All survivors of torture suffer from physical and/or psychological effects, and many never fully recover from the experience. Life is often described in terms of â€˜beforeâ€™ and â€˜after I was torturedâ€™; as the survivorâ€™s personal history suffered an incision at that point. Although everyone who had to undergo torture in whatever form is affected by it, not every person develops a mental condition within diagnostic clinical vocabulary. Not everyone shows symptoms of posttraumatic stress.
Now, what about Dean?
Dean survived not only the physical trauma during the time he was tortured, but also the psychological trauma which accompanied the physical pain and proved to be more severe (in particular becoming a torturer himself, a massive inconsistency with the protective and caring nature of his).
Typical posttraumatic sequelae and symptoms of experienced trauma and coping problems are e.g. recurrent re-experiencing of the traumatic events which will occur in nightmares, hallucinations, flashbacks (even during the day sometimes memories will befall the survivor and he will go through a traumatic moment as if it was happening that very instant which often results in panic, erratic behaviour, sometimes even thoughts of suicide).
Dean was often confronted with acoustic (mostly screams) and visual hallucinations (blood red colours, perhaps he even saw something he did or was subjected to, but we, as viewers, were not explicitly informed about it). The moment he experienced those, he got confused and distracted, if only for a couple of minutes (for instance in â€˜Itâ€™s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchesterâ€™, the masks hanging from the teacherâ€™s ceiling made him remember something from hell and he stopped in his tracks, a reaction Sam misinterpreted as Dean being reminded of his teenage angst). Those masks, though, served as so-called triggers to open memories of horrific events.
Other symptoms include the persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness. Survivors will try to avoid any contact with thoughts, activities, places, people that might arouse recollections of the trauma. A variation of avoidance will often be the increased misuse of drugs, alcohol or medication (sedatives and analgesics in particular).
They will also often be incapable of recalling important aspects of the experience, show diminished interest or participation in activities formerly important to them, and they will feel detached or estranged from others. Also their range of showing emotion will mostly be restricted.Furthermore, survivors of trauma will frequently feel to have a foreshortened future, not expecting to succeed in their jobs, relationships or even having a â€˜normalâ€™ life span.
Additionally, survivors will complain of difficulties falling or staying asleep, nightmares, generally increased arousal, thereby often suffering from outbursts of anger or irritability.
The avoidance observable with Dean was expressed by his refusal to talk about his time in hell. In fact, he lied to Sam from the moment he came back, denying to remember anything, which he, unfortunately did. No merciful oblivion here. Memory flashes jumped at him in the coffin, in front of the mirror in the fill-up joint, inspecting the mark of Castielâ€™s hand on his shoulder, etc.
Dean also showed less interest in hunting, and his reactions changed. For instance in â€˜On the Head of a Pinâ€™ the brothers, returning from Pamelaâ€™s funeral, talked in the car â€“ Dean was tired, emotionally drained. Before his stint in hell Dean would have been enraged, not unlike Sam. But here we saw only a shadow of his former self. Even the anger he mustered up in defiance of the angels was not full-hearted. In fact, the quiet moment with Castiel, shortly before Dean started to torture Alistair shows in a nutshell the psychophysical state Dean was in at that time (I recommend the extended scene on the dvd).
When I work with patients who survived torture of whatever kind (or trauma in general), we donâ€™t talk about the events right away. One of the most important part of therapy lies in the building of a relationship between the patient and myself which will allow him to feel completely safe, respected and understood and â€“ very importantly â€“ which will allow him to assume that I am capable of bearing what he has to tell (when he (or she) will be ready to talk about it). To my experience, that is crucial. Often survivors donâ€™t speak about what they underwent because they feel that they might overtax others, primarily their loved ones, trying to protect them. Furthermore, they need to learn how to stabilize themselves when being overwhelmed by flashbacks.
