This is a sobering documentary about a 1970’s social linguistic experiment that was carried out on a chimpanzee called Nim who was raised as a human child in order to prove that chimpanzees could learn to communicate in sign language with humans if they were raised in a human environment.
After cruelly being taken away from his mother at an early age, Nim was fostered first by a family of hippy academics where he was breast fed by the family matriarch and even given a joint. Nim gradually began to show signs of aggression and was transferred to various other academic “parents”, mainly students, who, apart from one caring individual, had no experience of raising a chimpanzee or a child and adopted different parenting styles. As he got older Nim became more violent and eventually was sent to an animal testing laboratory when the scientist that started the experiment had finished his project. Nim was finally purchased by a refuge for animals in Texas after a huge court case on animal rights. The director, James Marsh (who also made “Man on a Wire”), shows his audience the most harrowing film footage of Nim’s mistreatment in the research facility, giving glimpses into mankind’s darker capabilities in its treatment of our closest primate relatives.
This unsettling documentary is less about language and it’s aetiology than about the emotional and physical abuse of a young mammal. Just like a young child that has been raised with numerous disruptive attachments and who had experienced maternal deprivation and constant misattunement, Nim displayed many of the symptoms of abuse and neglect. What we learn is not about the wonders of language but the attachment style similarities between the great apes and humans.
From the moment of separation from his mother, Nim showed signs of emotional distress with his first caregiver and behaved in ways that parallel the ambivalent/preoccupied attachment pattern. As he experienced further loss and separation, and the mishandling by clueless care-givers, Nim began to develop all the classic symptoms of disorganized attachment. As a result Nim’s aggression increased to a point of full blown psychosis.
Viewed through the lens of Attachment Theory, despite his painful encounters with humans, Nim developed a bond with one compassionate person who genuinely cared about him and fought to preserve some dignity in his tortured life. Unfortunately their bond was continuously disrupted by further experiments, depriving the two from developing a secure attachment. One of the most moving scenes is when they have an emotional reunion in the primate sanctuary after many years of separation.
Apart from all the ethical and moral issues this documentary raises, we are left with the classic themes that typify the argument between nature versus nurture, namely:
- Can you give a human upbringing to an animal that could potentially kill you?
- if so, is Nim’s aggressive behaviour a product of his nature or of his trauma?
- Can we recognise the signs of PTSD in Nim’s behaviour?
- Can we go further and see a chimpanzee displaying symptoms of DID?
Above all this film is a tragic reflection of a powerless chimpanzee caged by humans who, in the name of science, have abandoned their humanity.
A logical way of being: The reality of Dissociative Identity Disorder & other Complex Dissociative Conditions
An introductory training DVD from FPP (First Person Plural) in association with CWP (Cheshire & Wirral Partnership) NHS & The Pottergate Centre, England 2011. Made by Serious media.com
Film reviewed by Orit Badouk-Epstein
Working with clients who have been diagnosed with DID often leave clinicians on the receiving end of their clients’ behaviour feeling overwhelmed and confused and at other times feeling omnipotent and all-knowing. The wonders of the mind and its protective mechanisms, is at the core of this condition. As one of the interviewees in this film (Oriel) points out: ‘With DID, behaviour always makes sense’. The chaotic nature of working with severely traumatised individuals including those with DID is typical of disorganised attachment. I once heard Jeremy Holmes talking about this. He said that the role of therapy is to make sense and organise the internal mayhem of the severely traumatised and confused individual.
‘A Logical way of Being‘ is a well organized introductory documentary that explains DID with great clarity. It is a useful tool to all: from mental health practitioners and workers in the care system to survivors themselves. It explains the condition in a way that is comprehensible to a layman who may never have come across someone with DID.
The film contains interviews with both ‘experts-by-experience’: Kathryn Livingstone, Melanie Goodwin & Oriel, as well as mental health professionals: Dr. Mike Lloyd, Remy Aquarone & Sue Richardson. It educates us and brilliantly explains the condition and helps de-stigmatise the stereotyped and sensationalised image of Hollywood from such films as “Sybil” and “three faces of Eve”. Logical yet sensitive, the film contains moving accounts of most aspects of the condition as well as the symptoms that people with DID have.
