Would you say you’re still emotionally dependent on Elena?
That was the question that ended my last session with Christian Grey. Ended it in the sense that he walked out of my office without answering. Of course, I didn’t need him to reply to know that the answer would be yes; I wanted him to reply so he acknowledged it to himself.
I look up from the academic paper I’m reading and rub my eyes – Adolescents’ Cognitive and Emotional Responses.
It’s all so familiar: self-blame, lower constructive representations, internalisation of feelings, avoidance, and emotional dysregulation.
But how do I get Christian to choose to change? Essentially, he needs to believe that he has good inside him, so that he is no longer locked in a cycle of self-hatred and metaphorical self-flagellation.
His emotional responses remain those of an adolescent – utterly black and white, without accepting that there are shades of grey. And yes, the irony isn’t lost on me.
I wonder if I could have helped the teenaged Christian Grey? Perhaps. But only if I’d been aware of his unhealthy, obsessive and abusive relationship with the Lincoln woman.
Adolescence can be defined as the period in one’s life when most of a person’s biological, cognitive, psychological, and social characteristics change in an interrelated manner from what is considered childlike to what is considered adult-like. For most children in this age group, successful youth development is an intergenerational process where youth is open to new experiences, and the adults in their lives are responsible for providing nourishing, growth enhancing opportunities.
Yes, these were provided by the adults in Christian’s life – his parents, grandparents and, perhaps, to a lesser extent by his teachers, although sadly not by his peers.
But this is where the Lincoln woman was so cleverly manipulative: she linked his natural thirst for experience and development, to a sexual awakening of a most disturbing nature. His young mind and body were forged in the cauldron of her highly specialised and explicit sexual demands.
We all remember our first sexual encounters. For some it is a moment bathed in the rose-tinted vision of first love; for others, a memory of cringe-making proportions, despite the brief nature of such a coupling. It really is astonishing how a three-second act can make one blush two decades later. I may or may not be speaking from personal experience.
So yes, that first experience undoubtedly shapes us. Christian was slapped before he was kissed; beaten before he was permitted to orgasm. Those are the experiences that shaped his young mind, trapping him, arresting his further development.
The fact that he was able to walk away from her at all shows his great strength of mind. If only I could persuade him to believe that there are other ways of experiencing sexual pleasure. He thinks that ‘love’ isn’t for him; that what he terms ‘vanilla sex’ will be inadequate for servicing his needs. Black and white. The adolescent response.
But he’s not an adolescent. Yesterday, Christian Grey celebrated his 26th birthday.
For nearly a year he has been coming to me, and yet I wonder how much difference I have made in his life. A little, perhaps. At least I feel he can talk to me, offload, perhaps. I’m not sure he knows how to have a friend – not that I consider us friends; that would be stepping over the boundaries of being his therapist.
A friend, after all, is someone whom one likes and trusts, perhaps even someone with whom is allied in a struggle or cause. These aspects of our relationship are indeed – for want of a better word – friendly. Mutual respect, for one. A refusal to accept bullshit answers, for another.
But, of course, although we are friendly, I do not confide in him. I do not confide my hopes and fears for my future, for my children. I do not even confide my fears for his own future – his own lack of hopes and dreams for anything other than his business. He wishes nothing for himself. He is like an atheist who desperately wishes to believe in anything other than an ending, a light flicking off, a final darkness. He wants to believe, but he can’t. Because he doesn’t believe he deserves anything other than the darkness that he is certain lives inside himself.
I challenge him, but he challenges me, too. His fierce intelligence will hone in on any slip, surgically cutting to the heart of the matter. Except when he’s being irritatingly evasive, like earlier this morning.
It was one of his typically early morning appointments, and he was sitting before me, his lips compressed into a flat, unresponsive line.
“I didn’t realise it was such a difficult question, Christian. How did you celebrate your birthday?”
“I don’t celebrate. Why would I celebrate the day a crack whore whelped another bastard into the world?”
“Can we leave the amateur theatrics behind?”
His look is lethal, but I ignore it. He knows perfectly well that his rhetorical question avoids the point.
“Fine. I woke up at 4am, as usual. I worked out in the gym, as usual; I shit, I showered, I shaved, as usual. I went to work. I attended seven meetings, took 23 phone calls, sent 107 emails, went to my parents for a meal, went home, sent 23 emails, played the piano – Schoenberg, and Mozart’s 20th Piano Concerto in D Minor, if you want to know – showered, went to bed – as usual.”
“Why’s that, Doctor?”
“What a lot of emails.”
He’s trying not to crack a smile. He succeeds.
“Tell me about dinner with your parents. Was the whole family there?”
“Mia and Elliot? Your grandparents?”