Considering Deanâ€™s relationship with Sam it is most likely that he did not talk about hell for three reasons: a) he was hardly able to handle his memories and afraid of looking back, b) he wanted to protect Sam from the unbearable knowledge of what his brother had to endure (and perhaps protect him from the increase of bad conscience, because Sam had not been able to save Dean from that fate) and c) he was afraid of having to tell the whole truth â€“ that he had become some kind of monster himself.
Instead he tried to quiet those inner voices and the nightmares with alcohol. Weâ€™ve seen him drink a lot more that he used to, and he got a drink first thing in the morning after waking up. It took him ten episodes into the fourth season to finally open up, at least a little, about his four decades of hell time.
I need to sing Jensenâ€™s praises here once again â€“ the manner in which he played that scene could have been taken directly from my work. Iâ€™ve seen this on a daily basis so often, and itâ€™s heartbreaking how authentically Jensen delivered those lines. I am in awe whenever I watch him play that moment. However he did itâ€¦ this is very much how a person in such a situation might react.
At first Dean tried to establish some stability with an initial chat, having a beer, slowly beginning to get into the story. All the while not looking at Sam. To be able to speak about it at all, he wasnâ€™t able to see Samâ€™s face, his feared reaction. Dean started to recount the events in a matter-of-fact way, desperately trying to split away any emotion that might overwhelm him. And Dean managed to do that quite well until he came to the part where he had to admit (once again to himself) what he had done. .â€™ God help me, I got right off and I started ripping them apart. I lost count of how many souls. The things that I did to themâ€¦ â€¦ how I feel? Thisâ€¦. inside meâ€¦ I wish I couldnâ€™t feel anything, Sammy. I wish I couldnâ€™t feel a damn thing.â€™
Of course he was wishing to be numb, to not feel anything, as what he carried on his shoulders was more than he felt capable of bearing.
But he did.
Although there are symptoms of posttraumatic stress to be found, Dean is still functioning on a high level. Those survivors who develop a mental condition clinical psychiatrists/psychologists/therapists call posttraumatic stress disorder usually donâ€™t. They might be able to go about their lives in some way, but very often â€“ from my experience â€“ they are not fit for work (or need a long time to get there), sometimes their relationships fall apart.
Dean has undoubtedly been in danger of that. But there are many factors on his side that protected him from getting sucked in by that disorder. He found himself still efficient, capable of doing what he had done from his youth on (fighting the paranormal world), even though the scars, physical and mental, will need more time to heal (if they ever do entirely). I will elaborate that in another article.
You might have noticed that, after referring to tortured people as victims, I called them survivors in the second part. I did that deliberately, because I found it essential when dealing with people who have experienced the kind of hell torture provides to help them see that they are above all â€“ survivors. Some inner strength helped them to stay alive, albeit wounded beyond description. And, hopefully, they will find that again. But the path is stony.
It holds true for Dean. He managed to survive, but he will have to learn to live again, having become more than he was before he entered hell. He will learn to defeat the â€˜hidden enemyâ€™ of the wounds his soul still carries, fed by guilt, his possible future as Michaelâ€™s vessel or the danger of having to kill Sam eventually, should he succumb to the devil, as we have been warned about.
Thanks again for the article!
BTW, I'll be really interested to see what your take is on the new episode coming up...
You make me grateful for the safe life I lead. UN Conventions and medical protocols don't get developed in a vacuum: torture really is going on every day and people are trying to live through it, and its aftermath. Respect to you for your part in helping them with that.
Your article makes me wonder if domestic violence would be better understood, and dealt with, if it were renamed along the lines "relationship torture". Maybe that's already in the textbooks, but it's not a connection I'd made so clearly before reading your article.
elenaM, even though I deal with those issues within my work, I still get the shivers, too, when I hear what people are capable of doing unto others. It can be demonic, really, and that it became a â€˜demonic issueâ€™ in this show kind of seems organic.
