On the Soap Shrink’s Couch: General Hospital’s Carly Corinthos Jacks

By Damon L. Jacobs

Hello and welcome to my cyber office.  These sessions will be an opportunity for us to examine the psychological profiles of some of our favorite soap characters, explore their symptoms, and get a better grasp of why they do the things they do.  My hope is that we will have a dialogue about each person, and this will lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of our shows.  I welcome your feedback in the comments section below.  

On the Soap Shrink’s Couch this week:  Carly Corinthos Jacks (played by Laura Wright).

What’s the problem?  

Carly’s behaviors have ranged from cruel (seducing Tony) to dangerously violent (shooting Tony, leaving A.J. drunk and abandoned in an alley), to outright psychotic (Emily and a sickle … need I say more?).  

At the root of her actions is an intense need to avoid abandonment.  She came to Port Charles initially to seek vengeance on the person she considered to be the source of her pain:  Bobbie Spencer. Bobbie gave Carly up for adoption at birth because she was a poor unwed prostitute at the time, and even Bobbie knew that brothel wasn’t the ideal place to bring up a young daughter.  

Carly perceived this as the ultimate rejection, and thought that making Bobbie pay would alleviate her pain.  But guess what?  Hurting others does NOT heal emotional suffering.  Once Carly “succeeded” in hurting Bobbie, she embarked on an endless quest for men to fill the emptiness inside her.  Jason, Tony, A.J., Sonny, Zander, Lorenzo, and now Jax, have all became part of her desperate attempts to feel whole and cared for.  When she perceives herself as not getting a satisfying amount of validation, watch out!  She may simply yell at the “other woman” she perceives to be getting in her way.  But, if truly scorned she may do something more drastic, like faking her death for a week just so she could attend her own funeral and see who came to mourn her.  

On a few occasions, Carly has even been known to lapse in a psychotic state.  When this happens, watch out again!  She hallucinates, she thinks  people are out to get her, she stabs innocent pillows.  

What about her strengths?    

This girl has resilience like nobody’s business.  If you’re ever on the wrong side of a bullet during child labor, this is the person you want by your side.  She can go toe-to-toe with cops, judges and mob bosses and usually come out ahead.  She is fiercely loyal to those she loves, and has been increasingly able to accept unconditional love from healthier sources, namely her husband Jax.  

Most recently she has had to cope with the crippling trauma of her firstborn son Michael getting shot, and being left permanently comatose. Yes, I know there is no such thing as “permanently comatose” on a soap, but stay with me here.  This violent act against her son has shattered the entire illusionary world she has built for herself of never-ending attention from mobsters.  For the first time she is being forced to grow up and take inventory of the priorities and choices she has made in her adult life.

Okay, she’s been taking her rage out on others. Sure, she’s irrational.  And yes, doing the nasty with Sonny in the back of the limo right after dropping their comatose son off at an institution was using very poor judgment.  But hello, this woman’s entire life is crumbling around her. When our entire foundations are thrown off, we tend to do things that can be reckless, impulsive or downright tacky.  Carly has always used her sexuality to make herself feel important, real, and alive.  It makes sense that she would use it again when she sees her world falling apart.  At least she’s not attacking any girls in the park with sickles!  

Analysis:

Carly is a classic example of someone suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder, a disorder that describes a series of chronic and impairing personality traits.  It is typified by someone who is terrified of being abandoned, is desperately attention-seeking, has a history of unstable relationships and tends to see others as “all good” or “all bad.”  It’s referred to as “Borderline” because it can straddle the border between psychotic and neurotic traits.  It often results in one going to great lengths in order to get attention and validation, or to draw someone back in when they are stepping away.  Example:  the week when Carly found Sonny and Alexis in bed together, and then was rejected by Zander, she went so far as to fake her death  in order to get attention and caring from everyone.  In real life, we see reactions more on the order of wrist cutting, drug relapses, superficial suicide attempts, or provocative statements like, “I’m just going to go kill myself,” when someone doesn’t get their way.  

Carly seems to be holding it together for now, but she is walking a thin line.  Based on her history, I’d say she’d better get herself to a therapist STAT, or reserve the next available room at Rose Lawn.