The in-depth interviews with the experts give a thorough explanation of the 5 types of dissociation. This all helps build a greater understanding of the condition. These are:
- Dissociative amnesia
- Identity Confusion
- Identity alteration
Sue Richardson also sheds some light into the relatively new and slightly obscure ‘sister’ phenomena of the Dissociative disorder not otherwise specified (DDNOS) diagnosis.
This documentary captures the essence of the condition and how challenging it can be to everyone involved. Remy Aquarone sums up extreme Dissociation with a metaphor that it is like a submarine that is absolute and without leakage. I found Melanie Goodwin’s comments about what helped her recovery particularly moving: ‘For me it was only my relationship with my therapist after 10 years when I began to be stimulated enough for me to understand what missing someone really meant’.
This film not only gives great transparency about the condition but also offers hope for progress and recovery for those who have DID. This DVD is a must-have addition to your library collection.
The DVD is also available at a low cost price for all Eastern European countries from the ESTD website. Translating it to Spanish, French and English subtitles may offer the possible of a more wider resource for European practiticioners. The DVD can be purchase from: www.firstpersonplural.org.uk
Whilst other books on the subject of Dissociation have provided us with information on specific topics, the authors of this book have used their extensive clinical background to share their experience of DID phenomena with an inclusive approach that enhances our knowledge of this subject.
Boon, Steele & Van der Hart provide encyclopaedic coverage in a very informative and detailed manner. This book offers an excellent introduction to the understanding of DID and how to help people who have the condition. The book is comprehensive and up to date. It is accessible to both clinicians and survivors and explains the terminology of dissociation without much of the clinical jargon that has previously created a wall between ‘us’ (clinicians) and ‘them’ (survivors).
The book empathically acknowledges and validates the richness of the internal world of the survivor, which the chronically traumatised individual has to resort to in order to survive. It provides the survivor with a manual, teaching management strategies for how to make good use of their internal world and its imaginary resourcefulness. It covers thoroughly themes such as safety, memories, triggers and emotions such as shame and guilt that are all so poignant and play a big part in the understanding of trauma and dissociation.
I particularly enjoyed reading the section on integration (p.7) in the first chapter which can be a problematic area of treatment. The therapist often gets caught in double bind situations and has to walk on egg shells, when the client can experience the therapeutic shift to be threatening, as if in life or death and might therefore resist integration.
The chapter on shame and guilt (p.287) is also very helpful. The sense of badness that our clients conveys to us is so profound, never before have I come across such a clear account and explanation of the shame and guilt found in survivors.
Although the book tends to lean more towards the self help genre of books, the writers do emphasise the need for therapy and relationships (part seven). For the severely abused child, we know that the core cause of dissociation is the manipulation of attachment needs. This would often result in employing compulsive self reliance strategies that lead to control and loneliness. If the survivors were to rely upon self help books alone, and were unable to trust another person who has the experience and knowledge to understand dissociation, then they would be unable to experience the need for attachment bonds and the capacity to relate. This would then preserve their already impaired sense of agency and affect regulation. We can only learn to regulate our emotions when another human being kindly offers empathy: as the old saying goes ‘no man is an Island’ and without human relatedness, integration can be a far away land.
This book is an excellent bridge between self help and therapy and is a “must have” for every professional and survivors of DID. In summary it is all that you ever wanted to know about DID but didn’t dare ask.
After his mother dies from a self-inflicted heroin overdose, Joshua, looking completely dissociated and numbed by grief, turns to his estranged grandmother, ‘Smurf’, the matriarch of the Cody family. Smurf lives with her 3 gangster sons in a suburb of Melbourne where she controls the family business selling drugs, robbing banks and murdering innocents. What follows is a menacing, volatile and dark snapshot of ruthless predators and their prey. This all takes place in the mundane ordinary way of a dysfunctional family that is nothing but extraordinary.
