• BCS Mental Health Service

Fictional story – Real world issues ; Eastenders

Toby Messer Jan 2, 2019 5 min read

Eastenders - Steven Beale The examination of defence mechanisms in people displaying extreme anxiety.

This comparison is an effective way to talk about topics using fictional examples based on theoretical characters, I am in no way making light of these serious conditions. Some assumptions were made in order to complete the case study.

Patient: Steven Beale Age: Late 20s

Background: Steven was born into what should have been a loving family, except the paternity of his father Ian was brought into question and it was later found out that Ian was not his biological father. His mother and father had a difficult relationship and his mother went as far as trying to kill his father Ian, before dying herself in prison. The relationship between him and his father Ian was since that moment tumultuous and somewhat strained. It is fair to say Steven had many issues growing up and got himself into very difficult and dangerous situations- taking Ian hostage, accidentally shooting his step mother Jane (leaving her unable to have her own children), blackmailing his family and even plotting to kill his grandmother Pat. Steven has lived in New Zealand for many years with his biological father Simon Wicks, and has made a life for himself after having spent time in a psychiatric hospital in England following the a fore mentioned troubles. He returned to the UK not long ago, with Lauren as his girlfriend. Lauren was his brother’s fiancé and is the mother of Louie who is his nephew.

Case: Steven has just found out that his girlfriend has terminated the pregnancy of his baby, he doesn’t believe she still loves him and thinks she is still in love with Louie’s father; his brother Peter. He also is adamant that she is having an affair with her boss and plotting to leave him. Steven’s controlling nature has escalated and started off with him telling Lauren what she could wear, poking holes in condoms to ensure Lauren would fall pregnant with his baby and eventually bugging her phone so he could track her every movement. He also installed a spy camera so that he could watch and listen to everything that she did at work. This control has now got to the point where he wants to ensure that she cannot leave him, he told her that he has an inoperable brain tumour. How could she leave him now? Who would say “I don’t love you” to a dying man? Cue the Duff Duffs.

Analysis: Steven clearly has a background of mixed fortunes and psychological trauma, I would assume that when considering all of the above he has been left with a fear of losing people close to him, abandonment and not ever being the strong successful Beale that his father Ian wants him to be (due to the fact that he will never be a true Beale). Family and legacy has played a negative role in the whole of Steven’s upbringing and he wants to ensure that he can create a family and legacy of his own, one that Ian would be proud of and stamp himself as a true Beale. All of this has seemed to fester in his mind to create an ever-debilitating form of anxiety. Now when someone suffers with anxiety our clever brain strikes again and creates a defence mechanism in order to keep us safe. The most common of which is avoidance. This is where we avoid people or situations in order to avoid the negative experience of the anxiety happening again. However, in the case of Steven his brain chose a different defence mechanism, this being control. Instead of avoiding the situation he will try to control every situation which in turn would suggest he is controlling, or in control of his anxiety. Mostly we think of anxiety as being a weakness and debilitating. We think of people with anxiety as wall flowers, shy and unobtrusive. However, Steven comes across as powerful, manipulative and controlling. His control being his biggest strength is actually defending himself against his anxiety which is his biggest weakness. It is a poetic juxtaposition and one that from an outside perspective can be hard to understand.

Treatment: Anxiety can be a feeling of dread and fear that is caused mostly by previous negative experiences that make us “anxious” when confronted with a similar situation. For example, imagine you are walking through a shopping centre and your trousers and pants fall down, you trip over naked in front of hundreds of people and everyone laughs. The next day you avoid the shopping centre in case the same thing happens and you have to go through that painful experience again. The odds of this happening are minute but the more you avoid the route to work the greater the anxiety will grow, before you know it you are no longer just anxious of shopping centres but you are anxious of being outside completely. This is just one example of how anxiety can come about and obviously depending on the type of anxiety one has and the defence mechanism being portrayed would depend entirely on the detail of the treatment. Treatment of this form of defence mechanism is a tough one due to the very nature of it, as people using this control tend not to ask for help as it would involve handing over control. If they do ask for help they may try to control the environment and what is said, so we tend to see these clients when they are at or past crisis point. This is the point where things have broken down well past the original issues, and the act or issue that he is trying to avoid happening is the very thing that starts to come true. For example, Lauren finding out about his lies and leaving him, Ian disowning him for good or friends and family judging him.

When treating any anxiety or defence mechanism I would use CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy, in order to break the cognitive cycle. This is how we process thoughts feelings and reactions. Essentially, I am looking to reprogram the thought process to change the maladaptive behaviour to a more progressive one. His defence mechanism of control is maladaptive meaning it is no longer of any use to him and I would be looking to either break down the defence mechanism entirely, or ensure that his defence against his anxiety was a healthier one.

If you or anyone you know is suffering with anything discussed in this blog , please contact your GP or local counsellor to ask for support, or if you would like to know more about the topics covered please feel free to contact me.

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