Sinéad O’Connor’s pain and suffering and finding her way to personal safety in this TAR world.
By James D. Huysman, PsyD, LCSW (“Dr. Jamie”)
The death of another icon of the music industry has all of us noticing our mortality and marking the time we have left on the planet. We all seek to renew our awareness of their God-given talents, how they’ve made us feel through their music, and how much we will miss them.
As a psychologist, a trauma-informed therapist, and a lover of music, let me make one thing perfectly clear. No one did — or ever could — compare with Sinéad O’Connor. She gave us one of the most beautiful and melodic voices we have ever heard.
She used her voice to break out of an emotional prison, beginning with the child abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother, proving her authenticity — despite risking the ruination of her relationship with her mother.
Sinéad also used her voice — as well as her actions — to call out priests as pedophiles. She was ahead of her time in recognizing the sins of these “messengers of God” and those who enabled them to remain in posts where they should never be allowed.
The most renowned of these enablers — Pope John Paul II — was authentically and publicly vilified when Sinéad tore up his photo in effigy on Saturday Night Live (SNL); however, most people loyal to the Pope took the position most hurtful to Sinéad with their criticisms, boos, and hisses even though she never sexually or physically abused a single child in her life.
Many people in the world, in addition to the crowd at the Madison Square Garden concert honoring the achievements of Bob Dylan, criticized Sinéad because we/they have fallen victim to the cultural chains of complicity and compliance that keep us dysfunctional and obedient.
TAR — our acronym for Toxic Abusive Relationships — was tacitly acknowledged by Sinéad more than 30 years ago on SNL, before the concept was a gleam in my eye. Little did she — or I — know that her authenticity and self-awareness would give rise to this important movement designed to eliminate transgenerational trauma spawned by ignorance and apathy. Sinéad was silenced just like so many musicians, artists, and common folk that were TARgeted.
Remember — there are no bad children, only bad parents.
Often, parents do not embrace the actions, feelings, and behaviors of their own parents, and this allows them a degree of authenticity. However, when their sacred institutions — no matter how blatant and obvious their crimes — are brought into view, their loyalty is renewed tenfold.
In her quest to expose the truth, Sinéad became the person to blame because she dared to speak and act. She had a strong conviction to make her enslaved childhood public, and her actions on Saturday Night Live proved extremely powerful.
Sinéad’s a cappella rendition of Bob Marley’s protest anthem, “War”, was meant to educate us not only on abuse at the hands of parents but also to shed light on her terrible experience in a Catholic reform school after her parent’s divorce.
“Until the ignoble and unhappy regime which holds all of us through child abuse / yaa / child abuse / yaa / subhuman bondage / has been toppled / utterly destroyed
Until that day there is no continent that will know peace / children, children / fight / we find it necessary / we know we will win / we have confidence in the victory of good over evil.”
Sinéad O’Connor’s treatment of Bob Marley’s song “War”
Saturday Night Live, 10/3/1992
I work with celebrities, executives, and many other people as they struggle to cope with adverse childhood experiences that manifest in many ways over the course of a lifetime.
It takes 10 years to become who we are, and the next 80 years to break the chains that bind us to our childhoods. This is the very definition of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), and most eloquently defines the clinical concept of intergenerational trauma.
Sinéad, through her own authentic truth, showed us how bad parenting crosses many generations, rendering all of us unable to see how complicity and ignorance perpetuate this and keep our kids blind to the effects of trauma. Awareness of our own parents’ styles, sins, and “it’s how it’s always been done” attitude is the only skill that will interrupt this generational complicity.
Make no mistake — the true original sin was never taking an apple off of a tree as so many religious people would have us believe. The TRUE original sin — one that often goes unnoticed — is what I call “innocent abuse”. These are the abuses that come when we are not fair, consistent, and available for our children. People entrusted with the care of children also need to espouse this ethic and provide all children with authenticity, unfettered unconditional love, and genuinely honor their existence and value in this world. To her credit — and quite possibly to her detriment — Sinéad faced the purposeful, mean-spirited, and punitive abuse from her mother and the staff at the Catholic boarding school with courage and the determination not to perpetuate it with her own children.
As a psychologist who holds clinical ethics in the highest esteem, I cannot diagnose Sinéad’s mother. However, Sinéad’s bio revealed that her mother lived in the dark triad of Cluster B personality disorder. This triad is comprised of:
- a lack of empathy,
- a lack of accountability, and
- a Machiavellian tone that the end justifies the means.
Unfortunately, Cluster B mothers often give rise to their child/children becoming either Cluster B adults or codependent doormats — forced into becoming sycophantic extensions under her total control.
Remembering this is crucial: CPTSD is defined as when the last 10 years of your life trigger the first 10 years of your life.
Without healing and the resilience that develops as a member of a healthy family, any “Big T” Trauma — including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse — can easily cross generations. Even with Sinéad recognizing and telling us about her origins and her best efforts to face her childhood and reparent herself, she could not cope with the most heinous Trauma — the suicide of her beloved child.
You see, Sinéad’s excellent learning and consequent adaptation can help all of us to break through the random CPTSD dished out in the world.
As a clinician who has taken full advantage of therapeutic services and rebuilding my central nervous system, I have no idea how I would handle the death of my own daughter — but I have learned that developing resilience by embracing childhood trauma provides us with a greater likelihood of staying alive and making sense of situations that make no sense at all.
I will honor Sinéad and the lessons she leaves us ALWAYS and will devote my efforts to building a platform in this dysfunctional world to reveal truth and authenticity. This platform exists through TAR Network™.
Sinéad was not silent, complicit, or enabling. She sacrificed herself as the quintessential truth-teller.
Steven Morrissey — the former lead singer of The Smiths — correctly and insightfully lamented how people all over the world are remembering Sinéad.
“She was dropped by her label after selling seven million albums for them. You praise her now ONLY because it is too late. You hadn’t the guts to support her when she was alive, and she was looking for you.” He continued “She had the courage to speak when everyone else stayed safely silent. She was harassed simply for being herself.”
We have lost an amazing person and artist who tried to hold a mirror up to all of us; one that we just could not look at on that fateful Saturday night in 1992. Despite being abandoned by so many, Sinéad picked up her baggage and ran with it, determined to do right by her own children and herself.
Rest in peace, Sinéad… our international 501(c)(3) charitable foundation, TAR Network™, will do everything possible to ensure that your passing was not in vain. We will get the mirror out time and time again, and we will make every effort to take the road to authentically build a healthy, aware, and transformative world around us that leads us to love our children and ourselves.