In Euripedes’ Medea the main character was a woman scorned. She felt as if she is nothing but filth in the eyes of her husband Jason.
But instead of merely feeling sorry for himself he concocted an elaborate scheme of revenge and because of her vile emotions and cunning she murdered Jason’s lover, Jason’s father-in-law, and the most sickening of all she also murdered her two sons from Jason. Thousands of years after this piece of literature was written lovers still fight and husbands and wife separate. In the United States the rate of divorce is astounding but man and wife, just like Medea sometimes would not let go of the past and move on with their lives. They concoct schemes to destroy the symbol of their marriage (Gunsberg & Hyowitz 116). Today this phenomenon is known as the Medea Syndrome and the most affected members of the family are not the parents who went through divorce but the children who became the unwilling participants in the ongoing psychological warfare between former husband and wife.
Medea fell in love with the charming but complicated Jason. In fact she had to do several undesirable things in order for their relationship to blossom. She had to trick the daughters of a powerful leader named Pelias and made them kill their father.
She had to pay the price and be exiled in a foreign land. She had to turn her back from her relatives and family in order to be with Jason in Corinth. But her sacrifices and her devotion was never repaid in kind. Instead, Jason chose ambition over her. Jason wanted to have a bright future for himself and so he married the daughter of Creon, King of Corinth.
The narrator of the story beautifully summarized her feelings and desperation through the following words: …wasting away in tears ever since she learnt that she was wronged by her husband, never lifting her eye nor raising her face from off the ground; and she lends as deaf an ear to her friend’s warning as if she were a rock or ocean billow, save when she turns her snow-white neck aside and softly to herself bemoans her father dear, her country and her home, which she gave up to come hither with the man who now holds her in dishonor (Euripides par. 1). Jason’s second mistake was to ignore her.
His third mistake was to forget that this is the same woman who was cunning enough to destroy Pelias. He thought that she will just move on with her life and this was his terrible miscalculation. In a scheme that no one understood and no one anticipated Medea feigned agreement to the sin of Jason and to throw her opponents off-guard she even gave her rival a gift. No one knew it was poisoned.
Her father panicked when he saw her daughter stricken by a powerful venom that consumed her body and when he tried to help her and therefore rubbing his bare flesh with the garment he too succumbed from the deadly substance present in the fibers. One could just imagine the sorrow felt by Jason. The ramifications of Medea’s actions to terrible to contemplate. The world will know that his bride was murdered by his ex-wife.
It is an unbearable tragedy but Medea was just warming up and when she knew that the first stage of her plan was completed she went to her sons and murdered them. According to experts what Medea did was to destroy the symbol of marriage and thus the psychological and physical pain caused by warring spouses who are separated or divorced is now known as the Medea Syndrome (Rosse 88). It is a phenomenon that is not only affecting man and woman but also their offspring.
Clinicians made an interesting connection to Medea and the behavior of rejected lovers, quarreling spouses, and divorced couples and they wrote, “In the ‘Medea Syndrome,’ people who feel betrayed in a relationship seek revenge against the person who offended them by harming their joint offspring” (Rosse 88). They also added that the Medea Syndrome can occur in both men and women (Rose 88). Men are not immune to this problem. Another jarring fact was pointed out by clinicians who said that although in the myth Medea was able to escape, in real-life, women with acute manifestations of the Medea Syndrome do not only murder their children but they also commit suicide afterwards (Rose 88).
It can be said that these are extreme cases this is because “People who are having Medea-like homicide fantasies usually are in considerable emotional distress and are always in need of psychiatric help” (Rosse 89). Most of the time the demonstration of the Medea Syndrome is seen through the use of psychological warfare between divorced couples and usually this involves their children.
Divorce happens when husband and wife decided that they cannot live anymore. This is merely the end result of a very long process, of conflicts that were never resolved. Sometimes the reason for divorce is similar to what happened to Medea and Jason – infidelity and too many unmet expectations.
When former lovers decided to end their relationship the sweetness of their past engagement is replaced by bitterness and hate but sustained with the same passion as when they were still in love. Unfortunately, divorce comes at a time when husband and wife are not the only people that comprise that particular family, most of the time children stand between two warring parties. In a disturbing twist one parent suddenly decides to follow the footsteps of Medea and exact revenge by harming both the minor and the adult. The manifestation of Medea Syndrome varies in each case.
