Digital Fantastic: Video Games are not Your Therapy

But they can be!

*Content warning: Trauma, PTSD, Therapy *

My publication in Mapping the Impossible is a recent edit of the dissertation I completed for my Fantasy MLitt. The original title was Of Heroes and Heartbreak: The Therapeutic Function of Fantasy in Video Games. The premise included an argument which advocated for video games as a therapeutic experience. My new article makes no such claims, instead focusing on how one particular game (Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch) deploys literalised psychoanalytic metaphor in the form of Fantasy, in a way that makes emotional processing easier to understand (if you’d like more information, find the article here).

The best thing about writing my article was using Mr Drippy’s name in an academic context.

When I was a vice-editor for Press Start I always used to tell people who submitted to us (in nicer terms) that you can’t just recycle your coursework for publication, you have to actually DO SHIT to it. And, like the icon, the mentor, the PARAGON of the academic community wot I am (jk jk) I practised what I preach and DID SHIT to my own paper before submitting it to the journal. This post revisits the academic and personal processes that led to my original argument, before explaining why I have since changed it.

Editing the article, which included extensive studying of my prior draft, made me consider whether video games are therapeutic, which raised further questions as to what the term ‘therapeutic’ actually means and how I arrived at describing video games in this manner.

Are Video Games Therapeutic?

To answer this question, first we need a functional definition to work from. The term therapeutic means something different depending on who is using it. I’m going to keep it simple and include a couple of common functional definitions, then compare these with a working definition I used in my original dissertation.

The colloquial definition, as written in the Cambridge Dictionary is ‘causing someone to feel happier and more relaxed or to be more healthy’ with the example: ‘I find gardening very therapeutic’. By this definition then, anything, including video games, can be therapeutic. 

According to the most reliable and academic source on the internet, Google, therapeutic also means ‘relating to the healing of disease’ and a ‘treatment, therapy, or drug’.

There are arguments that games are therapeutic in relation to both understandings of this word. People find that games might chill them out and have escapist qualities that help them cope with challenging situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic, or they may provide parasocial interaction which can help cope with loneliness.

Furthermore, there have also been advancements regarding the use of both serious and entertainment video games for therapy with practitioners such as Kourosh Dini (amongst others) using them as a means to talk through emotional problems with patients, and even simple games such as Tetris have  been used to prevent post-traumatic stress symptoms.

In my dissertation, I took a psychoanalytic approach. I looked at Fantasy imagery using writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin, who describes Fantasy as ‘the ‘language of the inner self’.  I argued that video games give us direct access to these unconscious processes by literalising them (as magic, monsters etc) which presents them in a form that allows players to interact with them. I argued that playing video games could offer players catharsis without abreaction via the metaphorical processing of similar emotions as a part of gameplay. I wondered if literally mending broken hearts in a video game might help heal players’ own broken hearts figuratively.

What I proposed was that by allowing interaction with literalised metaphors of affect, video games could allow for the same release of emotion as therapy (catharsis), without the requirement of reliving the traumatic memory attached to it (abreaction). I think what I was suggesting was that video games could do psychological therapy on players, in a way that felt therapeutic in the colloquial sense.

The dissertation did pretty well, so maybe some of my ideas have legs, but they were so intricately woven from the fuckery I was experiencing at the time, that my argumentation was rather tainted by my personal perspective.

Editing your writing is editing your perception

The change in my argument signals a progression in both my academic and personal journey. I didn’t realise it until I started typing this very sentence, but my new argument – that analysing Fantasy imagery in video games can help us better understand emotional processing – was exactly what I was doing during my MLitt dissertation without knowing it.

You see, that was the year I realised I had dissociative amnesia and started to experience the symptoms that accompany the resurfacing of repressed memories. I had no idea what was going on. I had experienced flashbacks and nightmares before, without knowing what they were, but during my research they amped up. At the time, I hadn’t quite realised what had triggered this; I didn’t properly connect my personal experiences to my research until well after I had submitted my work – describing the experience in a blog I wrote a little while after. It’s obvious now that reading about psychoanalysis and trauma theory had triggered partial abreaction, meaning that I had to navigate reliving my trauma and writing a dissertation at the same time.

LOVE THAT FOR ME 🙃.

