“And then what happened?” I asked Giselle, the housekeeper.
“After dessert, Alfred said madam needed to see me at once. When I went upstairs she yelled and said she never asked for me. She went off to see her guests, and I stayed behind to straighten out before following her down.”
“Did you see her diamond necklace?”
“No! I mean I did. After she was done yelling, she asked me to get her a cup of water. I saw her put the necklace on the dresser, but when I came back, it was gone and so was the madam,” Giselle replied. Her eyes began to twitch suddenly and I could see beads of sweat sliding down her forehead.
“So tell me, who’s your favorite member out of the Zahir family? I won’t tell anyone I promise.” I smiled.
“I like them all equally” Giselle lied. She closed her eyes for a brief moment and drew in a long, deep breath.
The night of the dinner party…
“You look yellow, hon. You okay?” Alfred asked Giselle when she walked into the kitchen, only she stumbled helplessly to the ground before she could even reply.
“This isn’t the first time this happens,” Alfred said as he handed her a cup of water after she regained consciousness an hour later. “You’ve been fainting a lot lately. You should probably ask Mrs. Zahir to take you to the doctor.”
“I asked her once but then she had an appointment to get her brows shaped and I guess after that she forgot all about it,” Giselle whispered weakly.
“Then ask Mr. Zahir or Hamza. Lazy bums! They’re the reason you’re so overworked and exhausted, the least they could do is treat you with some kindness.”
“It’s no big deal. I’ll get some rest and be as good as new in the morning.”
She made Alfred promise not to disturb her sleep. He agreed and told her to holler if she needed anything then went off to finish his work, leaving Giselle to relive the same dream she’s been dreaming about for the past three years:
One day the Zahir’s will have a huge party for their affluent friends, and when it was over, Giselle would sneak outside for fresh air. One of the male invitees will come back looking for his keys. Not knowing who she was, they’ll get to talk, fall in love, and later when she confesses she’s only a housekeeper he’ll love her even more. They’d soon get married and live happily ever after and of course if the Zahirs by that time end up bankrupt, living in a dumpster behind Giselle’s palace, well that would just be gravy.
“Giselle?” I tapped her lightly on the shoulder.
“Oh sorry, I must have dazed off for a second.” Giselle cleared her throat.
“What were you thinking about?”
“Nothing. I don’t know why I remembered that story, Cinderella”
“Maybe you relate to her at times when you feel you’re not being treated very kindly?”
“Or maybe I’m waiting for my fairy godmother to appear with a magic wand.”
I smiled at her and there was a sudden awkward moment of silence.
“Anyways, so I hear you’ve been having some health problems.”
“Dizziness, numbness… nothing major.” Giselle fidgeted nervously with her apron strings.
“Alfred mentioned something about the night the necklace went missing. Something he hadn’t mentioned in the earlier investigation with the police.”
“What? What did he say?” Giselle went snow white pale.
“When suspicion moved on to him, he was impelled to tell the whole story about the incident of you passing out that night. You evidently went to rest in your room and when he came back to check on you, your window was open and you were nowhere to be found.”
“I umm… I was just… umm… Oh, I’m so sorry ma’am. I don’t think I can do this, I’m feeling so…” Giselle held her head and then crumbled to the floor like a house of sand.
Later that evening…
“She’s faking it! I know she is” Jenna, my keen assistant, slammed the desk a little too hard.
“Why would you assume that?” I asked with one eyebrow up.
“Duh! It’s crystal clear. She’s the thief and she’s using her illness as a distraction defense mechanism”
“I must admit you’re really talented in solving mysteries, Jenna!”
“Oh my God, really?”
“Ah NO!” I laughed. “She’s not faking the illness, she’s unconsciously using conversion as a self-defense mechanism.”
“Before you elaborate let’s just recap real quick. Amy is dissociating in La La Land. Hamza is the angry bird always acting out. Sameera projects her insecurities unto others and her husband Nader displaces his feelings unto innocent victims. Who else? Yes, Alfred is two-faced.”
“Fine. Alfred uses ‘Reaction Formation’. Now tell me about Giselle’s defense mechanism.’