“Animal Kingdom” is a powerful psychological drama which skilfully portrays the mind of the criminal and the family mentality in which it grows up. The movie’s characterisations of the psychotic Cody family allow the viewer to witness a destructive dynamic of what I would describe as typical to disorganised attachments, along with a high dose of dissociation. Grandma Smurf, brilliantly acted by Jackie Weaver, appears to be loving, warm and hospitable to her family, yet her smile is frozen and her gaze is cold-blooded. She dominates her boys in unsettling ways bordering on the incestuous and shows them inappropriate affection. Controlling and manipulative, she’ll do anything to keep her nearest of kin out of jail even if it means feeding a stray to the crocodiles. But we know that after all, as in most criminal stories, it is her own skin that she will defend at all costs and no one else’s.
For those of us who work with clients who are still involved with cult activities and who have been enmeshed with unsafe families, this is a powerful account of how psychosis works in families. ‘You’ve done some bad things sweetie’ grandma Smurf threatens her corrupt solicitor. The seductive yet menacing manner in which the perpetrators often instil fear in the survivor’s minds leaves them feeling responsible for criminal acts which they carried out but were forced to do. Alternatively, when the survivor is trying to move away from the criminal underworld frightened and claiming ‘This has nothing to do with me’ the perpetrator (often a family member) will respond ’Everything is to do with everyone’ leaving the survivor forced into compliance and fear, unable to separate.
This is a masterpiece in the making as a depiction of the criminal and their mindset. The anarchy in which this mind operates makes perfect sense to the logic of psychosis.
CAN TONY SOPRANO BE REDEEMED – IS THERE SUCH THING AS A CRIMINAL PERSONALITY?
This article was originally published in Attachment Journal, issue 2, vol.2, 2008 and is reprinted with kind permission of Karnac Books.
‘I don’t think I can help you’
Dr Jennifer Melfi (season 6 episode 20)
David Chase, the creator of the most spoken about TV series ever, decided to end the Sopranos, when he and other Sopranos writers attended a psychiatric conference about Yochelson and Samenow’s work (1976) on the criminal personality. They asked attendees at the conference to analyze Tony’s condition and were told by Nancy Duggan, a forensic psychologist, that Dr. Melfi’s brand of therapy, far from helping her patient, might be making his behaviour worse. She argued that talking therapy for sociopaths is a bad idea, because it allows them to justify their actions and keep on doing them. In response to this David Chase, the maker of the sopranos said (Martin, 2006): ‘It blew my mind as soon as we heard it, I thought, well that’s got to be the end of the show’ (p.110).
As commercial as it is, ‘The Sopranos’ is a rich tapestry of complicated human interactions. It has left us, the viewers, with many quandaries; Dr. Melfi’s abandonment of her patient has left many therapists reporting patients anxious to discuss with them the ethics of professional abandonment. It also raises other questions: Can one get worse out of therapy? Is there such thing as a criminal personality; and where is the hope?
Looking at a brief description of the criminal personality written by Yochelson & Samenow (1976):
We have not seen a criminal who has truly regarded himself as evil or for that matter, as a criminal. Rather, the criminal views himself not only as a good person, but as more moral and righteous than others. He is kind to babies, loves animals, and is helpful to elderly people and the disable. He believes in God.
He not only appreciates the aesthetic production of others, but is artistically creative himself. As long as he retains his good opinion of himself, he assumes that he has a kind of license to commit arrest able acts, none of which he thinks he has to justify. If he is held accountable by others, he regards himself as being wronged, not as having done wrong. Supporting him in his view are myriad sociologic and psychological excuses articulated by influential and intellectual people. These excuses allow him to appear as a decent person who, owing to circumstances beyond his control, ran afoul of the law. In fact, the criminal take this position so regularly that it becomes a half belief. The fact that his belief in his innate goodness is reinforced by society becomes a formidable obstacle in change. Occasionally, the criminal experiences transient guilt, and he uses this to demonstrate that he is human after all…’
Instead of good qualities eventually blotting out the evil, we have found that good qualities are necessary if the criminal is to continue to do evil. It is essential for the criminal to consider himself part of the human race. Strip him of his good qualities and crime is impossible to sustain. As one criminal observed, “doing good make me feel better about robbing”. It in no way diminished amount of robbing that he did. The criminal must maintain a good opinion of himself. Otherwise he considers suicide.
