Velleda C. Ceccoli, PhD – Horcruxes and the Return of Bad Objects

It has been a while since I wrote about Harry Potter and the particular magic that J.K. Rowling’s stories hold for me, and well, it just would not be my blog if I did not post about her alchemy from time to time. So Potter heads unite, here we go. Today’s post is about Horcruxes and the fact that most of us are them. Aha. We are all Horcruxes, in one way or another.

"Taking Turns" by Michaël Borremans | David Zwirner
“Taking Turns” by Michaël Borremans | David Zwirner

First, for the uninitiated in the Harry Potter series, a quick definition so that we are on the same page. A Horcrux is created by putting a part of oneself into an object (which can be human, as in Harry’s case). In order to accomplish this the self must be split or divided, which can only happen through a ”supreme act of evil which rips it apart.” In the magic world of Harry Potter, creating a Horcrux is unnatural and only attempted by evil witches and wizards who divide their souls in order to remain immortal.

What, say you, does this have to do with anything in our muggle/non-wizarding world? Everything, say I.

In my practice I often see people who are tormented by parts of themselves that are experienced as excessive: too bad, too weak, too impulsive, too sad, too frightened – you name it – but the common characteristic is that they are ego dystonic and cannot be embraced as part of the self, so they are experienced as “not me”. As such, they remain split off from awareness, and the parts of the self that are acceptable, until (perhaps you have guessed it already), they return unannounced in the context of particular relationships or situations. Often, my patients cannot understand how this comes about, or why they remain in relationships or situations that seem to invite those parts of themselves to come out. Or worse, they find themselves caught in repetitive interaction patterns that bring about such ‘not me’ self states and leave them in despair.

In psychoanalysis, those of us who subscribe to the idea that we seek relationship from the very beginning of our lives, and that it is early interactions with our caretakers that wire our neuro-circuitry and determine many of our relational and intimacy patterns, think of such split off parts of the self as stemming from precisely those relationships -the early ones. When the vicissitudes of early interactions are traumatic, they require the infant to split off (and dissociate) experiences which are overwhelming and threaten his or her survival. The Scottish psychoanalyst Ronald Fairbairn, believed that such experiences become part of the structure of our personality, and are taken into oneself in order to maintain the connection and bond to our caretaker(s). By splitting off what is bad or overwhelming we manage to keep them loving and good, while the bad experience is taken in and then dissociated. Unfortunately, the fate of those internalized relational experiences is that they return from within and create conflictual states of being.

So perhaps the internalization of a bad object is our unintended way of becoming a Horcrux. We take in a part of another that arises in relationship to us, and we do so in an effort to survive overwhelming emotions arising out of interpersonal dynamics, which demand that the bond to the real other be maintained. Once a Horcrux (or bad object) is created it poses a real threat to our developing personality because of the continued presence of emotions and/or memories which haunt the self from the inside, placing an excessive focus on our internal world and reducing the possibility of new behavior in (relational) situations that mobilize the same emotions.

According to the Harry Potter Wikipedia, to create a Horcrux is to divide one’s soul — the “essence of self” — and it goes against the first Fundamental Law of Magic, which essentially states that tampering with one’s soul inevitably results in grave side effects. Boy is that right. Tampering with a developing sense of self does in fact result in grave consequences. In the Potter books, it is Harry who after witnessing the death of his parents, and surviving his own destruction at the hands of Voldemort’s wand, internalizes a split off part of the dark lords soul, unintentionally making him a Horcrux. Thus, part of Voldermort lives on in Harry, and stirs whenever he experiences frustration and anger, the very emotions that Voldermort thrives on. At those times, Harry withdraws from his friends, thinks evil thoughts, and speaks in parseltongue (Voldermort’s snake language) – all “not me” behaviors which trouble him yet link him to the dark lord. Fairbairn called this situation “the return of the bad objects” and considered it the cornerstone of emotional difficulties.

Furthermore, the parts of a person’s soul/self within a Horcrux can think for themselves and have certain magical abilities, including the ability to influence those in their vicinity. When Harry, Ron, and Hermione carry Slytherin’s locket (a horcrux) around their necks, they became moodier and begin to fight with one another. They are also unable to summon their Patronuses’ (good objects/thoughts) while wearing the locket since the fragment of the bad object inside is darkening their thoughts and exerting its influence. Not unlike what happens in relationships that stir early (troubled) interactional patterns and result in re-creating primal, emotionally traumatic scenarios. Or like the psychic aftermath of trauma, and the particular nature of dissociation: the lacunae that form around unbearable states of mind – each self -state its own intricate universe. Or like our psychoanalytic ideas of projective identification and the taking in of another persons’ not me self-states, perhaps as a temporary Horcrux to be used for understanding another and the others it relates to.

Perhaps the world of magic is not make-believe at all: it is our world and the internal theater that each of us responds to.

Velleda C. Ceccoli, PhD

First published on Dr. Ceccoli’s blog, Out of My Mind, on August 19, 2013.


R E L A T E D  V I D E O S

Harry Potter: A Christ Figure