I always thought I was less than a man: a case of Gecko
A 51 year old divorced business consultant first came to me on 26 September 2008.
"What I’m most concerned with is what I would call anxiety. It manifests itself in just feeling overwhelmed and panicky.
"I’ve got a history of obsessive compulsive disorder; I’ve been off medication for about a year. Now it sort of creeps in, happens at odd times. It starts this way: a thought will come up, for instance I’m concerned about money, (money tends to be a big one), or thinking about having a confrontation with my ex-wife.
"I just get overwhelmed by it, and start to feel tight in the chest and kind of skittish, uptight and tense, with shortness of breath. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, or in the morning feeling tense and anxious. Just a couple days ago I was giving a presentation to a group. It’s about a four-hour strategic planning session that I was head of, and it was “Right - you’re on” and I just froze up. I felt light-headed, like I was going to lose it a little bit. I really got panicky. It was more than anxiety, more like a panic attack.
"It’s not very consistent. There are times where I’ll be fine for days. And then, there are times when it will creep up on me and come in at different times of the day.
I feel like I’m easily deflated or defeated. I have to work at keeping my energy up and feeling good about stuff. If I get any lower, the anxiety creeps in. First the defense is a little down; if I get lower, I feel anxious.
"I don’t have a very big sex drive. And when I do masturbate, my erections are pretty soft and they don’t last that long. I’m not having any kind of sexual relationship, but I am concerned that if I do that I won’t be able to perform and that it won’t be very satisfying. Quite frankly, I have not used a condom before. I’m not very comfortable with condoms. I’m unable to really have that pleasure. My fear is that the safe thing to do is to use condoms and yet I’m not sure it’s going to work very well for me."
Tell me more about panic and anxiety, exactly what you feel, all the nuances of it.
"I feel like my chest tightens. The world tends to close in and get very small, like there really aren’t many bright things, there aren’t other concerns, other than the thing I’m dwelling on. It feels hopeless. I’m unable to dislodge thoughts and move on."
What kind of thoughts?
"I’m not going to
have enough money’, that’s the big one. ‘I’m going to run out of money’ or ‘I’m not going to have retirement’. ‘I might get sick,’ I’m self-employed so I’m
vulnerable there. ‘I’m not going to be
able to enjoy myself and go on vacation.’ ‘I’m always going to be treading water’, ‘there are always going to be
expenses.’ Those are the kinds of things
that come up for me. ‘Other people earn
more than me’, ‘other people seem to do better than I do’; those kind of thoughts
and feelings come up and haunt me.
Other than the shortness of breath, it’s a tightness in the chest, it’s a feeling like I’m crawling out of my skin, like I’m really uncomfortable in my own skin. Like I need to move. If I’m in bed, I actually need to get up, to move, to release that energy, this tension."
World closing in, small, tell me more about that
"It just feels like I’m on blinders. I’m so focused on the issue that’s in front of me that I’m unable to really balance out the good stuff or look at the stuff that is going well. ‘You’ve got a successful practice, you make a lot of money, you’re not in debt, you’re able to take care of your obligations, you have a nice house, you’re able to provide for stuff, things are really going well.’ If you look from outside, it looks really pretty damn good. It’s just this sort of nagging fear. It’s almost this irrational kind of thing. I mean there’s really no really good reason for my feelings. It’s not like ‘wow, you’re indebted and unemployed and can’t pay for things’. That’s not the situation."
The visions or the images that come, the feeling of the world, or the blinders of the world getting smaller, what is the sensation of that?
"Dark and small. I
flashed on something. When I was younger,
I was clinically depressed. I had been molested by my brother when I was 12 or
so. It was only once, but it had
tremendous impact on me. It confused me and made me feel really vulnerable. It
made me feel really small and insignificant, like I wasn’t really strong, didn’t
have support. And then, I acted out and molested some kids in the neighborhood
when I was 16 or 17. It ended when I was
21 and exposed myself to a little girl when I was at a job site; I was painting. Then I said, ‘this is not right, I can’t be
doing this anymore.’
"I had a lot of sexual fantasies, did some porn kind of thing, some voyeurism stuff, but I wasn’t acting out physically after that.
