Psychology uses the words symptoms, defenses or resistance to describe the kooky things we all do. Too often what gets overlooked is how kooky things make sense. So a woman who has the caretaker role in a family becomes depressed and distant because she is drowning in other people’s needs and has lost track of herself. A man flirts with someone at work because he is in a nonsexual marriage (10 times or less a year is considered nonsexual). A salesman begins to have panic attacks because a new manager has assigned unrealistic quotas. A pre-teen is struck by stammering every time the boy she secretly likes is nearby. Someone begins to drink too much because they feel invisible in their marriage.
There is a trilogy of Swedish crime novels by Steig Larsson that really captures this theme in the central character of Lisbeth Salander. His international bestseller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo gives hints that Salander is untrusting, hypervigilant and a hermit because of childhood trauma. It is easy for others to misjudge her as simply weird, her psychiatric records label her as mentally challenged while we know without a shadow of a doubt that she is brilliant with a fierce moral courage. His second book The Girl Who Played With Fire (not available in the U.S. until July 28) adds many more layers to her character by revealing her past trauma which has defined her strengths. So often we are quick to judge and think we know who people are.
In my office there is the opportunity for people to be fearlessly honest about their pain and take ownership of their strengths, to acknowledge mistakes and what was learned and to face choices with greater self-awareness. Where else in the culture at large is there a place to explore terrible things? Everything Salander does makes sense. When a beautiful young girl becomes obese it makes sense whether we understand it or not. When an adolescent is ANGRY, ANGRY, ANGRY it makes sense. When a cancer patient wants to flaunt their baldness to remind all those non-sick people it could happen to you it makes sense. When a kid at school becomes a bully something bad is happening to them and they want to make somebody else feel as bad as they do. We all make sense even when we’re kooky. We don’t learn how to make pain and disappointment bearable in school, so we reach our own survival conclusions. Whether you nibble on your fingers or toes have enough respect to consider it may be a way to comfort yourself. You can’t change until you honor how kooky things work in your favor.
Read about Salander in Steig Larsson’s thrilling novels. Larsson was a heavy smoker who died at 50 of a heart attack just after he completed the three novels. He has created a remarkable character who will stay in your memory for years to come. In understanding Salander the extreme introvert it is possible to gain greater understanding of yourself. What more can we ask of a novel?