Evil Deeds

A forensic psychologist on anger, madness and destructive behavior.

Scrooge's Spiritual Redemption: How the Unconscious Heals

Pay close attention to your dreams this Christmas eve.
Jenna Baddeley
This post is a response to The Therapists of Christmas Past, Present, and Future by Jenna Baddeley

A Christmas Carol is probably my favorite holiday film, and there have been many versions made based on the 1843 Dickens novel. Indeed, there is a brand new movie (2009) starring Jim Carrey as Mr. Scrooge which I haven't yet seen. Just the other night I caught one with George C. Scott doing a fine acting job as Ebenezer Scrooge, but the earlier films are truly classic. Scrooge is reminiscent of something I've been writing about here recently in my own blog: Post-traumatic Embitterment Disorder.

Following traumatic losses as a boy (his mother died bringing him into the world) and abandonment by his bereaved father, lonely young Ebenezer later takes a fatal decision to walk away from the woman he loves and who loves him, choosing instead a life devoted to materialism and making money. He turns into a wealthy, successful but bitter old man, alone and alienated from intimate relationships, friends and family. His is a deeply cynical, embittered, defensive posture driven by underlying anger, rage, resentment and severe narcissistic wounding. In Jungian terms, we could say that his unconscious Self starts speaking to him on that cold and lonely Christmas Eve via his dreams. Dreams, as Freud found, are the via regia or regal road to the unconscious, and can be understood as forms of communication from the unconscious. The unconscious, as Jung pointed out, is always compensatory to the conscious attitude. So it is high time for Scrooge to change himself and his embittered attitude toward life, to become the man he was meant to be. His vivid and very real nightmares--with their harrowing visitations and visions of his childhood, current life, and inevitable mortality--show him the way. But it is still clearly his decision, his existential choice, as to heeding their insight, dire warnings and healing wisdom or not.

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This is very similar to what happens during the course of psychotherapy for some patients, though the process and time-frame typically tends to be somewhat longer. Nonetheless, suddenly life-altering epiphanies can and do happen both in therapy and without. Scrooge, materialist that he was, at first dismisses his dreams as merely the meaningless product of a bit of undigested meat. But he later becomes convinced of the reality of these dreams and their profound spiritual and psychological significance. So in that one life-changing night, the old Scrooge dies and is reborn on Christmas day. Scrooge is transformed--and the story suggests this change was permanent--from embittered, stingy, hard-core materialistic misanthrope to a loving, generous and much happier man. And all thanks to the healing powers of the unconscious!!

A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All, and God Bless Us Every One.

Stephen Diamond, Ph.D., is a clinical and forensic psychologist in LA and the author of Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil, and Creativity.

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