I only figured out what was going on after reading @thalstral’s thread about dissociative amnesia  on academic twitter, which gave me insight into both what was happening to me and how my research was connected. Looking back, I’ve realised that playing video games, and analysing them, did the opposite of what I’d claimed: it caused me to experience partial abreaction without any catharsis attached to it. Video games were therapeutic for me, but not the good, thorough kind of therapy that helps you cope with things – what happened to me was like going to a crappy therapist who gets you to rip your heart out and show it to them, without taking the time to sew you up again.

So, are video games therapeutic???

Well, it depends.

I don’t want people to read this post and come to the conclusion that both games, and the study of them are ‘bad actually’. Like every game studies academic I have written numerous ‘apology paragraphs’ explaining that GAMES AREN’T BAD. So I must make it explicit that my PTSD symptoms are not the fault of video games.

Video games have the capability to provide a therapeutic experience in a colloquial sense – all us ‘gamers’ use them to change our moods or experience some kind of release. Entertainment video games have also been used by professionals to provide therapy in a psychological sense, and serious games such as Sparx and Apart of Me have been designed for this very purpose. Video games do have therapeutic potential.

Apart of me is a game designed to help people cope with loss.

The way my gameplay and analysis does benefit me, is by helping me to understand emotional processing in a way I hadn’t before, which facilitated a lot of growth. I’m doing SO much better than when I wrote that first unfortunate blog post, and I owe a small part of that to my research which has become a record of my journey.  

Perhaps then, my contribution can provide insight into how games can be therapeutic, rather than labelling them as inherently being so. What I’d like to argue is that understanding games, like understanding any form of art, can aid in the cultivation of emotional literacy which can be used to benefit mental health.

References

See links in text and go read my article ‘Of Heroes and Heartbreak: Digital Fantasy and Metaphors of Affect in Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch‘ in Mapping the Impossible.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to my dear friend Michael Deerwater for helping me edit this post!

Digital Fantastic: Critical framework – psychoanalytic theory

or: so I sublimated all over my research


*Please see the disclaimer and trigger warnings before continuing*


“It’s funny,” I said to my supervisor, without smiling. “I’ve written about this kind of thing before, but back then I didn’t know what I was writing about. Now I think I know and the project is starting to look a little clearer. I didn’t realise that it was so personal to me.”  

Rycroft’s Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis defines sublimation as a ‘developmental process… by which instinctual energies… are discharged…  in non-instinctual forms of behaviour’ (p 176, 1995). At the basic level, sublimation makes the terrifying and socially unacceptable useful; it’s like putting a zombie on a leash and making it push trolleys instead of eating people: though, I’d rather chain it up in the shed and play games with it, but that’s another metaphor.  The gist is that dangerous things are fine as long as they’re productive.  

Image result for shaun of the dead zombie shed

In his definition, Rycroft suggests that the urges sublimated are situated in the pre-genital stage of development (p. 177, 1995) which to plebs like us means those survival instincts we get before we become obsessed with dicks: oral and anal fixations. Apparently as we get older, the urges don’t go away, we just focus them elsewhere: like music, art or academia. We channel all that energy into something useful, more socially acceptable. However, in the typically dick-obsessed Freudian manner, Rycroft also ties sublimation to more adult urges. Here’s a fun fact for you lads: apparently academic curiosity is the result of sublimating scopophilia: deriving sexual pleasure from watching people fuck. Well, that’s me well and truly called out… Oopsie.  

Image result for binoculars spy

I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that certain urges correspond to particular interests, but it seems like common sense that art we create, fiction we produce and research we conduct can be an outlet for things we have repressed (be that an urge, or a memory): an attempt at processing it.  

That’s why psychoanalytic theory can be useful. It’s a contentious field: still used widely in therapeutic practice but derided by many as ‘those weird books about daddy issues and fucking your mum’ (some guy called Allan, 2020). Though I would not dare to venture into the realms of practical therapy (and am poorly qualified to do so) we can utilise psychoanalytic theory to analyse cultural artifacts such as literature, visual art and video games because it attempts to explain the processes behind their creation via the accessible language of metaphor. There’s a reason that many of Freud’s terms are still part of common parlance: it’s because they feel like common sense; whether that’s because they’re already so ingrained in our culture or because they manage to so clearly describe how we experience emotions, we cannot know. But, either way, the terms are here to stay. Why? Because I say so (see my thesis in four years – I hope). 

