Beware the Vampyre! For he is an archetypal representation of abuse 02/17/2011Posted by ALT in Children's Mental Health, Historical Context.
Tags: archetype, childhood abuse, trauma, Twilight, vampire
Vampires are so in right now.
If you spend much time around pre-teen/tween/teen/young adult women, you’re likely aware of the Twilight phenomenon: quite possibly the most poorly constructed, badly written novels ever, the author’s disturbing pulp vampire fantasies barely hidden behind one dimensional, mostly Mary Sue characters (Stephanie Meyer should’ve just gone ahead and named the main character “Stephanie;” it would’ve saved us all a lot of trouble).
For today’s teenagers, this is basically the love story of their generation—or so it’s been marketed. T-shirts, full-size posters, figurines, teen pop magazine pictures you can kiss before you go to bed at night proclaim the supreme love of Bella (human) and Edward (vampire). [For some of the weirder Twi-fan stuff out there, check this out. Also, this.]
Young people want to learn about love, and these days they’re learning it from the media, as the topic has successfully become taboo in many families and certainly in school. I can just imagine a young person, not really knowing too much about romance, reading the book (or seeing the movie) and thinking “That’s it… that’s love.”
Folks—that’s an entire generation being taught that abuse is the ultimate in romance, that love is dark, desperate, controlling, that the man of your dreams ought to be a threat to your soul.
Let me explain…
Vampire as the archetypal abuser/abused
As most literary figures and themes, vampires are a symbol; I’d go so far as to say that they are an archetype (IE, an ancient and nearly universal symbol recognized by many human cultures across time). The vampire represents the victim of abuse who, having lost his soul, is transformed into an “undead” creature victimizing and therefore condemning other humans to the same fate.
Here are some common characteristics of the vampire archetype:
- A reanimated corpse, “undead”
- Vampires only travel at night (in darkness)
- Maintains its immortality by drinking the blood of humans
- The vampire’s need for blood destroys the victim
- The victim of a vampire will become a vampire
It’s easy to see how these traits align very well with those of a victim of abuse/abuser…
[But first, a quick aside: my use of the "victim of abuse/abuser" construct may be a bit confusing—is the abuser the vampire? Or is the victim? But as we shall see the symbolic relationship between the two is complex… it is commonly understood that the victim often identifies with, or retains a piece of, the abuser as part of the traumatic experience. They bleed together… and so the symbolic representation of their relationship (the vampire) is a single entity from this perspective.]
Reanimated Corpse, undead
This represents the disassociation or severe depersonalization that a trauma victim experiences; many have described it as feeling “like a zombie.” Victims say they have “lost a part of themselves,” and repressed traumatic material in the unconscious can contribute to this feeling.
Immortality by drinking the blood of others
Many (though not all) abusers are victims of abuse themselves. It’s called “intergenerational trauma,” and it’s a phenomenon that’s quite well-known; childhood abuse inhibits the development of coping skills in a young person. When that person becomes a parent, he does not have a positive example of parenting and has few skills to find one for himself. She may also have developed a dependence on a chemical substance as a false coping skill, making it extremely difficult to care for children (addiction gets in the way). Thus the cycle of abuse is perpetuated.
Drinking the blood of the victim can be equated with the act of abuse itself. Like the vampire drinking the blood of its victim for food, the abuser seeks a kind of perverted nourishment from the abusive situation. Some therapists maintain that the abuser is recapitulating an earlier trauma in order to master it… Tragically, the desired fulfillment, if achieved at all, is temporary and the abuser, like the vampire, is once again tormented. For both vampire and abuser, there is no lasting security or resolution from the act. Abusers often report that they experience the abuse as a regrettable and empty situation, and that they act on impulse, as the vampire acts on instinct.
(Micahel Butz, “The Vampire as a Metaphor for Working with Childhood Abuse” — read the entire article here.)
From here it is easy to carry on the metaphor… the vampire destroys the victim’s humanity be drinking his blood. Likewise, a survivor of a traumatic experience may feel that his humanity was destroyed or severely injured. If the trauma is not properly dealt with, this victim may find inappropriate ways of releasing the negative energy that was passed on to him by the abuser; in short he may become an abuser himself.
The vampire in literature
This interpretation of the vampire archetype (as abuser) is one that is quite evident in the first modern literary appearance of the vampire: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The classic reading of the novel is that the Count Dracula, in his interactions with both Lucy and Mina, represents Victorian ideas about rape, feminine victimry, and abuse.
Not so today. In Twilight (and I think we can safely assume all of the knockoff literature that has followed), vampire love is something to be embraced. A love of this kind is as inevitable as the that of Romeo and Juliet, and in some way more alluring, seductive and desirable.
The symbology of abuse is barely hidden beneath the veneer of “true love,” as several bloggers have already pointed out.
The language of symbols is a mostly sub/unconscious one… readers of the novels are learning to valorize abusive love, whether they know it or not. What are the connotations for the millions of teenage readers who embrace this “love story” as the pattern upon which a relationship should be based?