As an Attachment Based Psychoanalytic psychotherapist I would like to briefly revisit The Sopranos and try to offer the viewers and readers an opportunity to focus on the main hero, Tony and the relationship with his psychiatrist Dr. Melfi and by doing so, try to demonstrate a hypothetical, attachment theory perspective
Tony Soprano is a mobster who suffers panic attacks and has a midlife crisis. As his doctor finds nothing wrong with him he is referred to a psychiatrist called Dr. Melfi who prescribes him Prozac and agrees to see him once a week. Throughout the series we learn both to love and hate, to feel repulsed and yet attracted to Tony Soprano’s highly charismatic yet dissociated and unintegrated split personality. He has a capacity for evil, extreme violence and yet be nurturing, loving and a devoted family man. As we come to know the complexities of his life we, the audience, develop an ambivalent attachment with this extraordinary, highly dysfunctional and disturbing character played brilliantly by James Gandolfini.
Knowing that her patient is a mobster Dr. Melfi herself listens and becomes familiar with the narrative, like a voyeur who tries, with some difficulties to stay neutral and impartial she also develops an ambivalent attachment to her patient. She sees him at first as an interesting object of curiosity ‘I’m repulsed by what he might tell me but somehow I can’t stop myself from wanting to hear it ‘. She provides him with some empathy and understanding, pointing out to him the hatred he had to endure from his psychotic mother but always maintaining a professional distance that will eventually cripple the therapy and defeat its purpose. It is this dichotomy not only in Tony but in all the other characters in the series that keep us on tenterhooks. Without her ambivalence, Dr. Melfi could not draw out Tony’s narrative. Whilst she follows a firm professional conduct, she also allows Tony to transgress. In the first episode when Tony mentions “The matter of the outstanding loan” that a gambler owes him, Dr. Melfi stops him and explains that her confidentiality does not extend to criminal violence. Tony then adjusts his language, explaining that he and the gambler “had coffee”. The ensuing scene flashes-back to coffee cups splattering on the ground as the gambler runs away from Tony, who then breaks the man’s leg by running him over. When the cameras cut back to Dr. Melfi, she is smirking. “So you had coffee?” - suggesting that she got the gist of what went on.
Although through the series doctor and patient develop an alliance of some trust, it is always based on mistrust. One could therefore say: isn’t this the basic principle of ambivalent attachment? The interpretation of ‘self psychology’ that Dr. Melfi offers us draws us into believing the basic assumption that human beings possess innate aggressive impulses, but that we are able to have free will and choice to disown them in our adult life. Dr. Melfi’s analytic interpretations of her patient, although supportive at times, are less trusting and more condemning. Her tone of voice fails to hide her moral judgement, showing her constant disappointment at her patient’s inability to reflect on his actions. By always trying to lead him towards an exploration of the harm he causes to others, she seems to go round in circles, unable to shift him from his sociopathic behaviour so that we the viewers can look forward to watching increasingly violent episodes each week.
Tony in return describes himself as the “sad clown” the man who laughs on the outside and cries on the inside. It is at this point that the therapist’s role could be to seize this moment of true feeling of sadness and intervene. By doing so, she would not collude with the ‘criminal personality’ she is quietly assessing but would be reaching out to the younger part of this big man’s abusive past; a man who had to spend all his life in a most violent and brutal environment. Becoming his witness, empathically advocating the inner child would be the beginning of a good therapeutic alliance.
