Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Fear of Intimacy: Cat and Mouse Games in Relationships

Tom and Jerry. Sylvester and Tweety. Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny. These famous unlikely couples exemplify the tortured relationship prototype of pursuit and flight. Despite the frustration on the part of both the pursuer who can never be gratified, or the pursued who is constantly made anxious and must be on guard, the individuals in the couple are seemingly unable to exist without the other. Their pursuit of and escape from each other is what ultimately defines their relationship. They are engaged in a 'cat and mouse game.'

The term 'cat and mouse game' is an English-language idiom dating back to 1675 that means "a contrived action involving constant pursuit, near captures, and repeated escapes." So many couples seem to construct their relationship around this very dynamic of pursuit, near capture, and flight. One client recently remarked to me, "I really like the beginning. Trying to get him interested in me. But the moment he becomes too interested and starts to pursue me, it's over. Yuck. I'm just not interested anymore. But then if he wants to break up, I start to feel a little panicked and I start being really nice to him." Another noted, "I always seem to find the most difficult women. I guess I must just like women who are hard to get. But when I get them..." A third revealed, "Every time my husband and I are getting along for a little while, one of us always seems to pick a fight for no reason. It's like we can't get along well for too long, without one of us opting out. It's almost like we're not comfortable unless we're fighting."

The truth is that these relationships reflect an unarticulated struggle that exists within the participants. They are both fearful of intimacy and their cat and mouse game allows them to engage in this unspoken dance, where each of them participates in maintaining a certain distance in the relationship. The truth is, unconsciously, the cat is interested in the mouse because it flees, and the mouse is interested in the cat because it chases. As long as one is fleeing and the other chasing, they can each be reassured of a connection between them, but also that a certain distance will be maintained.

Relationships like these may often reflect an underlying ambivalent attachment of childhood. Children who are ambivalently attached tend to be extremely suspicious of strangers. These children display considerable distress when separated from a parent or caregiver, but do not seem reassured or comforted by the return of the parent. In some cases, the child might passively reject the parent by refusing comfort, or may openly display direct aggression toward the parent. This is also consistent with the rapprochement phase of separation-individuation as described by psychoanalyst Margaret Mahler. During this developmental phase, the child's pursuit of independence is tempered by its feelings of separation anxiety, which then serves to regulate the space between the mother and the infant.

As adults, those with this ambivalent attachment style often feel reluctant about becoming close to others and worry that their partner does not reciprocate their feelings. This leads to frequent breakups, often because the relationship feels cold and distant or too engulfing. However, these individuals feel especially distraught after the end of a relationship. As a result, the relationship that is often maintained is like the one of Tom and Jerry, a cat and mouse game in which the partners often switch off between who will be the cat and who will be the mouse. The underlying fear for the couple is as follows. The cat fears that she/he will be abandoned by the mouse, and therefore must maintain a certain proximity in order to feel secure, but sufficient space in order to survive the inevitable abandonment. The mouse fears that she/he will be overwhelmed or consumed by the cat and therefore must maintain a certain distance in order to maintain connection yet preserve the self. The truth is that neither one of the couple really knows how to be intimate without fear of abandonment or fear of merger or consumption. They, therefore, manage their fears by unconsciously regulating the space between them.

Cat and mouse games in relationships are exhausting and do little to deepen the connection between the parties. They are simply a way of the fearful couple playing at a relationship, without really having to risk true intimacy. In addition, each party might be unconsciously more gratified by other aspects of their role of cat or mouse. The cat feels powerful with the possibility of being able to catch the unattainable, that there is something about his or her talent that is able to convert the unwilling into the willing. The mouse delights in being the object of such intense interest, that he or she has the capacity to motivate this drive to pursue in the other.

Yet, Tom never really ever gets Jerry, and Jerry is never really gotten. They never really get close enough to each other for true satisfaction and therefore never really have a truly intimate relationship, even if they marry. The work for each in the couple is to address their underlying fears of abandonment or merger/enmeshment that likely have their roots in their early lives. It is with this examination and working through that they could become ready to truly participate in an intimate relationship.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

When Women Abuse: Nancy Garrido, Female Perpetrator in the Jaycee Dugard Case

We have all been rightfully outraged by Phillip Garrido, the registered sex offender who abducted and sexually abused the 11 year Jaycee Dugard, holding her for 18 long years. However, little has been said about his wife, Nancy Garrido, who was married to him at the time of the abduction, and who lived with him during the 18 years that he held Jaycee, sexually abused her, and fathered her two children.

Who is she, and what kind of woman would participate in such a thing?

Nancy Garrido apparently met her husband while she was visiting a relative in prison. At the time, Phillip Garrido was serving a 50-years-to-life sentence for the brutal kidnapping and rape of a 25-year-old Reno casino worker. Their relationship resulted in marriage even before Phillip Garrido was released on parole. Nancy Garrido knew all about her husband's crimes before she married him and she was allegedly with her husband on the day that Jaycee was abducted. Carl Probyn, Jaycee Dugard's stepfather who witnessed the abduction, apparently described a woman who closely resembled Nancy Garrido.

