Sadly, this will Supernatural’s second to last season. The series will end next year. So while I have material to go off from the show, I will continue with episode eleven, “Damaged Goods” . “Damaged goods” continued from end of season 14 with the possession of Dean’s body by the archangel Michael. So Castiel and Sam found away to enter Dean’s mind in order to release Dean from Michael’s hold and to do with away from Michael.
To find Dean in his mind, they have to comb through all his bad memories first. When I mean, “bad memories” especially in Dean’s case, it’s “scars”. Not all scars have to be physical, but they can be mental and emotional as well. When someone is living with or overcoming emotional and mentally pains, it usually means they’ve undergone traumatic events. It may sound obvious, but you may be surprised how this simple fact can be grossly overlooked. Trauma can usually consist of dangerous, frightening, or extremely stressful situation or events. And as you read in the slide below, Dean has many of them…the death of his mother, the death of his brother (but came back to life), his own death, being sent to hell and back from it, the death of his father, the death of his mentor and friend, Bobby Singer and other companions and of course, his near final transformations into a vampire and a demon. Yeah… I’d say he’s undergone a LOT of trauma.
Physical Pain vs Emotional Pain
So how does trauma affect a person’s mind more than physical pain (Dean and Sam has had a LOT of surreal pain)? In the online Psychology Today article, “5 Ways Emotional Pain Is Worse Physical Pain”, it provides, well…5 reason why it’s so:
- Memories Trigger Emotional Pain But Not Physical Pain
- We Use Physical Pain as Distraction from Emotional Pain Not Vice Versa (could explain why Dean hunts a lot than facing his fears)
- Physical Pain Garners Far More Empathy from Others Than Emotional Pain
- Emotional Pain Echoes in Ways Physical Pain Does Not–You can look at scar on your knee, compared thinking about the time you got rejected by your high school crush
- Emotional Pain but Not Physical Pain Can Damage Our Self-Esteem and Long-Term Mental Health
One of the ways, abusers like Michael, chooses his victims is by choosing victims who are strong, confident and successful (Dodgson, 2017). One of the ways abusers overcome their victims is called, “Coercive Control”. Coercive control is used to instill fear and compliance in a partner (Kennedy, n.d). These are a few way abusers can use coercive control:
- Obsessive monitoring
- Low level violence (e.g. shoving & hair grabbing)
- Sexual Assault
I want to say that what Michael was doing to Dean was a form of gaslighting. I mean if you think about, gaslighting is where abusers “undermine the abused person’s sense of sanity by insisting their lies are true, or by playing mind games.” And Michael was trying to keep Dean in the dark by giving him the life he never had in his own mind, even though in reality, he was really imprisoning Dean.
PTSD and C-PTSD
Thriving on trauma…hmm…you know what this reminds me of? PTSD. As a reminder PTSD, according to the American Psychological Association, is “a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.” The symptoms they go through are (APA, 2017):
- Intrusive thoughts–These include repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks my may be so vivid that people feel they are re-living the traumatic experience or seeing it before their eyes.
- Avoiding reminders–Traumatic events may have a person for example, avoiding people, places, activities, objects and situations that bring on distressing memories. People may try to avoid remembering or thinking about the traumatic event. They may resist talking about what happened or how they feel about it.
- Negative thoughts and feelings—These may include ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted”); ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame; much less interest in activities previously enjoyed; or feeling detached or estranged from others.
- Arousal and reactive thoughts—This may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being easily started; or having problems concentrating or sleeping.
But you know something else? I think Dean may have C-PTSD because of the trauma he has gone through his whole life. Also he has shown some examples of how he could have C-PTSD. Usually what survivors with C-PTSD may have difficulty with is (VA, n.d.).
- Avoiding thinking and talking about trauma-related topics because the feelings connected with the trauma are often overwhelming. I mean, I’ve never heard of Dean never talk about his past encounters with supernatural beings and never really talks about how those encounters with supernatural beings impacted him. Or how he’s nearly lost Sam or his own life. Or the loss of their dad.
- The excess use of alcohol or other substances in order to avoid and numb feelings and thoughts related to the trauma. Dean well….drinks like a fish to avoid his.
- Not harming themselves and finding other ways to hurt themselves. Do you know how many times Dean has sent has sacrificed himself? One too many times…one too many times.
- Being mistaken for having a “weak character” or are unjustly blamed for the symptoms they experience as a result of victimization. Luckily, Sam reminds Dean how strong he is everyday.
Michael definitely, found Dean’s Achilles’s heel and it was to be happy. Why? It keeps Michael in control. As mention earlier, gaslighting is used to keep their victims in line and from seeing things for what they really are. especially when their guard is down. It explains why survivors like myself and even Dean don’t want to put our guard down, because once it’s down, it will feels like our mind will be a gateway for former or future abusers to get the best of us.
Whether trauma is in the past or on going, it’s never easy to live through. On one hand you wish for that “normalcy”, but on the other hand you have to fend yourself from those who would do harm to you. So not only are you juggling past and/or present pain, you are juggling the possibility of harm that can be done. Reliving trauma and being on guard from new trauma IS your normal. But as long as you have a Sam and Castiel in your corner, it allows trauma to be easier to live with.
American Psychological Association. (2017). What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? Retrieved from: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd
Dodgson, L. (2017). Psychological Abusers Don’t Go For The Weak–They Choose Strong People Because They “Like a Challenge.” Retrieved from: https://www.businessinsider.com/strong-confident-people-end-up-in-abusive-relationships-2017-8
Kennedy, L. (n.d.) What Is Coercive Control in a Relationship? Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/women/features/what-is-coercive-control#1
Winch, G. (2014). 5 Ways Emotional Pain Is Worse Than Physical Pain. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201407/5-ways-emotional-pain-is-worse-physical-pain
Veteran Affairs. (n.d.) Complex PTSD. Retrieved from: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/complex_ptsd.asp
Women’s Health. (2018). Abuse, Trauma, and Mental Health. Retrieved from: https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/abuse-trauma-and-mental-health
Tracy, N. (2016). Gaslighting Definition, Techniques and Being Gaslighted. Retrieved from: https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/emotional-psychological-abuse/gaslighting-definition-techniques-and-being-gaslighted