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What's Eating Elizabeth? How GH's Fallen Heroine Can Heal

Poor Elizabeth Webber has seen better days.  Rarely has a woman on daytime been so enamored of cheating, and then felt so mortally guilty for it.  She has been spending the past month in Shady Brook so she can rest, heal, and ponder the errors of her ways.  She is now claiming she is ready to leave the facility and return to her daily life.  But has she received the help she needs? And can she make it in every day life? Let’s find out. 

Elizabeth Webber blew into Port Charles in the Summer of 1997 as a rebellious, independent, cigarette smoking, wise cracking teenager, determined to capture the heart of Lucky Spencer, who was distracted by her older sister Sarah.  Her traumatic rape on Valentine’s Day in 1998 became the foundation of their relationship, as Lucky spent the next year helping Elizabeth learn to heal, to trust, to love, and somewhere along the way, to quit smoking.

Over the next decade, the couple endured numerous make-ups, and breakups including Elizabeth’s disastrous marriage to Rick Lansing, her birth to two sons with different fathers (Zander and Jason), Lucky’s addiction to pain meds, affairs with Maxie and Sam, and a truckload of misunderstandings and assumptions.  Through it all their bond survived and Elizabeth was well on her way to achieving her professed goal of having her “dream house in the country” with Lucky.  That is, until she decided to start sleeping with Lucky’s brother (and former enemy) Nikolas Cassadine.

Lucky’s discovery of their illicit affair, and Elizabeth subsequently learning of her pregnancy without knowing the paternity of her child, was the catalyst for a painful psychiatric breakdown.  Elizabeth developed acute paranoid symptoms, ie, believing others were out to judge her by constantly calling her a  “slut,” a “whore,” “sinful,” and pretty much every name that has been used to persecute women over the past 200 years.  In fact, in one of her vivid nightmares, she experienced herself as Hester Prynne, an appropriate allegory to “The Scarlet Letter” in that she perceived herself accused of being a diminished wanton woman who deserved punishment and public ridicule. 

In reality, Port Charles is probably the best city to have an adulterous affair.  What woman in town hasn’t been accused of being a “slut” and/or sent to a psychiatric institution for “rest?” In any event, her shame and guilt overwhelmed her to the point of making a suicidal gesture on the roof of the hospital, and she consequently checked herself into Shady Brook for inpatient care. 

Elizabeth has spent the past month arguing with Lucky and Nikolas, ducking Helena, and presumably getting lots of therapy to discover “why” she self-sabotages and pursues illicit affairs with “dangerous” men.  What’s seems to be missing in her treatment is how her choices and her actions have been out of congruence with her conditioned “shoulds.”  For example, Elizabeth has been raised to believe she “should” want the stability of a stable husband, a monogamous relationship, a house in the country, security and comfort.  Her behavior over the past four years suggests she wants something different.  Sleeping with Jason while married to Lucky, and later sleeping with Nikolas while engaged to Lucky, suggests that Elizabeth is more invested in excitement and sexual liberation, than stability and monogamy. 

In other words, the “problem” as I see is not that Elizabeth had a predilection for sleeping with a lot of different guys, it is that her guilt leads her to consistently lie to herself and others about what she truly wants.  And who can blame her?  When a person is told repeatedly that she “should” prioritize certain values (ie, marriage, stability), and those values are in conflict with one’s authentic self (ie, the firecracker Elizabeth we knew as a teenager), then there is bound to be a consistent pattern of internal strife and external conflicts.  Perceiving herself as a “crazy slut”, “unworthy”, or a “sinful,” essentially serves to further suppress her true desires, an reinforce her internalized misogynistic notions of how a respectable woman “should” behave.

So what would are some real therapeutic interventions for Elizabeth at this point?  I would do the following:

1. Help Elizabeth come to terms with her true wants and desires while diminishing guilt.  Explore how she has learned to prioritize values such as “monogamy” and “stability.”  Validate that 99% of the world will agree that she “should” want these things, but that still doesn’t mean these are necessarily the right values for her at this time in her life.  The book “Opening Up” by Tristan Taormino articulates various styles of intimate open relationships, and could help Elizabeth to feel validated for her experiences.   

2. Explore the sociopolitical history of how women have traditionally been perceived as “sinners” or “sluts” when they have expressed sexual desire.  Elizabeth herself was able to accurately observe that Nikolas didn’t pay a price for their affair as she did.  Sonny Corinthos has fathered half the children in town, but you don’t see him checking into an institutional for being a slut.  Why is that?  Explore how “The Scarlet Letter” was intended to illuminate the dangers of brutal morality the 1700s, not to validate misogynistic principles in 2010. 

3. Support Elizabeth in effectively communicating her true wants and needs to Lucky.  Her only big mistake in recent years was not being honest with herself and Lucky about what she truly wants and what she doesn’t.  Lucky may not be willing to participate in a non-monogamous open relationship, but he sure as hell is sticking around for their current arrangement either.  Discussing these issues will lead to increased respect and compassion for both individuals, as opposed to the way they have treated each other in recent months.

4. Discuss how guilt and shame have impacted her decisions have unsafe safe sex.  Elizabeth has become pregnant by three different men in the past ten years (not counting the surrogate deal with Jax).  All the while her best friend Robin is living with HIV after having unprotected sex with one person.  Elizabeth is a nurse and well aware of how to protect herself from unwanted pregnancies and STD’s, yet she continues to expose herself regardless.  When one has sex without “shoulds”, and without “guilt,” they are generally more likely to be safe and use protection. 