That panic on Deanâ€™s face you refer toâ€¦ gosh, yes, pages of dialogue in that one instant. How did Jensen become such a fine actor, the guy seems far too young for that kind of abilityâ€¦
B., youâ€™re right, someone who claims that Dean needed â€˜to get over itâ€™ truly has no idea about what it means to get over any kind of trauma. Perhaps, though, those who say that might express their own fear of the phenomenon of trauma. You know, â€˜if I treat it as if it was nothing, then it will be soâ€™â€¦ Or, it might just be sheer ignorance. Who knows. Many people indeed have no concept of the matter. So they, at least, have been safe in a way â€“ not having experienced trauma nor knowing someone who did (worst case scenario: a loved one affected).
Faellie, so far there is no clinical concept of â€˜relationship tortureâ€™, as far as I know, we usually subsume that under domestic abuse or abusive relationships (sometimes in the neighborhood of Stockholm Syndrome, given the symptoms, of course). But, youâ€™re right, it is a connection that cannot be ignored.
You know, I still feel shocked at times when I learn of atrocities I havenâ€™t known of, yet, and Iâ€™ve heard of plenty. I like that, though, it shows that I havenâ€™t grown numb to it, and I need to stay sharp to be able to do my job well.
Thanks for your acknowledgement . I love this job, even though itâ€™s often exhausting, and then switching between languages, you know, but Iâ€™m glad to be able to offer some help. Itâ€™s little enough. My patients are the ones who need to do the hard work of getting on with their lives. Or, when theyâ€™re sick, to prepare for the end. Iâ€™m only there for a small part of their path. They are the ones who deserve a huge amount of respect. These people actually teach me a lot about courage every day.
Narcissus, I know, itâ€™s tough stuff. Sometimes no words are necessary.
Thanks so much, folks!
An excellent piece, thank you for sharing your true experience in working in this field.
I too have read comments by people from last season saying that Dean should get over it and stop whining. That always amazed me. Get over it?! Really?! How does one just do that? If anything, I would have loved to see more angst...but, true to Kripke's excellent story telling ways, less is more and I can go back and find clues in many of S4 episodes that I missed before...they'r e small but significant all the same.
There is still much angst ahead for both brohters, a fact that I think our first new eppie is going to highlight, I love Winchester angst and I'm thinking we're going to get a double helping right off the bat.
Thanks for writing.
Also, a thought occurred to me. I remember reading something somewhere that a future episode will explain to us why Dean is so resistant to becoming Michael's vessel. And I wonder if his experience of being totally helpless (at the mercy of others) during his time in hell isn't a part of the reason why he doesn't want to become a vessel. Because, if he does say 'Yes' to Michael, he is once again, becoming helpless and at the mercy of Michael. And then seeing what he will become once Michael leaves his body (as described by Cas in FTBYAM upon seeing Raphael's empty vessel) he doesn't really want to go through that kind of pain again. I know for me, as a child at the hands of my abuser, I had no control over what was done to me, and even now, I avoid situations or circumstances that would mean I could lose that control. (I hope that makes sense) So, with Dean, if he were to succumb to Michael, he would once again lose that control - and that is not something he is really ready or wanting to do at this point. Plus he might not be able to survive it this time, physically, mentally or emotionally.
Also I find Jensen amazing in his ability to portray the nuances of Dean's traumatizing experiences and their aftermath in such a subtle and perfectly conveyed manner. I also think of the moment he recognizes Alistair and the revulsion in his expression to be again facing his tormentor and also his expression when Castiel threatened to send him back to hell. I could feel his horror. He does all that without needing words.
I hope he never says yes to Michael. He has given so much of himself I sincerely hope he can (with Sam) overcome without becoming a meat suit. But I have no control over that. It is up to Kripke and the other creators of this awesome series.
Elle2, thank you. I do have to concur with B. here, as people who said that Dean should have stopped whining didnâ€™t really know what they were talking about (on the other hand, we cannot expect everyone to be familiar with that). Yes, it is a fictional story and the character is not real. However, the creative team here manage to bring us a story that keeps its psychological continuity like hardly any other show I ever watched. Tackling topics like that â€“ torture, war, loss, abuse (remember Max Miller?), religious fanaticism et al â€“ is pretty gutsy in tv-show terms.
