By Mike McMahan, LPC
Evan Rachel Wood has been in the news quite a bit lately, due to her lead role on the fascinating new HBO series Westworld. The series deals with robots in a futuristic amusement park who endure all matter of violence in an Old West setting. The robots’ memories are then wiped and they repeat the experiences over and over. However, as the show opens, they have become sentient and begin to remember what has occurred in their pasts. The show itself provides plenty of food for thought on how we deal with trauma as well as providing a commentary on how the entertainment industry (and HBO, specifically) uses violence (especially sexual violence against women) as a plot device.
Wood gave a recent interview with Rolling Stone in which she dropped some serious knowledge bombs about bisexuality and psychiatric struggles; talked about her years ago relationship with aging shock rocker Marilyn Manson who is 17 (!) years her senior; and hinted at a history of sexual violence in her own life. While the matter is oblique in the actual interview, she clarified in a powerful statement on Twitter that she had, in fact, been raped twice. “I will not be ashamed ... I don't believe we live in a time where people can stay silent any longer. I certainly can't. Not given the world we live in with its blatant bigotry and sexism.”
Kudos to Wood for being brave enough to speak out on this matter. While certainly no one should be required to acknowledge such a matter publicly, each time someone does (especially someone who is famous), it chips away with the stigma associated with being sexually assaulted. There are many recent cases in the news in which young men have received light sentences or in which the judge has implied that the victim is somehow to blame: this reflects our so-called “rape culture.” The strength of someone like Wood may show that women (or men) who have been assaulted do not have to accept some sort of blame or suffer in silence for fear of persecution.
What impressed me the most about Wood, however, was not her bravery in speaking out but, instead, her acknowledgement that her role in the show was therapeutic for her. “Good God. I left so much in that first season and never looked back,” is a great attitude to have. When I have worked with sexual assault survivors, I talk about their path to recovery as a journey. Though I obviously wouldn’t wish trauma on anyone, people may come out on the other side of their recovery from the experience much stronger. In this case, Wood, who is magnificent in the show, is able to use past trauma to inform her performance and inhabit the character in a way that many other actresses would not have been able to. Given that one of the primary themes of the show is how we move on from trauma, it could be that the role itself will be key in her realizing new opportunities in her life. To be clear, I am not suggesting that survivors “get over it.” What I am suggesting is that one’s status as a survivor may allow mastery of new skills and that these survival skills may be applied successfully in other areas of one’s life.
If you have been assaulted and wish to speak to someone about the experience, consider your local Rape Crisis Center. You can also seek assistance via RAINN.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
By Mike McMahan, LPC
Let me just say right off the bat: if you haven’t seen this past Sunday’s Game of Thrones (Season 6, Episode 5), stop right here. This post is full of *SPOILERS*.
Still here? Good. I assume this means you have already seen the episode. I, like every other Game of Thrones fan, was on the edge of my seat as the hour built to its rousing climax. As if the origins of the White Walkers was not a big enough reveal, we also learned why the only phrase that Hodor utters is “Hodor” and it was heartbreaking, to say the least. This post is not a full recap of this great episode, but there are plenty of good ones out there.
As it turns out, when Bran used his incredible powers to visit Hodor’s youth (when he was able to speak and apparently not suffering from neurological impairment), the present-day command to “Hold the door!” seeped into the past, causing the trauma that rendered Hodor in the condition in which we’re accustomed to seeing him, only able to (mis)speak the phrase “hold the door” as “Hodor.”
Now, I am not qualified to speak on cognitive damage caused by warging as I am not licensed in Westeros (::eye roll::). I am qualified to address trauma here in this world, however. And "trauma!" was my immediate thought when I viewed this scene. There are many things we don’t yet know or understand about the brain, and one of them is the reason that the brain holds on to trauma so deeply. It may be that it is an ancient survival instinct, left over from a time when not learning a dangerous lesson could easily mean death next time. This type of brain activity can easily lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is frequently seen in combat veterans, sexual assault survivors, and other people who have survived potentially deadly or life-shattering encounters.