Women who seek out inmates, or knowingly build relationships with disturbed men like Phillip Garrido, often suffer from a variety of psychological problems. Many of these women are often depressed and have extremely poor self-esteem. They are often described as highly dependent and are often subservient or deferential in their relationships. Yet, the question arises as to how they could know about the horrific aspects of these men, and yet maintain a relationship with them. The answer is that these women may excessively rely on the psychological defense mechanism known as splitting.

Splitting is a term central to the object relations theory introduced by psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein. It emerged from the observations that infants can only keep one of its strong contradictory feelings or thoughts in its immature awareness at a time. To maintain its fragile personality structure, the infant uses splitting to keep apart the conflicting inner feelings that the good (loving, gratifying) and bad (frustrating, depriving) aspects of the mother arouses. It is not until later development, if all goes well and there is not excessive trauma, that the infant achieves integration and comes to understand that the 'good' mother and the 'bad' mother are one and the same. The infant realizes that the mother that it loves and the mother that it hates, are the same person.

However, if a person fails to accomplish this developmental task of integration, borderline pathology can develop. The borderline personality is not able to integrate the good and bad images of both self and others and therefore relies excessively on splitting. Black and white thinking becomes the central way of organizing information. Trauma in early life often results in an overreliance on splitting, in order to manage incompatible or intolerable feelings. These conflicting feelings can be split off and projected, locating them outside of the self. The person survives by either freeing herself of all bad feelings and just being left with good, or she can preserve the outside world as good while holding all the bad feelings.

An example of this is the case in which the criminal partner is idealized while the jailhouse wife devalues herself. The result may be a woman with a self-identity rooted in powerlessness and devaluation, having 'split off' and projected into her partner all feelings of power and idealization. She may believe that by joining with him and supporting him, she can be protected by his power and be close to his good and idealized parts. This can explain how women like Nancy Garrido can know about their husbands' abusive ways, yet appear to idealize them or desperately want to be with them. The truth is, for her and others like her, the pedophile and the idealized husband are psychologically separate and distinct beings to her. She is, therefore, invested in protecting her idealized husband, even at the same time as she may be the victim of his abuse.

Some researchers, e.g. Faller (1987), have confirmed that many female sex offenders have had significant difficulties in psychological and social functioning. About half have mental problems, both retardation and psychotic illness. More than half have chemical dependency problems, and close to three-fourths have maltreated their victims in other ways in addition to the sexual abuse. Only 7.5% of the women have been classified as psychotic at the time of the sexual abuse.

Other researchers, e.g. Mathews, Matthews, and Speltz (1987) and Patton (1987), have found that just about all female sex offenders were themselves victims of childhood sexual abuse and many were also victims of physical abuse. They tended to have strong and consistent patterns of childhood social isolation, alienation, and a lack of development of interpersonal skills and competence. The researchers have identified three categories of female sex offenders: Teacher/Lover, Predisposed (intergenerational), and Male-Coerced.

The Teacher/Lover offender is generally involved with prepubescent and adolescent males with whom she relates as a peer. Her motive is, ostensibly, to teach her young victims about sexuality and often sees herself, on some level, as an adolescent girl.

The Predisposed offender is usually a victim of severe sexual abuse that was initiated at a very young age and persisted over a long period of time. She has typically initiated the sexual abuse herself and the victims are usually her own children. Her motives are nonthreatening emotional intimacy.

The Male-Coerced offender usually acts initially in conjunction with a male who has previously abused children. She exhibits a pattern of extreme dependency and nonassertive behavior, and she may eventually initiate sexual abuse herself. Her victims are children both within and outside of the family.

Reports of Nancy Garrido suggest that she had a highly dependent and deferential relationship with Phillip Garrido. She has been described as "strange" and "robotic." There is no evidence to date that suggests that she has engaged in previous sexual abuse of children. Given this, she can most likely be categorized as a male-coerced offender. However, there appears to have been a period of about four months during Jaycee's detention where Phillip Garrido was incarcerated on a parole violation. Nancy Garrido continued to hold Jaycee during this time, and it was shortly after this release from jail that Phillip Garrido impregnated then 14 year old Jaycee for the first time. It may be that Nancy Garrido was so excessively psychologically dependent on her husband that, even in his absence, she continued to behave in ways to meet his needs and maintain his world in order to maintain her connection to the idealized aspects of him. A thorough evaluation of Nancy Garrido's history and previous behavior could determine whether she was truly a male-coerced offender and/or if she may also have been a predisposed offender.

Certainly, most women are especially protective of children. In fact, if it were not for the keen attention of two women police officers, sensitively attuned to non-verbal communication signals of children, this case would have never been solved. Yet we need to understand the factors that contribute to the destruction of such a protective instinct that could lead to a woman like Nancy Garrido and a case like Jaycee Dugard's.

The truth is that Nancy Garrido's behavior likely reflects the sequelae of horrific childhood sexual abuse, undiscovered and untreated.