“It’s called conversion because you convert your anxieties and internal emotional conflicts into physical symptoms. Like in Giselle’s case, she blocks out those feelings that bothering her, and since feelings don’t go anywhere, they’re released in a different form, like dizziness, coughing or in some extreme cases they can cause temporary blindness and even paralysis.”
“Why would anyone use this destructive mechanism?!” Jenna gasped.
“People don’t choose self-defense mechanism from the menu of the day. It’s involuntary.”
“So how do you treat that?”
“Distraction always works, and of course explaining the concept can help them try to face their feelings instead of converting it. But you know, that’s not the only self-defense mechanism Giselle’s using. I think she’s retreating into a fantasy to avoid coping with her hardships. She feeds off her imagination of a dream that’ll probably never come true.”
“Oh, come on. We all do the ‘fantasy’ thing. Almost everyone I know is waiting for something that will never happen, yet they wouldn’t go around stealing diamonds to make their dreams come true.” Jenna said. “Or would they…?”
The next day…
“I hope you’re feeling better,” I said as I sat Giselle down for another talk.
“I am, thank you, ma’am.” She hesitated.
We talked for a quite some time, in which she was determined to remain vague and unyielding, so I had no choice but to bluff to take a short detour.
“Giselle I’m trying to help you here. I have witnesses who can testify they saw you sneak out of your window in the middle of the night, wearing one of Mrs. Zahir’s expensive gowns.” I fibbed.
“It wasn’t Mrs. Zahir’s it was mine. I bought that dress with my own money,” Giselle steamed out. She fell silent for a moment, her eyes doubling twice their size as she realized she had just semi-confessed to a crime.
“Did you sneak out to hide the necklace?” I asked straightforwardly.
“No! I swear. I’m not a thief. I only stepped outside to sit on the swing in the garden. I do that sometimes.” Giselle cried. “I just… For a couple of minutes, I get to be me, not the docile housekeeper everyone uses as a punching bag.”
“Giselle, why didn’t you mention any of this to the police in the first investigation? Now that your story doesn’t add up, I’m afraid you’ve become a prime suspect.”
“I was scared to lose my job. I’m the sole provider for my family back home. I didn’t know what would happen to them if I had told the truth.”
“What truth are you talking about?”
“I saw someone that night coming out of the secret garden. He didn’t see me, but I definitely saw him.”
“Who was it?” I asked.
To be continued in the last episode…
I’d give anything to see the look on your guys’ faces right about now.
Anyways so ‘Fantasy’… Sounds like a cool defense mechanism, no?
I mean we’ve all been there, believing ourselves to be undercover agents, lost members of the royal family or convincing ourselves we have superpowers. (Wait, or is that just that me?!)
It’s okay to use wild imagination as crutches to get us through a tough time, but only as a temporary solution. Waiting for something that’s never gonna happen and revolving your life around it is self-abuse (trust me, I should know). At some point, we all must draw the line between positive thinking and complete avoidance. We must learn to merge reality with dreams instead of having to choose only one to sink in. You get what I mean?
As for conversion, I also think it’s an even harsher form of self-abuse since your body pays the price for your heart’s fear of facing ugly emotions, and that’s just not fair. Listen to this:
Prophet Muhammad said, “He who is deprived of tender feelings is in fact deprived of good.” [Sahih Muslim]
You can’t give what you don’t have, and if you have no mercy on yourself how on earth would you feel it for others? If you can’t handle your own emotions how will you ever help anyone else deal with theirs?
Conversion is basically the refusal to feel your feelings and letting it take a toll on your health instead.
You won’t absorb the frustration, so your shoulders stiffen up.
What you block out comes back in a different form…
And I wish…
Oh, I really wish you wouldn’t do that to yourself anymore…
Be mindful and don’t try to escape your problems
Once you accept what’s happening, you’ll finally be ready to change it.
Your life will finally come to life…
Dreams are important to lead a productive life. We would love to hear what you think can be done to prevent our dreams develop into fantasy defense mechanisms. And if you have any questions regarding the defense mechanisms discussed in this series, please post them in the comments section.