Less is indeed more, and Jensen lets it out with the tiniest of nuancesâ€¦ and yet conveying the whole devastated state Dean is in. The man is one of the most talented actors Iâ€™ve seen in a long time.
Iâ€™m equally excited about the upcoming episode. Supernaturalâ€™ s very own cuckooâ€™s nestâ€¦ I bet there will be a hell of a lot of angst for the brothers, no pun intended.
Randal, thank you, hope the power at work did not overpower your good humour and spiritâ€¦
Bevie, thanks for your kind words. Jensen is indeed heartbreakingly amazing. I also hope that both brothers will not have to say yes to becoming angelic â€˜condomsâ€™, as Dean so wryly put it. I think, though, that the glorious basterds, Kripke & Co, will hardly spare us. There is, after all, a lot of potential in that story line, and both, Jensen and Jared, would have great opportunities to strengthen their acting muscles, and a part of me wants to see that. Another part dreads it. Losing Ellen and Jo was soul shattering enough. The brothers as angels at one anotherâ€™s throatâ€¦ oh, ye Gods, I donâ€™t knowâ€¦ it would be surely fantastic to watch, but devastating as well.
Of course, being in control is crucial after having experienced the utter lack of control in a situation that damaged your sense of being the â€˜master of your fateâ€™. What youâ€™re saying absolutely makes sense! And so does what you say about Deanâ€™s reluctance of becoming Michaelâ€™s vessel.
I havenâ€™t heard about that future episode youâ€™re referring to, but one possible reason for Deanâ€™s â€˜Noâ€™ might well be what you explained based on your own experience. Iâ€™m curious about how the writers will give us that story. (Do you have any idea, which episode that might be?)
Evelyn, that those moments from your past still make you avoid situations or circumstances that could endanger you of losing control is no wonder. Please remember, though, that you did survive. Something within you kept your spirit safe, wounded as it might have been. To know that you were able to go on after such a terrible time can wonderfully serve as a bolster for future difficulties in life (we all know that life is hard and when you think that itâ€™s okay now, it will throw a stone in your way, right?).
If you were able to survive the kind of hell you mentioned, then youâ€™ll be able to take on what ever might wait in the dark (but I hope that there is nothing bad waiting!! â€¦just in case).
Itâ€™s not the worst thing to know about oneself. Believe me, I know. Iâ€™ve had my share of tragedy in my life (albeit of a different kind), and being aware that there is strength in my soul is comforting and inspiring. Never forget what strong colours you call your own. They bring forth light when darkness might creep up.
Thank you for entrusting us here with so intimate a story. Best always, Jas.
Dean not being able to talk about what he had gone through in hell was kinda intriguing to me. I have met several survivors, and still do - soldiers, prisoners of war, refugees. My observation is that, back then while the war was still going on and the first couple of years after it had ended, they all talked. Whether it would be friends, neighbours or just strangers I would meet at the bus station, they all talked about the horrible things that had happened to them. Later, as time went by (it's been 15 years now since the end of the war), people talk less and less - and instead, as you described, the trauma seems to come forth by means of drug / alcohol / medication misuse and apathy.
During the war I once sat in a cafe and a stranger in a soldier's uniform sat at my table, offering me a drink. Apparently he had a 'day off' from the battlefield, and just came to town for a drink. Then he started to talk. I don't recall what he was telling me and I had no idea how to respond, so I just sat there and listened. When he finished, he thanked me for listening and said goodbye. I had friends at the battlefield and on first occasion told them about this, asking about what I could do, what to say? Their response was: Nothing. Just listen.
This event burned into my brain. So, watching Dean being mute, I couldn't help wanting to tell him 'Talk, dude! Get it out of your system!' After all, he has Sam and Bobby, don't need any stranger in a bar.
Jas, you definitely touched a nerve of mine with your article, and I'm grateful for that. Dean, and Sam for that matter, would be lucky to meet you! And me, too for I'd give them the biggest comforting hug and ear to listen they'd ever get
All the best!
