Jennifer Lawrence nails the histrionic personality in “American Hustle”

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Jennifer Lawrence made an interesting portrayal of borderline personality disorder (BPD) in the 2011 movie Silver Linings Playbook (actually, the whole movie is a bee hive of personality disorders). Her character, Tiffany, exhibits many of the textbook traits, such as lability, mood swings, splitting etc. The only flaw, in terms of BPD interpretation, is the uptone ending of the movie. Here, Tiffany ameliorates and ends up seemingly at peace and happy. This kind of personal development, though predictable from a viewpoint of cinematic drama, is, unfortunately, uncharacteristic for the disorder. BPD, at its core, is a state of chronic sadness and emptiness.

In American Hustle from 2013, Lawrence plays Rosalyn, the over-dramatic stay-at-home wife to the main protagonist. This is another fine cluster B impersonation by Lawrence, albeit with a histrionic flavor (HPD). Rosalyn employs sexuality, guilt, victimization and a range of other of strategies to get her will. “Passive-aggressive karate”, as her frustrated husband denotes it. Rosalyn can go from scolding to seducing him, literally seconds apart (and he can’t resist).

Rosalyn talks to her son and contradicts herself within the same sentence: “I don’t want to talk ill about your father, but he is an asshole”. This a an example of the fragmented self common for cluster B. Both statements are probably individually true for Roslyn, and the reason they don’t ring false put together is that they do not occupy the same cognitive space; they belong to separate fragments of Rosalyn’s personality that alternate as she speaks.

In one scene Rosalyn walks right up to a group of mobsters in a casino and brazenly starts flirting, right in front of her perplexed husband.

She is described as “the light of the party” by people around her, which is actually a common characterization of HPD in literature.

Later in the movie, Rosalyn deliberately leaks sensitive information to a mobster in order to get back at her husband. He subsequently gets kidnapped and almost killed, but escapes thanks to a last minute plan that fools the mobsters. After his return, Rosalyn now claims it’s him owing her gratitude, for making him come up with such a great plan. Voilà, a brand new narrative with her as the star.

Yet through all of this, Rosalyn is never portrayed as evil or even ill-intended. This is very skillful because while people suffering from HPD may and do cause pain and mayhem, they are nevertheless, in general, none of these things. Rosalyn is first and foremost a prisoner of her own anxiety and fears of being unloved and unseen. Like a permanent state of inner emergency. She is, much like a child, incapable of predicting or admitting bad outcomes of her actions, and even less so of taking responsibility for them. But these are issues of dysfunction, not malevolence.

Equally skillful, Rosalyn is never portrayed as someone who at he end of the day ultimately is all right and who can put her act together when it really matters. As if all that theatrics and oversexualization is something voluntary that can switched off at will. It cannot. As with BPD, the ailments of HPD are chronic and all-pervasive. In one of the final scenes, Rosalyn sits in her car next to the mobster-guy she flirted with and is now dating, complaining over a stiff neck she suffered when crashing into another car; seemingly experiencing some of the self-caused consequences she weren’t able to escape or re-narrate. As she drives away, her (now ex-) husband muses: “She will always be interesting”. He’s probably right.

Narcissism and exploitation: how John Travolta was discarded when his movie flopped

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(Update) (Update II)

Former top Scientology executive Marty Rathbun testifies to some remarkable inside information about the makings of the 2000 mega-flop Battlefield Earth in this interview with Mark Bunker [below]. We knew the movie was based on a sci-fi novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, and that it was a pet project by John Travolta – himself a long time Scientologist. We also knew the movie flopped in almost every category and is widely considered to be one of the worst movies of all time (though I’d still say it’s a decent B-movie). We didn’t know, however, about the close involvement of David Miscavige, the current leader of Scientology.

According to Rathbun, Miscavige micro-managed the entire production and provided day-to-day instructions to the production team. More interestingly, Miscavige was so ecstatic about the result after a pre-release screening that he called Travolta up right afterwards and praised him lavishly for making a great deed for Scientology, that “the old man” (Hubbard) would have been be proud etc.

Then within days of its release, the movie flopped. How did Miscavige react to this? By defending its greatness? By admitting to faults in his personal involvement? No, says Rathbun, as soon as the failure was a fact, Miscavige immediately distanced himself from it. As if he’d had nothing to do with it. Instead Miscavige invented a narrative where it was all Travolta’s fault; because what killed the movie was its “cheesy” special effects, and this was due to Travolta taking too much salary. Travolta fell completely out favor and was humiliated and derided behind his back by Miscavige.

