Oprah Winfrey’s widely viewed interview last night with Meghan and Harry has me reflecting on a psychological assessment I was asked to write in February 2020 for a book scheduled to be released later that year regarding what was then being referred to as “Megxit.” A contributing author asked me to provide some clinical insights into how Meghan and Harry’s personality changed over time by looking at their behavior, cognitive stress, psychological factors, and body language. Based on many articles and videos he sent to me, I summarized my impressions and I am sharing them again today in this blog.
Shortly after I submitted this piece to him, the news of COVID19 took center stage and the Royal Family story became less imminent and important. Later I learned that the author chose not to use any of my analysis in his book. My guess is I may have a different perspective from what he wanted to portray. However my thoughts seem very aligned with what I heard in last night’s interview with Oprah. The raw, hard truth.
In one of the many articles I read for my assessment last year, a British psychologist proposed that Harry had mental health issues stemming from losing his mother as a child, and inheriting her bi-polar and borderline personality disordered genetics. She further presumed that Megan was manipulating Harry, and that he was co-dependent.
After watching the Oprah interview I felt compelled to share my perspective on these two brave souls. Here is my perception of their incredible hero’s journey. One, that as Meghan said in last night’s interview, is “greater than any fairy tale.”
Harry and Meghan’s story is a true fairy tale, or what mythology expert Joseph Campbell would have called a hero’s journey. Campbell devoted his life to uncovering common motifs in fairy tales and mythology in order to bring a deeper awareness to the unconscious mind. The hero’s journey illustrates the need to face challenges and trials in order to find wholeness. The real work of personal empowerment requires leaving the known world in order to reconstruct a more genuine and meaningful life.
There is never a smooth or easy way to start and finish a hero’s journey. Embracing paradox, facing fears, meeting the unconscious, and reconciling with self are only a few parts of the deep work necessary. All require willingness and tenacity to stay on the journey. Mythology provides metaphors representing this transformation of consciousness. The hero’s journey of wholeness requires the loss of one’s conscious beliefs in order to obtain something more meaningful. The moral objective lies in saving something. Ultimately, reclaiming our true essence.
The loss of Princess Diana in 1997 was devastating. All over the world people mourned her tragic death. Harry was only twelve. Losing a parent is a complicated trauma that affects an individual for the rest of their life. I know this personally from having lost my father when I was eleven years old to a sudden heart attack.
However, grieving doesn’t necessarily mean that one is mentally ill. In fact, when all emotions are allowed, explored, expressed and integrated–more joy, vitality and appreciation of the fragile tenderness of life can emerge. Grief is transformational when fully expressed, and sometimes results in a desire to give something back to the world. As we see with Harry and Meghan.
In a culture where intensely sad and despairing emotions related to grief are often not allowed or understood, unexpressed grief can present as depression, anxiety, hopelessness and a myriad of other diagnoses. The only way to express grief is to go through it. Grief counseling takes time, patience, commitment and willingness to look honestly at all feelings. And, as in the words of William Shakespeare “grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”
Since the work Harry did with his therapist is confidential (as it should be) we will never know exactly what he discovered about his feelings related to his mother and the Royal Family. Harry’s work in therapy most likely gave him insight into his grief, and permission to explore all of his feelings. The ideal goal of psychotherapy is to help a client live a meaningful life with authenticity and purpose.
Harry had the courage to speak out about his grief, which then gives others permission to do the same. When people judge his experience and label it as a mental illness, it negates the organic human need to face whatever uncomfortable emotions may be living in the shadows that need to be expressed for healing.
The stigma of mental illness prevents many people from authentically exploring their emotional self. Messages commonly spoken in families such as “stop crying before I give you something to cry about,” “don’t be angry,” “sadness is a sign of weakness,” etc., override instinctual attempts to explore and feel all feelings. These and many other old, antiquated ideas create cognitive dissonance and confusion. This shuts down freedom of expression and often accompanies core shame and self-doubt.
The late renowned family therapistDr. Virginia Satir explained how mental imbalances can result from belief systems that force individuals to live up to rigid expectations, external standards, comparisons, and judgments. In order to survive and cope with these rigid belief systems, people tend to react with one or more of the following survival stances: placating, blaming, being super-reasonable, and/or defining them as irrelevant.
Furthermore, Satir’s definition of mental health emphasizes the healthy desire to have authentic relationships, appreciate uniqueness, take risks, be vulnerable, love self and others, be flexible, and build self-awareness. A mentally healthy person is able to communicate congruently, make conscious choices, acknowledge and accept self and others, reply directly to questions, evaluate before passing judgement, listen to inner wisdom, make requests of others without having to explain or defend, make honest choices, and take risks on their own behalf. All of which seem to be what Harry and Meghan are is aspiring to achieve.
Courage and Willingness
The Royal Family operates in a way that might conflict with one’s need for authenticity and freedom of expression by upholding rigid ideas and traditions of how things ought to look, with expectations that everyone follow the rules. Harry made a courageous decision to go against that norm and take a tremendous risk to be his authentic self.
The whole world is now witnessing a huge paradigm shift in how the Royal Family will operate going forward. Many people might be responding in one of more of Satir’s survival stances, while trying to cope with the dramatic shift in the Royal Family resulting from Harry and Meghan’s choices.
