The Therapist Is In

What I know about therapy.

Holy Family Rift, Batman:

Dark Knight's Batman, Christian Bale accused of family assault


Holy Family Rift, Batman:
Christian Bale Accused of Assaulting his Mother and Sister.


Batman star Christian Bale was arrested this week in London. He was charged with assault by his mother Louise and sister Sharon. Sharon told enquiring reporters “It’s a family matter,” and refused further comment. The family feud allegedly went from verbal assault to physical abuse on the eve of the film premiere of the new Batman film, Dark Knight. There’s now a plethora of controversy and commentary on the Internet about the veracity of these allegations, with frequent references to disputes over Bale’s fathers’ estate and money in general.

Being no stranger to family estrangement and feuds over money, both personally and professionally, I’ve heard a great many stories of clients becoming wealthy and getting into disputes with family members who feel entitled to share in their relatives’ bounty. While the Bale family seems to not air their dirty laundry in public for the most part, their history is a colorful one. Bale’s mother Louise was a circus clown and dancer who divorced from his father David, an entrepreneur and animal rights activist. Bale’s stepmother is none other than feminist advocate and author Gloria Steinem.

It’s unclear what this particular dispute was about, but it is noteworthy that it occurred at a moment in history that should have been a joyous time for Bale and his family: the premiere of the Dark Knight, with Bale playing Batman, the good guy, to great reviews by critics and the public alike. One thing is clear, however, Bale’s mother and sister certainly managed to rain on his parade. The dispute could have been about any number of things but the most telling part of the family story is that after Christian’s parents divorce, he chose to move in with his father in Los Angeles, leaving behind his mother and sisters in the UK.. He apparently has only been back to see the family in Wales once since 1995.

While there must have been an incident that seemingly caused the recent altercation, family problems always go back decades and have their defining moment in a single incident. In my book, Healing From Family Rifts, I write about the fact that the last conversation I ever had with my father, back in January 2001, was about the fact that I had not called my sister in a timely manner to congratulate her on the engagement of her son. The conversation deteriorated from there, culminating in his telling me I would never again be welcome in his home. The tardiness of my congratulatory phone call was the manifest reason for the estrangement. However, the latent, or unspoken reasons are the more important ones – as they are in every family estrangement. They are the ones we need to understand, because they enable us to uncover the family myth that provoke us into playing the profitless roles in the family that we have always played.

The Bale family drama, like my own and those of my clients, emanates from years of accumulated history. Family estrangement is often driven by envy and manifests itself when one family member has propelled themselves into a different socio-economic class. Bale becoming a mega movie star and household word could have brought the family good feelings but envy and most likely greed turned the excitement of the film premiere into more celebrity gossip for the media and public to latch onto. Bale certainly doesn’t fit into a stereotype of “mother and sister beater” with his lack of colorful celebrity gossip material or his history of being a vegetarian and animal rights activist. The public knows this and respects Bale as a dignified, discreet and talented artist. Besides which, Bale is Batman, the good guy through and through.

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Mark Sichel is a psychotherapist in New York City and the author of Healing from Family Rifts.

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