Before commenting further on this, it should be noted that the source, Marty Rathbun, has a complex history in- and outside of the church. He himself used to be one of the top, most hardcore executives within Scientology, before defecting and co-founding the “independent” movement of former church members who still practice Scientology.

Rathbun’s interview (he also speaks about it here):

There are several aspects of narcissism going on here. Perhaps the most obvious one is Miscavige’s unscrupulous exploitation of John Travolta. As long as Travolta was seen as an asset – to Scientology and indirectly to Miscavige himself – Miscavige hailed him to the skies (idealization). But then as the movie flopped, Miscavige immediately discarded him (devaluation). Narcissists don’t see other poeple as human beings with real personalities and emotions, but as extensions of themselves – as sources of supply for their narcissism. The moment a person seizes to be an adequate source of narcissistic supply he by all practical means seizes to exist to the narcissist. He is discarded, forgotten and replaced with a new source.

Another aspect is the way Miscavige distances himself from the movie fiasco despite clearly being involved with it (“for months”, according to Rathbun). One would think that a backstop of cognitive dissonance would force most normal people to face internally at least some of the fallout from such a personal failure. But for a narcissist, blame is impossible because he is by design faultless. Narcissists operate through a split persona – a False Self – which is special, perfect and can do no wrong. Blame is therefore either unwarranted, or deflected away – to the accuser or to someone else (Travolta). This is called blameshifting.

Sam Vaknin theorizes that the narcissist’s unwillingness to accept blame goes even further: that whatever he’s blamed for was the making not really by him – but by his False Self. Because even though his False Self dominates him and subjugates his True Self, it is still an alien part of him. And since he is not in control of his own actions, he cannot be blamed and may detach from them at will.

Vaknin puts it this way (emphasis added):

The narcissist just does not know what he’s doing. Divorced from his true self and unable to emphasize and understand what it’s like to be someone else […] the narcissist is in a constant dream-like state. He experiences his life like a movie autonomously unfolding, guided by a sublime or even divine director. The narcissist is a mere spectator. Mildly interested, greatly entertained at times – but a spectator. He does not feel that he owns his life and his actions. The narcissist therefore emotionally cannot understand why he should be punished. And when he is, he feels grossly wronged.

***

There are numerous other instances where people, including high executives (even entire portions of Scientology’s upper management) within Scientology has fallen out of favor and simply disappeared from the public eye – seemingly discarded – at the hands of Miscavige. One destination for these “unpersons” is The Hole, which is a Gulag prison-like facility at a LA-based Scientology base. Here people are put away for years for harsh interrogations and correction under abominable conditions (“handling” in Orwellian Scientology jargon).

Even Miscavige’s own wife Shelly is one of those disappeared persons and hasn’t been seen in public since 2007. Her absence was actually at center in the recent defection by actress Leah Remini, who dared ask questions about her whereabouts. There’s even rumors that the church is about to “trot her out” to kill off speculations about her that started because of this. Just bizarre.

In a comment to yet another, recent story about the passing of a writer for one of Scientology’s propaganda magazines – Freedom Magazine – former church member and outspoken critic Jefferson Hawkins puts it in this dark but precise way:

A sad story. But don’t expect a glowing obituary in Freedom Magazine. Scientology uses and discards people, and when they die, they are ignored and erased. Veteran Sea Org Members, when they get old or ill, are simply shunted off to some low-rent fleabag senior center or offloaded to their families. Sea Org members who die are simply erased from history and forgotten. […]

Update: For a satirical angle on the subject I recommend this “Shelly Miscavige is NOT missing! “ campaign staged on (as it looks) Hollywood Blvd by two “Sea Org” members…

Update II: Mike Rinder (who worked closely with David Miscavige for years) has written a piece about how associates to Miscavige inevitably become cowed and/or ill. He also compiles an eerie list of top Scientology executive who’ve disappeared one way over the other over the years — basically the who’s who of Scientology management for the last 2+ decades:

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It should be noted also that even though “the Hole” mentioned earlier is a somewhat extreme manifestation (seemingly invented by Miscavige), punishment and abuse is very much a feature of Scientology that Hubbard himself put into place. For instance, there’s the RPFRehabilitation Project Force – a harsh program where underachieving or disobedient Sea Org members are put pseudo-voluntarily to “rehabilitate” through hard manual labor under social isolation. Ordinary practitioners, even celebrities, who question authority or speak critically are interrogated and forced to confessions through “security checking”, which can go on for months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s testimony that abuse were common from early on even under Hubbard’s direct supervision.