Apart from various other trauma-affected patients, or German policemen, soldiers et al, I often have patients of all former-Yugoslav nationalities here (well, it comes with speaking several languages, and there seems to be a lack here of trained therapists who do, so theyâ€™re often sent to me). I havenâ€™t met one single person from there who has not been affected by the war. I affects me, too. There is hardly anything worse than civil war.
My parent emigrated from YU in the early sixties, long before I was born. My mom came from Zagreb, my dad from a small town in Bosnia, and, so we learned, all of my dadâ€™s family was killed during a raid which makes me the sole survivor of my gene pool. We happened to be in Croatia in the beginning of the war there, and I very distinctly remember the sound of grenades hitting buildings.
It has made me a better therapist, I believe, as I can relate to those events more. I know how gunfire sounds or the smell of blood, and I understand my patients better. Iâ€™m very grateful for that.
Youâ€™re right, you know. Listening is one of the most important things here. Aside from all those therapeutic techniques and methods I was trained to apply to help people, I find the most important asset â€“ to be able to just listen, even though it can be overwhelming at times. But who am I to complain? I have time to invest in watching a tv-show and rambling about it, as opposed to struggling to get my family fed every day. I lead a more-or-less safe life, Iâ€™m healthy, I have a job I love and wonderful people in my life â€“ they, sometimes, have lost all that. Doing this job is a very humbling experience, I realize now again for the umpteenth time.
You know, I guess it might have even been easier for Dean to open up to some stranger in a bar. Then he would not have had to fear Samâ€™s reaction or take care of not overcharging him. Can you believe that weâ€™re talking about these characters as if they were real? One could get crazy thinking about thatâ€¦ Iâ€™ve love to give away a dozen Pulitzers to the writers for the authenticity alone.
Lara, thank you.
So, in the relation to this show, Dean's character, I can really empathize for what he is going through and feel and understand his pain, anger and lack of self-esteem. The writers have written him so beautifully and Jensen (well, what can I say about Jensen that hasn't already been said), he has portrayed this pain and angst so touchingly. All the nuances involved in the psyche with this trauma have been played out very well. And it's lovely to see that Dean is also now realizing the strength within himself. I cannot wait to see how the writers end this season when God comes into the picture. It will be very interesting to see how they treat that and what Dean's (the guy who doesn't believe) reaction will be.
As for the aforementioned upcoming episode where they explore why Dean refuses to say no. I cannot remember where I read that. It could have been a rumor that someone just thought they would post. It might have been on Spoiler TV. I wish I could remember or find it. I could be wrong but if they do do an episode like that it will be very interesting.
As for the upcoming episode on the 21st, I am so very much looking forward to that. There are still so many issues under the surface with the brothers and from the synopsis, it sounds like some of those may be explored. It should be a great episode. Can't wait! Is it Jan 21st yet?
I know, talking about Dean and Sam as they were real is ... aehm ... surreal I find myself often wondering if there's anything wrong with me. And then read articles like yours, and Alice's, and Bardic Voice's, and know that I'm actually quite okay, and lucky to be part of the SPN fandom. Because, apart from the supernatural stuff (which attracted me to the show in the first place, I'm a sucker for that), everything else seems so real that it actually answers questions I have been asking myself, and motivates to take a closer look into my own life. Geeky, huh?
Jas, thanks for sharing your story. You know, I'm a Gastarbeiter-ki d myself born and raised in Germany, but my family returned home when I was in High school. But I still feel at home in Germany, actually am going there on Saturday, on business and visiting friends. I understand it's like on the North Pole there right now? *shudder*
Have a great day!
Thanks for sharing your story, Evelyn, what a brave thing to do. It made me think of a quote from the movie 'Into the wild': "I read somewhere... how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong... but to feel strong." Wish you a huge feeling of strong!
All the best!
