After Part 1 of “Allen v Farrow,” as a Therapist I felt Ashamed
I was one of many, practically raised on Woody Allen. I was a New Yorker but he was New York. He lived and loved the city. I was Jewish and there he was to expose and at times to glorify the crazy family settings that were familiar to me. But more some of his films were brilliant, glorious and layered and smart. “Annie Hall” was the classic but then there was “Hannah and her Sisters”, so very rich and fabulous. There are so many critics and viewers who know his films backwards and forwards and this is not that kind of piece in any case.
I did not want him to be guilty of anything. And I did what I think is unpardonable even if way too common. I lent my bias against the woman, Mia Farrow, perceived as crazy — come on she had all those children!!! And then the bias was that poor Woody Allen — how could he be in the wrong?
I know so much better. In fact, part of own work in therapy that makes me feel the most full, and even proud, has been working with children and families as a therapist for the child in court cases. When referred a case by a law guardian it has been my job to assess and to report findings of my work with a particular child.
The cases I had — though this has not been the bulk of my practice — have had a presiding element. And although this is by no means the case all the time it was so in my experience. The father was charming and the lawyers and even the judge were inclined to be duly charmed. The mother who cried and was anxious was seen as crazy, moreover the mother was the problem. The girl of five (in one case), who didn’t want to see her father was obviously made anxious by the anxious mother. Anxious mother equaled anxious daughter, and the only solution was to have the child visit more frequently with the father.
I was the only one who saw through the father’s blatant narcissism, but no the five year old who got to be seven in the long process of court fighting — she saw it too. She said he didn’t love her or anyone but wanted just to prove he was the best person in the world.
Ultimately I would learn a valuable lesson: if I championed the girl’s truth and right to the truth which was hers she got stronger, despite the verdict that she had to have sleepovers. The one sleepover deteriorated into no more because she cried the whole night and as she no doubt knew her father wanted no part of negative interactions made public. He by now had another wife and a baby and she became less important.
The anxious mother was in fact too anxious in that in the beginning she forced her daughter to be the messenger to her father. We worked this and once she saw that I was not out to prove her crazy and as such unreliable, she consented to work on some of this with me.
The forensic psychologist saw the father as heroic and the mother as pathetic. He told the mother that “children are puppies; you can train them to do anything”. In other words, she could and could have trained her daughter to go on visits to the father without a wimper.
The father in question was not sexual in his advances. He was cold and self-centered and critical of his little girl. He was a stranger and didn’t make an effort to get to know her; he wanted to possess and that was all. He thought therapy was stupid, his daughter was spoiled and his ex-wife was crazy.
Crazy was the dominant theme. And once you saw the theme it was palpable, at least so I found. Narcissism charmed and crazy — crying out loud or obviously — made people judge the mother as incompetent.
Woody Allen had elements of the same, at least to me. And what’s uglier, Mia Farrow was portrayed as withered, disheveled, unreliable. Of course, she could have foisted stories on her daughter.
I wasn’t part of the jury, or on the clinical team. But we were all, all of us that were interested or even riveted, part of a larger jury of public opinion. And because so many of us were drawn to our beloved Woody Allen, we didn’t want to look at his own strangeness, his general emotional detachment and his potential for being creepy in actions and in feelings where Dylan was concerned.
We failed her. We failed Mia Farrow. And Yale-New Haven failed them both as far as I’m concerned. I have to look at my own susceptibility to the narcissistic male energy. After all it was one of the elements of my earlier life that was profound as an influence.
The current HBO documentary is already getting trashed by Woody Allen. I have no authority to make judgments particularly after viewing only the first segment. But now I feel saner and clearer and much more discerning, as well as privy to footage I had never seen.
Dylan, the little girl was vibrant and friendly until Allen practically malled her psychologically, forcing his attentions on her even when she was in the midst of play with other children or babysitters. Mia Farrow to me is so credible, admitting her being under the influence of Allen and doubting her own sanity.
There is testimony that is sane and let’s face it the audio presented that has Woody Allen’s versions of this story, are stilted and manufactured.
Admittedly and dramatically so, this is not a situation where a child or mother were mistreated because they didn’t have funds and couldn’t afford evaluations in high places or good lawyers. This was a case, however and despite the resources available, where Dylan Farrow and Mia Farrow were terribly failed, not only by clinical institutions, but by a public enamored by her adoptive father. She was neglected, and as we have learned sometimes as bad as abuse itself is not having a witness. She had her mother, thank God for them both.
Mia Farrow starts off by saying this was her fault; she let this man, Woody Allen, into her home. She didn’t know. And once she started to know, her attachment to him and her initial submission to his pronouncements was a psychological dynamic quite common, too common to many of us.
This has been a theme in our culture: we like the charm that mesmerizes, that shows little feeling, except in a dramatic apology or something captured with great timing on a show the likes of Oprah.
As long as vulnerability is seen as crazy, we are in trouble here. One thing is to glorify vulnerability and reaching into it, but we have to face the fact that vulnerability can be messy, and can look messy. It isn’t always pretty and it makes us — the culture that has hated it, judge the person wearing it.
I would like to apologize, just because I was part of the larger audience, that didn’t fight to know more of the truth. Dylan faced way too much loneliness and too much stress of being interrogated by clinicians who bought into the whole madness of it all.
Apropos of the HBO series, I know there are three more segments. But as in my practice, once a thread is uber clear, I see the path. Yes there can be changes of heart along the way, but an aspect of the truth is clear. Even when the protagonists on the other side of things attack with a vengeance.