Admittedly, the series relies on the tension between Tony and his therapist. But Dr. Melfi’s inability to negotiate Tony’s and her own ambivalent relationship in an honest way eventually undermines her ability to stop him murdering people. Dr. Melfi conveys to the audience Yochelson and Samenow’s narrative of the ‘Criminal Personality’; the family man who nurtures ducks in his swimming pool, deals with the normal problems of raising teenagers and struggles with his marriage, and seems like an ordinary reasonable guy. His normal, daily life blends with his criminality. Melfi shows us that Tony is not a regular guy but a narcissistic bad guy capable of violence and murder. Nevertheless like the audience it is Dr. Melfi’s self-involved fascination with Tony’s personality that draws her back to keep on seeing him.
So the question is: Is Tony redeemable?- In the beginning, during series 1 & 2 the work with Dr. Melfi shows some glimmer of hope and optimism, treating his panic attacks successfully and pointing out to Tony how he idealises his violent father and his unloving mother. In the first three series, Tony’s mother, Livia Soprano, is a toxic mixture of guilt, manipulation, paranoia and hostility towards her family particularly towards Tony. Her projective insecurity towards him presents us with a bitter controlling woman who is impossible to please. She uses violent language “I could stick a fork in your eyes”. She never expresses a moment of remorse or regret. On the contrary she is punishing in a vindictive retaliatory manner to the point of planning to murder her own son.
Had we wished to redeem Tony rather than focusing on his contradictory schizoid adult behaviour, would we not empathically express to him the fact that neither he nor any other criminal was born bad? Livia is Tony’s Machiavellian mother who is the abiding reason for Tony’s uncontrollable schism. She is also the reason for his hang-ups, his idealisation/dismal treatment of all the women in his life, whether they are in his family, his mistresses or his therapist. Tony was born into a Roman Catholic family that emphasised and honoured the role of the mother. His ambivalent/disorganised attachment to her shows how he on the one hand blames the scheming mean Livia for his misery and for ruining his father’s life. “..That fucking miserable selfish cunt, she ruined my father’s life” while at the same time as the dutiful son, he feels totally responsible for caring for her during her old age, regularly visiting her while putting up with her constant bickering and her verbal abuse of him.
In the first series the audience gets a good look at this toxic hostile mother who dominates Tony’s psyche and who schemes to have him murdered. A mother’s death wish on her child – isn’t this the most prevalent characteristics of a re-enactment we find when working with psychosis? (Kahr, 2007; Sachs, 2007)
Dr. Melfi’s interpretation of Tony’s first dream when, he imagines that a bird is flying off with his penis is that it is about Tony’s fear of being unsexed by his powerful mother. She interprets this from a Freudian perspective. Working relationally, however, these dreams can also been seen as representing his traumatic and abusive relationship with his frightening mother who he dutifully keeps on seeking proximity with craving for her approval. His maternal deprivation and the yearning for a truly loving and accepting mother is projected into all the women around him and acted out in a highly destructive manner. Working with that level of destructiveness would eventually push away most of the people around him in general, including Dr. Melfi who finally abandons him: “After all this time, after everything we’ve shared in here, your cutting me loose just as my son got out of hospital for trying to kill himself?”
Even after Tony learnt that his mother tried to have him “whacked” he is still riddled with guilt towards her. Above all Tony fears that he has passed on his sense of emptiness and depression to his own son. Being left with unresolved issues of hate and guilt is typical of the attachment that anxiously attached children have with the aggressor/abuser. The more abusive the past is, the harder it is for the child within to let go and separate himself from the parent who often leaves a legacy of critical persecutory voices in the adult /child mind.
Tony’s poor sense of self is highly influenced by his idealisation of his father; “you tell people I’m nothing, compared to the people that used to run things”, implying that his father was able to run the New Jersey underworld. His desire for a stable identity is an aspect of his desire to be everything his Dad was thus enabling him to live up to his role in the continuation of the patriarchy. Tony received regular beatings from his father. His idealisation of his mobster father contributes to Tony’s view of the world and his own schism “I was proud to be Johnny Soprano’s kid. When he beat the shit out of that guy, I went to class; I told them how tough my father was”. As in the Godfather we get a good look into the mobster’s dictatorial yet anarchistic internal world; a world of sheer chaos and confusion about what is good and what is bad; what is right and what is wrong. As he describes himself: “We are just like any other family”.
