Jessica Jones: PTSD and Mind Control
Do not worry, I will do my best to avoid major spoilers. I want to discuss some of the topics in Jessica Jones, not the story itself.
****Potential trigger warning****
Jessica Jones could be one of the most beneficial shows to come to fruition. The new Netflix series is about a private detective, endowed with superpowers, who lives with post traumatic stress disorder after having been under the influence of superhuman mind control. Kilgrave, the man who held her under his mind control for over a month, forced her to do terrible things that were not in her nature, but he made her *feel* like they were things she *wanted* to do. Although it has a fictional basis, this show will offer a level of awareness, of some pretty taboo topics, not seen before.
What I want to talk about is the approach this show takes to the subjects of PTSD and mind control. PTSD is not handled with kid gloves, it is not just mentioned and then hinted at here and there. It is the skeletal structure, the muscle, the skin. Jessica Jones lives, eats, breathes, dreams, and secretes PTSD. Because that IS what it is like living with PTSD. Mind control...well, I'll get to that. PTSD
With PTSD, fear becomes a real thing, not just some little twisting in your stomach or a dry clenched throat. It becomes this looming monster, standing in your shadow, waiting to pounce the moment you are feeling vulnerable. And it does pounce...every. single. time. People handle that differently...some people do not handle it at all and just try to keep ahead of it. That is basically Jessica Jones' approach. Although she is self-aware, she also drowns herself in her work, rarely even taking the time to sleep. (Sleep is the enemy, anyway. It is a time when one is most vulnerable to creeping thoughts and fears.) But the past catches up to her during an investigation, and there is a very real moment when the fear suffocates her, drowns her thoughts in the terror. She panics, she runs. And this is where the show starts hitting on some very hard truths.
1. PTSD affects relationships. It doesn't matter how hard you try to hide your PTSD or how well you handle your PTSD, it always affects every one of your relationships. Sometimes, it can draw you closer to someone, but usually it creates a difficult distance. You want to protect them from your pain or they don't know how to relate to you anymore...you try to avoid situations or conversations or other events that may trigger memories or flashbacks or panic attack or they do not know what it is safe to say or do around you and so they feel uncomfortable around you...you feel on guard all the time (irritable, defensive, anxious) or they are put off by your inability to be intimate, taking it as a personal offense rather than symptomatic of your PTSD. People around you want you to recover faster than you may be capable of, because they want the old you and cannot usually understand that you are forever changed. You can improve, but it takes time.
2. Coping mechanisms are not always positive. As I said before, Jessica Jones is a workaholic. She also has other vices, sex, sarcasm, and alcohol. (Her avoidance of meaningful relationships is another detrimental coping mechanism.) This is where outside perspective and internal perspective become very contradictory. On the outside, coping mechanisms can make someone seem strong, unflinching, unbreakable. On the inside, that person is a terrified, confused mess. When people know of you as a "survivor", they often tell you things like, "You are so strong!" and "I don't think I could have made it through that!" People tell you that you are strong and amazing, but you don't believe it. You are just trying to hold on to the forward momentum so that you don't get gobbled up by the things that are gnawing at your insides. And because you are avoiding the memories and the emotions of the trauma, you avoid seeking help...you avoid family and friends...you avoid sleep and you don't take care of yourself like you should.
3. Even if you cannot see it yourself, PTSD gives you a strength and perspective that others cannot have. Because of what Jessica Jones has experienced, she has a certain insight that allows her to sympathize with Kilgrave's other victims and a drive to help people (even though she doesn't see herself as a "hero"). She emphasizes that it's not their fault (while still trying to convince herself that her own actions were not her fault). She encourages group therapy amongst the surviving victims. She does what she can to save the victims from themselves because she knows from experience that they are not acting of their own volition. MIND CONTROL
Kilgrave is a fictional, exaggerated monster of a man. But mind control and monsters are very real. The most potent aspect of the show is its hyper-focus on this one character. He has so deeply engraved himself into Jessica's sense of self that all of her attempts to scrub and scrape him away have been mostly ineffective.
I can tell you what it's like...I've been there.
Mind control...or psychological manipulation...can be described as "an impairment of autonomy, an inability to think independently, and a disruption of beliefs and affiliations." It doesn't take much really; peer pressure can be seen as a form of mind control. The kind of mind control that gives birth to PTSD, though...that takes time, patience, and calculation (unless you have super powers, of course). Abusers are generally quite skilled at coercive control and at many other forms of psychological warfare.
Outwardly, a victim of psychological manipulation just appears to have made some really bad decisions. A battered spouse doesn't *choose* to stay with their significant other-- they stay because there appears to be no other option. A kidnapped teen that doesn't attempt to escape and engages in illegal activity may be too frightened of their kidnapper to put up any resistance. A molested child may not speak up because they fear or feel sympathy for their abuser.
Something that Jessica Jones gets so perfectly is that the effects of psychological manipulation persist, if residually...even long, long after the actual abuse ends. Once someone is inside your head--controlling your actions, your thoughts, even *what you think you want*--they somehow leave little tendrils of themselves in there. If an abuser manages to slink back into the survivor's life, all of the progress that they have made can be brought crashing down by these little tendrils, these little worms of self-doubt, of the old coercion and shame and terror. This is something that is very difficult for survivors to discuss, because it means admitting that their trauma is still a part of them. I look forward to watching the rest of the season. I am quite impressed with the tact and level of responsibility and awareness that Jessica Jones is broaching these topics. I would suggest that if you are sensitive to the above topics and wish to watch Jessica Jones, do so with someone you trust and can talk to. (At this point, I would like to say that I have the best, most wonderful, supportive husband in the world, for staying up and talking with me until 5 am this morning after watching the first 6 episodes!)