“The Haunting of Hill House” Part 1: The Stages of Grief

While I watched “The Haunting of Hill House” on Netflix recently, I found myself being more drawn to the symbolism more than the scary moments, recognizing that the ghosts, while scary, are just representations of the “ghosts” we carry with us through our lives and don’t ever want to face, but we know they are there… they follow us and haunt us... almost always brought on by trauma… I’ve convinced my wife to watch the show (I wanted to see it again!) and felt inspired to share some connections I’ve made to my role as a therapist and how they relate to all of us.

Obligatory Spoiler Alert. If you haven’t watched the show, go watch it now! I’ll wait!

Part One: The Crain Kids and the Stages of Grief

There may be a moment in the show when you come to the realization that each of the Crain siblings represent the stages of grief, and in this case, the grieving of their mother’s apparent suicide and the loss of an ability to lead a ‘normal’ life after the experiences at the house. Even more interesting is that they represent the stages from oldest (Steve) to youngest (Nell). If you are wondering what the stages of grief actually are, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross originally wrote about them in 1969 and her stages remain the ‘go to’ when trying to place grief in a framework. She named the stages as follows and she believed that they occured in this order, although current belief is that they cycle and the order is unique to each person:

  1. Denial: Somehow you must be mistaken, and cling to a false reality that is more acceptable to you.

  2. Anger: When the grieving person recognizes that denial can’t continue, they become frustrated and direct it toward others in their world. Often, there is a component of blame and victim mentality. "Why me? It's not fair!" or  "How can this happen to me?" are fairly common questions.

  3. Bargaining: The grieving person will attempt to essentially negotiate with the traumatic event. They might attempt to bargain with a higher power or attempt to adapt their life in order to put off facing the trauma.

  4. Depression: The grieving person may face their own mortality or come to believe that they have no reason to go on because of the loss in their life.

  5. Acceptance: The grieving person comes to acknowledge the trauma event as reality and there is some type of relief or catharsis.

Steven Crain as “Denial”: Steve goes through his life denying what he saw and experienced as a child at Hill House. He discredits any memories of ghosts in the house when brought up by his siblings, and he believes that they are all mentally ill, just like their mother which led to her suicide. Somehow, what he knows to be true has to have another explanation than the reality.

Steve’s denial is best represented when Steve’s father told Steve to close his eyes as they are escaping the house. Steve metaphorically, kept his eyes shut all the way through his life. Throughout the show, Steve is in the position to have to face the truth (Nell’s death, the clock repairer ghost appearing to him) until a point late in the show when his denial is broken and can’t be sustained any longer.

Shirley Crain as “Anger”: Shirley is a walking ball of anger. Angry with her father for leaving the home without her mother, at Steve for exposing the family to ridicule by writing the story of Hill House, and angry at Nell for repeating what happened to their mother. Shirley has spent a good deal of her life resenting the fact that she had to be the ‘mom’ of the family, because her mother left them and Steve wouldn’t accept responsibility (victim). Her life is out of control and she unsuccessfully tries to control it...the fear of being out of control comes out in anger.

Theodora Crain as “Bargaining”: Theo wears her gloves to keep herself from feeling (she has  adapted her life in order to avoid facing her trauma) if the gloves are a way to control her empathic skills (or telepathic, in this case). The gloves shield her from deep interpersonal relationships which she also does by limiting her relationships to one night stands. She lives her life in an attempt to avoid connection (the significance of being the middle child (loner, excluded) is at play here too), but later in the series, when she touches Nell’s dead body and feels nothing, she comes to a realization that connection (to something, to anything) is all that she wants. Her confessional speech to Shirley about feeling empty and wanting to connect with her life again after they run off the road is raw and powerful (giving me more chills than the ghosts!).

Luke Crain as “Depression”: When Luke discovers that his twin sister, Nell, is dead, he believes that he can’t go on living without her. Luke and Nell arguably experienced the worst of the horror in Hill House (compounded by their innate twin connection) and Luke uses heroin as a way of numbing his suffering (this numbing is very prevalent in people that feel flooded with emotional pain). He also has the obsessive tendency to count to seven (the number of family members) to build a protective wall around him to keep the trauma away. Even when he attempts to pull out of the depression through gaining sobriety for 90 days, the “floating man” follows him wherever he goes, reminding him of the pain he wants to avoid.