Dr. Melfi’s clinical setting, her clinically sterile room, her tailored suits, her feminine posture, gives us the illusion that here is a chance for a mobster to feel safe and be properly listened to. And indeed she listens and offers astute interpretations and observations about Tony’s misdemeanours and conduct. We all felt relatively safe when these two Italian-Americans share a space together away from the action, the chaos and murder but where was it heading to? Dr. Melfi’s ethical yet voyeuristic stand, her moralistic judgment of his actions felt like she was silently condemning and persecuting him even showing double standards. True attachment can never take place on such moralistic grounds.
Understanding Tony’s inter-subjective world, getting into the shoes of his younger self, staying with the child-like state of mind, with the clown’s sad feelings repeatedly examining and empathising with his violent past and traumas understanding his maladaptive internal working models and why he had to resort to such extreme polarities of anti-social behaviour would then allow the integration of victim/ perpetrator slowly to start taking place.
“Genetic predispositions are only that predisposition. It is not a destiny written in stone. People have choices! You think that everything that happens is preordained? You don’t think that human beings possess free will?” Dr. Melfi .
Yes but how do we get to this place of choosing our free will? As clinicians shouldn’t we be encouraged by Tony’s act of seeking therapy, as he is reaching out for help, wishing to understand his internal anarchy? – “I’m afraid I’m going to lose my family, like I lost the ducks”. Rare as it for a mobster to seek therapy, it is the therapist’s role to enable the process of realisation. Working relationally with individuals with insecure/disorganized attachments, where at the beginning of therapy it is the therapist’s role via the mourning process to advocate the client’s point of view, associate repressed memories and enable the client to feel them. In the case of Tony Soprano 7 years of analytical exploration led to very little external change in his life. Instead Dr. Melfi’s abrupt ending felt almost as if her narcissistic need to watch his complex life had begun to bore her.
Understanding the unintegrated self and its cause is crucial to understanding the work around people with pockets of psychosis. An abused child will always split and dissociate. Dissociative psychotic episodes are a defence mechanism against a threatening environment of an extreme nature. Internalising these scary events in one’s early childhood will create a split of two or more self states: the main ones being the compliant obedient dutiful child and secondly, the aggressive angry reactionary self destructive child.
Working effectively with adults who suffer from extreme /psychotic splits means empathising for many sessions with these two contradictory child states and mourning the losses and pains they had to endure,. The therapist’s empathic endurance and patience with the many obstacles on the way and withstanding the client’s destructive attempts will eventually bring about the client’s new internal working models of a real and true relatedness between two subjects; only then can a criminal begin to reflect..
So when after 7 years the series came to a conclusion that had nothing to do with guns or an arrest by the FBI but rather from Dr. Melfi decision to terminate her contract with her patient, the audience, as well as missing this fantastic drama is left with a feeling of hopelessness with regard to what is labelled ‘the criminal personality’.
The Sopranos is a fictional series based on well researched narrative. A lot of it was based on the creator’s David Chase autobiographical, early life, particularly his relationship with his own mother. Chase’s choice of psychological treatment was based on the Freudian/medical model of psychiatry.
Hollywood movies have always played a major role in our lives, demonstrating to us in endless different ways, how we should live. Using the model of psychotherapy that David Chase chose to show us doesn’t leave us, the viewers with much hope with regard to working with people with psychosis and dissociation. As an attachment based psychotherapist, working effectively with severely traumatised clients that normally would be cast out by the medical model as unsuitable for treatment. I would like to offer our model of therapy to the makers of this brilliantly written series and give Tony the chance to be properly advocated and consequentially stop murdering. I say bring back Tony Soprano!
Reading The Sopranos – edited by David Lavery,I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, NY, 2006
The Sopranos on the couch, the ultimate guide, Maurice Yacowar, (Continum, NY, 2007)
This things of ours – Investigating the Sopranos, edited by David Lavery, (ColumbiaUniversity Press/ Wallflower Press, 2002)
Kahr, B. (2007). The Infanticidal Attachment. ATTACHMENT: New Directions in
Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, v. 1, p.117-132
Martin, B. (2006), The Sopranos – the complete book – New York: HBO, Melcher Media.