Image result for hiss angry

So, back to sublimation. What if it’s an outlet for more than pregenital boob and shitting obsessions? We don’t stop developing after childhood, our lives are long and there is plenty of time to accumulate other urges and debris to store within the dank basements of our unconscious minds.  

We grow, we change. Things happen for us. To us.  

Instinctual urges aren’t the only things we repress… What if during the process of sublimation we drag up other things lurking within the depths of our unconscious? What if our art or our research reflects the impulses or repressed memories that drive us? What if I chose to study psychoanalytic theory for reasons I don’t understand, or can’t remember? I’d never thought about how my research might reflect my personal experiences. Academia is perceived as an ivory tower (a tower I’ve been dragging myself up brick by bloody brick). Research is just something students do because they’re lazy and don’t want to join the real world and get a real job! Right?

Image result for ok boomer

I experienced the theories I read in a disembodied way: they were just intricate trellises used to display a pretty argument and the argument felt essentially like a logic puzzle rather than anything real

Then the flashbacks started. 

I was writing my dissertation for my MLitt in Fantasy Literature. It’s about using Fantasy video games as a means of processing unconscious trauma… Purely theoretical of course. Nothing to do with personal experience… Then the connections started to form. I started to recall shadows of memories. Something inside me snapped. I lost touch. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, that I was finally remembering.  

I remember studying psychoanalytic theory during my undergrad and frantically contacting one of the wonderful tutors.  He was so understanding.

“When you spoke about repression in class… I… I have the feeling I’m forgetting something. I don’t know what. Is there any way you can help me? My therapy isn’t working.”   

I’m not superstitious, yet whilst writing my dissertation I started to believe in ghosts and became afraid of the dark. My anxiety was so heightened that I experienced everything as a threat: I couldn’t even walk along my two meter corridor alone to get to the light switch and the (perfectly normal and healthy) sound of the crying child next door made me weep in despair.  

“Why won’t somebody help him?” 

I got lost in the hypnagogic fog between the sleeping and waking worlds. I woke up sobbing, fighting someone who was not there. 

“Don’t touch me.” 

Almost nightly I rolled out of bed half asleep and confused to search for clothes as if my life depended on it. I didn’t recognise my own room, or the man who’d been sleeping next to me for five years.  

“I’ve got something to tell you that might change the way you think about me,” I said to him. “I think I know why I feel dirty all the time. I mean, it might not have even happened. It probably didn’t. No big deal. It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry.” 

Then there was a murder in our apartment complex. It may be rather self-centered to point out how it effected me, but it didn’t do much to help my sense of security.  

Still, after hours of compulsive checking (the kind of checking that hurts your eyes and your brain so much that it’s unproductive – as many symptoms of OCD are and become) I submitted the dissertation and went to the pub with the other Ravens (the name of our cohort). I knew I shouldn’t have had a drink, but I wanted to try and feel normal. Celebrate, perhaps?

Nope.

I’d not had the luxury of being able to relax. Not for a very long time. Relaxation is dangerous and I confided in someone I shouldn’t have. 

“I think I’ve been attacked,” I said. “I still don’t know. It’s been around ten years. It probably didn’t happen. I’d remember it if it happened. It can’t have been that bad? It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry.” 

She was sweet. She was wonderful. But, friends are not therapists. It wasn’t the time or place. That’s one of the reasons I never go to parties. If I let down my guard just a little, the dam breaks down and all of that ‘tragic backstory’ comes pouring out. What is repressed always fights to resurface. My trauma was inked across the white pages of my dissertation and I hadn’t even realised until it was too late.

It wasn’t the time or place.

Is there ever a time or place? 

Perhaps this isn’t the time or place either. 

I’m so sorry to be such a burden to all of you. I don’t deserve your time.  

Really. 

It’s no big deal. 

I’m so sorry. 

I suppose that’s why psychoanalytic theory is so appealing to me, as well as its academic merits (which I will detail in my thesis), the theories have changed my understanding of myself. It wasn’t the reason I chose to study it, but it’s the reason I was drawn to it.  

I know that now.

I didn’t mean to make it all about me.  

I had no idea.  

Then again, it might not have happened anyway. I still can’t entirely remember.  


Sources used:

Rycroft, C. (1995). A critical dictionary of psychoanalysis (2nd ed). Penguin Books.

Freud, Sigmund. (1915). Repression. SE, 14: 141-158.

