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Sep 24 2009

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Musings On Mackenzie Phillips

09/30/09 ETA: If I gave the slightest impression that my focus here is derived from anything other than concern for Mackenzie Phillips’ well-being, please read my follow up statement in the comments.

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For over 30 years, Mackenzie Phillips’ life has been a train wreck, punctuated every couple of years by drug arrests, rehab stints, and public confessions. She told the story of her father shooting her up with drugs at age ten a long time ago. I kept thinking, why does she do this? What motivates her to go public with things that don’t shed especially pleasant light on herself or family members? What is not being heard that she keeps struggling to convey? I always hoped — and still do — that she would find a terrific therapist, because the need is strikingly evident.

So she did the “Oprah exclusive” interview yesterday to publicize the release of her book, High On Arrival. The bombshell was that, at age 19, she and her father got stoned to the point of passing out the night before she was due to marry, and she awoke to find her father having sex with her. She claims that they maintained a ten year “consensual” sexual relationship thereafter, and she only ended it after she became pregnant, did not know who the father was, and aborted the baby.

I understand the need for cleansing and closure. I understand the need to confess to that which brings you tremendous shame and guilt. And maybe pleasure. But let’s call it what it was. John Phillips was a druggy who inflicted his habit and lifestyle upon his young daughter. Addictive personalities are manipulative to the max. She stated she was starved for his attention, and wanted to please him. By age 19, she’d become his reflection — another druggy with poor boundaries and little impulse control — great legacy, Dad.

But I don’t believe that even at age 19, waking up in a drug-induced stupor to find your father having sex with you is a picture of “consent”. It’s a picture of rape. Period. And as far as it being “consensual” for the next ten years — ever hear of the Stockholm Syndrome?

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response sometimes seen in abducted hostages, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger or risk in which they have been placed. The syndrome is named after the Norrmalmstorg robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm, in which the bank robbers held bank employees hostage from August 23 to August 28, 1973. In this case, the victims became emotionally attached to their captors, and even defended them after they were freed from their six-day ordeal.

What else can you call how she speaks about her father now? He’s dead, and she’s still trying to make his role in her life seem not horrific. She implores us to not hate him, and states her categorical forgiveness. I hope that’s some comfort to her, but from my own experience, saying you forgive someone who harmed you irretrievably doesn’t make everything okay unless and until you truly face what actually happened. “Consensual” is the kind of rationalization people tell themselves because the reality is too damaging. And the need for love — any kind of love — is too great.

She has a year of sobriety now. That’s amazing, all things considered. I hope she is strong enough to withstand the onslaught of millions of judgmental people, most of whom have never been within a mile of her shoes, let alone worn them.

I hope she can find some peace.

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Permanent link to this article: http://thirdofalifetime.com/2009/09/24/musings-on-mackenzie-phillips/

4 comments

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  1. beyondtheendoftheroad

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Shari

    Mackenzie Philips has stated that it was not 10 years of consensual sex. It was 10 years of incest in which the last 2 years it became consensual. She knows this is sick and she admits she was sick too. I dont know if she has stated having Stockholm syndrome, but I believe she sees that.
    I find it very appalling that you are shocked by her wanting to tell her story and what motivates her.
    As a survivor myself of abuse. I believe that telling your story can be part of healing. And, saying that someone shouldn’t share because it is embarrassing for the family. Is the same attitude that keeps these family secrets from coming to the surface and actually feeds the fire. I wish more people were as courageous as Mackenzie. Having these conversation is SO IMPORTANT to healing.

    1. Sarah Olson

      Thanks for the comment. But did you actually read my post? I never said or implied or intimated or hinted anything like what you say here:

      I find it very appalling that you are shocked by her wanting to tell her story and what motivates her.
      As a survivor myself of abuse. I believe that telling your story can be part of healing. And, saying that someone shouldn’t share because it is embarrassing for the family. Is the same attitude that keeps these family secrets from coming to the surface and actually feeds the fire. I wish more people were as courageous as Mackenzie. Having these conversation is SO IMPORTANT to healing.

      I don’t pretend to think that every survivor out there has heard of me, so let me just preface everything with the fact that I’ve been part of the online survivor community for 15 years now, having founded The Survivors Forum on CompuServe in 1997. I also went public with my own story in my book Becoming One: A Story Of Triumph Over Multiple Personality Disorder in the same year, despite tremendous family pressure to not do it. I’ve talked with hundreds of survivors about their stories and their fears of going public about their childhoods. I’m all for it, if it promotes wellness and greater recovery. That is the key distinction which you seem to miss.

      I believe a key point in recovery is to know why you want or need to make public disclosures. A survivor who is in a fragile state, without a good support system in place, can be creating their own sabotage by going public. It becomes just another form of self-destruction. What I observed from afar for many years with Mackenzie Phillips, is that she made public disclosures that landed her into ever-deeper distress. If that’s what you mean by “wanting to know what motivates her”, from a wellness perspective, it’s crucial.

      Again, I did not say anything remotely resembling that “someone should not share because it is embarrassing for the family”. I pointed out that in her past disclosures, which obviously provided no closure because the Big Something was missing in the telling, she managed to alienate people who might possibly have been supportive. And she didn’t gain the relief she sought, because she wasn’t telling the thing that had to be told to gain that relief.

      If she was in therapy during those years, in my opinion, her therapist failed her. If she is in therapy now, I hope fervently that s/he knows his/her client extremely well, and is offering all support necessary to keep Mackenzie emotionally safe and strong, and focused on wellness.

      I allowed your comment because I appreciate you taking the time to write your thoughts. But really, don’t overlay an agenda on me that is not mine. Never has been, never will be. Get to know me, and you will find we’re on the same side of this issue.

  3. V.E.G.

    John Phillips is the Josef Fritzl of the Mamas and the Papas.

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