Embracing the Dark Side

Discerning the positive aspects of sadness, bereavement, and other negative feelings.

The Therapists of Christmas Past, Present, and Future

Scrooge is visited by four ghosts - or are they therapists?

Scrooge is often taken as a symbol of miserliness, but in my view Scrooge's tightfistedness with money is secondary to his self-imposed isolation from the warmth of human connection. Such disconnection is a primary reason why many patients seek psychotherapy - and helping people soften their self-imposed barriers to connection is one of the ends to which therapy is best suited. Scrooge is fortunate enough to receive the benefit of years of therapy - delivered by one ghost and three spirits - in the course of one long night before Christmas.

Scrooge, of course, would never have welcomed the spirits' therapy without significant convincing. In the language of Prochaska's stages of change, Scrooge was in the precomtemplation stage when he went to bed on Christmas eve. In other words, he had not even begun to think that he should change his ways. A visit from the ghost of his former business partner, Marley, shows Scrooge in vivid detail the eternal burdens that he will carry if he continues to behave as he has done. This catapults Scrooge into the contemplation stage in preparation for the therapeutic process through which the three spirits will guide him.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

The spirit of Christmas past puts Scrooge in touch with his own long-buried vulnerable emotions. First he shows Scrooge his own loneliness in the person of his younger self as a forgotten schoolboy, and next he shows Scrooge the tender, loving actions of his sister, Fan, which reawakens Scrooge's own feelings of love and tenderness. When the spirit of Christmas present shows a softened Scrooge scenes of human suffering and discloses that the weak, fragile, but charming Tiny Tim will die unless things change, Scrooge responds with great pity. Perhaps to amplify Scrooge's sense of responsibility, the spirit does not let Scrooge rest, but confronts Scrooge by repeating the harsh words Scrooge had said earlier when refusing to offer charity to the poor, "What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." The spirit of Christmas future confronts Scrooge not with visions of the world after his death - a world in which no one is sad to see him go.

On Christmas day, Scrooge awakens a changed man, needing no further preparation, but ready for action as a loving and generous neighbor, uncle, and employer. Beyond that Christmas day, we don't know what becomes of Scrooge. However, the rewards of love and connection may be rich enough to motivate him to maintain his behavioral changes.

 

Jenna Baddeley is working on a Ph.D. in social/personality and clinical psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

more...

Subscribe to Embracing the Dark Side

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.