However, what most intrigued me about is the way that Hodor’s brain latched onto the phrase “hold the door” after the warging (or whatever) occurred, as it seemed to parallel the way our own brain may latch onto something. For survivors, it is not uncommon for smells or sights to cause triggering reactions due to the brain’s alarm system being tripped. This can be especially pronounced in people with a PTSD diagnosis and is often the basis for the diagnosis.
Continuing our examination into Hodor’s situation, trauma can obviously be a life-changing experience. In my work with sexual assault survivors, I have discussed the opportunities that trauma may be bring. It’s a cliché in Lifetime movies, but look how many women in these films are assaulted, lose a child, or survive something similarly difficult and painful. Many of these stories have basis in truth or are “inspired by true events.” Regular followers of the news know this to be true. Often the story ends with them urging legislators to pass a new law or otherwise achieving something that they would not even have considered before. Many of us know people in our own lives who have completely remade themselves post-trauma. I will sometimes tell clients “life has opened a door and you can choose to walk through it.” Now, people are ready to hear this sort of input at different points. This is not obviously something a counselor would tell someone who was assaulted mere hours before, when they are scared and still trying to come to terms with what has occurred. However, once some trauma work has been completed, it might be appropriate to discuss this matter. After all, trauma does allow people a chance to rise above.
Is this what happened to Hodor? Well, Westeros is a very different place from our world. It’s a safe bet to say that most of these characters have been through more trauma than most of us can conceive of. Frankly, they would probably benefit from therapy--I feel traumatized every time I see a scene with Ramsey or Joffrey. But I do know that when Hodor held off the White Walkers, saving Bran's life, I did wonder if he could have risen to the occasion so bravely without a challenging life, speaking only the phrase “Hodor” for years. RIP Hodor. We'll always miss you.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
Adult film star James Deen has now been accused of rape by three different women. Deen has appeared on film outside of the adult industry as well, something that is becoming more common as the adult film industry enters the more mainstream public eye. His higher profile will likely mean that this story will receive a lot of attention in the media.
There shouldn’t be a lot to say about this story. While James Deen is entitled to the same presumption of innocence afforded anyone in this country, it looks very bad for him that three separate women have made these allegations. Despite what people may assume or read in the media, false allegations of rape are very rare. This is largely due to the stigma associated with coming forward as a survivor of sexual assault. Unfortunately, the bravery of his accuser in coming forward may be overlooked in the ensuing media storm. Perhaps her tough decision will be another step towards easing the stigma that survivors face.
As someone who has worked with Rape Crisis Center in the past, I am familiar with this stigma, and it is something that many dedicated mental health professionals are working to erase/
A question that this story is likely to provoke is whether these women were somehow “asking for it” due to the industry in which they work. The answer is very simple: NO. While some may assume that workers in the pornography industry have poor boundaries or automatically engage in sex with co-stars off camera, this has no bearing on the accusations against Deen. Adult film actress Stoya (pictured above), perhaps Deen's most high profile accuser, noted in retelling her story that she used her “safeword” with Deen, and that he ignored it. This is an important aspect of the story. Adults have the right to engage in consensual sexual activity that includes aspects of “roughness,” S&M and so forth, as long as it is consensual. This is where a “safeword” comes in. The partners agree to engage in whatever sort of play, but once one of them utters the safeword (which should be something not normally uttered during intercourse, such as “llama,” for example) the sex stops until the partners agree to resume the activity. Published reports have stated that Deen appears in “rough sex” pornography, which is, of course, legal to produce when the actors are consenting adults. However, don’t let this fool you. Anyone who defends his alleged actions based on this fact is throwing up a dangerous smoke screen. An actress can appear in numerous scenes of this nature (or engage in the activity in her personal life) and still invoke the safeword or say no at any time, despite what may have occurred in the past.
As a society, I believe we have a responsibility to be clear on matters of consent: no means no. Period. End of discussion. As a father of a daughter, this matter has personal relevance to me and I hope we can all agree that consent for sexual activity is important. No means no.
In San Antonio, support for survivors of sexual violence is available through the Rape Crisis Center.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture