In this blog I will use a question and answer format to further parse and explicate why I believe James Eagen Holmes is a "submergent personality" psycho, i.e. afflicted with submergent personality disorder. I will use actual evidence or assertions made about him by those who claim to have known him well, or worked with him, as well as other records now disclosed - such as that he was actually on academic probation at the University of Colorado, Anshutz campus in Aurora. All of this will comprise a further effort to make sense of an ultimately nonsensical act. The source work for most of the answers will be the psychotherapy anthology 'Psychotherapy of the Submerged Personality' edited and contributed to by Alexander Wolf, and Irwin Kutash.
Q. Could you give a background picture of personality disorders and how this 'submerged personality' disorder was chosen for Holmes?
A. The DSM-III, IV (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders) provides a classification of personality disorders and identifies 'clusters' within which specific disorders can occur. These include:
(A) Schizotypal, paranoid and schizoid personality disorders ('odd, eccentric' cluster)
(B) Borderline, narcissistic, histrionic and anti-social personality disorders ('dramatic, emotional, erratic')
(C) Submerged: Avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive, passive aggressive personality disorders('anxious, fearful')
Each Cluster has discrete tendencies within itself:
(A) -> withdraw (no wants from others)
(B) -> exploit (want from others without seeing or responding to what others want from them)
(C) -> comply (want from others, but yields only to others' wants to avoid conflict)
The first task then, is to identify into which 'cluster' Holmes would fit, based on his documented behaviors.
We can immediately exclude Cluster A since Holmes DID have wants from others: namely recognition for sterling academic performance, as well as rewards commensurate with his attainments.
To the extent of our existing knowledge we possibly can eliminate Cluster B ('exploit') since we've no evidence thus far Holmes used any covert or overt ruses or gimmicks to attain his ends, his academic success for example.
This leaves cluster C as the most likely fit for him, and this means a decided preference to keep to himself (also being compliant with others to avoid conflict). This avoidant aspect is critical in a "submerged" in that he is terrified of possibly exposing either his authentic (submerged) ego or his maternal pseudo-ego for extended periods. (The latter likely to be perceived as 'soft', compliant and even unmanly by peers) Indeed, Wolf and Kutash (op. cit.) in their first chapter ('Historical and Theoretical Perspective', p. 13) emphasize that:
"A central characteristic quality of submergence is the need to be alone. The submerged personality cannot really reveal himself to anyone. The persons he claims as 'friends' are people who themselves, like him, have no close personal bonds. These have to subordinate themselves to his solitary need and ask for nothing in return. They must be loyal servants more than friends, providing only a listening silence for a man who has no interest in intimacy. His friends are to make no comment or to respond actively to his behavior."
This type of submergent is called "avoidant" and is said to lack "object relatedness". (Kutash and Greenberg, 'Place in the Diagnostic Spectrum', p. 47)
Q. SO how does this avoidant type submergent begin? What conditions create him?
A. Kutash and Greenberg provide the answer as follows (ibid.):
"In infancy the child is provided with satisfaction of all the basic physical needs such as food and physical comfort, but due to either a lack of parenting ability or life circumstance, the child is unable to receive much positive emotional stimulation or gratification. This scenario may be the result of a parent who is depressed or schizoid, or it may be due to a long term illness in which the child needs to be hospitalized. As the child enters the ego-emergence phase, independent strides are met with negative consequences such as punishment or anger.
This may be the result of having a parent who needs the child to remain a child in order to feel less threatened, or who needs the child to engage in activities that they themselves cannot fulfill."
The authors go on to note that as a result of this subjugation of innate personality to the parent's demands "ego development is thwarted". This is a result of a "complying pseudo ego" emerging which occurs as the individual's own authentic ego is submerged and is done to "stay out of harm's way". The submergent personality thereby exhibits little object relatedness since "they do not know how it feels to be gratified by another person".
Q. Isn't it possible the condition of Holmes is really Borderline Personality disorder?
A. Okay, first a cautionary note: We must acknowledge personality profiles may or may not be reliable. The problem always is that one or more personality 'disorders' can overlap - thereby obscuring the accuracy of a profile. It is quite possible that this could have occurred in the case of Holmes. In addition, it is dangerous to attribute violence -or propensity to violence, merely because one has a personality disorder. Not all personality disorders render a person prone to violence. Hence, after ascribing some personality disorder to a perp, one must inquire 'What was the trigger that converted a pathological mental disposition(that the subject may have lived with for years or decades) into overt acting out and mayhem?"