Useful resources:

An introductory guide to Literary and Critical Theory (unsure of reliability, but explains things well)
Online Encyclopedia
APA Online Dictionary

Armchair Psychologist in session: a prescription for waifus

Mystic Messenger, Visual Novel, Android

Dear armchair psychologist,

I’m struggling to move on from my ex, not because i don’t recognise that the relationship was dreadful for my mental health, but because I don’t find myself physically attracted to people very often and i am still very attracted to this ex. It is upsetting and frustrating because I can see that they are not right for me, but I haven’t been attracted to anyone since so I am finding myself thinking about them a lot. It isn’t healthy, I know. I am nervous that I will never be physically attracted to anyone ever again. Long shot but do you have anything that might ease my concerns?

*****

Dear anon,

Thank you for your question.

First of all:

YOU CUPCAKE, HONEYBUNCH, SUGAR PLUM, PUMPY-UMPY-UMPKIN

AWESOME HUMAN YOU

This was me trying to tell you (in the most patronising way possible – sorry) that I am so happy for you. I’m so pleased that you’re not in this toxic relationship any more. One way, or another, you are out of it. The situation may be painful, but being free of this relationship, and recognising how shitty it was for you, may be one of the best things that has ever happened to you.

So again, my congratulations! 

Boku no Hero Academia

…I realise however, that knowing this doesn’t make things any easier.

‘not because i don’t recognise that the relationship was dreadful for my mental health… It is upsetting and frustrating … It isn’t healthy…’

It sounds like you consider your feelings irrational, and you’re giving yourself a hard time about that. Thing is, emotions aren’t rational and you can’t logic them away.

WE CAN TRY THO.

Let’s ACTIVATE armchair psychology mode and start making some assumptions…

armchair-psychologist

‘I don’t find myself physically attracted to people very often…’

If you don’t find yourself attracted to others very often, let’s assume that you might not have felt emotions like the ones you’re experiencing much before. We won’t assume that you haven’t had relationships, because romantic relationships ≠ attraction, but you might not have experienced this particular type of relationship before.

Like anything, feeling things and processing emotion takes practise. Your unconscious mind may not be used to handling things like this, so what you’re feeling could be a result of its imperfect way of dealing with things. You might want to consider engaging in some kind of therapy, or getting a therapy workbook to complete as this will help these emotions become conscious and perhaps enable you to practise processing them more efficiently. However, I’m NOT a therapist and this is a pretty boring answer, so it’s not something we’ll go into in detail about – it’s just something benign you might want to check out. If you’re not into therapy, at least forgive yourself for having feelings. Emotions are shitty and it’s not your fault that you feel them. Hopefully, in time, you’ll get used to it – or when the singularity comes we’ll all shed our human meat-cases and become flawless virtual presences living immortal lives w/o having to deal will this bullshit. Until then, we’ll always have emo.

‘I’m struggling to move on from my ex… i am still very attracted to this ex… I am finding myself thinking about them a lot’

This again, is very normal. Even Freud wrote about it. We may not agree with all of Freud’s shit, but I find that his work functions nicely as a metaphorical framework that makes emotions easier to understand. So, let’s cherry-pick some of his theories, take them out of context and use them in the most simplistic way possible BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT US ARMCHAIR PSYCHOLOGISTS LIVE FOR.

Freud, Sigmund

First, let’s talk about cathexis, a term created by Freud’s translators from the German  ‘besetzung’ which means investment (Rycroft 1995: 19). This is basically a representation of the process of putting energy into a relationship, and has become synonymous with the modern term ’emotional investment’. By having relationships with people, you are effectively giving them a part of yourself – I’m not talking about spitting in their food or secretly feeding them your fingernails, but sharing things like your time, your energy, your body and perhaps even your love. Gifts such as these are more impactful than anything material, yet they are much harder to quantify. If you bought someone an expensive box of doughnuts you’d see the effect on your bank balance, but when you give your emotional energy to someone else, the effect is intangible. Yet, it’s something you can feel – especially if you don’t receive an equal of amount of doughnuts emotional investment in return.

