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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD Clinical Psychology, DPhil., MA (History)


The Psychosynthesis of Karen Overhill (Part Two)

Paul Kiritsis - Monday, August 19, 2013

Karen Overhill never had a chance at developing an inkling of authentic personality or a continuity of authentic selfhood because the primal wounding started almost immediately after birth. In any normative holding environment, the empathic mirroring bequeathed by an external unifying centre such as a caregiver, parent, wet-nurse, or member of the extended family inaugurates an I-Self relationship through the internalization of object representations. Received empathically, these objects coalesce beneath the aegis of a personal centre and create psychological cartographies and layers able to superimpose themselves onto the coagulating personality without annihilating or detracting from I-amness and the continuity of being. Lamentably, any significant periods of nonempathic regard will inevitably disrupt this fundamental process by prohibiting the development of an internal unifying centre. In Karen’s case, this nonempathic regard materialized in the guise of cold and impersonal experiences in which her father and grandfather did not perceive her as a worthy, unique, dignified, and valuable individual worthy of respect, admiration, and inclusiveness into the greater whole, but rather as an object for the exclusive fulfilment of their carnal desires and sadistic entertainment. Karen, it seems, was completely deprived of rudimentary empathic attunement to a paternal and maternal figure, basic human interactions that are inwardly transposed for the purpose of containing, controlling, and integrating disparate elements of consciousness. The latter is a foremost prerequisite of personal evolution.

For Karen Overhill, the consequence of not being able to develop an integrated personal centre was constitutional vulnerability to developmental fragmentation, the disintegration of the total personality into a disassociated conglomeration of subpersonalities of which it is comprised. The senseless and unjust negative punishment suffered at a time conducive to the unfolding of intrinsic creative talent and potential severed all connections to the true Self, which rescinded from her field of consciousness completely. Taking its place was a co-dependent, false self, a psychological affectation acclimatized to thoughts and behavioural strategies commissioned to appease capricious guardians and for the defensive evasion of circumstances mimicking those from which the original traumata sprung forth. This false, destitute self might be equated to survival personality, the entity formed to meet the requirements of the noneempathic environment and to minimise the prospects of further wounding. Eventually these survival strategies blew up into habits that became addictions, compulsions, attachments, and irrational phobias–inauthentic expressions of being that further increased the distance between her and her transpersonal consciousness and will.

What is more, Karen’s poorly developed internal unifying centre meant that the unitary mediation of inner processes that occurs through identification and disidentification with specific subpersonalities in psychologically healthy individuals was inoperative. There was no mechanism to mediate the total personality, and so her consciousness was prone to integrative failure. In such an enfeebled and unstable state a primal wound incising too deep will activate unconscious splitting, a phenomenon best understood as the formation of an inauthentic self able to operate from within a sequestered psychological stratum that embodies some phenomenological bifurcation of the trauma. Perusing Switching Time, we see that the traumatic threshold required for the formation of Karen’s false selves or alters was surpassed roughly seventeen times over the course of twelve years. If her alters were formed through severe empathic disruption, then it stands to reason that ensuing experiences of empathic reconnection could reamalgamate them and restore her consciousness to its original primal state. To be liberated from her primal wounds and the elaborate coping strategies they came packaged with she had to re-experience them; the false selves, these disowned aspects of Karen’s personal vulnerability and pain, needed to be recognized and accepted as her own. While there is a degree of danger when it comes to head-on collisions with primal wounds, a good therapist acting as a surrogate external unifying centre will always be able to contain the irrupting contents from overwhelming the analysand. Baer obviously succeeded in surmounting this challenge.

Once all indecisions and doubts concerning the authenticity of the therapeutic relationship had been overcome, Karen agreed to Baer’s facilitation of a switch between false selves or alters through hypnotic induction. This specific session was initiated with some repetitive reaffirmations intended to relax and open up the channels of communication with the unconscious self and its wounded layers. Then he prompted Karen to disclose explicit details of any images that might be emerging. It seemed that her psyche-soma wished to reengage with aspects of her past, and it did. Every time Karen needed respite from nonempathic winds and diabolical snowstorms running rife in the household, she would hide in a small crevice underneath a flight of stairs that had been hollowed out for the purpose of repairing a broken pipe. There, she was consoled by a small troop of toys and dolls–the bells and whistles that complement the potter’s wheel of a child’s vivid imagination. In order to facilitate an encounter with her fragmented parts, Baer interjected this sentimental coming and going of childhood images and prompted the creative visualization of another door within the crawl space. Conforming to the trajectory of the narrative, Karen described it as a door with a series of padlocks on it. At Baer’s request she unbolted it, swung it wide open, and ventured outside where she was greeted by an array of shadowy figures. Within seconds, their physical characteristics become illuminated against the backdrop:

            “Can you describe them?”

            “…Different…different sizes… some are tall, some are short… children?”

            “How many?”

            Karen pauses. Is she counting?

            “Eleven,” she says.

            “What else?”

            “Some are telling me their names. There’s a man, he’s tall, he says his name is Holdon. There’s little Claire with Katherine. Katherine is thin and older. There’s a boy called the Angry One, and a girl-child in boy’s clothes. Holdon has his hand over the mouth of the Angry One.”

            I’m fascinated by what is happening to Karen, but I see she starts to squirm a little in her chair, as if she is becoming uncomfortable or becoming fatigued.

            “Would you like to return to your little room now?”

            Karen nods her head.

            “Why don’t you wave goodbye, and let them know you’ll return again soon.”[1]

[1] Baer, Richard, Switching Time: A Doctor’s Harrowing Story of Treating A Woman with Seventeen Personalities (New York, USA: Random House, 2008), pp. 105.


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