That’s what my OCD was about. I would get triggered by sexual things and it would be awful, I would have really unpleasant thoughts about acting out on kids or rape fantasies that were highly disturbing. Through therapy and medication, I was actually able to heal myself and I don’t have those things anymore.
"That was traumatic. There were many years when I carried around a lot of guilt and shame. Eventually it destroyed my marriage. My ex-wife couldn’t deal with my past. I’ve got a couple kids, 14 and 17. They live with me now; they don’t know.
"My mother spent her honeymoon in the bathroom because she was so anxious about spending it with my father. My daughter just recently went on Prozac, she had suicidal thoughts, severe OCD and is working with a child therapist. It’s some biological part of my make-up that I need to face. I don’t want to go back on medication."
Say a little more about your feelings after the molestation by your brother.
"I’m trying to think back to how I felt… there were a couple
other things that happened in school where my whole image of my body was that I
was certainly less than a man. I grew up
in an Italian community where guys of 14, 15 had full beards, big male bodies.
I was just this scrawny kid from Long Island.
I always felt less than a man, I just didn’t feel very masculine.
"Once, I was walking on a school bus and someone pinched my testicles. It was like I was a girl, this thing that he could just use and abuse. It was so demoralizing. Like I had a little penis, like I was a boy.
"Then, I was in a bar when I was about 18. A big guy, a truck driver, followed me out; he wasn’t just trying to pick me up, he was stalking me. He followed me out and I just got in the car and took off, it was very scary. Almost like a sexual predator.
"Once, when I was out of high school, I brazenly came on to this girl and I said “Okay, let’s have sex” and she said “You probably couldn’t even find your dick, it’s so small.”
"In these episodes, I just felt “you’re really nothing. You’re certainly not a man, you’re not strong, you can be used. The world is happening to you, you have no control.”
"I chose the name Gecko as an animal totem for myself.
(Gecko, as a totem, is actually a transitory totem; it has to do with metamorphosis because geckos tend to mimic their environment; they also tend to lose their tail.)
"I went through a process where I was no longer a gecko and I became Great Bull Elk. Great Bull Elk for me became that anchoring of strength so that I could stand in my own power, now that I was 40-some years old. Then, I changed my name. Now I’m Elk Heart. Elk Heart for me is not just about power, but what I think is a bigger part of me and that’s my heart. Something I think I can give - that fills me up spiritually, emotionally. I’ve gone through some changes. Occasionally, I’ll pull out that Great Bull Elk because I need that strength.
"Those feelings go back to when I felt really small, insignificant, marked. A time when I didn’t have control over my environment or over how things were going to happen. I look at my life now and it’s amazing because things are so different; I am in control. There are so many blessings in my life now."
When there is absolutely no control, really small - describe that feeling.
"It’s a scary place. I used to be scared of the dark. Talk about a
shame thing – it really traveled with me. I don’t have it often, but once in
awhile, it will sneak up when I go up to my cabin and the lights go out… it’s
uncomfortable for me to be alone at night because I think something is going to
get me. It’s totally irrational, but it’s an old, old fear from when I was a
kid, the feeling that I wasn’t safe, that something was going to get me.
"I used to have recurring nightmares as a little kid that I would get forgotten. I would be in an old abandoned building and my family had forgotten about me and it was a maze and I couldn’t get out. I looked out the window and I saw them take off in a boat or a station wagon. I’d turn around and there would be this big witch, this awful person, who was going to be my mother. I would make myself wake up.
"When I talk about this kind of thing, I realize this feeling of not being safe financially is just a metaphor for not being safe when I was a kid, because that’s what this is about. Or even with women, not feeling safe. I was lucky enough to have a relationship with a woman after my marriage who really affirmed that I was okay, that I could turn women on, that it could be different. It was really what I needed."
"I was in danger, I was forgotten."
What kind of danger?
"That someone more powerful was just going to take me … There’s a cartoon, a picture of a darling little girl with a cute dress and a ribbon in her hair; she’s sitting at a table with really ogre-ish parents. The caption reads: (parents) “It’s true, you once belonged to a beautiful King and Queen but we stole you away and now we’re your parents and there’s nothing you can do about it.” My father was an alcoholic and that was very sad because he was out of control."
"He was loose and slobbered and
made a fool of himself. He was not
abusive, he was not violent at all, he was more happy-go-lucky but he would
have food on his face he’d slur his words and go to sleep.
