I might as well lower everyone’s hopes right now. No one is actually fighting in this essay. If you want to see Frankenstein’s monster duke it out with the Count, I recommend tracking down this film instead. No, today I’m more concerned with the theme than the monster used to showcase it. In particular, I’m going to be discussing how two of the western world’s most famous monster stories have polar opposite themes, and how they have informed (American) society in the past century.
Frankenstein: Humanity before Progress
Those who have not read Mary Shelley’s 1817 novel or witnessed the 1994 film adaptation by Kenneth Branagh may be surprised to learn that the story of Frankenstein is, in part, bookended by the story of Captain Robert Walton, a failed writer turned would-be explorer out to “discover” the North Pole in the name of scientific progress – ice and freezing temperatures be damned. It is through this misadventure that Walton meets Dr. Frankenstein and hears the tale of the creation of the creature.
After learning of how Frankenstein’s blind ambition and irresponsibility destroyed his family and cost lives, Walton has a choice to make: Push on or turn back. Victor Frankenstein, near death though he is, urges everyone to keep going. After all, forward progress must be maintained! Walton, however, decides to not listen to his newly discovered nutcase friend and instead orders the ship to return. Frankenstein dies shortly thereafter, but not before telling Walton “happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition.”
It’s pretty on the nose. Dr. Frankenstein is depicted as someone controlled by his desire to keep going, his ambition toward discovery, progress, and knowledge. Responsibility, and by extension, humanity, come second. Even after the creature has murdered and destroyed, Victor still wants to go on. He’s not someone to say “enough is enough.”
Dracula: Humanity due to Progress
In Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, by contrast, depicts progress in a much more positive light. It is a man of learning, Professor Abraham Van Helsing, who leads the charge against Dracula. Moreover, Van Helsing and his vampire hunters use technological advances (such as the railroad) to outmaneuver Dracula and arrive in Transylvania ahead of him. This allows the vampire hunters to set a trap, killing the Count before he can return to his castle.
In this way, Dracula actually shares something in common with another famous monster, King Kong. Both are shown to be apex predators in their native lands, killing with impunity and dominating the local people. Once they enter modern civilization, however, they are met by forces they do not understand, forces that – while at first appear weaker – have an understanding of technology that prove to be fatal to the would-be invader (it is worth noting that Dracula comes to civilization willingly, while Kong is forced).
This is not to say technology is the sole good guy. Indeed, Stoker’s approach is far more nuanced. Many of the techniques used by Van Helsing are spiritual tools, rather than scientific instruments – and the professor himself chastises many of his scientific colleagues for being too dismissive of possibilities (such as the existence of vampires) if science cannot offer an immediate answer. That said, I feel that Van Helsing’s attitude, his “let’s keep an open mind and gather all the facts” is intrinsically a scientific mindset, and he is simply being critical of human weakness, it’s ability to lapse into “easy answers, no questions” rather than continuing to progress, even if it means challenging pre-existing beliefs.
In this way, Dracula is an even more progressive book, as takes a man of scientific height in society as showcases him as a hungry learner, someone who is never content to just listen to what other people have done, but who must earn the knowledge himself.
Dracula’s Adaptations: The Loss of Progress
The reason I focus on the role of technology in Dracula (the book has numerous other critical interpretations) is because it is often overlooked. Heck, the Wikipedia page of Draculadoesn’t even include modernization and technology as a major theme. To date, I have never seen a film or television adaptation of Dracula that actually preserves this aspect of the novel. Most are too concerned with the women’s necklines or the allure of a sexual predator to even think about what the heroes are doing.
While pretty much every adaptation preserves the cautionary conservatism of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, very few (none judging by what I’ve seen) deem Van Helsing and co.’s use of modern science to defeat Dracula as worth keeping. Perhaps it is because the latter is more timely than the former. After all, few readers in 2021 are reading about phonographs and railroads and going “wow, the future is here, man!”
