American gothic: NASA astro-babe, Lisa Nowak, is forensically grounded

Lisa Nowak, astro-babe
America is far more protective of her astro-babes than her mayors. Even so, Lisa Nowak has been turned into a poster caricature of an American Psycho, the hooded Alpha-female version. The mind goes, ‘wow, and she’s an Annapolis grad, just like Jimmy Carter. . . .’ In this week of high-profile betrayals and love triangles, you can’t help but think Nowak’s co-conspirators got a free pass from the media.

There is scarce coverage or chattering-class-chatter about the Other Man, astronaut Bill Oefelein: here’s his NASA blog (wonder how long this will stay up?). And even less noise about the other woman, Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman, who was the object of the dude’s two-timing desires.

Let’s pull back the camera. The three actors above, and all those close to them, play out their roles in an emotional eco-system, “as if they were parts of an undifferentiated whole organism,” to borrow from Maggie Scarf‘s brilliant analysis in “Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage.” Further, these systems, whether they’re families or love triangles, broker unconscious deals over time where one person can get singled out to carry all of the “badness” for the group, and another becomes a pole for “goodness.”

Scarf’s description of what has happened in clinically catalogued cases, calls to mind Nowak’s reported behavior:

The histrionic individual has poor control over her impulses and tends to say and do things that might more have been left unsaid and undone. . . .The histrionic wife cannot tolerate her mate’s turning away, and is hypersensitive to any signs of his withdrawal. She is deeply convinced that she doesn’t quite exist when she is alone, and fears being by herself and facing her own terrifying emptiness. . . .The rift between them yawns ever wider as she becomes more attention-seeking, childish, and theatrical, and he becomes increasingly withdrawn, unavailable, and isolated.

When people undergo a self-annihilation on the scale of Nowak’s, the upside is that they have the potential to re-build themselves into something new from a relatively blank slate. It could be useful for Nowak, or her therapists, to embrace Scarf’s starting point:

It involves, in plain words, seeing one’s goodness and badness, one’s craziness and sanity, one’s adequacy and inadequacy, one’s depression and elation, and so forth, as aspects of internal experience, rather than splitting off one side of any of these dichotomies and being able to perceive it only as it exists in a mate.

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