Undertale Heart, Toby Fox

When you break-up with someone, you may feel like you have given them your dignity. It can feel like you made a poor decision – you invested in stock which crashed. Instead of dealing with material consequences (though, that’s a possibility too) you have to deal with the social and emotional consequences of this decision and find a way to recoup your losses. It may not be your fault that this happened – all relationships are a gamble – but the losses are real and so are the feelings that come with them. The process of withdrawing your emotional energy (decathexis) is bound to vary depending on both the intensity of your emotions and how efficient your unconscious is at processing them.

‘i am still very attracted to this ex. It is upsetting and frustrating’

It seems like you have contradictory emotions which can make it difficult to understand them. It’s even more challenging because a lot of what you feel is probably unconscious – the feelings have been repressed because they’re difficult and confusing. Unconscious emotions are a little like mice living in your wall: you probably don’t know they’re there until they start making weird noises, and you might not even realise where the noises are coming from until the mice start leaving enough little shit pellets for you to notice them. These manifestations of your unconscious shit pellets can come in various forms: they could be neurotic symptoms, or obsessive thoughts.

In your case, it looks like the shit pellets you’re finding are evidence of ambivalence, a term coined by psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1911 (OH YES LOOK HOW UP TO DATE MY RESEARCH IS *SO NOW* AND NOT OUTDATED AT ALL).  Basically, ambivalence is different to having mixed feelings for a person – which is normal because people  can be wonderful, shitty, sexy and horrific all at once (Rycroft 1995: 6) – it’s about having contradictory emotions which are so extreme that they’re confusing.

Perhaps when you became attracted to this person, you put them up on a pedestal to bask in their sexiness because you weren’t used to experiencing the kinds of thing they made you feel.

Surely a person who could make you FEEL things like that must be GREAT – right?

But, they’re just a person after all. They’re not David Hasselhoff.

David Hasslehoff, pants, underwear

When you realised that they are imperfect, it hurt even more because you let yourself be attracted to them, and maybe they weren’t worthy in the first place. Maybe it made you hate them just a little bit. Maybe they deserved it, maybe they didn’t. Who knows?

‘I am finding myself thinking about them a lot’

Anyway, the shit pellets can take the form of obsessive thoughts which may be the result of your unconscious trying to balance out the extremes of what you’re feeling (Rycroft 1995: 6). It’s such hard work that you don’t have enough energy left to repress your emotions, so they keep surfacing. Maybe you feel guilty because your unconscious is doing a shitty job and it knows it. So it’s time to stop trying to repress things. Stop ignoring the shit pellets. You need to clean them up and give the mice in your wall some cheese and some goddamn attention. Maybe then they’ll stop squeaking so fjucking loudly.

Be kind to the mice to be kind to yourself.

mouse instrument.gif

There’s a lot more that we can’t go into here, but I’d recommend checking out Mourning and Melancholia  – reading the terms in context situates them within a more sophisticated framework of meaning than I can provide here.

Rick and Morty

Now we have a slightly better understanding of your feelings (well, the flimsy construction of your feelings we’ve made up)

cards falling.gif

and we should think about a possible solution to what you consider to be your current problem.

‘I haven’t been attracted to anyone since… I am nervous that I will never be physically attracted to anyone ever again.’

Before we get into this, I want to mention that when it comes to attraction, everyone is different – not being attracted to people isn’t a problem unless you consider it a problem. I’m making suggestions in the hope they will alleviate some of your discomfort, rather than change who you essentially are.

OK SO.

The stereotypical advice would be to TAKE SOME TIME FOR YOURSELF. FIND YOURSELF BEFORE YOU FIND A PARTNER. LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF. DO SOME YOGA. RUB SOME COCONUT OIL ON IT.

yoga fail.gif

Of course, as an armchair psychologist I’m going to give you this shitty advice.

BUT BEAR WITH

bear with.gif

We’re going to mix things up a bit.

My advice is essentially to take some time for yourself and to date yourself  (candles, chocolates and all) but

BY FINDING A HUSBANDO/WAIFU !!! ❤

Translation: have a romance with a fictional heart-throb.

