“Welcome back, Mr Grey.”
He settles into an armchair, languidly crossing one long leg over the other. It’s a demonstration of how at ease he is in my office, which, of course, tells me that his anxiety levels are high. And yet he’s here: I believe he wants to progress.
“Have you thought any more about your five year plan?”
His eyes narrow. “I’ve got a fucking five year business plan, I told you.”
“How reassuring for the department of labor in Seattle. But unless you need my help with your commercial enterprises, I can only assume that you’re here to discuss your personal goals.”
“Well, perhaps we can begin by discussing your parasomnia.”
“Old news, Dr Flynn.”
“Current affairs, Mr Grey. Would you tell me, in detail, what the dreams are about?”
He sighs and closes his eyes, a pained look crossing his face. When he opens his eyes, he seems resigned.
“There are two. In the first, the crack whore’s pimp is smoking – cigarette after cigarette. He can’t find an ashtray, but he can find me. He stubs them out on my chest, on my back, grinding them into me. The crack whore doesn’t stop him; she just watches. The pain is excruciating, but she doesn’t do anything – she never does anything. I can’t protect myself, I can’t protect her. I have no control over the situation: I can’t stop him, I can’t hide, I can’t escape…”
The rate of his breathing has escalated and, although I doubt he realises realise it, both hands are gripping the arms of his chair, the knuckles bloodless and white.
“And the second dream?” I prompt gently.
“The crack whore is lying on the floor. She won’t wake up. I’m hungry and thirsty and no-one comes. No-one ever comes.”
Such horrific memories: and he has carried them since he was a small child. I know, from his voluminous files, that all his issues of anger and the need to control stem from these formative events. But I can’t change those: instead I want to uncover what provokes the night-time memory of them now, and how I can help my client manage them better, to move forward emotionally.
I am briefly distracted wondering how Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences could be applied – or not – to my client. Grey is high scoring on the spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical and naturalistic scales. His bodily-kinesthetic response is also high but doesn’t address his haphephobia or self-abhorrence. It is the interpersonal and intrapersonal descriptors that interest me.
Clearly he is skilful in reading others’ moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations: without this ability he would be a poor leader. He understands what people need to work well and yet, beyond the business environment, he appears to lack empathy. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say, he avoids situations that are outside the business environment where emotional literacy is implicit.
Any yet I can’t deny that he is introspective: he has a deep, if flawed, understanding of the self. He knows his strengths and weaknesses; he knows and avoids situations that will provoke strong emotions within him. He is able to predict his reactions and likely emotions in a fixed number of situations, so he attempts to control where and when this will happen. But, and it’s a big but, his understanding is based on self-abhorrence. Ultimately, he feels unworthy of love. The medical notes indicate he has received unconditional love from his adoptive family, but it seems this serves only to increase his self-loathing because he doesn’t understand why they love him; he also believes that if they knew the ‘real’ Christian Grey, they would, in his view understandably, cease to love him.
He doesn’t believe love can be unconditional: this is at the very root of his vulnerabilities. I strongly suspect that there is something else that has not been revealed in the files, something he may even be unaware of himself, another reason why feels unlovable and unworthy of love. Until we can confront this together, progress will be… well, there won’t be any progress.
I don’t feel our relationship is at the point where he will open up to me on this so instead I try to find out what situations are most likely to cause the recurring dreams.
“Do you keep a diary, Mr Grey?”
He rolls his eyes. “For fucks sake! Yes, I have an assistant who organises it for me.”
I smile. A typical Grey response.
“I meant a personal diary.”
“Of course not.”
“Oh? There’s an obvious reason why you wouldn’t?”
“What’s the point? I don’t need something sensational to read on trips.”
He raises an eyebrow. He’s testing me: have I picked up the reference to Wilde? Interesting: this is the writer that comes to his mind: the brilliant, gifted, tortured outsider.
“I presume you have tried to identify a pattern that triggers the parasomnia?”
He shrugs, his half-smile fading. “It’s always there: stress, a bad day, sometimes even after a good day when things have gone well. I can’t see a pattern. If I could, I would control it better.”
“Humour me, Mr Grey. Keep a personal diary for a week. Even if it doesn’t help you, it will help me.”
“Oh for fucks sake! Is this the best you can do? A fucking dream diary?!”
“That’s not what I’m asking: don’t deliberately misunderstand me, Mr Grey, it wastes time for both of us.”
A surly expression crosses his face and a light goes on in my head. This man has never had a proper adolescence. Being seduced by a female dominant at the age of 15 swept him into an adult world of extreme sexualised behaviours. In essence: he has missed out the emotional developmental stages that would in others have led gradually to adulthood. His high achievement educationally and in business has assisted him in masking this lack of emotional growth. He really doesn’t like to be challenged and his response is that of a young adolescent.