“Yes. That tends to be what I mean when I say my whole family.”
“Was Elena there?”
“Do you consider her family?”
“I didn’t invite her.”
“Would you have?”
“I wouldn’t have had a fucking family dinner in the first place, John.”
“Do you dislike them so intensely?”
He closes his eyes briefly, but doesn’t answer.
I speak more quietly.
“Is there any aspect of family dinners that you enjoy?”
“So you derive no pleasure from seeing either of your parents, or your brother or your sister?”
Once more, he refuses to answer.
“Christian, your disingenuousness does you no favours. I have seen you with your family, and I have seen that you enjoy being with them.”
His eyes flare.
“You’re wrong, John.”
At last, a true reaction.
“Christian, how so?”
“It hurts,” he mutters.
“Why does it hurt?”
“Isn’t it fucking obvious?” he yells.
“No. Not to me.”
“Because they’re good, decent people!”
Oh, Christian. You see in a mirror, darkly – and it is the imperfect reflection of your mere mortal understanding.
He sees the goodness in his family and feels tortured by it, believing it is something he lacks. Because they don’t know the ‘real’ Christian.
And so we are back to this.
“Why do you think you find it painful to experience pleasure?”
“Seeing you with your family, it’s clear to me that you experienced pleasure in being with them, and they experienced pleasure in being with you. Obvious, in fact.”
“That is because,” he says, enunciating every sibilant syllable, “they only see what I want them to see.”
I lean back.
“Are you really so blind?”
His eyes widen momentarily, but then his mask is back in place, only a slight flush in his cheeks denoting his rising anger.
“Your meaning, John?”
“Is clear. They see far more than what you want them to see. You want them to see a successful, driven man. Of course they see that. But they love you and they see that you are not happy.”
I roll my eyes. “How many synonyms would you like?” I start ticking them off on my fingers. “Content, cheerful, merry, joyful, gleeful, carefree…”
“No one is carefree, John. That’s a fucking impossibility.”
“Not true.” I refer back to my notes. “Here’s how you describe soaring to me: ‘I am weightless, floating, and for a moment, that’s all there is’. The very epitome of carefree, I would suggest.”
He looks furious to have his words repeated back to him.
“And I believe you have experienced similar happiness when you’ve been skiing.”
He leans back in his chair, his fingers bridging in front of him. His position is contrived, pretending he’s in control. He’s very good. I am better.
“I’ve bought a ski lodge in Aspen.”
“Lucky you,” I respond, somewhat acerbically.
And he smiles – a genuine smile.
“It needs some work,” he continues. “Elliot will take care of that.”
I smile back at him.
“That’s good, Christian. You’ve done something to make you happy. That’s good.”
“Patronizing much, John?” he sneers, his eyes lighting with fire of battle.
“Only a little,” I agree, disarming him immediately, much to his annoyance. “Will you be inviting your family to stay at Aspen?”
He shrugs. “Sure. Once it’s finished they can stay anytime they like.”
“I should have been more specific, Christian. Will you be inviting your family to stay at Aspen with you?”
He shifts uncomfortably.
“Only ‘possible’? Not ‘definitely’? Not, ‘of course my family will be there when I’m there’?”
“I work very fucking hard, John. Sometimes I just need to… get away.”
“I understand that. I’m just eager to find out why the thought of your family staying in your private space with you makes you so uncomfortable.”
I sigh. He’s being defensive – and he’s lying.
“Will you invite Elena to Aspen?”
He’s immediately angry again.
“Why the fuck do we keep coming back to Elena?” he snarls.
“A very good question, Christian. Why does it always seem to come back to Elena?”
“For fuck’s sake! You weren’t there! You don’t know!”
“I do know, Christian, because you’ve told me.”
He runs his fingers through his hair, tugging hard enough at the roots to make me wince.”
“My parents – they couldn’t help me. No one could help me. But then she did. It wasn’t love that helped me – it never could.”
“So, Elena is your saviour. Hallelujah! Let’s bring out the bunting and have a parade.” His skin, always pale, is almost translucent with rage. “Your so-called saviour beat and seduced and beat you again – a vulnerable adolescent!”
“I NEEDED IT!”
“What if it had happened to Mia?”
His hands are claws across the arms of his chair. I’m not sure if it’s to stop him leaping at me, or to stop him charging from the room.
“It. Didn’t. Happen. To. Mia,” he says, tightly.
“Thank God,” I reply, quietly.
“I needed it,” he says more softly now, holding himself in. “Because I’m wrong. Because I’m twisted.” He pauses. “And because I don’t have a heart.”
A painful irony from a man who feels too much.
Chapter 10 – In a Mirror Darkly
Would you say you’re still emotionally dependent on Elena?