Overall there’s ample reason to believe that Hubbard were as malignantly narcissistic as Miscavige is. Put another way; Scientology seems to be designed for the likes of Miscavige to thrive and to be able to rise to power. He is a feature of the organization, not a bug. A feature that likely will lead to its collapse.

Narcissistic paranoia: Scientology leader David Miscavige at secretive church opening in Portland

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(Update)(Update II)

The narcissist’s grandiose persona is a counter-reaction to his inner insecurity and emptiness. His fears of being exposed for what he subconsciously perceives himself to really be – a loser and a fraud – makes the narcissist paranoid. The paranoia tends to escalate over time as people around the narcissist inevitable abandon him due to his selfish and exploitative nature, fueling (affirming) his perception of people as inherently hostile and unreliable. To retain his grip of his narcissistic supply — loyal followers (personal cult), positions etc — the narcissist becomes increasingly desperate and demanding, which, of course, just acts to perpetuate the cycle and leave him ever more isolated and unhinged from reality.

All of this is on spectacular display in the case of David Miscavige, the leader of Scientology. Ever since he couped his way to power in the 80’s, he’s been ruling the secretive church with iron fist. The man who was outmaneuvered by Miscavige for the leadership position fled the organization and was pursued by private investigators, reporting directly to Miscavige, for two decades. Former top executive Marty Rathbun was subject to a bizarre gang of “Squirrel Busters” sent out to harass him into silence. Mike Rinder, a former spokesperson of the church, was physically abused on a regular basis by Miscavige (violence is a classic trick for narcissists to impose subjugation) and has been smeared ever since he left. It’s all manifestations of Mascavige’s paranoid chase after his inner demons.

Just yesterday Scientology had a grand opening of a new church building, an Ideal Org, in downtown Portland. One would think such an event would be a great PR-opportunity for them to put out on as big public display as possible. Well, apparently not. Mark “Wise Beard Man” Bunker, a long time Scientology critic, tried to make a recording of the event from a balcony across the street, but was tracked down and eventually forced to leave after Scientology harassed the owner of the building he stayed in. All this effort to obstruct some perfectly peaceful documentation (Bunker obviously had no intention to disrupt in any way) of an event the Church splashes out as a well-attended, triumphant success just one day later anyway.

Mike Rinder, the aforementioned former Church spokesperson who is now a vocal critic himself, puts it this way:

You can sort of understand that a movie studio may not want the key scene of a movie given away many months before it is released to the public. But an event supposedly to “announce the opening of our new facility to SERVICE this community and people from all walks of life” (and believe me, that WILL be in the speech by Miscavige and probably by the other “officials” they conned into taking the stage with the Chairman of the Blind).

[…]

Miscavige is becoming increasingly paranoid that something will put him in direct contact with the outside world. In his mind, anyone could be a protester or internet reader, or worse yet a reporter or OMG — a process server! His world is populated exclusively by sycophants inside his self-created bubble. Anyone seeking to enter his bubble uninvited is seen as a hostile agent trying to destroy his life.

Mark Bunker
Tony Ortega
Mike Rinder

Update: Speaking of inner emptiness, what about this promotional video for a nearby Scientology Org, that features exactly zero people? Three minutes of grand architecture, huge numbers of square feet, nicely lit interior shots of squeaky clean floors and surfaces – but not a single life form. And this is the “science of mental health”…

Update II: Oh my. It seems Scientology photo-shopped some of the Portland event pictures by cut-and-pasting people to the audience to make it seem bigger. Now that’s just sad.

Who’s racist in Sweden? Everyone!

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Johanna Langhorst had an article over at SVT Debatt the other day in which she goes all in to reinforce the new favorite pet in left-leaning commentary – collective guilt and, specifically, collective Racism.

Because you see [irony ahead], deep down, we’re all Racists. Racism is the new original sin, to which the only salvation is unconditional confession. Langhorst, in her good graces, doesn’t limit her confession to herself in the article, but declares us all sinners of Racism – presumably assuring her own salvation and forgiveness in the process. Who’s her savior? Perhaps a manifestation of that missing paternal presence from childhood that seems to lurk in the background whenever there’s Messianic preachings of guilt going on.

Anyway. It’s obvious that personal scrutiny and introspection is everyone’s obligation, but there still has to be an incentive for it. I suppose different ideologies (or theologies) go about this in different ways, but I’m pretty sure most behaviorists would agree that positive motivation, driven by reward and a sense of being part of the solution, is stronger than motivation driven by fear or guilt.