What do you think, Sablegreen, who might be the charmer that makes number three? Iâ€™d like to give the brothers a bit love, you know, bring in a nice woman for each of them, if only for an episodeâ€¦ oh, well, a fan can dream, right? Iâ€™d love to see Sarah againâ€¦ againâ€¦ dream on, girlâ€¦ Jas
Evelyn, Iâ€™m delighted for you that you found a source of strength in faith. Everyone need such a source, and sometimes itâ€™s hard to find. Now, Iâ€™m not a fan of Nietzsche, but he said one important and very true sentence once: â€˜What does not kill me only makes me strongerâ€™.
I also can hardly wait for the next episode! Hey, remember how we started this hiatus? Now itâ€™s only two weeks to goâ€¦. And I bet we wonâ€™t be disappointedâ€¦
Lara, why should there be anything wrong with youâ€¦.? I think the authenticity of the characters and their relationships are the key to the success of this show. Apart from the paranormal stuff, this is how people within extreme circumstances might act or react. I believe they can also serve as role models in a way or inspire people to remember their own strength and courage (which holds true for those patients of mine who are fans (every once in a while one emerges), and we have used the show in therapyâ€¦ wonder what Kripke would say if he knew that?).
Well, you better pack warm clothes. Here itâ€™s -15 C tonight (for the life of me, I canâ€™t think of the Fahrenheit equivalent), and we have enough snow to force me to get up very early (she cringed helplessly) to clean itâ€¦
Well, happy freezing everyone, Jas
Wow! What can one say. I couldnâ€™t begin to listen to the atrocities of what these people have lived thru, without becoming a blubbering mess. These patients would be consoling me at the end of the session. I commend you on your line of work and your ability to help them.
What Dean went thru is just unimaginable. How could one not come back and not be changed or damaged in some way. I think they displayed the effects perfectly. Even his hesitation to go after Lilith, always telling Sam they need to pick the right moment, where as before he would have been going full force into finding her. In Yellow Fever how terrified he was when Lilith showed up. I know the Ghost sickness was the cause of this, but it did emphasize what Dean feared the most, Sam turning evil and returning to Hell and facing Lilith again.
And I think it brings to light what Sam must have been thinking and feeling for Dean.
Seeing his brother going from Hans Solo and/or Indiana Jones to a shadow of what he was. Seeing his brother break down for probably the first time in his life. No wonder he couldnâ€™t let go of the idea that Dean wasnâ€™t strong enough to defeat Lilith.
Thanks again Jas.
And as Sablegreen aptly put it, yes, strangers are easier to talk to, more so than family (at least it was for me). I would be most happy and delighted to be one of those 'strangers' for Dean. I think I could relate and would relish the 'virtual opportunity'.
Karen, I agree with you about the fears that were brought up in Yellow Fever. I hadn't really thought about that episode in that way, but yes, it really did bring up all his inner fears. Generally, I have a problem with that episode being as to how passive Sam and Bobby seemed to act and react in saving Dean. I thought they should have seemed more concerned than they were. But, I guess the point was to bring up Dean's fears - I'll now rewatch that episode from a different point of view.
Stay warm everyone. It seems Mr. Winter has arrived everywhere.
I think you noticed very sensitively those nuances in YellowFeverâ€™s Dean. So did Sam, and he really thought he needed to save Dean by killing Lilith, ah, well, itâ€™s been discussed so many times. I just remember some fans getting mad about Sam going on his â€˜wrongâ€™ path and not accepting why he was doing itâ€¦ I can imagine Sam being hardly able to bear the change in Dean. It must have scared him big time, since Dean had become something else than the cocky big brother he had looked up to all his life.
Evelyn, I canâ€™t imagine one fan here who would not welcome the â€˜virtual opportunityâ€™ to give Dean some comfortâ€¦ as long as I get Sam onto my virtual couch, Iâ€™m okay with thatâ€¦ (that would be my living room, not my office, come on
And yes, Evelyn, it's freezing. I'd love to kick Winter out of our hemisphere, I'm more a spring girl... oh well, it's already January... Won't take long...