And yet, given the larger body of American horror cinema, I can’t help but wonder if the fear of the new just lends itself better to horror. Let’s take a look.
Legacy in America: Dangerous Progressives
Okay, I know everything in America is political today (including so much that shouldn’t be – vaccines, climate change, freaking He-Man), but I want to stress that when I say progressive and conservative, I’m not talking Democrats and Republicans. Heck, I’m not even talking about anything new. Just look at the 1950s, an era when fears of radiation and communism dominated American horror cinema. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Them!, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms – all of these and more essentially said “hey look at this new idea, it’s pretty scary when you think about it!”
It carries over, even today, into “liberal” Hollywood. Thanos, the most famous movie villain in recent memory, can be seen as a metaphor for climate extremists. And he’s not alone: Kingsmen: The Secret Service (2014) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) also feature similar antagonists. Those who wish to upend the status quo are often seen as villains, even if their motives are just:
It’s very common and shows no signs of slowing down. This is not to say that conservative ideas are never depicted as villainous – heck, while Disney is doing dangerous progressives in Marvel, they often save evil conservatives for their animated feature films. In general, however, I feel that the Frankenstein theme of “progress must be checked constantly by humanity or else disaster ensues” is more prevalent than Dracula‘s “yeah science isn’t perfect but we can vanquish a lot of longstanding evils with modern tools and weapons.”
Of course, every now and then you get a work of fiction that goes for a more complicated route…something more challenging and thus, more difficult to pull off. I encountered one such work recently, which is why next time we’re going to be talking about Ready Player Two.
You know, I’m going to stop doubting Pixar when it comes to Toy Story movies. After 2, I was skeptical of 3, and after 3 – man did I not think 4 was going to be anything special. Somehow, however, Pixar has managed to defy the law of diminishing returns and Toy Story 4 is as amazing (if not more so) than its predecessors. From its characters to its dialogue to its unbelievable sense of self-awareness, Toy Story 4 is an unexpected gem.
But there’s one thing in particular I want to focus on: Walking out of the theater, I got the sense that the story was more familiar than I had initially thought. I’m not calling Toy Story 4 a rip-off, not by a long shot…but it definitely takes a lot of inspiration from a very unlikely source. When I call Toy Story 4 Pixar’s version of Frankenstein, please know that I’m not talking about Forky – well, not just about Forky.
When I wrote You’re Not Alone almost a year ago – I thought I was letting go. I thought by putting what happened out there, it would be out of my mind and into the world, where it could help those who needed it, and bring responsibility to any who identified with it. I thought that by declaring myself the victim, I was taking strength and rising above what happened to me. I was wrong. What I wrote months ago only reflected a first step, and nothing more.
That first step was admittance, and it is a large one. Too often those who suffer from emotional abuse rationalize or justify the abusive behavior. After all, if someone is treating you poorly: have you not done something to deserve it? Most of the time we have, but our action was not large enough to justify our treatment. If for instance I forget to get my work done on time, it is a natural response to be cross and disappointed in myself. But everything in context: if I label myself a failure and say that I am hopeless because I did not do my work one day – I have gone too far. This is a disproportionate reaction that likely comes from another source… and that is in large part what emotional abuse is. People who have not properly dealt with their emotions so that they boil up and spill over at the wrong time. Please know that, when I say people: I include myself.
In my last article, I assigned a lot of blame to the actions of Sinda, a woman I shared an emotionally abusive relationship with. I am not apologizing for calling out her actions. That was the first part in my recovery. That said, it was out of balance. I called Sinda out, true, but I inappropriately judged her as well. I only mentioned briefly that I didn’t think she was a bad person for what she did. I made no effort to fully understand Sinda… and in that regard, I did not move forward, but rather joined the cycle.