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 shouldless@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. esther says:

    LOL!!! Great first column, Damon. Loved it! Do you take requests? I’d love to see Alexis analyzed….or if you do past characters, Holly from GL would be a hoot.

    Damon says: Thank you, Esther, for your kind words and support. Yes, I look forward to delving into the psyche of many of our favorites, past and present. Stay tuned!

  2. Grace says:

    Wow. I am so excited to see this.

    I wait with bated breathe for your analysis of Todd Manning.

    Damon says: Thank you for reading and commenting, Grace. I think you’ll be pleased with what you see.

  3. Cherry Ames says:

    I love this new feature. I’ve always wondered what a shrink might say about some of the characters on soaps and to read your diagnosis of borderline personality disorder for Carly is dead on. I understand that it is very difficult to treat B.P.D. and that a “cure” is nearly impossible. Carly and other very colorful and troubled soap characters are fun to watch but I wouldn’t want to be related to or live next door to most of these people-especially the entire Corinthos clan and extended family. Yikes!

    I’m going to be on the lookout for your book — sounds like something very helpful for me. Thanks for an interesting view from the couch!

    Damon says: Hi Cherry. I’m SO glad you liked this column, and hope you’ll continue to read and comment about the characters we’ll talk about in the future. You are quite right in saying that a “cure” for B.P.D. is unlikely, but there are many successful techniques for treating it. Keep reading!

    I wouldn’t want to live next to the Corinthos clan either — not without bullet proof windows anyway. And great home insurance to cover all the fires and explosions I’d be dealing with.

  4. Heather says:

    I believe that it is marvelous that you have taken this on. In real life, I am a counselor and primarily deal with victims of domestic violence – so I applaud you for beginning to deal with these issues. Although, technically – Carly did not actually ‘fake’ her own death. What happened was that Carly rushed out of the apartment, after catching a glimpse of Sonny with Alexis and jumped in her car and went driving off by herself. Carly, up until that point, had been terrified at the prospect of driving her own car. But she had been encouraged to take driving lessons so that she could begin take function on her own. Not being a great driver, when one of those mysterious, crashing Port Charles storms came up, Carly accidentally drove her car off the road and into some kind of major lake which is supposedly somewhere in the vicinity of Port Charles.

    Having been raised in Florida, Carly managed to free herself from the sinking car and swam to shore. Once on shore, she took shelter and just vegged out for a few days. She figured that people might be looking for her – but she also figured that it would serve them right if they were worried about her. So Carly didn’t exactly rush to let her loved ones know that she was OK. The (as I recall – abandoned) cabin where Carly took shelter of course – in true Port Charles fashion – had no modern conveniences – such as radio, television, telephone, etc.

    When Carly finally began to feel better and felt rested, she hiked to a nearby store, where she realized for the first time that her car had been discovered in the lake and, since no body had been found and Carly had NOT checked in with any authorities – it had been presumed that Carly had drowned in the lake. So, technically, Carly did not exactly ‘fake her own death.’ However, Carly DID perceive that her loved ones would probably be wondering WHERE she was – and Carly deliberately took her own sweet time, gathering her strength to be able to explore her surroundings and discover exactly where she was and how to get home from there. AND Carly DID believe that it would ‘serve them right,’ if her loved ones were worried about her.

    On a more important note, I hope that your next project will be to undertake a discussion about the problems which have been created since Sonny Corinthos has sort of become ABC television’s ‘poster child’ for public service announcements about bipolar disorders. For one thing, I know people who really DO deal with bipolar disorders in their real lives. Many of them are horrified that ABC, General Hospital, Soap Net and – worst of all – DISNEY – are attempting to promote INTERNATIONALLY the premise that mobster Sonny Corinthos is an example of the SUCCESSFUL way to treat bipolar disorders. For one thing – if Sonny’s ‘treatment’ – which apparently consists of taking some medication and occasionally consulting with Dr. Lainey Winters – is considered successful – then why would Sonny STILL be running all over town, threatening to murder people several times a day – PLUS successfully ordering and carrying out various murders. People I know who DO deal with bipolar disorders believe that ABC-General Hospital-Soap Net and Disney are promoting the notion that, when bipolar disorders are being SUCCESSFULLY handles, the patient can STILL carry out multiple murders without feeling a twinge of remorse!

