You might have missed it, but England’s Prince Harry recently opened up to the media. He told everyone that he had had a difficult time after his mother died. So he thought he could render a public service by continuing his mother’s unfortunate legacy: de-privatizing one’s inner life.
One of Britain’s royal princes has revealed to tens of millions of his closest and dearest friends and acquaintances, via an interview in a newspaper, that he found the period after the death of his mother difficult. He was widely praised for his openness when, of course, he should have been firmly reprehended for his emotional incontinence and exhibitionism. Alas, this kind of psychological kitsch is fashionable, with all kinds of princely personages—footballers, rock stars, actors, actresses, and the like—displaying their inner turmoil, much of which, unlike the actual prince’s, is self-inflicted. They parade that turmoil as beggars in some countries display their amputated stumps.
Nicely put. It’s an apt description of the therapy culture. I would only add, for special emphasis, that one of the leading purveyors of said culture was Diana herself.
Dalrymple describes the corrosive effects of said culture:
… we turn sufferers and victims into heroes merely on account of their suffering or victimization, so that those celebrities who confess to misery, drug addiction, alcoholism, etc. are even more to be adulated than they already were.
When all is said and done Prince Harry is his mother’s son. He was perpetuating the regrettable example she set, an example of emotional incontinence and moral exhibitionism.
Diana made the monarchy into a reality show. She made her royal role more about celebrity than decorum. She was a leading consumer of therapy, from Jungian analysis with Dr. Alan McGlashan to feminist therapy with Susie Orbach. She made her complaints against her husband into a national media event.
Some commentators have also remarked that the William and Harry had erased their father from the picture. If you ask who devoted a considerable part of her later life to humiliating Prince Charles, the answer is: Princess Diana.
Diana died in Paris during an assignation with her lover Dodi el-Fayed. In him she had found the perfect boyfriend for a woman who loved to shop. His father, after all, owned Harrods.
Before she had gotten to Paris Diana and Dodi were cavorting in the Mediterranean on a large yacht, in full view of the paparazzi who had made it their life’s work to stalk the princess. Pictures of Diana and Dodi were all over the British tabloid press. Undoubtedly, she was showing off her new lover as a way of saying: See what Charles is missing. How could he reject me in favor of someone who was so much less attractive? Diana was not a deep thinker.
All of it was compelling tabloid fodder but, we can also ask whether her boys would have avoided the trauma if only she had spent more time at home with them. Diana hardly seems to have been the most conscientious mother.
One understands her compulsion Diana to find true love—mostly to make her husband look like a fool for having abandoned her. But, one also understands that Diana neglected her children.
Unfortunately, it ran in her family. When Diana was six, her mother ran off with her lover, abandoning her husband and their five children. When Frances Shand Kidd sued to regain custody of her children, her own mother sided with Diana’s father. Shand Kidd lost her case.
As for Diana, we know that she suffered from what appears to have been a borderline personality disorder. This means that she had an excessive fear of abandonment. Given that she was abandoned by her own mother, it makes good sense.
As for extreme behaviors, once, when pregnant with her son William, Prince Charles came back late from a trip somewhere. The distraught Diana threw herself down a flight of stairs. No one much talks about the antics of the sainted Diana.
Of course, Prince Charles did not have an idyllic childhood either. Influenced by Diana people seem to believe that his mother was not warm enough. We may offer another view. When Charles was a young boy his mother ascended to the throne of England. Henceforth, he was brought up by parents who had a role reversal marriage. It was by necessity, not by choice, but it did not do the prince very much good to see his father in a secondary position to his mother.
One understands that Diana’s public efforts to make her husband look the fool could not have helped her sons’ moral development.
Dalrymple notes that British Prime Minister Theresa May embraced the message that the princes were peddling and decided that she would have the government hire more therapists for public schools:
The British prime minister, Mrs. May, immediately spotted an opportunity to demonstrate to her sentimental electorate (just ahead of the election she was soon to announce) how much she cared for even the least of them by announcing, in the wake of the prince’s banal revelations, that she wanted to put a mental health professional in every secondary school so that the little ones should experience distress no more.
Dalrymple calls it the triumph of psychobabble. It is certainly part of the legacy of Princess Diana:
The cultural triumph of psychobabble, that type of psychologese that allows people to talk endlessly about themselves without revealing anything of their inner life, and certainly without the painful necessity of true self-examination, is thus now complete. There will be a new social contract: I will listen to your shallow clichés about yourself if you will listen to mine.
In America this is called having a superior capacity for empathy.
For all the talk about providing more mental health treatments, Dalrymple considers it more of a make-work proposition for those who feel their feelings deeply. It offers jobs to those who want to signal their virtue but does not provide treatment for those who really need it.
Anyone who has had dealings with the so-called mental health services in Britain, whatever they may be like in other countries (and the very notion of mental health is doubtful reality), knows that they are, as currently organized, frequently cruel and stupid, simultaneously neglecting the raving mad while concentrating their desultory and ineffective efforts upon the voluntarily inadequate. They are so arranged that patients rarely see the same mental health worker, so-called, twice in succession; and anyone who has examined the records of such patients (as I have done) knows that they consist largely of forms filled out by people who believe that form-filling is the work they are paid to do.
Dalrymple is a psychiatrist who worked for decades in the British health system; he surely knows whereof he speaks. His words ought to be a cautionary note for those who wish to expand the reach of therapy, to hire more therapists, and to direct more and more people into an activity where they will not be able to provide very much of a benefit. In America male college students are most likely to study engineering and other STEM subjects. Women gravitate toward art history and psychology. When a government looks for ways to increase the number of therapists in public employ, it is favoring women ahead of men.
The idea that for every human distress there is an equal and opposite form of therapy, whether psychological or pharmacological, is a modern superstition, compared with which almost any religious belief is highly rational. It is also a very shallow conception of human distress, which can often be immeasurably deepened by talking about it.
And, as for the larger issue, how are the children doing, Dalrymple offers this description of how children are brought up in England:
British children are regularly found to be the most miserable in Europe. This is because a large proportion of British parents fear or hate their children, and by the time they have finished bringing them up are right to do so: which does not, of course, absolve them from their responsibility. Their preferred method of child-rearing is neglect by indulgence, with or without a little violence and emotional abuse thrown in. By the end of childhood, a British child is considerably more likely to have a television in its room than a father living at home. It is the consequences of all this that Mrs. May wants, or claims to want, to correct by the employment of mental health form-fillers. The latter will at least be inclined to vote for her.
In some sense this must be part of the legacy of the sainted people’s Princess. Diana died two decades ago, but her influence on the British psyche persists.