Not all emotional abuse is alike. Like anything, there are different shades. When I spoke of Sinda, I made an attempt to understand, but not identify with her. In fact I did the opposite. I was the victim, she the abuser: two roles carved in stone. I was sympathetic, Sinda was antagonistic. While this was not a complete lie, it was not the whole truth. In knowing Sinda the way I do, I forgot one very important thing: she is a victim too.
This does not excuse her actions or give her a free pass to continue destructive trends on herself and other people… and it doesn’t give me one either. Yes, this is the main reason I am writing part two. By not fully identifying with Sinda, by judging and labeling her as something different from myself: I left myself fully open to adopting the characteristics of an emotional abuser, and adopt I did.
Conscious vs. Subconscious
When I wrote part one, I consciously moved past it. As I said, my intention was to get the thoughts out of my head and it worked. I stopped thinking about what had happened so much and was able to move forward… on a conscious level. Conscious is our logical thought, the part of the mind that we are aware of. When we consciously make a decision, it means that we are thinking about it. If I decide to go out for a jog: that is a conscious decision, but one I might make for subconscious reasons.
The subconscious cannot think to communicate, that by nature is what it is. Yet this does not mean the subconscious plays no part in decision-making. I make the decision to go jogging but why am I doing that: a subconscious desire to remain in good shape; a subconscious fear of becoming unattractive; a subconscious fear of becoming unhealthy; or a mix of all three? We rarely think about our reasons for doing things… at least not until after the action has happened.
I mentioned in part one my moving on to other relationships after Sinda… and my performance in those relationships. I was distant, I was uncaring, I kept them controlled. Well holy shit: sounds emotionally abusive to me. But that was fine, right? Because I was just coming out of an emotionally abusive relationship with Sinda. It was not fine. For calling Sinda out on every little thing she did, I completely glossed over everything I did. Was I using justification, I do this because of my past? Sounds a lot like what Sinda said to me.
But I was consciously aware – at least in terms of the article. I knew what emotional abuse was, I had put a name to my pain… but I had not processed it. Indeed, my very action of simply moving into another relationship spoke volumes about how little I had allowed myself to process what had happened. Was that also not a thing I was criticizing Sinda for?
I had a conscious desire to feel better, as I’m sure we all do when we’re hurt. But I wasn’t fully asking myself: why do I need to feel better so quickly? Why, in a lifetime of being relatively happy on my own, was I now feeling enormous pressure to hop from person to person. A small part of it was external: people telling me I had to move on. The larger part was internal: me telling me I had to move on. But does moving on mean?
I don’t know about all people, but I hate to feel pain and misery. After Sinda, I felt those two emotions a lot. At the time, I did not fully understand why. I knew that someone I loved had hurt me badly, and I couldn’t understand why she had done it. I felt anger at her for leaving; anger at myself for pushing her away; anger at everyone else who didn’t seem to see what had happened, or if they did, dismissing it as what was standard in a relationship. In short, I was angry and I was in pain… and jumping into another relationship fixed that, how?
We live in the age of instant gratification, and I bring that up because I feel it has created all sorts of unreasonable expectations. We watch shows where conflict is solved in 20-40 minutes, or at most over multiple seasons (a hundred hours). Many of our questions can be answered in seconds, by just putting the question into Google. There, there’s the answer. Life solved.
Except that’s not how it works, at least in my experience. In fact, it can lead to very poor results. As I said, feeling sad, hurt, hopeless, depressed – these are all horrible ways to feel. It is natural to want to do anything to move past them. Unfortunately, there is only one way that seems to permanently work: facing them head on and looking inward at oneself. Why am I angry? Who am I angry at? Why am I angry at this person? Was it even their fault?
These are hard questions because they relate to our sense of identity. I don’t like looking inward sometimes, especially when I know I’m going to see things I don’t like.
The alternative? Have a drink! Take a joint! Have a smoke! Here, here is this nice person – or someone who seems hot. Imagine all the distraction a relationship provides. Suddenly I had someone else to think about, someone else to focus on. My life was more full. I had someone to share my bed with, someone to make me feel good.