    I believe that if you could undertake to deal with the way in which the General Hospital writers have been dealing with Sonny’s supposed bipolar disorder – you would be performing a public service of far greater value than any ‘public service announcement’ which has been offered so far by General Hospital, ABC, Soap Net OR (unfortunately) the nation’s babysitter – DISNEY!

    Sincerely,

    Heather

    Damon says: Hello Heather, thank you for your thoughtful insights. And thank you for reminding us that Carly did not consciously plot and plan to fake her own death. But as you pointed out, her whole attitude was pretty much “let ‘em suffer.” The intention may not have been to play dead, but she did manipulate the outcome for sympathy and attention.

    You make a strong point about Sonny and Bipolar, and this would make a great topic for a future column. My standpoint is that the real problem is not so much GH and Disney, but the entire genre’s lack of diversity. When you only have ONE character with Bipolar (or gay, or Asian, or coping with a disability of some sort) then the weight of representation falls on that one person. A heavy weight to carry, indeed.

  5. SallyV says:

    Thanks for the interesting column Damon. I know many people hate the character of Carly, but I’ve always found her fascinating to watch…kinda like a train wreck! Look forward to you analyzing Kendall Hart Slater.

    Damon says: SallyV — wasn’t it funny that Carly the Train Wreck reappeared a few years back in the midst of a train wreck? I remember thinking, “well, that makes sense!”

  6. Jessica says:

    Very cool idea. I liked how you tied together all of her wacky behavior from the past and the present to come up with a conclusive diagnosis, and also how you gave situations that other people can relate to, to understand the character of Carly on a realistic level. I too would like to read Todd Manning’s diagnosis!

    Damon says: Thank you Jessica, I really appreciate you letting me know what you like about this column.

  7. CeCe says:

    This is so awesome. I have spent many a afternoons wondering what in the heck is wrong with some of my favorite characters and what could possibly be wrong with me for rooting for them after they have done things that are inexplicable. This is like a dream come true a real life professional who can just diagnose what has come over them.

    Will you be picking characters at random or is there a system such as picking a character form a different show each time you analyze.

    Thank you so much for doing this!

    Damon says: Gold Star, CeCe — you have articulated how soaps can often help us real people develop compassion and tolerance for those who act out in cruel ways. I do think soaps used to this more effectively, but even the ones on now usually encourage the viewer to have empathy toward people who do messed up things. And then, perhaps, we can expand that understanding to the people in our own lives.

    I plan to pick characters that are well known to viewers and come to symbolize certain psychological issues. But I am open to your suggestions as to which ones you would like to see.

  8. CC says:

    I was glad to see the limo sex issue addressed. Many commentators condemned the soap writers for an act that seemed out of place and unwarranted. To me, it was very believable. Two parents essentially buried their first born, a grief like no other. People act out in very irrational ways during extreme stress, and these two had to say goodbye to their baby boy. I don’t condone the act, but it was very real.

    Damon says: Exactly! It may have been distasteful and self-destructive, but it was consistent with how Carly has been written for the past 12 years.

  9. CeCe says:

    Thank you for taking suggestions.

    I would love to know what you think of Blair Cramer besides her relentless lack of self esteem. This woman repeatedly married a rapist and had children with him while she herself is a product of rape, What is wrong with her?

    Damon says: You pose interesting questions, CeCe. I think Blair’s contradictory actions would puzzle any shrink, Soap or otherwise. Let’s give this one some thought.

  10. maizie says:

    Methinks you should have started this series off with an analysis of the head writer, Bob Guza. Explain his misogyny. But I enjoyed Carly as your first couch.

  11. CC says:

    I agree completely that what Carly did, in Marlena’s words, “was not natural at all” because losing one’s child is not natural. The idea of grief-stricken people giving in to self-destructive behaviors is realistic, particularly for people who are already self-destructive. I do not think this plot point was far-fetched at all.

    What bothered me, and maybe you too, is that for once, Carly seemed to get it. She understood that her own actions and irrational behaviors led directly to Michael’s shooting. She started to take responsibility for it, and while that doesn’t make everything okay, it gave us hope that Carly had turned a corner. By sleeping with Sonny, Carly showed us that she really hasn’t learned anything, and that was disappointing.

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