Mystic Messenger, Visual Novel, Android

For some people (especially late bloomers), letting oneself feel attraction can take practise. One of the ways we can practise is by engaging in fantasy. Perhaps crushing on a fictional character might help reignite the spark you felt when you met your ex, or at least get you back in ‘the mood’…

FOR LOVE

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE YOU PERVERT

Jeeeze

this is a WHOLESOME blog, I’ll have you know

blushing

(until someone asks me cosmo-style question – I’d be fine with that)

Anyway, having a fictional romance can help you feel emotions again without all of the bother of dealing with someone’s imperfections. Some activities you could try include:

  • Playing visual novels (find one with pretty people and a good story – I won’t recommend any because idk what you like)
  • Playing a dating sim (Mystic Messenger is GREAT because it’s on your phone and is designed to feel like a real relationship – it also lasts a long time and has a lot of different paths to choose from which make it great distraction – sadly it’s just husbandos though).
  • Write a story/fanfic for the sole purpose of creating someone you can ‘fall in love’ with.
  • You could even read a book  (IKR – CRAZY) but it might not give you the same feeling of agency.

Taking part in imaginative exercises could help you feel accustomed to the idea of being attracted to someone again. You were hurt the last time you felt physical attraction, so it’s natural that you might feel reluctant (even unconsciously) to feel that way again. Getting a waifu is a much safer way of accessing your romantic side until you’re ready to share it.  Just remember that the deep backstories of fictional husbandos/waifus you spend time with are likely more glamorous than a real person’s baggage: try and be aware of that when you begin to make the transition to feeling something for a real person again.

HAPPY HUSBANDO HUNTING

Kind regards,

The armchair psychologist

*****

Aftercare: Would you ever engage in a fictional romance or do you think the idea is kinda creepy?

Let me know in the comments!

*****

If you’d like to leave the armchair psychologist a question then please do after reading the health warning, and if you enjoyed this content then please consider leaving a donation.

Armchair Psychologist in session: Why the fault is not in our fucking stars

Dear armchair psychologist,

When I find myself in times of trouble I dive headfirst into astrology, tarot, and other forms of cheap affordable divination because the idea of predestination makes me feel calmer and more focused. Why am I so against my own freedom as an individual? How can I outgrow this crutch?

Yours,
Astral Confusion

*****

Dear Astral Confusion,

Thank you for sending in your question.

Let’s begin by engaging with one of the most important traditions of the school of armchair psychology – making some broad, and possibly offensive, assumptions about you by deconstructing your question.

Kati Morton, Shane Dawson, Psychology

Your question shows a divide between your fatalistic attitude and your empowerment as an individual. We’ll look at your fatalistic tendencies first.

‘When I find myself in times of trouble… dive headfirst… the idea of predestination makes me feel calmer and more focused…

The explicit message here is that you find the idea of destiny comforting. You ‘dive headfirst’ into the murky waters of divination as if you’re trying to escape from something. Have you thought about what is it that you’re escaping from?

What kind of sinking ship are you abandoning?

Is the ship just doomed?  Even though you did the health and safety checks and cracked open a bottle of champagne on its hull, somehow, the fucker still caught fire and sank?

Saying that you ‘find yourself in times of trouble’ suggests a lack of control. Indeed, sometimes accidents and bad situations happen and there’s nothing we can do about it. Depending on your belief system it could be that the fault IS in your stars, or the world is just a shitty place full of shitty people who like to set fire to your motherfucking ship. (Or maybe someone just left their straighteners on.) There’s no denying that there’s just some things we can’t control, and need to escape from.  If we can’t physically escape, perhaps we can at least emotionally escape by engaging in a pastime we feel may offer answers.

But let’s go back to my first question: what is it you’re escaping from?

Proceed with caution: this T is hot.

Addams Family, Spooky, Spoopy, Halloween

Maybe it was your fault the ship started sinking. Maybe you didn’t put enough lifeboats on the ship, then you steered it into a motherfucking iceberg.

Sometimes we fuck ourselves over. We might like to think that we just happen to ‘find’ ourselves in trouble when we, in fact, have been human and imperfect and have actually contributed to the shitty situations we find ourselves in. Denying our part in the hardships we experience can be a defence mechanism – a way of preserving our fragile egos. The idea of predestination may appeal to you because it helps you minimise your part in the trouble you ‘find’ yourself in. It’s tempting to repress that imperfection allllllllllllll the way down into our unconscious – where it belongs (jk). However, repressing something doesn’t make it go away – and I don’t think you need me to tell you this, because babes, it looks like you already know.

Let’s remember that diving isn’t falling. Maybe you’re ‘diving headfirst’ into the oceans of divination, because that’s where the treasure is.

‘Why am I so against my own freedom as an individual? How can I outgrow this crutch?’ 