And that pain and anger… stayed. Where was it going to go? How was it being addressed. It wasn’t. I was ignoring it, the way I child may ignore vegetables in hopes they might disappear off her/his plate. Yeah, I was being a child, at least in the emotional sense. My subconscious was trying to tell me something, and my conscious heard it, but not properly. All it heard was: “I don’t want to feel this way.” I never asked: “why am I feeling this way?”
So the cycle continued. I hurt others and I felt my self-esteem grow worse and worse as I did.
I am lucky in a way many who have been abused are not: I got an apology. Sinda read my words and reached out to me. I feel it is a human thing to want catharsis, to want closure. I thought, with an apology, my wounds would go away. They didn’t, and it has taken me a while to realize why.
Part of me forgave Sinda when she apologized – the conscious part. But again, subconsciously I had still not dealt with it. This created a ridiculous disconnect. I told Sinda all was forgiven, that I knew she hadn’t meant to hurt me and that I still cared for her – but yet, as soon as Sinda made a mistake, I was quick to bring up the past. Thankfully, she called me out on this and I was able to realize consciously what I was doing, but subconsciously I felt embarrassed and put down. My emotions were still there, stronger than ever. More pain into the well I still had not looked at.
Sinda and I tried to create a better present together, but our past kept us from making it so. In the end, anger boiled up on both sides and we drove each other apart… again. The cycle repeated itself, and the only difference was that I played a larger role than I had before.
Let this be a cautionary message: even if you have the best intentions, your actions will inevitably reflect what your subconscious is feeling. I was still terrified of Sinda. Terrified she would hurt me again. That fear turned to anger, since of the two emotions: anger is the one I feel more comfortable with. I ended up hurting someone I cared about, and events continued cycling.
Anyone involved in an abusive relationship likely began as the victim. I do not think I have ever met a person who, in knowing how to treat people both positively and negatively, has consciously chosen negatively every time. This is why the nature of emotional abuse is so vicious. It creates a false reality, a world where this is just the way things are. In a way, this is part of the mechanism I told myself to feel better. Sinda didn’t choose to hurt me, it was just the way our relationship worked out. While part of this is true, part of it is not. Sinda DID NOT mean to hurt me, but that still didn’t make it a healthy relationship. Relationships are not like that. The entire idea of relationships in the first place is to find someone who makes us happy, who accepts us as we are while still encouraging all the best qualities we have.
But to do this, I had to learn to do something harder: I had to learn to properly love myself (and by that I mean accept myself). It appears easier to “love” another, or to find someone who “loves” us. But really, most of the time this “love” simply means “giving/receiving positive attention.” That is what we yearn for. I was giving myself negative attention. Telling myself there was something wrong with me, that there had always been something wrong with me. That life wasn’t fair and I was the one being shit on. Why should I try so hard to make others happy if I was always left miserable? F*ck it.
Sound familiar? It is a pattern of thought that unfortunately comes from being abused. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” – this is bullshit. It can true if say you cut someone off in traffic and they flip you off – who really cares? You’ll get mad for a bit but… whatever. You didn’t know them. You’ll probably never see that person again.
If your parent says that, or a sibling, or a significant other: these are people we love. To love someone is to give them power. When I love Sinda, I am saying “you matter to me.” That includes actions and words spoken. When a mother or father says something like “you’re worthless” or doesn’t want to spend time with you, they are sending the message that you aren’t worthy of their love. This is a horrible thing to do to someone who loves you. Especially when it comes to parents, there is no excuse for this behavior. A child relies on his/her parents for love and stability, after all it is our parents who make the largest impression on our early years – and it is our early years that play a large role in shaping who we become.
So when someone you love hurts you, it REALLY hurts. There is deep damage done, on the subconscious level. Our sense of self and our notion of worth are both damaged. This is the subconscious level, and until it is corrected, there is an imbalance between inner and outer self. I know I said many things but communicated with different actions. I have said I cared for someone, and then pushed them away – this action does not make sense. I have felt not worthy of another’s love and attention – this is not healthy, and reflects a distrustful nature of others.