As of this writing, Elizabeth is preparing to leave Shady Brook and return to her home, to her family, and her work.  The men in her life are telling her it’s “too soon” and are trying to convince her that she is better locked up.  In my perspective, Shady Brook has grossly neglected her care, and her true issues can more effectively and efficiently addressed on an outpatient basis. 

What do you think? Is Elizabeth ready to reenter Port Charles society? Can she face her family and coworkers without morbid pre-occupations of sin and guilt? Or is she setting herself up to fail?
  
Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve". He is re-imagining a world without "shoulds" at www.shouldless.com.

7 comments:

  1. This is what soaps do she isn't the first nor the last to sleep around...Carly and Alexis have babies by different men...

    unfortunately this is not a "woman driven" storyline this is a Lucky Spencer vehicle. I realized that when they had the men sitting in on her therapy session. Lucky speaks for her now he is her mouthpiece...not surprising this is how GH has written her. I can only say this is one of the worse triangles I've seen in years. Gh has given her a succession of horrible triangles...that's it

    triangles/quads and babies. That's it.

    What can heal her?
    Better writing

    with a more "positive focus" instead of this lopsided crap I'm seeing giving her nothing but to stand there (with no dialog) and be berated and demeaned and when she's not while the whole town watches times 3...she demeans herself...terrible writing for her..

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  2. I totally agree with your article. Wonderfully written and I couldn't have said it better myself. I think Elizabeth needs some serious counseling where she can address her issues and discover who she really is and what she wants without worrying about what others want her to do or how she "should" act. I hope GH writers see that.

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  3. Great Article and very interesting take on Elizabeth's story. I just wish General Hospital had taken some of that care. I didn't expect to see multiple therapy sessions but at least one where the focus was actually Elizabeth and not Lucky would have been nice. Liz has numerous long standing issues that brought her to that rooftop but unfortunately after rape, kidnappings, heartbreak, abandonment, miscarriages etc..we are to believe that the loss of Lucky who repulsed her a couple of months earlier was the reason.

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  4. WOW! that is so spot on and could you please send that to the ABC comment line they need to know this.

    I agree ABC/GH do women absolutely no favors. Rebecca Herbst is a really good actress can play and emotion and make it believable but she gets this crap.

    her relationship with Lucky is based on her rape and that to me is a little creepy-personal opinion.

    thank you for this wonderful article.

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  5. I am a HUGE Elizabeth and Becky fan.
    And I loved this article and completely agree.
    But Im affraid that Cyber is so correct. GH is NOT woman driven and hasnt been in a very long time.
    This whole S/L was written to make Lucky look like a saint and Liz a slut.
    And as a Huge Elizabeth fan, I found it very insulting.
    And rediculous that I am now to believe she has over night fallen back "in love" with Lucky. Sorry I dont and never will.
    I been begging for years for GH to bring my real Lizzy back.
    There is nothing better than "take no crap" Liz!
    I guess that is why I love Carly and Liz scenes. And why I loved when Sam and her were at odds with other. It gave me a small glimps of my real Elizabeth.
    But as TIIC always do...
    They had Liz actually apologize to Sam (another pimped character) the woman who watched her son be kidnapped.
    NO mother would ever do that!! Ever!!
    And as yp2317726 said, Elizabeth has been through so much in her life. Things much worse than this current S/L and TIIC want me to believe that simply loosing Lucky (a man she didnt even want a few month B4) pushed her over the edge.
    Insulting!!!
    The one and ONLY thing that GH has done right is Steve (her brother). He see's who Elizabeth really is and that she has been able to be that person with Lucky.
    No he never came right out and said that but he sure did hint to that b4 the reveal, when he and Liz talked at her home.
    I also agree that I dont EVER see the writting for this character to improve until we get a new head of ABC daytime and new writters.
    The ones we have now only care about pimping their favorite characters and actors.
    They also are unable to write anything new and exciting or believable.
    They destroy and/or rewrite the history of these characters to suit their own purpose and except us life time fans to just forget and play along.
    I say again its insulting!!
    Thank you again for your article and YES PLEASE send this to ABC Daytime!!
    Maybe it will open their eyes and give them a Clue!

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  6. Meant to say...
    The one and ONLY thing that GH has done right is Steve (her brother). He see's who Elizabeth really is and that she has NOT been able to be that person with Lucky.

    Also one more thing...
    I personally LOVED Elizabeth with Nikolas.
    Yes, I would rather have her Jason.

    BUT I can admit that I believe
    Elizabeth was more her true self with Nikolas than she has ever been with anyone else.

    She felt a freedom with him. Freedom to not hide her true self.
    I think that is what pulled me in with these two.
    Not to mention Becky and Tyler are really HOT together!! :)

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  7. Interesting piece. This story could have been interesting had it truly explored Liz's psychology. But this is GH, where the storytelling is shallow and they obviously don't care about women and their stories.

    Personally, I've despised Elizabeth for some time. I've always found her to be a hypocritical, selfish creep. How ironic that she's so obsessed with everyone calling her a slut, when for years she has so enjoyed calling other women wh*res (Courtney, Carly, Maxie, Sam). Notice how her recent sexcapades aren't what made her "crazy" - it's that she was finally called out in *public* for it. And what was her reaction? To yet again play the victim that needs to be "saved" - how predictable. While I do believe there are reasons behind her inappropriate relationships, pathological lying and hypocrisy, I feel no sympathy for the little cretin.

    btw, I have to disagree with your statement that "Her only big mistake in recent years was not being honest with herself and Lucky" - I think she's made a lot more mistakes than that, lol.

    I understand your point about Liz/Unsafe Sex - but just for the sake of accuracy: Liz has been pregnant 5 times, by 5 different men (Zander, Ric, Jax, Jason and now Lucky).

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