I change tack. He’s an intelligent man, a manipulative man and despite the fact he has sought my help, he’s not prepared to be entirely candid either.
“Describe your submissive to me.”
He leans back in the chair, still tense.
“She comes to my apartment on Friday evening at the time I tell her, then…”
“No, tell me what she looks like.”
He blinks, surprised.
“Why do you want to know that?”
I raise an eyebrow without answering.
“She’s about 5’5” with long brown hair, brown eyes, pale skin.”
“What’s her name?”
“And what does she do?”
“In my apartment?”
“No, in the hours when she’s not with you.”
Grey frowns. “She works part-time; in a department store. Why are we talking about her?”
“What do you think she sees in you?”
“What does she get out of her relationship with you?”
“Sexual gratification. I make sure she eats healthily and drives a safe car.”
“What do you talk about?”
“I assume that in between bouts of… sexual gratification you must actually speak to her – with words – or do you write her notes?”
He doesn’t know whether to lose his temper or laugh. He chooses the latter.
“Yes, we talk.”
“I don’t know: music, sometimes.”
“What sort of music does she like?”
“She likes what I like.”
“How do you know this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Perhaps she just tells you what you want to hear.”
He frowns again but doesn’t reply. I can see that this train of questioning has made him think. Good: if he can see his submissive as a person in her own right, not just someone for his own sexual gratification, perhaps he will begin to reconnect with the emotions that can be part of a loving, sexual relationship. He’s at the start of a very long path: will he take that step?
I prompt him when he doesn’t respond.
“Have you ever asked her to play music from her I-pod’s play list? Or does she have CDs in her car that she listens to?”
I can see that he has no idea and, moreover, the thought has never occurred to him.
His expression darkens.
“She’s not there to discuss the fucking weather.”
“Just to fuck?”
“Yes, Dr Flynn. Just to fuck.”
“I understood that in business, information was everything. And that much as you deal in manufacturing, agrichemicals or telecoms, information is the currency.”
“Is obvious, Mr Grey: you seem to know very little about the woman who shares eight days out of every month with you.”
“I know what I need to know,” he growls.
“Tell me about the submissive you had before Karin.”
“This is fucking tedious, Dr Flynn.”
“You’re free to leave at any time, Mr Grey.”
He doesn’t like my reply. His body tenses, as if he’s considering standing up and walking out. His face, however, remains impassive as he makes his decision. I can see how many people would find that blank look intimidating, chilling even.
He exhales deeply and begins to speak.
“Her name was Leila.”
“Tell me about her. What did she look like?”
“Same as the others.”
“Long brown hair, brown eyes, pale skin, petite.”
“All your submissives fit this description?”
“Why is that, Mr Grey?”
He looks puzzled. Clearly he’s not thought about this in depth. “It’s what I find attractive.”
“So you’ve never had relations with blue-eyed blondes, or red heads, or women of a different ethnic group?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘never’, but for my submissives, no, not really.”
“My… a friend subbed for me for a short time: she had blonde hair and blue eyes.”
“But not since then?”
“Why is that, do you think?”
“I told you, Dr Flynn: I like brunettes.”
I think there’s more to it than that, but now is not the time to push. I file away the thought for future examination.
“Tell me about Leila. When did your relationship with her end?”
“Six months ago.”
“And why did it end?”
For a moment he seems discomforted, then replies, “she met someone else. She got married, in fact.”
“And how did you feel about that?”
“Fine. They can leave whenever they want.”
“Have others of your submissives left you?”
“It happens. Not often.”
“How did you feel when she told you she was getting married?”
“It’s none of my business: it simply meant the contract was terminated. I don’t share, Dr Flynn.”
His eyes gleam with sudden ferocity.
“Well, that’s one version of safe sex, I suppose.” I pause, allowing him time to let his temper ebb. “Tell me more about Leila.”
“I think you were the one, doctor, who said that raking up the past was counter-productive.”
“I said picking over the first four years of your life yet again would not get you to where you want to be; I didn’t say we wouldn’t discuss your BDSM lifestyle.”
“Touché. A fair point, Dr Flynn.”
“Thank you, Mr Grey.” I glance at the clock on my desk. “But for today our time is up.”
“Saved by the bell, Dr Flynn?” he arches an eyebrow at me.
“Merely postponed, Mr Grey. Until next time.”
“Indeed. Good day, Dr Flynn.”
“And to you, Mr Grey.”