But it can be fixed
Facing the Subconscious
I am still learning this one, so please be advised that nothing I am saying comes from a place of real authority. In fact, that is part of recovery: admitting that I don’t have and will never have all the answers. This admittance got me looking for them. I didn’t fully understand myself, or what was happening to me. I reached out to therapists and to friends to help me gain a fuller understanding of myself, but that was not enough.
Facing my inner self (subconscious) meant asking a lot of personal questions, and I truthfully didn’t even know what most of those were. Here is my first recommendation: if you feel you have been emotionally abused, learn as much as you can about what that means. I recommend going to books written by doctors, or people who have spent years studying the field. Google can help but usually it is just basic info. I also recommend staying away from anything that gives an offensive label to your abuser. This I learned from Sinda: I regret labeling her as an abuser. It distanced my humanity and gave me a wrongful air of superiority. My personal recommendation is Hope and Healing from Emotional Abuse. The book rightfully places the focus on accepting oneself and learning forgiveness. It also draws attention to every part of life, including that of faith – something that today can be too glossed over. The book also includes many helpful activities to teach the proper questions to ask to learn the truth of when the abuse started and how to move past it.
I can also personally recommend meditation or hypnotherapy (guided relaxation that takes the self into the body and makes it more aware). Meditation shuts out of the outside world and allows the mind to focus in. Both also provide crucial moments of healing when the body is able to actively relax and feel okay. Most of the time we’re too busy running around or trying to do five million things: it pays to check in sometimes and put everything in perspective.
Do Not Be Afraid of Your Negative Emotions
The pain I was feeling from what happened with Sinda (and what happened from my earlier life) was not a bad thing. It was natural, my body was taking time to process. Facing negative emotions can be an unpleasant idea. Looking back into painful memories sounds just like that – painful. Yet it is possible to do without judging yourself, as long as you go into it with an open mind. In fact, the process is very healthy.
Looking back at my time with Sinda and my time since then, I had to face a lot of inconvenient truths. While trying to be the hero of my own story was a good thing, it went too far if it meant I overlooked or minimized all the mistakes I had made. It made me seem not human and apart from everyone else. In a way, by not accepting my weaknesses and shortcomings, I was adding to my feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Doing this step is hard since it means turning away from distractions. I say this as someone who fully knows. I wanted to be in a relationship. I wanted it so badly, I wanted to bring love and caring and all the best parts of me to the person I care most about. But facing my emotions means being honest, and honestly – that goal was not possible. I have a natural urge to help others, and this is good. Yet if I am out of balance or in a dark place, then I don’t full know how to do that and what should be a good part of me emerges instead as control.
I also wanted to be in a relationship to make myself feel better. To distract me from what I was feeling. To make myself feel “complete.” This is selfish, and relationships, especially with people I love, should never be driven by selfish impulse. I can’t be fully honest with another human being without first being fully honest with myself. That’s a good rule of thumb with relationships.
Accept True Forgiveness
This goes hand in hand with being fully honest. When I tried to forgive Sinda, I had yet to forgive myself – so I couldn’t. True forgiveness comes from not just forgiving the person who hurt you (whether they apologize or not), but for forgiving yourself for being involved. For a time, I hated that I loved Sinda. What did it say about me that I brought her into my life? This woman who everyone told me was a mistake to date.
It wasn’t a mistake. I was not stupid or wrong for falling in love with her. Sinda is not some mustache-twirling villain seeking to hurt me. She never was. Forgiveness means letting go of labeling judgment. I wanted to judge Sinda as bad because she hurt me. While her actions were wrong, it didn’t mean she was terrible. It’s life. No one knows how to be perfect.