"There was one episode that was particularly scary when I was 17 or 18. We had a big house and it was kind of spooky because it was owned by a sea captain in the 1880s and so we always were afraid of going downstairs because it had all these chambers. I was with my father, just the two of us, and of course he was drunk. I came from a big family and none of my brothers or sisters were there. It was at night, probably about 7, he was drunk and really out of it and I heard footsteps upstairs, really distinct, and it was so scary. I realized right then that I couldn’t count on him to protect me. I grabbed my keys and left; I got in my car and drove through the night, a four hour trip. I kept the windows down to stay awake and went up to see my mother in the vacation home. It was so scary.
"If someone were to ask “what were you like as a kid?” I was a very compliant kid. I didn’t make waves; I had the best grades. I was known for fitting in and not making problems.
"My mother tended to fill her emotional needs through her kids, and through me. She would sidle up to me and stroke my leg, not my leg… I don’t even know why I said that. She would confide in the kids about how lonely she was, all the problems she was having. I cleared the air with her about some of this stuff about ten years ago. It was getting into our marriage. There were some issues between my ex-wife and me where my mother’s attachment to me was becoming threatening to my wife and there weren’t very good boundaries."
How did that happen? How did her attachment threaten your wife?
"My mother would come to visit me. She was very affectionate, she would come and sit right down, she would put her hand on my leg, she would sidle right up to me. My mother didn’t accept she couldn’t hold my hand when we’re walking down the street with my wife or put her arm around me or sit down really close to me. There was actually an ugly period where my ex-wife said “Quit treating my husband like he’s your lover.” I had to separate from my mother more, she was my emotional ballast. I don’t feel as enmeshed (HG- hands coming together, fingers interlaced). But that’s the way it was – I was very close to her. When I had those nightmares, I would go to bed with my parents, I would sleep between them. My mother was very understanding. I did that even when I was probably 14."
After you were molested by your brother and you began to molest other little kids - tell more about your feelings during those experiences
"It was where I felt powerful and
in control. I got off on the anticipation of that, the manipulation of that, to
make it seducing or comfortable for them, so I could get my needs met.
"I had trouble masturbating because I had really painful ejaculations. I had nighttime ejaculations that were really violent and painful, so I was really frustrated and I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t have an outlet, I was uncomfortable around girls, I wasn’t masturbating.
"I remember an earlier experience with my brother. A boy was on the couch and I just pulled my pants down. I felt this huge elation, this huge euphoria. I straddled him over and said “just watch the TV” and I just dangled my penis down by his hands and when he started fondling it it was really exciting. It felt like I finally found some relief from the grief, the anguish of feeling alone. I sometimes have this feeling of really being the focus of attention. I would just be swamped in this euphoria that I was focused on, cared for. The feeling that I was obviously safe, that I could receive pleasure that seemed safe. I liked the fact that I was in control. I liked the fact that it was secret, that it was my thing.
"It was very painful to try to sort this stuff out – on the one hand I did stuff that hurt other people and on the other hand that it felt good."
Tell me a bit about your career, your interests.
"I’m a self-employed marketing consultant. I’ve been doing it for about 8 years. I work by myself. I do a lot of things. I’ll write articles, get publicity, get their name out. I’ll design advertising, work with a graphic designer. I’ll develop a website, develop a whole strategy in fact, of who they should target out in the market, what they should say, how they differ from the competition, how to go about reaching the right people on a regular basis. I do everything from recruiting people to customer service for one firm, to marketing to developing services in all 7 offices. I’m working for them (HG- same as before, hands coming together, fingers spread, interlacing, then one above, below) not one after another but at the same time."
Tell me about drawing
"Once or twice a week… I do very large portraits, a whole head, in charcoal. Sometimes, I do nudes."
Say more of the feeling in terms of drawing
"I switch the channel and I’m in a
different modality altogether. I like that I am looking, I’m actually using my
sight. It would be like you were going to take a music class and you were
really focusing on listening to music, or a wine tasting class, really focusing
on taste. Or massage, it could be focusing on the feel. I like that it allows
me to focus on seeing, and it allows me to focus on seeing in different ways. I
love looking at things from multiple ways and approaching it in that different
way, and that’s what my work tends to be. I tend to use some behavioral tools,
some strategic tools, I like to mix it up, to be creative in that way.
