patient’s unconscious mind.

As the patient continued talking and talking, however, he or she would sooner or later hit a wall, as it were, and stop talking.  Sometimes this was because the patient knew an anxiety-causing subject was coming dangerously close to being discussed; at other times, the patient simply didn’t know why no more subject matter could be thought of, to continue the chain of associations the therapist was writing down and linking together by way of recurring themes spotted.  In the latter case, Freud would assume that anxiety-producing subject matter was being repressed, deep down in the unconscious, so while the patient didn’t know why he or she couldn’t continue, Freud could link together the recurring themes of everything talked about, then speculate on what the cause of repression might be.

One early theory Freud had was called the seduction theory.  He found that a lot of his patients were describing sexual relationships with their parents, so he assumed they’d been sexually abused as children, and that this had caused their psychological problems.  As it turned out, the sheer proliferation of so many cases of apparent child sexual abuse, as well as his own self-analysis, caused Freud to change this theory into that of the Oedipus complex. Some think he fabricated this new theory to save his career and avoid dealing with the wrath of a mass of parents implicated as child molesters, but such speculations are far from proven.

III: Dreams

Another method Freud used in mapping out the unconscious mind was dream analysis.  Fortunately for the sake of his research, he had made a habit of recording his dreams in journals from childhood, so when he began analyzing himself, he had lots of dreams for material to work with.  From his research of his own dreams as well as those of his patients, he produced his first great work, The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1899, but with the year 1900 printed on the title page, to usher in the twentieth century.  In this seminal book, he theorized that all dreams, without exception, even nightmares, were forms of wish-fulfillment.

Now, it is easy to see how having a dream about making love with an attractive partner, or about winning millions of dollars in the lottery, can be wish-fulfillment, but how can anxiety-causing dreams be?  Here, we must take into account conflict in Freudian psychology.  In our minds, part of us wants to do or have one thing, another part of us wants something contradictory to the first, and we mentally battle it out to see which instinctual drive wins out.  When these conflicts become too difficult to reconcile, anxiety results, and this unease can be reflected in the dream content.  Hence, nightmares can be an attempt at the fulfillment of contradictory–and anxiety-producing–wishes; they can thus simply be a failure of the dream to sustain sleep.

Let us imagine, for example, a young man who–though he sees himself as heterosexual, nonetheless has repressed homosexual feelings for his handsome male doctor.  His urges are so repressed that he isn’t even consciously aware of them, so shocking would they be if ever revealed.  Still, he has an odd habit of feeling so chronically ill that he must see his doctor for regular checkups.  Now, in his dreams, he probably wouldn’t see himself in bed with the doctor, for this would make him wake up bathed in sweat; for after all, the purpose of dreams is to ensure restful, uninterrupted sleep.

If, on the other hand, the young man dreamed of getting naked for his doctor in a physical examination, his wish fulfillment could thus be indirectly realized, by way of associative compromise; or he could symbolically fulfill his unconscious wish by dreaming of his handsome doctor putting a phallic tongue depressor in his mouth, or a shot from a needle in his behind.  There is much distortion of conflicting wishes in dreams, hence their strangeness; and the distortion can reconcile the conflict in a way that facilitates sleep.

But guilt and anxiety from such wishes, especially guilt imposed by an intolerant society, may require a ‘wish’ to be somehow punished or shamed for having these taboo desires.  Hence, in his dream, the naked young man, during his examination, may see the door to the examination room suddenly swing open, and all his family and friends outside see him.  Or the tongue depressor may be put too deep inside his mouth, causing him to gag or choke; or the shot from the needle may be especially painful.  Thus, an anxiety-causing dream fulfills taboo wishes–if only indirectly and symbolically–and also satisfies the wish to alleviate guilt by providing some form of punishment.  And the anxiety-causing nature of the ‘punishment’ results in a failure to sustain sleep–the dreamer wakes up from a nightmare.