It can be argued that seeking revenge by killing the offspring of the marriage is the extreme form of this psychological problem. With regards to divorced couples the most common problem is not the murder of the innocents but by subjecting them to a life of emotional turmoil in a related phenomenon called Parental Alienation Syndrome or PAS. The classic expression of this syndrome is the refusal of a child to visit or see one parent. Usually it is the non-custodial parent who will become the target of parental alienation (Rohrbaugh 399).
This problem can be fully understood after re-examining the story of Medea, the woman scorned, who used her tricks and schemes to let the husband share in her desolation and pain. According to clinicians, children who suddenly develop PAS after the parents divorced is not an indication that the other parent is abusive and they added, “These children may have experienced pressure to form an angry alliance with the custodial parent that is designed to exclude, reject, and humiliate the other parent” (Rohrbaugh 399). Similar to what Medea did, parents with Medea-like problems use their cunning and their obsession to exact revenge by making their former partner suffer. But what they do not realize is that it is taking a toll on their children. Young children do not automatically become the willing pawn of an aggrieved parent. They have to be taught to behave this way. A therapist clarified the process by saying that a parent has to program or brainwash their children to do so (Rohrbaugh 400).
Clinicians also revealed that, “By ‘programming’ they mean a belief system designed to damage the child’s image of the target parent in terms of his or her moral, physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and educational qualities … by brainwashing they mean the application of specific techniques to control and change the child’s thoughts and perceptions” (Rohrbaugh 400). Medea used poison to inflict deep emotional wounds on Jason but 21st century parents use their own children to do the dirty work for them. When Medea murdered her two sons she was not only depriving Jason of two children but she actually destroyed something else that is very important to Jason which is an heir.
All of a sudden Jason had nothing worth living for. Medea took everything away from him, his two sons, his bride, and his political allies. In the modern age the aggrieved parent is driven to manipulate children and use them against another parent in order to destroy something special that existed between parent and child and it is the loving relationship that used to be the source of joy and contentment.
By using a child against a parent one has created the most painful method of exacting revenge. The most powerful weapon in the alienating parent’s arsenal is what experts call as distortion, “A disturbed parent uses language to rationalize and to distort reality” (Gordon 48). For instance, “…a child adamantly refuses to visit the noncustodial parent, claiming that this parent is mean, abusive, uncaring, and otherwise unloving toward the child, often buttressed with false allegations of physical and/or sexual abuse aginst the noncustodial parent” (Gunsberg & Hymowitz 115). The child is made to believe lies and successfully turning a child against a fater or a mother. There is only one problem with this method, “In doing so they severely damage and sometimes destroy the child’s psyche as well” (Gunsberg & Hymowitz 116).One can just imagine the kind of psychological and emotional stress the child has to go through every time the alienating parent attempts to program or brainwash the child by distorting reality. Experts believe that when these children grow they soon will manifest behavioral problems as a result of their past experiences with distortion and the like (Gordon 49). Clearly there is no justification for using children as tools to deal with emotional and psychological issues.
The alienating parent must seek help immediately.
Medea was a woman scorned and her reaction was something that no one anticipated. It was decisive and brutal the byproduct of her cunning and obsession. She knew really well where to hurt Jason and it is by taking away everything from him, not only his bride or his future but also his most treasured thing on earth – his children. In the modern age clinicians discovered that parents are susceptible to the same madness and they aptly label it as the Medea Syndrome. Although parents kill the symbol of their marriage as a form of retribution this is rarely the case when it comes to divorced couples.
Instead, they destroy each other by programming or brainwashing their children to learn to hate the other parent. They may succeed in creating deep and lasting emotional pain to get back for what the other has done but they forget that their children will be scarred for life. This has to stop and it begins by spreading this information so that the alienating and disturbed parent will know the harm he or she is doing to the child.
Euripides. Medea. Trans. E.
P. Coleridge. The Internet Classics Archive. Web. 06.
Feb. 2011. Gordon, Robert.
An Expert Look at Love, Intimacy and Personal Growth. Allentown, PA: IAPT Press, 2006. Print. Gunzberg, Linda & Paul Hymowitz. A Handbook of Divorce and Custody: Forensic, Developmental, and Clinical Perspectives . Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 2005. Print. Rorbaugh, Joanna.
A Comprehensive Guide to Child Custody Evaluations. New York, NY: Springer, 2008. Print. Rosse, Richard. The Love Trauma Syndrome: Free Yourself from the Pain of a Broken Heart . Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 1999.