"My drawing allows me to do that. I cook, and that allows me to get into a tactile way of knowing things. I play raquetball, because again that’s a physical thing and it’s a social thing. I’m trying to do more entertaining with people. To me that’s where life is – life is in these connections. (HG- again hands with fingers spread, interlacing) But I like to take some experience from over here and see how it fits over here. I like reading people who are good at that, demystifying stuff, finding the connections. I had no idea that this thing over here fit… Like look at this – did you even know when you did this that you would now be doing this -(HG- same) but there’s probably more to it. This groovy kind of thing where you can pull from your past experience, to me that’s really fascinating. It’s the crossways, how things feed into each other. (HG- fingers spread back and forth)
"A year ago, I had different relationships with my clients. I had these ongoing relationships, I was really good friends with my clients. We had social things. When we got together, it was like ‘we need to go out to eat, we need to play golf’. We would do work but… I really miss that. A big thing in my life is that I don’t have those kinds of relationships.
"A year ago or even two years ago, my work was manageable; I wasn’t out hustling. I had these relationships where I could call people, they would appreciate what I was doing. It was like a family. I mention the family because I lost my family. My family split up. That’s what kept me in the nest for a long time and when the nest was dismantled I asked “now what do I do?”
"My ex-wife felt like she was lied to. She didn’t know a lot of stuff about me before she got involved and had kids. It was a divisive issue. What I liked about her was she was very ethical; she knew wrong from right, she always did the right thing. I liked that. I had soft boundaries, wishy-washy, “well, I don’t know.” What was difficult was that she was not just critical, she was hurtful in the way she fought. She would not fight fair. She would get really dirty and demeaning and it made me feel like I was wrong and bad, there was something wrong with me. It brought up those old feelings of being inadequate.
"I would feel like “hold on”. I would have anger toward her, then find myself submitting because I got the facts screwed up, then I would have all this resentment. We would get into these things constantly. I would say “you know, this isn’t sitting right with me” and she would turn it around because she was a better fighter and I would feel like I’m in a position of saying “yeah, you’re right.” Before I told her about my past, I read a book that talked about a girl being sexually abused by her father and it turned me on. We played out that fantasy. Well, you could say, it takes two to tango. That was devastating to her. In therapy, she said “I can’t believe you did that to me.” It was fucked up, but I did that. She was molested when she was 15 or so and she put that in a box, that’s the past. She does not connect the dots at all. My own theory is that if she owns up to that, someone has control over her. It’s a control issue. We had a very dysfunctional sex life where it was very physical and not fulfilling at all. It was not loving."
Prescription: patient was given Syphilinum, which did not help.
First Follow-Up, 16 October 2008:
"Right now, I’m doing okay. Some days, I get bouts of feeling really blue for hour or so, other times anxious or physically tense. Lots of times I’m worried about money, obsessed about it. I have all three things going. I wake up and can’t stop thinking about it. Some moments, I’ll feel good- almost manic, really high. Not much middle ground."
Tell me about fear.
"I’m just concerned about the
economy, all the expenses I have, all the bills I have to pay. That I won’t be
able to – I had work lined up and now it’s been put on hold. Now, I’m freaking out about not having work.
That’s my big fear.
"When my father died, we had to take up a collection to buy a gravesite. It was pitiful, I felt vulnerable to outside forces. I threw those expectations off. I was like a gecko: it adapts, but it loses its tail. It’s a kind of metamorphosis. I didn’t want conflict; it seemed like there was no position for me. If I took a stand, it would piss somebody off. When I took on the name of Grateful Elk, it signified solid ground. I wanted to be strong, secure, without self-doubt. With the gecko, there’s no certainty underfoot. It’s like shifting sand.
"I fear something external will come in and smash the office, undercut everything. It’s lonely, alienating work. Can I get a job where I’m part of a community, an organization? Connections, feeling involved, is really important. Right now, I’m solitary, doing my own things."
"It’s a lizard, part of the chameleon family. It changes color, blends in with the environment. I read situations and adapt to them. The gecko is known for losing its tail. It’s very fast. Losing its tail can signify a transition. I let go of gecko because I needed more power in myself. I kowtow to situations. I want to be able to stand up to the world. I want to be someone who is not worried about money, counting pennies."