I don’t think you are against the idea of your personal freedom, I think you’re trying to find your empowerment, but you’re afraid of it. By saying you want to ‘outgrow’ your divination habit and that it’s a ‘crutch’, you’re suggesting that it’s something that you shouldn’t be doing. But, crutches are useful things! Crutches help you get around, but, they might not be a permanent solution. Maybe don’t be so quick to discard something that helps you (especially something relatively benign, such as divination) and instead look at it as a prosthetic extension of self – understand why you need it and how it became part of your experience. Don’t see it as limiting your freedom, but an expression of it.

Now, let’s get mystical!

Sybil Trelawney, Harry Potter, Divination, Magic, Tarot

Divination, in general, is interesting because its origins aren’t quite as mysterious as you might think. The Ouija board was marketed as a toy, and tarot cards began as playing cards (Farley 2009: 3). They became tied to ‘divinatory interpretation’ in the 19th century when the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn adapted them (Farley 2009: 2). This isn’t to say that it’s all bullshit. Although they weren’t intended for divination, this doesn’t mean they can’t be used as such (Farley 2009: 6). Just because something isn’t meant to do a thing, doesn’t mean it can’t do a thing. The importance is the context in which they are being used – The New Age movement even used Jungian psychology in an attempt to understand the cards’ symbolism (Farley 2009: 2).

And WE ALL KNOW JUNGIAN PSYCHOLOGY IS LEGIT SHIT. LOBSTER DAD SAYS SO.

ContraPoints Jordan Peterson LobsterALL HAIL LOBSTER DAD.

Jordan Peterson Meme Marxism Father Daddy

One way of engaging with divination is by taking a structuralist approach. You might want to consider that you’re engaging in a tradition of people who are attempting to find meaning, to find order in the chaos of the world. You’re trying to find where you fit in as a part of something bigger than yourself and by the very act of divining you are participating in a collective act and putting your individual spin on it. It can be nice to have structure, nice to have rules, and if they help you live your best life then that’s cool.  Just don’t get obsessed with it. To avoid becoming insular, you can share this interest with others. Assuming you’re giving and receiving tarot readings for free – let’s not get into critiques of the way that such artefacts have been commodified and used to exploit people –

Marx Communism Meme

then you can use the tarot cards as a way to displace your emotions and talk about your feelings more easily and figure out where you stand in relation to the society you’re participating in.

If you’re getting annoyed at this post, you might be less of a structuralist and more of a postmodernist.Foucault postmodernism

Since the rise of post-structuralism, divination has taken on new significance. The emphasis has shifted from interpreting symbols as static archetypes, and has become more about what they mean to the individual. A tarot card, for example, need not even have a fixed meaning.

SO EVERYTHING IS MEANINGLESS? What’s the point of living? We need to return to simpler times, to grand narratives, to binary gender, to rescue our fathers, to-

Bucko Jordan Peterson Toronto

NOT NOW DAD. I’M BUSY

Actually, if nothing has a *fixed* meaning, then its meaning depends on perception and is therefore more meaningful to each person.

If we consider tarot cards in this manner, then their origins are less significant, as is their association with ‘ shoddy soothsayers and confidence tricksters’ (Farley 2009: 1) and their connection to a divine power. As the context of tarot shifts, so do the meanings of the cards. Since 1971, tarot readings have been more about coming to one’s own conclusions rather than being interpreted by someone else.

Considering the significance of divination as a means of self-expression and exploration, perhaps your fear of your ‘freedom as an individual’ isn’t being expressed by your use of divination itself, but your desire to outgrow using it. What you’re escaping from, or what you’re repressing won’t just disappear.

It’s calling to you.

Using divination is a way of understanding yourself. You might think you’re chatting with a spirit, but perhaps you’re communicating with someone closer to home. Maybe you’re really having a conversation with the parts of yourself, or your experience, that you’ve repressed. Perhaps the ‘higher power’ you’re in conversation with is your unconscious mind.

And if you ask me, that’s much more terrifying than any ghost.

Kind regards,

The armchair psychologist.

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Aftercare: I hope you enjoyed this post! I find divination fascinating and I have my own pack of tarot cards. Let me know how you engage with (or avoid) divination in the comments!

If you liked this post and would like the armchair psychologist to solve all of your problems, please post a question anonymously or,  if you feel more comfortable contact me some other way.

But, don’t forget to read the health warning!

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