Nellie Crain as “Acceptance”: Nell is haunted by the “bent-neck lady” throughout her life, leading to high levels of depression and anxiety. Later, she comes to the realization that what she has been witnessing (the physical aftermath of a suicide by hanging) has been her all along in the future. After Nell ‘gives herself’ to the house in an attempt to reunite with her dead mother, she is able to reach a point of forgiveness of her siblings for what they have done in their lives to discount, minimize, blame, or exclude her. There is relief in her forgiveness...she’s no longer suffering with anger or depression. She tells her siblings at the end of the show, “Forgiveness is warm. Like a tear on a cheek,” noting that she loved them completely and she knows they loved her, despite their actions that have hurt her in the past.

While grief is a current that runs through “The Haunting of Hill House,” it is a significant factor in each of our lives from time to time. It can be something that exacerbates a mental illness or brings underlying mental illness into our awareness. If you are grieving the loss of something or someone in your life, please seek professional help to guide you through the grieving process.

For help with your grieving process in the Lancaster, PA area, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

Is Control Getting in the Way of Your Relationships? Part 2

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In the last entry we looked at the ways in which we exert control on others, ourselves, and our environment. Today, we look closer at what leads us to crave control and then, later, how seeking counseling can help in moving away from control and being at peace with the randomness of our lives.

What leads us to want so much control?

When we feel out of control, we experience a powerful and very uncomfortable tension between the need for control and the growing awareness of our inability to control. From an evolutionary perspective, if we are in control of our environment, then we have a far better chance of survival (if we could find a cave and secure the opening, we wouldn’t be attacked and eaten by a wild animal while we sleep). Our deep subconscious mind, therefore, gives us strong biochemical responses (fight/flight/freeze reactions) when we face some kind of danger, or in modern times, a perceived danger.

Other needs that lead to an urge for control include:

  • The need for a sense of certainty about the future.

  • The need for completion of unfinished things, so we don't have to worry about them..

  • The need to understand how things work and to avoid confusion.

  • The need for people (including ourselves) and things to be consistent and predictable.

Control issues may be related to:

  • Traumatic or abusive life experiences

  • A lack of trust

  • Anxiety

  • Fears of abandonment

  • Low or damaged self-esteem

  • A person's beliefs, values, and faith

  • Perfectionism and the fear of failure

  • Emotional sensitivity and the fear of experiencing painful emotions

Someone who struggles with a need for control may experience shame, anxiety, stress, depression, and a host of other mental health concerns.

Now that we have a greater understanding of how the urge for control is built in us, Let’s look at how psychotherapy can help relieve us from this heavy emotional energy drain.

How can Psychotherapy Help?

Addressing control issues in therapy involves unraveling and revealing the source of the need for control (which can be very different for each of us). In therapy we work together to address the underlying fear, emotions, or anxiety, and develop coping strategies. This process of increasing self-awareness can help a person begin letting go of the need for control.

Therapy can help a person identify the self-protective nature of the need for control (and realize that it comes naturally and is very normal, just not beneficial).

For example, maybe a person’s parents were absent or emotionally unavailable in childhood, or maybe their childhood home wasn’t a stable place. Emotional or physical instability and a lack of choices or independence can lead a person to seek control over other aspects of life. Recognizing and addressing this source of distress in therapy will help the person build the ability for self-compassion and embrace that part of themselves that needs protection and feels vulnerable.

How do you begin the process to heal?

It begins with finding out the “why’ behind the control issue.

Start with taking notice when your control stuff comes up so you can identify the self-protective nature it serves (what are you trying to avoid by seizing control? What is your fear?).

These are some questions to ask yourself in this process (remember to be compassionate and honest with yourself):

  • Why am I triggered or why did I get triggered? (not in a blaming or shaming way, but solely from a place of     curiosity)

  • When was the first time that I noticed this feeling present itself to me from my earliest memories and how did I cope with it at that time?

  • What about this situation feels similar to when I was a child?

Once you are able to identify when/where in your life this was created ½ the battle of control is over. Then you bring yourself into the present moment and go deeper:

  • Am I looking at the whole picture?

  • Am I reacting from expecting the worst from a situation?

  • What am I afraid will happen if I let go of control?

  • Am I really ready to let go of control?

  • Would letting go feel better than this?

  • What will I gain if I let go?

The answers to these questions can lead you to work toward addressing the fear which gives the urge for control its energy (control is just the symptom of fear) and also open yourself up to the possibility of a better way to move through life.

