Thinking Fans Comment Update Sept. 30: Matthew Cormier wonders why Stephanie is so jealous of Brooke … jefhamlin says it all started with Beth Logan … and Cherry Ames says the marvelous Susan Flannery almost makes her want to watch B&B, but not quite. See Comments below.
By Damon L. Jacobs
Soap operas are unique in their ability to slowly portray a character’s bad behaviors, tragic downfall, and ultimate redemption. But lately I’ve been troubled by the vehemence of the anger, blame, and finger-pointing OFF screen. We have all recently seen actors, producers, anonymous bloggers and even journalists engage in attack, blame, and judging. My feeling is that many are ignoring the most consistent and essential thread in the soaps’ history: Good people do messed up things when they are afraid. If someone is in pain or insecure, they are more likely to lash out at others than to ask for help. They deserve empathy and understanding, not attack. Case in point: Stephanie Forrester.
When we first met Stephanie in 1987, we were introduced to a stylistic, calm, rational business woman (played from the start by Susan Flannery) who had a tendency to meddle a bit too much in her children’s love lives, especially her son Ridge. She particularly had an unhealthy preoccupation with Brooke Logan, who married Ridge and later Stephanie’s ex-husband Eric. Soon her anger and rage
Stephanie provides a wonderful example that people’s motivations are complex, and that when someone is being rude or cruel (whether in person or on the internet), they are usually coping with some painful emotional issues.
increased. When Brooke set out to marry her other son Thorne, Stephanie went so far as to try to stab her in the family cabin in Big Bear. She covered up the hit-and-run crime of her favorite ex-daughter-in law Taylor, faked her own heart attack to get sympathy, and ultimately pushed Jackie Marone out a window at the Forrester mansion, which cost the family their beloved company, Forrester Creations.
It was due to this latter act that Stephanie clued in to the fact that she might have some anger management issues. During her therapy session with Taylor it was revealed that Stephanie was the survivor of severe childhood abuse, frequently receiving horrendous belt beatings at the hand of her alcoholic father who resented her independent spirit. She learned how being the recipient of such violence led her to become overly concerned with her children’s lives, and contributed to her own rage-fueled violent episodes. She bravely confronted her mother about these incidents, who at first denied such abuse took place, but eventually came to take responsibility for her failure to protect her child, and begged for her forgiveness. By New Year’s 2007, Stephanie had been able to forgive her mother, face her traumatic childhood, atone for her own mistakes as a wife and parent, and receive much love and support from her family.
Sounds like a recipe for growth and making healthier choices, right? Well, for Stephanie, not so much.
Because before you could say “healed wounds,” Stephanie was back to her old patterns of lashing out at her mother, berating Eric, interfering in Ridge’s love life (and even suggesting to Ridge he “use a belt” to handle his problems with his brother Rick). Her anger toward Brooke came back in full force, as she tried to strangle her with a phone cord, kidnapped her, mocked her at the family 4th of July celebration, and tragically set into motion Brooke’s rape. Hardly the actions of a woman who has a grounded sense of mental health.
Yet despite her repeated mistakes, her family (and the audience) tends to look past her errors and forgive her. We are able to see the abused child within, and respect the adult woman who is trying to make changes. We see that every time Stephanie messes up she pays a significant price within, including isolation and depression. These past two years we’ve seen her cope with more guilt and remorse than ever before, and gained increased insight into how her cruelty has long term consequences for herself and others. If she had actually stayed in treatment, and committed herself to making changes, then I’m sure we would have seen her make much healthier and more respectful choices.
Stephanie provides a wonderful example that people’s motivations are complex, and that when someone is being rude or cruel (whether in person or on the internet), they are usually coping with some painful emotional issues. This is NOT in any way excusing someone for their poor behavior. But perhaps when we can begin to understand why people do the things they do, we can exhibit more compassion toward them, and help them to make different choices. Stephanie Forrester is slowly learning these lessons. Can you?
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 Nov. 1 by Morgan James Publishing. For more information, go to www.shouldless.com.