Looking at Gone Girl through a Johari Window

maureen


SPOILER ALERT:

Gone Girl reminded me of the Johari window. JohariWindowThe idea is that there are four panes in every relationship that adjust in size through the course of the relationship. As we get to know someone the open pane grows. The hidden pane shrinks as that person chooses to disclose things about himself. Over time spent together we gain insights into that person and earn the right to speak share our insights about him so that through knowing us his hidden pane gets smaller. One would expect that the open pane would grow very large in a marriage relationship.

Applying this model to Nick and Amy Dunne’s relationship is disturbing because Amy’s hidden and unknown panes are so large. Everything Amy thinks she knows about herself is informed by something in her hidden window. According to most psychologists sociopaths know that they are sociopaths. They are very good at hiding this from other people and often come off as charming. They are also great manipulators. Amy carefully controls what Nick thinks is her open self. She also uses her relationship with him to manipulate him both through what he’s revealed to her through the open pane in his relationship with her and through what she knows about him that he doesn’t know about himself. Rather than using that information to enhance and heal their relationship, Amy uses it to manipulate Nick into taking the fall for her murder.

Nick illustrates that we don’t have to be sociopaths to seek to manipulate others’ views of who we want them to think we are. Nick tries to control his open and hidden windows with Amy because of his affair, but next to Amy, Nick is a rank amateur at manipulation. He’s not really built for it anyway. Giving him a twin sister is an interesting choice because twins tend to have an empathetic connection that lets them into one another’s blind and hidden selves. Margo may not know the details but she senses when Nick is not open and honest with her, and the more open Nick is with her the greater clarity he seems to have. To a great extent this empathy is the key to successfully tracking Amy’s moves.

Amy’s blind spot is empathy. While sociopaths know they are different, they are blind to how they affect the people they hurt. Sadly this blind window in their relationships with others can only get bigger because of their lack of empathy.

Amy is angry and vengeful concerning Nick’s betrayal, but not hurt in the way most people would be. She feels a sort of pleasure and victory in manipulating others, even when, and sometimes because, that manipulation causes others pain and fear. This is part of the hidden self that sociopaths know about themselves but others cannot see.

Because sociopaths lie constantly and sometimes believe their own lies, the line between what is hidden and what is unknown is blurred for them.  When Amy is robbed at the motel she can’t admit she failed to anticipate what happened or adequately manipulate the “friends” who robbed her. She processes her anger briefly and  immediately revises her plan and moves on.

The jury is still on on whether sociopathy is a result of nature, nurture, or a combination of the two. There seems to be some difference in sociopaths’ frontal lobes where judgment, self-control, and other social functions reside, however studies also show that many sociopaths’ sense of entitlement seems to stem from environmental factors. Being “Amazing Amy” impacts Amy’s relationship with her parents and most likely how she sees herself.

Each parent would have a separate Johari window with Amy but the movie didn’t do a lot to distinguish them, though her mother comes off as a bit colder than her father. Because these people create a different, improved version of their daughter Amy in their books, it stands to reason that Amy’s impressions of what they communicate to her about herself (blind pane) would be distorted by what they write about the “Amazing Amy” in the books. But whether what Amy tells Nick she feels about her parents and “Amazing Amy” is actually self-revelation or more manipulation is suspect since she’s a sociopath. Her parents may have been able to separate their book character from their daughter but this fictional Amy adds another layer to Amy’s sociopathic unknown self. The implications of the whole mother-child window are especially unsettling given that Amy is pregnant at the end of the film.

The relational and spiritual implications here are also unsettling. Full realization of empathy and intimacy means engaging in self-awareness so that the person we reveal is really the person we are (open). It means revealing aspects of our lives that cause shame and fear to someone we trust (hidden). It means listening when God and others help us see ourselves (blind), and opening ourselves spiritually to what only God can reveal (unknown). Because only God has insight into every pane of every window in every relationship we have, it is only through relationship with Him that we can experience a fully open pane where we are intimately known and loved.

 

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