Becoming a husband and father posed many questions for Harry. The tragedies related to his mother being scrutinized by the media for her eating disorder, suspected affairs, mental health issues, and the horrific car accident that ultimately took her life have caused Harry to desperately want to protect his new family. Harry expressed fears about falling prey to the same powerful forces that killed his mother. He is concerned that his wife has become victim to the British press which has no regard for consequences.
In spite of all of his mother’s bad press, Harry knew how hard she worked to make a difference in the world. Stepping out of many of her traditional roles, she contributed to AIDS research and a number of other causes. Harry appears to be finding his own purpose by continuing the charitable efforts his mother began, championing for mental health and wellness, and already planning a six-part documentary for Oprah and Apple TV related to mental health.
Harry’s young life was full of royal scandals. The presumed affair his father was having, his parent’s divorce, boarding school, and his mother’s death left Harry feeling tremendous despair and confusion, all congruent with the circumstances.
Meghan’s Desire to Inspire
Meghan Markel’s inspiration to make a difference in the world is a commonality she shares with Diana. It makes perfect sense that Harry would fall in love with Meghan and her passion to make the world a better place. Harry may possibly feel she can help him continue the legacy of his beloved mother. One might analyze that as a bad thing, but true love provides a perfect mirror for individual growth. Following the heart’s longing is what leads us to deeper self-awareness. Again, the hero’s journey.
Before meeting Harry, Markle was a self-made multimillionaire who grew up in the margins of Hollywood. Her mother and father met on the set of the popular soap opera, General Hospital. Dad was a lighting designer and mom was a makeup trainee. A home video recorded by a childhood friend in 1999 clearly illustrated Meghan’s childhood innocence, wonder, and passion to be an actor. Markle worked hard to stay focused on her goals and live out her dreams. Landing small parts along the way until she was cast in her seven-year role as Rachel Zane on the popular show Suits.
Meghan’s parents separated when she was six. She lived with her mother, but spent time with her father while he was working on a sitcom. Navigating her biracial identity in LA posed some challenges. In 7th grade, confused by the advice of her English teacher’s instructions to check Caucasian on a census form, she asked her father for his advice. He suggested that she “draw her own box.”
Meghan spoke at the 2015 UN Women’s Conference on gender equality. In this speech she told a story about a commercial for dish detergent she saw when she was eleven. The tagline in the ad was: “Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.” Watching this commercial, and later having a boy at school reinforce this message saying “women belong in the kitchen,” Meghan was angry and hurt about the portrayal of women. Her father encouraged her to write letters to powerful people. She wrote to Hillary Clinton, Linda Ellerby, Gloria Allred, and Proctor and Gamble. Everyone responded within a few weeks. As a result of her letter, Proctor and Gamble decided to change the word women to people in their commercial.
Harry and Meghan met in 2016 through a mutual friend. Prior to their first date, neither knew much about the other. All Meghan asked her friend about Harry was “Is he nice?” Since the most important quality for her is kindness, she felt it wouldn’t be worth her time if he wasn’t.
Prior to the first date, Meghan hadn’t paid much attention to the Royal Family, and wasn’t impressed by Harry’s status as a Prince. Similarly, Harry was unaware of Meghan’s notoriety from Suits and wasn’t at all allured by her fame and fortune. It must have been refreshing for them to meet in such a way, since being in the public eye can create many expectations and preconceived notions.
In recent events, Meghan again took her father’s early advice, sending him a five-page handwritten letter expressing how her heart was broken “into a million pieces” from his fabricated stories with the press, and his siding with her half-sister Samantha who had openly attacked Meghan. She told him she was very upset and emphasized that she would never understand why he did that. Meghan also expressed her feelings about his refusal to return her calls at the time of her wedding and was disappointed to learn the news of his heart attack while unable to contact him. His response was that he couldn’t get to the phone.
Meghan appears to uphold integrity, authenticity, service, equality and kindness as core values for herself and others. Repeatedly scrutinized by the British press for her bi-racial ethnicity and her seemingly unconventional ways, she experienced what any human being in touch with their emotional awareness would. She felt shunned, scorned and misunderstood. In an interview during their trip to Africa, she said it was difficult to “keep a stiff upper lip” while being continually judged and criticized.
A True Fairy Tale
In a BBC interview shortly after the couple got engaged, Harry and Meghan sat very close to each other, not once letting go of each other’s hands. Their smiling eyes conveyed a deep affection that went beyond words. Like the happily-ever-after love we long for in fairy tales. Somewhere deep inside they seemed to know they were meant to be together. They chose to embark on a hero’s journey with a shared desire to make the world a kinder, gentler place.
Jungian psychology proposes that all the characters in a fairy tale represent parts of each individual psyche. Over time, people have misinterpreted them as literal. However fairy tales are not about finding an external “Prince Charming.” Rather, the true hero’s journey is about the inner marriage of healthy thoughts and feelings which create a sense of wholeness in oneself. Both Harry and Megan have done their inner work and found the own inner marriage. This is the basis for the healthiest of all relationships, as the inner reflects the outer.
The 1835 fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, The Princess and The Pea comes to mind as I am writing this piece. A story about a prince who after searching far and wide for his real princess, eventually found her in an unusual circumstance. One night drenched from a storm a woman came to the prince’s door saying she was a real princess. She looked a bit disheveled, so the queen put her to the test by preparing a bed of twenty mattresses with a small pea at the very bottom. In the morning when the princess awoke she mentioned how uncomfortable she had been all night from the lump in her bed. Her keen sensitivity to things most people would never notice is what convinced the Queen that she was a real princess.
I think we could say that is true about both Diana and Meghan.