Sachs, A. (2007) Infanticidal Attachment: Symbolic and Concrete. ATTACHMENT: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, v. 1, pp.297-307.
Yochelson, S., & Samenow, S. E. (1976), The Criminal Personality. v.1 Profile for Change. New York: Jason Aronson.
Ritual abuse and mind control : The Manipulation of Attachment Needs
By Orit Badouk Epstein, Joseph Schwartz, Rachel Wingfield Schwartz
The Bowlby Centre/Karnac Books 2011
Book reviewed by Shamai Currim
The need for the publishing of a book on ritual abuse and mind control speaks poorly to our past and to the society in which we live today, and yet gives hope to many. This book, with detailed information speaks to our need to help those who have endured extreme abuse and programming, is given to us by experienced, trained professionals and survivors, and is written for therapists to guide their sessions and gain the feasibility of the existence of ritual abuse and mind control.
Ritual abuse and mind control is still viewed warily by many therapists as well as the general public. By walking the path of attachment theory, this book gives credence to what many therapists have known for years, that the stripping away of vital, primal needs can lead to psyche breakdown and a poor prognosis for becoming all we are meant to be. This book gives us clear calendar dates with detailed specifics, the words of survivors and therapists to guide us through the detailed systemic abuse used by perpetrators, and the hope that, in the sharing of this material, many more survivors may find their freedom.
The use of ritual abuse and mind control has be used on humans for centuries, and yet there are many who still have difficulty accepting man’s inhumanity to man. This book, in clarity, through a few chosen writers, makes us open our eyes. We can no longer hide from the truth of extreme abuse. Therapists, survivors, and caretakers write and talk and share what they know. The world must know what is truly going on, behind closed doors. This book brings us one step closer.
This is a much needed book in the field and a must read for any therapist. We owe it to our clients, to humanity, and to the world, to become more conscious.
An ESTD member has recently sent a query about a mother of an adopted teenager with DID who has been setting up multiple Facebook accounts for each of her parts and over-riding all the security controls in place. She was worried about the safety issues for the young person. I feel that this new era of technological relatedness and its complexities is something that will increasingly occupy us in the future. However, the issues raised made me associate this dilemma with the recent film Catfish (2010). This dark, thriller-like documentary taps into the psychology of virtual relationships and their unlimited capacity for deception. Catfish is a low budget documentary set in New York. It begins when the director decides to make a documentary based on his brother’s (Niv) unusual internet based relationship. Niv, a photographer himself, develops a relationship with 8 year old Abby from Michigan who sends Niv a painting of his own photo portrait. Niv (who narcissistically enjoys the attention he receives) contacts Abby’s mother Angela to make sure she is okay with his developing relationship with Abby.
Soon after, Niv finds himself fully involved through Facebook with a large number of Abby’s friends and family including her attractive, 20 year old half-sister Megan. From this point an intense erotic, sexualised text message and email relationship rapidly develops and Niv falls in love with the tantalising yet evasive Megan. Intrigued by this family and in particular Megan’s evasiveness, Niv, his brother and another filmmaker friend embark on a journey to Michigan to find who these people behind Facebook are. I won’t reveal what they are about to find, but this gripping documentary raises exactly the issues of trust and safety on the internet for people who have DID (and of course this applies to all). Catfish is a reminder that it’s wise to wonder what is really going on at the other end of the line when it comes to the issue of trust. There is an illusion that social networks such as Facebook and Myspace bring people closer. We begin to forget about the reality that we are often sitting in front of a screen without a clue about who lies on the other side of the conversation; and that we may be further apart than ever. The prospect of linking up with possibly made-up profiles can leave one feeling superficial and hollowed, falling in love with a Facebook image rather than a real person. In its own right, the film does raise some issues around its own authencity and how real or staged it is. However, real or not, Catfish touches upon a very prominent aspect of most people’s lives today; the use of social networking on Facebook , its pitfalls and dangers make this film into a very timely and important documentary for us all to watch. For those of us who work with multiple selves we are increasingly witnessing the danger of the possibilities that this virtual world of ‘cut & paste’ reality offers.