Analysis: The patient’s chief complaint is anxiety, fear, obsessive
concern with money, and a fear of women and of confrontation. He reports an
experience of childhood sexual molestation by his brother, and subsequent
abusive behavior. The dynamic is clearly one of power, control, and
victim-aggressor. When he was abused he felt “small, insignificant, like I
wasn’t really strong, didn’t have support.” He doubted his masculinity: “I
always felt less than a man, I just didn’t feel very masculine. Once, I was
walking on a school bus and someone pinched my testicles. It was like I was a girl, this thing that he
could just use and abuse. It was so demoralizing. Like I had a little penis,
like I was a boy.” He encountered “sexual predators” as well as became one. He
sought control and power through seduction manipulation, and secrecy (deception).
He compares himself with others: “other people seem to do better than I do.”
Along with these Animal Kingdom characteristics of Victim/Aggressor, domination/submission, and sexuality, there is a strong theme of the need for support and inclusion in family. This comes up repeatedly and is best expressed by his recurring nightmare: “I would get forgotten. I would be in an old, abandoned building and my family had forgotten about me and it was a maze and I couldn’t get out. I looked out the window and I saw them take off in a boat or a station wagon. I’d turn around and there would be this big witch, this awful person, who was going to be my mother.”
The need for family support and guidance is an important theme of the Lizard family remedies. Money and materialism is also an important theme of this group. The patient identifies himself with the gecko because of his proclivity to not stand his ground, to adapt rather than to confront (lose one’s tail). He repeatedly gestures with his two hands, interlacing his fingers. He doesn’t become aware of the gesture, but it reminds me of the gecko’s Velcro-like invisible hairs on the soles of the feet, which allow them to walk on ceilings, to adhere to virtually any surface.
His pastime of drawing and comments about the pleasure of really using his sight are interesting given that the gecko is also known for its astonishing visual acuity, it being one of the only animals that can perceive colors at night. Its multifocal optical cone system is estimated to be 350 times more sensitive than human color vision.
The patient also has taken on the name of Great Bull Elk, and subsequently Elk Heart. But these refer to the strengths and full heartedness he emulates, rather than qualities or sensations he struggled with inside himself. Furthermore, apart from the need for inclusion in community and family, other mammal themes are not prominent.
Prescription: Gecko LM5
4 November 2008: "I know I’m better. That feeling of hopelessness, obsessing about money, those things aren’t present. I have some anxiety, but am able to calm myself. I went to a dance, felt a lot of energy streaming through me. I know that I’m doing better, feeling more upbeat. I feel like I’m going through this transformation. I’m claiming myself. I have clarity and calm in talking with my ex-wife. I’m talking to my kids without putting a charge on it. I’ve met a couple of women. Still have some anxiety, but more clarity, more focus, more stability. I feel grounded in my business decisions."
25 November 2008: "Two weeks ago, I was REALLY well. Never felt so good. All this energy, focused, balanced. I could really be positive, active, choosing my work, optimistic. Now, there’s a little backsliding. But I’m better than I’ve been in a long time. There’s fear, a need to belong, a fear of being different."
Prescription: Gecko LM5
20 January 2009: "I’m doing well. I’m not taking the remedy any
more. I feel more myself. I have reason to be concerned about money, but it
doesn’t get me down. I don’t think about it all the time. I sleep well.
Emotionally, psychologically, I’m doing very well. I just don’t have those
energy dips any more. I don’t have that anxiety. I’m more giving, more
thankful. I feel blessed. There’s a lot in my life to be grateful for. No more
self-pity. If it doesn’t work out with a woman, I know they come in different
"My ex-wife is getting married. That’s hard. Loss of family. Dead. But I feel like I’m closer to who I want to be. I do more volunteering, reading with kindergarteners and 1st graders – it makes me feel bigger. When I acted from a position of paucity I felt smaller."
Since his last follow-up, the patient has occasionally communicated via email and telephone. He reports that whenever he experiences a “backsliding” or return of symptoms, repetition of one or two doses of Gecko LM5 completely resolves his symptoms.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons
Gekko Gecko; Robert Michniewicz
Gecko vitatus; Brian Gratwicke
Keywords: anxiety, fear of women, fear of confrontation, obessession with money, childhood sexual molestation, victim/aggressor, power, control