Nevertheless, Langhorst evidently believes there’s good reason to smear this smelly epithet of Racism on society as a whole. After all, there’s been a couple of reports of incidents with racial undertones in the media recently. And Langhorst have “dark-skinned friends“ who’ve been subject to racial slurs. I guess with a little accumulation and extrapolation one could reach any conclusions about society.

I’m not belittling hers or her friends experiences, or defending any media report. I just think her way to generalize and ascribe attributes collectively is reckless, counterproductive and, well, somewhat racist in itself.

But the twist of the story has to do with another of Langhorst’s bold claims – the notion that an unwillingness of “white majority-Swedes” to relocate to the troubled, failed suburbs is yet another signature of “the deep roots of Swedish racism” and “racist structures”:

The same Swedes who would never consider living in Tensta or Rosengård. The same Swedes who put their children in all-white schools and hire cheap, likely illegal foreign housemaids.

That is, a mere hesitation to put yourself and your family in one of those troubled areas is racist. Then what to make of this fact: Langhorst herself left Tensta in 2011 after her son had been robbed twice in a month and didn’t dare walking home alone anymore. Yes, the very same suburb she mentions in the article. That’s pretty amazing. She actually accuses society of racism – for something she did herself just two years ago.

One would think that such a terrible personal experience would make her a bit more humble and empathic for the choices of others when it comes to the future and safety of their families. Or, at least, that some kind of cognitive dissonance would prevent her from putting it so bluntly as to essentially label herself racist.

Then again, maybe that’s how she really feels. And maybe that’s why she’s so eager to blame someone else. It’s not she who’s racist – it’s everyone else. Everyone!

Histrionics follow-up: Narcissistic antics in the aftermath of Army of Lovers’ flop

(Update)

There’s something of an epilogue to the aforementioned performance by Army of Lovers in Melodifestivalen. As it turned out, their showy number didn’t take them very far in the competition (one of the semifinals) as the viewers voted them to a meek 6:th place out of eight contenders. No doubt disappointing for the veteran trio judging from the promotions of this being their big comeback, of upcoming tours and so on.

Indeed, just days later band member Camilla “La Camilla” Henemark was abruptly kicked out of the band. She was ridiculed in the media for poor lipsynching during the performance. Shortly thereafter, Alexander Bard, the informal band head, tweeted:

If after three months you still can’t lipsynch two sentences, then collective therapy is useless, you need a brain transplant.

Bard didn’t explicitly mention Henemark’s name, but it wouldn’t seem like a very far cry to guess it’s indeed her he’s referring to.

So, why bother with this kind of gossip? Because it so picture-perfectly illustrates the idealization–devaluation cycle – one of the major defense mechanisms in reaction to narcissistic injury (suffered, in this illustration, by Bard and the other members due to the bands failure). Just consider the figurative Rise and Fall of La Camilla over just a few days; from being worshiped as a queen during the Melodifestivalen performance – to being dethroned, derided as an idiot and sacrificed on the public altar. Wow!

We certainly don’t know all the whereabouts in this little episode and it can all be just a big coincidence, but the symbolism just doesn’t get any more colorful than this.

Psychologically, devaluation is utilized to regulate wavering sense of self-worth, caused by a setback of some kind (narcissistic injury). By devaluating someone else, the perpetrator feels re-empowered and rejuvenated. It exists in most relationships in varying forms and degrees, but it’s more common in persons with narcissistic propensities (such as histrionics), due to their common trait of fluctuating sense of self-worth (and thus need for mechanisms of regulation).

hen2 Update: Well, bad goes to worse. During a recent club performance, the band – now with a replacement for the female lead – apparently brought a live size Henemark-impersonating sex doll on stage and placed it mockingly on a throne. According to spectators (and seemingly evident in the footage), Bard even stabbed the doll at the end of the show (adding a new meaning to the “sacrifice” mentioned earlier). Well, I guess the fun of it ebbs out just about here. No need to be implicative any longer: this is clearly a vicious, vengeful behavior from someone with deep narcissistic wounds.

Histrionicism in LGBT culture

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As expected, Army of Lover’s contribution to Melodifestivalen the other day was a spectacle of rank. Alexander Bard in his trademark school uniform and red beard, Jean-Pierre Barda with nipple accessories and a partial lion (?) costume. La Camilla sat on a huge throne in a pompous queen outfit, flashing her underpants with a cross pictured in a “peccant” place (in reference to outfits from earlier hits, such as her nurse outfit in Obsession). The song and show itself was about, in short, having na-na-na-na-na-na, i.e. sex.