Burnside’s memoirs of his own tormented life are startling and memorable, written in a stark and poetic style. The book describes the existential struggle of a long suffering alcoholic in a plea for sanity, haunted by the demons of his troubled childhood. At the beginning of the book he writes: ‘When I was a fullscale lunatic, I suffered from a condition called apophenia. This condition, this unease, was described by Klaus Conrad, the schizophrenia specialist who coined the term, as the unmotivated seeing of connections, coupled with the specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness. In other words, seeing things that weren’t there. Hearing voices in the background static. Finding God or the Devil in the last scrapings of Pot Noodles. For normal folk, this connective faculty allows them to make sense of the world, to find a modest, local and hopefully shared order by which to live. For the apophenic, it means a wild and unrelenting search for the one vast order that transcends all other hypernarrative, an afterlife – though what he ends up with is usually a tidal wave of incomprehensible and overwhelming detail: the whole world at once, jabbering constantly in a mind that can only find rest in oblivion.’(p.5)
Burnside, who attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for his alcohol addiction, wishes to confess to the group that ‘I know drinking is not something to be enjoyed like tea or flirting. Alcohol is a substitute for something else, but I can’t give it up because if I do, I’ll remember that something else, and that something else is unbearable…’(p.18). The book feels like a reckless chase towards the truth, yet any truth is buried deep in darkness, insomnia, and his life is re-enacted through drugs and alcohol abuse but his desire is for the fulfilment of a simple wish to be ordinary, and he is searching for a ‘Surbiton of the mind’.
The book is raw and full of clues and information that point towards the writer’s dissociative state of mind.
Burnside’s acceptance of his diagnosis of apophenia is painful to bear. As a psychotherapist who works with many clients who suffer from dissociation as a result of their trauma, Burnside’s dissociation is not acknowledged in the least. Burnside’s eloquent capacity to describe his pain is overwhelming yet a gift. Throughout the book I felt an urge to reach out to him through the pain he suffers and expresses through his poetry, and show him another way of looking at his life, and perhaps offer him some hope.
Imagine being born into a family who have never allowed any of their children to leave home, being homeschooled, controlled and tamed like dogs. In this icy family drama by the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos we meet the nameless, infantilised children: a brother and 2 sisters all in their early twenties, their tyrant father and their passive aggressive mother. The film begins with the family listening to a tape recorder practising the parents’ linguistic perception of the world, to prevent the children from being exposed to the real world experiences. For example the word ‘sea’ means ‘armchair’, ‘motorway’ means ‘strong wind’, and ‘pussy’ means a ‘big light’. The children who have never stepped outside the electronic gate of their rural villa are raised in a distorted and disturbing reality to which they have to obey and be grateful. Both parents, although showing acts of kindness, are capable of sadistic and unpredictable violence. The children’s ability to relate to each other has an autistic quality; it is stilted and highly dissociated. Like the parents, the children also carry out acts of kindness to each other as well as extreme cruelty. The film reaches a chilling climax as a result of the children having been told that they’ll only be able to leave home when their canine teeth fall out.
This movie is clearly influenced by the Joseph Fritzel case in Austria. It is a rare opportunity for an audience to get into the minds of, what appears to be on the surface, an ordinary family, but clearly is one of a psychotic nature. For those of us who work with survivors of ritual and other extreme forms of abuse and mind control, one can feel at home with this family as their behaviour so resonates with the families our clients bring to the consulting room. The mind control and brainwashing, all under the false pretext of love, and the schism between kindness and cruelty, is all too familiar to our clients who show dissociative behaviour.
This family’s highly controlled and well-ordered life is also a reminder of how much we as adults are capable of indoctrinating a child by brainwashing them with childish euphemisms for physical functions, unexplained religious beliefs, social practices and taboos.