Consider talking to someone that can provide you a safe space to address the fears leading to the unhealthy urge for control.

For help moving toward a more peaceful life, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and take the opportunity to make letting go of control a lot more comfortable!!

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Is Control Getting in the Way of Your Relationships? Part 1

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The ceaseless and never ending need for control can become overwhelming and exhausting, wreaking havoc on relationships, careers, and your overall quality of life.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

― Viktor E. Frankl

Sometimes, letting go of your tight grip of how you think things should be or how quickly they should come together, and simply letting things run their own course can be a very difficult task, but worth working your way towards. By releasing control and letting the flow carry you along, paradoxically, you gain more control of both your attitude and your response to what’s happening to you at the moment. When control runs your life, it can be exhausting on an emotional level and tends to lead to “control battles” with others in your life that demand their own level of control.

Examples of ways we exert control over others:

  • Micromanagement -the micromanager feels the need to have their hands into everything and doesn’t really trust that their spouse/co-workers/staff/children/friends will pull their weight or accomplish tasks. Therefore, the micromanager feels the need to constantly remind them (or look over their shoulder) to make sure the task gets done. They scrutinize every move and, after a while, the recipient starts to feel incompetent, anxious, frustrated, and angry.

  • Controlling intimate partners may keep a person from seeing or talking to loved ones or friends

  • Gaslighting - manipulating someone through psychological means into questioning their own truth and sanity.

  • Dishonesty

  • Over-protective or helicopter parenting

  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, bullying, or taunting

  • Love withdrawal - removing affection or attention when someone does something of which you don’t approve (“the cold shoulder”). This is done to gain control through emotions such as guilt, shame, or fear of abandonment.

Examples of ways we try to control ourselves or our environment:

  • Disordered eating

  • Compulsive exercising

  • Self-harm

  • Substance abuse

  • Compulsive arranging, tidying, or cleaning

Do any of these sound familiar? Do you delve into controlling others or yourself? Do you feel controlled by others?

Working through the process of both letting go of control in your life, and setting boundaries with others that try to control you, can be both frightening and difficult, but it can be rewarding and it is absolutely possible. Consider talking to someone that can help you move through the process.

For help moving toward a more peaceful life, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and take the opportunity to make letting go of control a lot more comfortable!!

In Part 2, we’ll look more closely at what leads us to crave control so much and look more in depth on how psychotherapy can help with control issues in your life.

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Emotional Responsibilty = Emotional Regulation

What if I told you that you could be one hundred percent in charge of your emotions? What if I also told you that no one has the power to make you feel anything unless you give them permission? How would your life change? Would you feel less stressed and frustrated? Would you spend less time worrying about what other people did or said? Would you be a much better friend or partner, because you could be more patient in difficult situations? Would you be less judgemental and give people the benefit of the doubt more often? Would you be happier because you could decide how you felt about something? Would you be much less easily offended because you would not take the opinions of other people so personally? Would you recognize that what has been said is just their opinion and that it has no control over you.

I want you to consider the following quote:

“Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside their reasoned choice.“ — Epictetus

What he is saying is that you can be impervious to anything that anybody says, because you are in charge of your emotions, and basically nobody can make you feel anything without your permission...and when you recognize that you are the one who gives meaning to what somebody says or does, then you can decide what meaning you give to certain things, and how that is going to impact you and the emotions that it is going to create.

A simple example of this is if somebody cuts you off in traffic... Do you get angry? Do you take it personally? Do you get offended?  What if you thought about it differently… what if they were on their way to the emergency room and they cut you off, because they're trying to get there in a hurry, would your opinion about that situation and the emotion behind that situation change?

The actual event did not change, they still cut you off in traffic, but the meaning you gave it means something completely different.

Now, take another similar example… Say that you accidentally cut someone off in traffic and that person ‘flips you off,’ and you got really, really upset by that. Why would you get upset by that? They just lifted a finger… if you were trying to explain this to an alien, that just came to Earth, why that action of a person lifting a finger was so infuriating, why it made you so mad, it would almost seem silly… and the alien would think, ‘Wow, that other person has incredible power...they were able to control you by simply raising a finger. If they can control people with just a finger, that is an incredibly powerful person.’

So the next time you feel a strong emotion about something somebody says or somebody does, I want you to pay attention to the meaning you give it… I want you to pay attention to the thoughts behind it, and see if you can change it for the better. See if you can take back control of your emotions rather than allow the emotions to determine your mood or your behaviors.

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