In the introduction, the band members proclaim (freely translated & emphasis added):

Today, many artists cozy up to the LGBT movement – Army of Lovers is LGBT!
–The Queer! The Lesbian! The Transvestite! We’re just a bit confused about who’s who…

In attempting to describe the whole thing, depictions such as bland and boring aren’t exactly the first that comes to mind. Rather, something like the opposite: flamboyant, ostentatious, provocative. Fawning for shock and awe. In fact, a suiting psychological description would be of it as histrionic. Histrionic behavior is characterized by exhibitionism, attention-seeking, superficiality, sexualization, lacking sense of boundaries etc. The underlying mechanisms hereto are traced from, among other factors, an under-developed or diffuse sense of self-identity[1]. Is there any correlation between this type of personality and LGBT culture?

An apparent paradox with the LGBT movement is that while it is purportedly about acceptance and tolerance of non-normative (sexual) identities – Accept yourself for who you really are! – elements within the very same movement, such as self-proclaimed LGBT artists, TV-personalities, even the Pride Parade etc, seem to be the source of some of the most notoriously materialistic, stereotype-adopting (usually of female attributes) and otherwise identity-externalizing displays you come across in society.

Perhaps this escape into exaggerated personas is not an act of actual identity formation, but rather a demonstration of emancipation: Look! I can be anyone I want and You can’t stop me! Like an obstinate adolescent acting to establish his identity with respect to his parents. Here, for the LGBT-person, the prejudiced and heteronormative society symbolizes the parents from which he emancipates. That would imply, however, that this “flamboyant period” of narcissistic exploration is transient and subsides as the identity solidifies…

…seeing that the Army of Lovers band members are in their 40’s and 50s, they’d seem either to be stuck in their personal development, or to be cynically exploiting the process.

***

[1] Histrionic Personality Disorder, Melissa Arthur LCSW MA

Internet-hate debate: Exposure the most effective antidote

There’s an exciting debate going on in Sweden about näthat (hate on the internet). It started – or rather, flared up – after the airing of SVT’s investigative program Uppdrag Granskning, which methodically revealed some of the frightening verbal abuse that takes place on or through the internet. Several individuals subjected to näthat were portrayed – all women – ranging from public commentators and bloggers to private individuals. One young girl happened to say the wrong things on H&M’s Facebook page and soon faced a raging mob of commenters. The show was titled, seemingly provocatively, Män som Näthatar Kvinnor (Men Who Hates Women on the Internet) – which is likely more accurate than many are willing to admit. A fair share of näthat – the sort depicted in the program – is highly gender-centric, sexualized and directed towards women by men.

There’s much to say on this issue, but I’ll pick this one, perhaps most important item; that all of this so called hate is first and foremost this: vapid and vacuous. Huffing and puffing. That’s because the source of the affect is not grand ideas or personal convictions of the perpetrator – but plain frustration. Hot air venting from his own perceived inferiority; from an ego being hurt by the display of strength and intelligence by others (narcissistic injury). Cheap attacks on vulnerable targets is the only weapon he has got.

It’s not about hate or even real anger – it’s about relieving oneself from self-contempt by projecting it onto others through rage and intimidation. In that sense, the attacks are hollow, transient and not personal (in contrary to how the subject surely experiences it); de-personating the subject is indeed desired by the aggressor since it lessens the invocation of guilt.

In a later segment of the Uppdrag Granskning-program, the reporters searched out and confronted the authors behind some of the hateful comments with their own words. Rhetorically quite effective, needless to say. As expected, once forced to stand up to their words, without the perceived protection of anonymity and implicit validation from other commenters, the majority reversed their earlier, seemingly staunch positions and harsh words and turned to excuses and explanations. Many apologized or expressed regret. The monster died at the very first glimmer of daylight.

Herein, perhaps, lies some hope. The typical “hater” carries a lot of frustration and preys compulsively on others for relief. There is, of course, some risk that threats may actually be carried out; under influence from group pressure etc. But the beast is really a sheep. He’s fearful. He has no voice and no words. It is much more likely that he is a normal person with normal capacity for empathy than him being a sociopath or sufferer of any other type of emotional impairment. The idealist would probably say that all he needs is a hug now and then. That may be, but until then, we should adopt more vigilant moderation of the Internet space to keep the light shine in.