Apart from Freud’s ideas about dreams as wish fulfillment, and the distortion of dreams, he also touched on such ideas as penis envy and the Oedipus complex.  This latter idea is dealt with in a special way, through his analysis of perhaps the two greatest tragedies in Western literature, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Why is any work of art considered great?  Because it communicates ideas we can all relate to in some way, and Freud believed these plays to fulfill a man’s deepest unconscious fantasy: to be rid of his father and to have his mother.

In Oedipus Rex, the title character has directly, if unwittingly, fulfilled this wish, and the tragedy of the play comes from his horror and shame in realizing he has murdered his father and married his mother.  In the case of Hamlet, the fantasy is fulfilled vicariously by Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, and Hamlet delays his revenge because he unconsciously understands that he is no better than Claudius.  So he can’t bring himself to kill his uncle.  Productions of Hamlet throughout the twentieth century portrayed the Danish prince as having a thing for his mother.

IV: Errors and Humour

Freud’s next book was The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.  In this book, he theorized about the psychology of errors.  Slips of the tongue or of the pen, or mistakes of any kind were, in Freud’s opinion, not mere accidents: they expressed unconscious wishes.  Again, conflicting instincts in the mind–part of us wants to do something, another part of us doesn’t want to do this thing–cause us to resolve them by ‘half doing’ things, or doing them incorrectly.  Particularly amusing slips of the tongue, ones whose unconscious meanings are obvious, and often sexual, are called “Freudian slips.”

Let me tell you an amusing story.

Back in about 1997, at the English cram school where I was teaching Taiwanese kids, I had a habit, well known among my coworkers, of eating late lunches at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) before teaching my later afternoon and evening classes.  One afternoon, I was outside the school, about to get something to eat, and I was chatting with an attractive young female Taiwanese teaching assistant.  Her English was reasonably good, but she made errors in grammar here and there.  During our brief chat, we were being flirtatious.  Our chat ended, and I was about to leave.  She said, “So, are you going to FCK now?”

Speaking of humour, another book Freud wrote around this time (early 1900s) was Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious.  In this book, he wrote of how all the jokes we tell reflect unconscious desires.

V: Stages of Psychosexual Development

Now, one of Freud’s most controversial ideas, particularly shocking during the prudish Victorian era, were his theories about childhood sexuality.  These ideas were dealt with in such writings as the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and “The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex,” among others.

The stages of psychosexual development have a child going through polymorphous perversity, when a child can be aroused by virtually anything, or have anything be an object to satisfy his libido, no matter how bizarre, since so young a person hasn’t yet been taught by society to focus his or her sexual energies on ‘acceptable’ objects.

The first of these psychosexual stages is the oral stage, during which an infant or child gains pleasure from sucking or biting on things.  Obviously, it is connected with the years when a baby is breast-fed.  If a person, however, is fixated on the oral stage later in life, he or she may express this fixation through such habits as smoking.  In light of Freud’s insight into such matters, it is astonishing how he, a lifelong smoker of cigars (which eventually gave him cancer of the jaw), wouldn’t give up his habit.

The next stage is the anal stage, when a child derives pleasure from defecating.  This is linked to a child’s potty training.  If one is fixated at this stage, and becomes anal retentive, one might develop the following personality traits: excessive cleanliness, parsimony, fastidiousness, stubbornness, and a need to be in control.  As Freud theorized in his paper, “Character and Anal Erotism,” one opposite may shift to the other (i.e., from filthy defecation to neat and tidy cleanliness and fastidiousness, through reaction formation); or preoccupation with this unclean state may be expressed associatively (i.e., filthy feces symbolized by a love for filthy lucre, hence, parsimony).

Next comes the particularly controversial phallic stage, when little boys and girls discover a certain anatomical difference between them, resulting in the castration complex.  Imagine, for example, a five-year-old boy and his four-year-old sister taking a bath together for the first time.  Their mother is getting the bath ready, and the boy and girl, naked, are facing each other, noting the difference between them.

