Cersei of the House Lannister, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms.
One of the most complex characters in the fantasy world today, Cersei Lannister needs no introduction. From being brought up in a hostile environment with a dead mother and an absent, detached father, to now being Queen of the seven kingdoms, she has come a long way.
The Defense Mechanism of Splitting:
You either love her or you hate her. There is no middle ground. Much like the defense mechanism of Splitting. What is it, you ask?
Splitting: All of us have certain positive aspects that we like and certain negative aspects that we dislike about us. Most of us are able to handle this dichotomy and the anxiety that it causes. We are able to say “So what? I’m both! A good person and sometimes I’m bad.” We can see the grey. This ability to integrate both aspects in ourselves and others starts in infancy and continues as a life- long process. A failure to do so, results in a lot of anxiety that our Ego finds difficult to deal with. What do we do then? We start viewing the self, others and the world as all good or all bad. Splitting, also called black-and-white thinking or all-or-none thinking is then used as a defense.
Cersei is unable to see herself or others around her or the reality itself as integrated. Remember this as we proceed.
Cersei’s Defense Mechanisms Growing Up:
Through her formative years, Cersei was also exposed to a lot of significant events. Her mother died in childbirth when Cersei was 4. In that moment, she felt powerless and helpless over whatever was happening. She was left with two brothers and an absent father. An idealized, loved twin and a devalued and hated younger brother. Then there were spectacles of her father’s power. Tywin Lannister was a man to be feared. A ruthless man. A man known for his love for his family name. A Narcissist.
Cersei started imbibing that. She was perfect. A grandiose sense of importance developed over time as a defense against all these negatives. A sense of entitlement. She believed she was special and unique and she was all that mattered. She saw her father being great and powerful and important. At the same time, she observed him being detached. Emotionally unavailable.
Unable to see both these sides in him and having felt her life going out of control, she split. She only looked at his positives of being in control and then using the defense of Introjection, she took in only those qualities of him. His need to be in power. Valuing the Lannister name over everything else. This is where her power motivation comes from. From her need to be in control of her life (the only way she knew of doing this was by being in power) and because Hello! She’s all that matters anyway, right?
Introjection is when a person takes in the beliefs of others significant to them and makes them their own. For example, a child might adopt aspects of her parents’ personalities or beliefs such as their political and religious ideology, concept of right and wrong or attitudes about sex.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the negatives and the inadequacies just went away! Narcissists have a deep rooted sense of insecurity and a belief that they are actually worthless, damaged, weak and fallible. That they are not as perfect as they vehemently believe they are. Now, for Cersei, accepting the former idea was intolerable. Splitting was now part of her being, and being the Narcissist that she was, valuing and identifying with the good aspects was the best strategy.
What then, happened to the negative aspects of her? The feeling deep down, that she was actually worthless and ordinary? Using another defense of Projective Identification, she projected these negatives on the youngest brother, Tyrion. After that, she was free to hate him and vicariously, hate her negatives safely.
This is also why although he is her blood, he doesn’t have any qualities that are true of Cersei. He is not her and hence easier to project her negatives on and hate. He is also the person who killed her mother in childbirth. He caused her loss of control. He made that child feel, at 4, powerless and out of control. He is surely not her.
Projective Identification is a defense where you project onto another person, certain aspects of the self and then interact with this person. Therefore, you’re no longer relating to this person for who he/she is, but instead as who you have made him/her out to be.
Now you’ll say “Stop right there! You say she is only about self love, then how does she love her children and her twin so fiercely?” Let’s look into this bit, together. Who are these people that she loves? Narcissists tend to love people who are extensions of themselves. This is again projective identification, where she projects the good parts of herself, the special and impeccable version onto specific others and then loves them as a way of vicariously loving herself. Looking at Jaime, he is her twin. The closest version of herself that there is. Her children are fathered by him. All of them share her blood and so, are parts of her. They are again, extensions of herself and by law, are perfect, since she is perfect. They are not seen as separate entities or individuals but as her. This fierce love for them is nothing but a deep and fierce self-love.
A related aspect is the defense of Reaction Formation, where a repressed feeling is displayed at a conscious level in a contrasting form. So at the most basic level, if you hate your boss, you will be extra nice to him.
How the Defense Mechanisms of Cersei Interact
Remember how Cersei has that deep rooted insecurity? How deep down, she really hates herself? And through Projective Identification, her ‘perfect’ extensions and perfect versions of herself will also have those inadequacies. She is supposed to hate them too. This is too threatening to deal with, and she tends to then go the opposite way and loves them excessively. Loving herself vicariously in the process. This cycle goes on and on, continuing her relationship with them. Projective Identification and then Reaction Formation. What happens then when they act unlike her? When Jaime is not strong and powerful? When her children defy her? In that moment, they are not her and their negatives and by consequence, vicariously, even hers, are punished.
Defenses are sometimes used sparingly, only when the need arises. For example, when you don’t get into a college that you like, you say it was far away anyway! However, in Cersei’s case, if you’ve noticed, some defenses have become a part of her. So you don’t know where they end and where she begins. These are called Characterological Defenses.
Cersei engages in a lot of vicarious wish fulfillment. She sits the throne and by consequence, is in power, through her children. Now, since her children are dead and her brother was away, there wasn’t a vicarious outlet. She has now seized the throne and sits on it by her own right.
So, what makes you tick? Where do you end and where do your defenses begin?
Worth reflecting upon, no?
Post contributed by: Ashwini Date
Image Credit: HBO (This image is used under the Fair Use Policy, as it is part of a free, online blog and is not being used to sell any product or service.)