By Damon L. Jacobs
Days of Our Lives‘ Sami and her twin brother were born into a loving intact family. Her father was on the police force, her mother was a psychiatrist, her doting older half-sister loved her. What could possibly go wrong?
More like what DIDN’T go wrong! In her childhood alone, Sami (played by Alison Sweeney) dealt with the death of her father, the death of her mother, the return of her father, countless father’s girlfriends, only to learn he wasn’t her father at all, and both her real parents were being kept alive on an island but separated and then returned home. Confused? Imagine going through this before you are even a teenager!
I rehash all this history only to remind us that Sami’s subsequent desperate attempts to receive love took place in a context. No, the Soap Shrink does not endorse nor excuse acts of kidnapping, blackmail, date rape, altering paternity tests, faking paralysis, wrongly accusing someone of child abuse, or making poor French toast. But it is my job to see beyond these acts into the soul of a very unstable and frightened young woman.
I’m sure at this point Sami would be happy to interject and blame all her emotional problems on watching Marlena cheat on Roman with John. But I’m here to say that life long destructive behavioral patterns are not formed by watching your mother have sex on a conference table. Trust me.
Much like General Hospsital‘s Carly Corinthos, Sami is motivated by an intense fear of abandonment. This makes sense if you consider that in her early years she was completely unable to trust that a parental figure would remain stable in her life. From the point of view of a child, a parent’s death feels like an abandonment, a rejection, or a validation that she is completely unlovable. When her biological parents returned, this would have been an ideal time to bring young Sami and Eric into family counseling. Instead they tried to just go on like everything was normal. Faux-father (John) was out of her life, and once again young Sami had to cope with the loss of a significant parental figure. (And yes, Days fans, I know she briefly went to counseling after trying to kidnap and sell Belle on the black market, but she only went like two times!)
This was literally the recipe for what happened next. As a teenager she began to seek out the love and reassurance that she missed from her parents. She found what seemed like her Holy Grail in Austin Reed. For years we watched Sami as she plotted, schemed, lied, begged, and manipulated, to get Austin to fill the emotional void within her. When she couldn’t get it from Austin, she sought out validation from Lucas, who used her vulnerability to convince her she was overweight. And then she turned to Alan, who tragically used her vulnerability to assault her.
Despite her history, Sami has some significant strengths. She has recently demonstrated a newfound maturity and ability to consider the feelings of others. In her mind, marrying EJ was a completely selfless gesture to try to spare her family any more pain from the DiMeras. She has attempted to amend her differences with her parents, and even John. As far as we know, she has not binged or purged in about 15 years, which is remarkable given the seriousness of an eating disorder and Sami’s limited ways to cope with stress. Between surviving death row and a second sexual assault, she seems to be able to use tragedy to reevaluate some of her choices and self-destructive behavioral patterns.
And hey, if your computer ever broke down, is there anyone else in Salem you would want to call?
Sami presents as a classic profile in Borderline Personality Disorder. Her intense fear of being alone leads her to frequently act in ways that are harmful to herself and others. She demonstrates extreme love or hate toward people in her life, seemingly unable to find a middle ground between “all good” and “all bad.” Her relationships are unstable, as she quickly vacillates between Lucas and EJ. And, much to the chagrin of many a therapist, she frequently regresses back to earlier behavioral traits after several years of dormant symptoms (i.e., chasing Austin in 2005 after being happy with Lucas, hacking into more hospital files, spontaneously hating John, etc.).
Effective therapy with Sami would have to be consistent, structured, and stable. She can be quite smart at times, and has demonstrated an improved ability to respond rationally in certain contexts. These are important assets when it comes to using therapy to change one’s thought structure, accept more responsibility, limit impulsivity, and reduce self-destructive habits.
But as far as her cooking is concerned, I’m afraid she’s going to need outside consultation.
Damon L. Jacobs is a family and relationship therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve, to be published in September by Morgan James Publishing. For more book news, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.