Now imagine the boy’s reaction when he sees his sister, without a penis, but a slit in that place instead.  The slit seems to be a wound: has she been castrated?  Since the boy, with his Oedipal longing for Mommy and wish to dispose of Daddy, the young lad imagines his sister’s ‘castration’ has been her punishment for trying to take Mom away from jealous Dad.  Now, the boy realizes Dad may want to castrate him, too, for having the same Oedipal urges.  The fear that the boy has is called castration anxiety.

Castration anxiety has a profound effect on a boy’s psychological development, according to Freud.  It finds symbolic expression in a man’s fear of being humiliated, especially if this involves, for example, losing an argument with a woman.  After all, if women are just ‘castrated men’ in his eyes, then he will often have “an enduringly low opinion of the other sex [i.e., women],” as Freud said in a footnote, added in 1920, to the second of his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.  Here, Freud is merely commenting on the reality of sexism: for what seems to be his agreement with sexism, read on…

For the girl’s version of the castration complex, the idea especially detested by feminists, Freud called it penis envy.  Imagine again the naked boy and girl in the bathroom.  When she sees the dangling members on him that she lacks, she feels “unfairly treated,” as Freud argued in his essay, “On the Sexual Theories of Children” (1908).  Why is she deprived of what he has?

Her resulting resentment–coming after a period of denial during which she, for example, attempts urinating while standing (her brother, too, at first denies her ‘castration,’ imagining her ‘penis’ is just really small, and will grow larger later)–causes her to feel a generalized jealousy, which he, in his 1925 essay “Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes,” called a “displaced penis-envy.”  Some of this, Freud believed, resulted in feminism.  It also results, apparently, in women having, on average, relatively weak superegos.

Here, Freud’s sexism reached a particularly low point, since even though, in the aforementioned 1925 essay, he would “willingly agree” that most men fall far short of the masculine ideal, and that there is much psychic bisexuality in the personality traits of both sexes, and thus pure maleness and femaleness are socially constructed ideas “of uncertain content,” the historical, worldwide male denunciations of women’s inferior moral sense are, it seems, justified (!).

For feminist defenses of Freud, one can look to the writings of Juliet Mitchell (in particular, her 1974 book Psychoanalysis and Feminism: Freud, Reich, Laing, and Women) and Camille Paglia (she brings up Freud, the unconscious, and the danger of ignoring these ideas about 15 minutes into this video.  Here’s another, around 6:30 into it.)

Now, with the bringing on of the castration complex, another difference between the sexes arises: the boy’s Oedipus complex ends–or is, at least, repressed–out of the fear of the father’s retribution, replaced by identification with him; and the girl’s original Oedipal love for her mother, out of a belief that Mom castrated her, switches to a new Oedipus complex, hers being a love for her father and a hatred for her mother. Carl Gustav Jung called this the Electra complex (a term Freud scoffed at), also based on Greek myth; for Electra hated her mother, Clytemnestra, for plotting with her lover, Aegisthus, to murder Agamemmnon, Electra’s beloved father.

With this new Oedipal attachment, girls apparently long to possess their father’s penis, and as they grow up, this desire to have that “little one” gets displaced, and the desire to have another “little one,” a baby, is supposed to come about in womanhood.  This verbal relationship between penis and baby, both called “das Kleine,” or “little one,” is described in Freud’s 1917 essay “On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Erotism.”

When the phallic stage is over, a period of lack of interest in sexual matters, the latency period, occurs from roughly the age of five or six until the onset of adolescence.  Then the sexual instincts reawaken, and if no fixation during any of the earlier stages has occurred, teenagers should have attained the genital stage, in which they derive pleasure from the genitals, a state of affairs considered normal and mature.  Along with this notion of sexual maturity, Freud insisted that a woman’s orgasms should be vaginally based; orgasms based on the clitoris, apparently, are sexually immature (!).

VI: The Theory of the Personality

According to Freud, we all begin with the id (Das Es, ‘It’).  This ‘thing,’ this primitive, selfish, savage animal inside us is on an endless quest for gratification.  It operates on the pleasure principle, which, put bluntly, says, “If it makes you feel good, do it.”  It is like a naughty, bratty, spoiled child, constantly demanding the satisfaction of its urges.