No one fully knows how love works, but one relationship beyond all choice is parental. No one chose their parents, so you can’t be blamed if your parents were lacking, or not there when you needed them to be, or actively abusive. That action is on them, not you. They are the adult, they chose to have you. If you come from an abused childhood, it is so important to recognize it, and to understand that, while it affected you greatly, what happened was not your fault.
Focus on You
This has already been strongly hinted at. A lot of us go through life doing what is expected or what we are told to do. What do you want to do? It’s a question worth asking. But it is important to keep active.
For myself, this meant making a schedule. Anyone who knows me will tell you how much I hate routine. I am a creative person, I love following my passions. But doing it too much meant I had too much unstructured time… or time to sit and dwell on my thoughts. While it is good to think, it is bad to dwell. Dwelling keeps the past alive and prevents one from being fully present. I kept bringing up the pain from Sinda, and in doing so – I made it more and more a part of who I was. I don’t want to be defined by that. I want to learn from it, accept it, and continue to become who I am.
Human beings are bizarre creatures in this way. We cling to the familiar, even when the familiar is horrible. Focusing on you means thinking: who are you, and what do you want? Is this life the life you want, or the life someone else has tried to force onto you? Are you who you are because you want to be, or because you were raised to be? Going forward can be scary, as can letting go. I owned my pain from Sinda – it was mine, by letting it go – who am I now? Such a simple thing with clear positive results, but I was afraid to go there.
Someone who has been abused their whole life owns it as part of their identity, how could they not? Letting go of it means letting go of a large portion of themselves. The good news is that allowing anger and sadness to pass does not leave you feeling empty. I say that from personal experience. It’s scary: you will leave your comfort zone, but you grow as a result.
Mind and Body
My grandfather used to tell me that I needed to preserve mind and body. At the time, I didn’t understand him. Surely the mind was more important, the body was just a vehicle. The mind was where I was me, after all.
But I have learned some things from experience. For example: thinking about painful memories while walking or running feels a lot better than thinking about them while sitting down. I approached this topic with my therapist and he told me it was because the action of moving forward helped to send a subconscious message to the mind and body. I wasn’t sitting with my thoughts, I was actively moving forward with them. And I have found this true, my mind appears to function and process far better when I am exercising than when I sit still.
Sitting still also usually opens the distraction of food or drink or other substance. As someone who used to indulge in food a lot when he was sad or feeling bored, this can have long-term effects on image and energy.
I made mistakes. I went through setbacks. I hurt people when I absolutely did not mean to. I did everything under the sun and I have been working at this for over a year. I know how frustrating it can be. Just know that everyone has setbacks. You are not alone if you are trying to do something and failing. Trying is the important thing. Never stop trying. Go easy on yourself: the reason people can heal super fast in books and movies is that they’re not real.
Don’t make excuses for yourself, don’t lose the drive to change. Just be patient in the meantime. If it were this easy to end the cycle, we would not still be talking about emotional abuse in 2015.
That is the purpose of all of these things. Restore balance to yourself. While it can be argued that no one person can change the world, we definitely all can change ourselves. I feel this is a responsibility, hell it might even be our only one. No matter what relationships I have: the person I was born with was me. I will be with myself until the day I die, I had better learn to accept and love myself as a person. That will affect my whole existence and my whole experience of life.
We are our mind, we are our body. We are conscious and subconscious. When all of these things are aligned, I believe I will be in a healthier spot, and able to put the negative of what happened behind me. I don’t want to live my whole life as a “victim.” The word sounds weak, like someone not in control of their life. I also certainly don’t want to be an abuser, someone who is trying to control too much of their life.
I want to take this moment to apologize to everyone I have hurt along the way. I was no monster (I don’t think) but I didn’t treat you with full respect. Know that it wasn’t anything you did. I take full responsibility for my actions and my pain. I am sorry I brought it to your lives.
We can all be victims, we can all be abusers. We also all have the power to rise above it and end the cycle. I choose this option.