BPD - or borderline personality disorder, is now generally believed to have its genesis in 'schizophrenogenic mothers.'(Cauwels, J.M.: 1992, 'Imbroglio: Rising to the Challenges of Borderline Personality Disorder' W.W. Norton & Company.). Often, this can arise from incest- or some other form of emotional or physical abuse.
Some markers and indicators (op. cit.) include:
i) Borderlines tend to have significant sexual difficulties (p. 62)
ii) Borderlines crave attention.
iii) From 25% to 65% of borderlines have suffered separations from a parent, generally in preschool or adolescent years (p. 233)
iv) Families of BPDs tend to be isolated and self-contained. Thus borderlines have no external families by which to gauge the pathology of their own. (p. 235)
v) Borderline adolescent males tend to aggressively act out their impulses. These can include bouts of hyperactivity, stealing, truancy etc. (p. 144).
As far as we know, none of the above apply to Holmes. Further, all the evidence is that - as with most submergents - Holmes avoided conflicts whenever he could. He lacked the confidence or basic ego mastery to even challenge teasing, as one former schoolmate related on yesterday evening's news (ABC). He noted that even as Holmes was repeatedly teased the only response was a soft smile and maybe a cackle or laugh but no effort to muster a retort. A borderline personality would have no such hesitation.
Kutash and Greenberg also observe (p. 38):
"The borderline is intensely emotional, unstable, and unpredictable in responses. The submerged personality is usually predictable.....especially with regard to ambivalence (see previous blog), and paranoidal and sadomasochistic reactions.
While ambivalence is also seen in the borderline, it is less focused or centered. This is due to their etiologies being different. That is, the borderline has a damaged, split ego, the submerged individual has a submerged ego with two controlling pseudo-egos. Medication and hospitalization are often indicated in the borderline, this is not true of the submerged patient."
Q. I have read in today's paper that the police say there were no Batman comics or evidence of Batman infatuation in the guy's apartment. So they are saying there is no real connection to the Joker. What say you?
A. I say, or ask, how much psychology have the cops studied? How much research have they done? As much as me? I doubt it. The fact remains that the import of the "Joker" persona is NOT one of any comic or Comicon affiliation, or superhero heritage or even assimilation. It is rather, the choice of a pseudo-ego or rebellious counter ego to the dominating parental-mother ego that sucked this guy's life and psychic energy away. For whatever reason, Holmes elected to pick the "Joker" as the tag for this pseudo-ego and made that identification when he opened fire in the theater.
In doing so, he was not announcing any comic book affiliations or even knowledge (other than in a transitory and utilitarian way) but rather a choice for his aggressive, acting out pseudo-ego, the rebellious front man that wasn't taking any more shit from any dominant authorities or from anyone, period.
This was, in effect, the manifestation of the psychic embolism (created by the tension between the two pseudo egos) that erupted after years or decades of "compulsively accommodating to the needs of others" (p. 99, Wolf and Kutash) and the abiding "fear of not having the uniqueness of his authentic ego, even in its most naive grandiosity" to be valued. BUT ...the "Joker" and his actions would be valued if only negatively! I suspect the "Joker" persona had first been incepted when Holmes was faced with a lifetime working in the service industry - then it was kept on the psychological back burner should that ominous future ever be confronted again.
I suspect in this regard the "Joker" was hatched, at least in a rudimentary form, after Holmes received the shock of his young life on learning that - even after graduating with honors from UC Riverside in Neuroscience- the best job on offer was burger flipping at Mickey Ds! What a putdown! What humiliation! Well, Holmes temporarily salvaged the situation (and postponed release of the Joker) by finding an 'in' at the Univ. of Colorado, where he could pursue a Ph.D. and at least had the chance at a respectable future in neuroscience research. But it was not to be. While he skated through the baccalaureate work he met his match at the Ph.D. level.
Within a year he found himself on academic probation at the University of Colorado-Anchustz campus. He had "academic problems" according to campus spokewoman Jackie Brinkman. Maybe he failed all his first year tests, maye he bombed out in a preliminary research paper or a practice comp, or may he blew a seminar (which apparently he gave in May on RNA -related neurological markers). It doesn't matter what the immediate or specific source of failure was, the end result is that his grandiose self-concept now faced the imminent prospect of burger flipping . No Ph.D, no postdocs, leaving Colorado in disgrace...Mickey D here we come....or wait!
Time to release the "Joker"! In other words, the failure triggered the release of the aggressive pseudo self since the capacity for true creative work was denied him by the need for submergence of his authentic self - where the energy, insight and true intelligence resided to succeed. He could muddle by with this self submerged at lower levels, but not at this Ph.D. level.
More to come tomorrow.