Imagine a little boy who hasn’t developed a sense of restraint yet.  The cookie jar in the kitchen is within his reach.  Without even a second’s consideration of the consequences, he impulsively grabs all the cookies he can eat and munches away.  Then Mom catches him, and he gets a spanking.

Having learned his lesson, the boy begins to develop an ego (Das Ich, “I”).  His id is pushed somewhat into his unconscious, and his ego operates on the reality principle, which is a modification of the pleasure principle, saying, “If it makes you feel good, do it, but only if it’s safe.”  Now if he wants to steal from the cookie jar, he must make sure neither Mom nor Dad catches him; if both are totally distracted by the TV in the living room, and if he doesn’t eat so many cookies that his parents know some are missing, he should get away with his act of petty larceny.  If his parents suspect that some cookies are unaccountably missing, perhaps he can blame the theft on a younger sibling!

So far, our boy still hasn’t learned about morality, but he will, from all the authority figures in his life: his parents, teachers, religious leaders, etc.  When he has learned about right and wrong, he has a superego (Das Uberich, “Over-I”), which demands that all his thoughts and behaviour conform to an ego ideal, or perfect standard of morality.  Now, whenever he is tempted to take a cookie or two from the cookie jar, not only does he have to avoid being caught, he has to wrestle with the guilt of knowing he is selfish and inconsiderate to his family.  Perhaps he is fearful of God watching down from heaven with a disapproving frown!

His id has now been repressed deep down into his unconscious; parts of his ego and superego, like an iceberg, are submerged down there, too; part of those two are also in the preconscious, which is just under the surface, and whose thoughts are accessible to the conscious mind.  And now the ego must act as mediator, managing the conflicting demands of libido, reality, and morality.  How can the ego do this?

VII: Ego Defence Mechanisms

Fortunately, the ego has a number of defence mechanisms, which aim to reduce anxiety and guilt.  We have already encountered a few of these, including these two: repression, which pushes unacceptable urges deep into the unconscious, so one doesn’t even know one has such feelings; and displacement, which moves one’s instincts from an unacceptable object to an acceptable one.

Imagine a man being yelled at by his boss in a manner that’s left him feeling humiliated.  He cannot direct his rage at his boss, of course; so when he goes home, fuming inside, he looks for an excuse to blow up at his wife (bad cooking, nagging at him, etc.) or at his kids (playing too loudly, not doing their homework, etc.).

A special kind of displacement is called transference, which involves, for example, displacement of a patient’s feelings (romantic love, hostility, etc.) onto his or her therapist.  When some of Freud’s female patients began falling in love with him, at first he found the transference a discomfiting distraction from the psychoanalytic task at hand; later, he found it useful to work with the transference as part of the journey to find a cure for the patient’s neuroses.

Along with transference comes countertransference, when the therapist develops feelings for the patient.  Freud recoiled at this returning of feelings, fearing that an emotional involvement with the patient was unprofessional and damaging to the cool, scientific rigour of psychoanalytic investigation; but later analysts, such as those involved in object relations theory, found good uses for countertransference, feeling that it could simulate, and thus regenerate, relationships stifled in their patients’ childhood, a stifling caused by bad parenting.

Other ego defence mechanisms include suppression, a restraining of instincts, but allowing them to remain conscious.  Also, there is denial, whose guilt-relieving mechanism is self-explanatory; and projection, where one throws one’s anxiety-causing instincts onto others, blaming them instead of oneself for the fault.  For example, I could accuse others of being rejecting of me, when actually it is I who am being rejecting of them.  Rationalization, using excuses to justify unacceptable acts or desires, is another defence mechanism.

Yet another ego defence mechanism is reaction formation, where one creates a contrived reaction that represents the opposite attitude to one’s real, and guilt-causing instinct.  A perfect example is in the movie American Beauty, in which a retired marine (played by Chris Cooper) expresses the most hateful bigotry against homosexuals throughout the film; but near the end, he reveals that he himself has suppressed homosexual feelings when he kisses the protagonist (played by Kevin Spacey) on the lips.

One particularly interesting ego defence mechanism is sublimation.  Instead of the more usual, hypocritical defences, this one is actually quite positive in nature, for it redirects unacceptable impulses into creative outlets.  Homosexual Michelangelo’s paintings and sculptures of muscular naked men are a case in point.

Freud’s daughter Anna would develop and see more importance in ego defence mechanisms in her work, especially in her classic work, Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936).  The significance of the unconscious portion of the ego means that in therapy much ego defence is unconscious, so the analyst mustn’t focus only on bringing out id impulses.  Hence, the origin of ego psychology.

VIII: Life and Death Instincts

For much of Freud’s career, he felt that the instinctual drives were all pleasure-based (libido), and sexual in nature.  This life instinct is called Eros.

After the horrors of the First World War, however, his thinking about human nature took a darker turn, and would remain essentially thus for the rest of his life (the excruciating pain of his cancer wouldn’t help lighten things up much).  In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud discussed the more destructive side of human nature, and postulated a death instinct (Thanatos would be the word used, though not by him).  This would explain our aggressive and self-destructive sides, as well as our tendency to do the same irrational things over and over again (“the compulsion to repeat“).

All forms of pleasure, whether sexual or death-oriented, involve putting the body into a state of rest.  The cliche of a man and woman in bed after great sex, with him rolled over and fast asleep, and her smoking a cigarette, show how Eros leads to a restful state.  As for Thanatos, there is no more absolute a state of rest than death.  As Hamlet said, “To die, to sleep–/No more; and by a sleep, to say we end/The heartache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to, –’tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wished.  To die, to sleep…”  So here, the achievement of self-destruction in a nightmare can be seen as an exception to the idea of all dreams as pleasure-causing wish-fulfillment.

IX: Religion

Freud was born a Jew, but was also an atheist.  He believed that God represents the psychological need many of us have for a father figure.  His two major writings on religion, generally discredited since anthropology was not a field he specialized in, were Totem and Taboo, and Moses and Monotheism.  The former dealt with primitive taboos against incest, as well as with Freud’s belief that the killing and ritual eating of the primal father was common in primitive tribes; and in the latter, Freud theorized that Moses was an Egyptian adopted by the ancient Hebrews, who later killed him (this being a reiteration of his theories in Totem and Taboo), then by way of reaction formation assuaged their guilt by revering him as the founding father of their religion.

X: Post-Freud

As previously mentioned, his daughter Anna carried on the torch, with her focus on ego defence mechanisms.  Along with her among the Ego Psychologists was Heinz Hartmann, who focused on how the mind adapts in an evolutionary sense, rather than merely from psychic conflict and frustration.  Given the right environment, a child’s intrinsic potential for adaptation will help it adjust to the demands of the real world, an adaptive development that needn’t be conflictual.

Then there was object relations theory, which explains how problems in adult relationships can be traced to problems in the parent/child relationship.  Famous thinkers in this school include D.W. Winnicott, W.R.D. Fairbairn, and Melanie Klein, with her concepts of the good breast, which nourishes and brings out love, and the bad breast, which doesn’t feed or do any good for the infant, causing it to feel hostility instead.  Her ideas about projective identification expand on Freudian projection to show how a patient can make his projections become real in other people.  Her ideas were quite a break from Freud, though she considered them perfectly consistent with him.

Heinz Kohut, with his conceiving and development of self psychology, did much research and gained much insight into narcissism and NPD.

Jacques Lacan also saw himself at one with, even returning to, Freud, though his postmodernist notions, such as how the subconscious is like a language, seem quite different.  His ideas have greatly influenced postmodernism, poststructuralism, critical theory, feminist theory, and such contemporary thinkers as Slavoj Zizek.