My ACA Blog Post this week: A Counselor’s Search for Work
I went to New York when I was 19 years old with a few girlfriends. We decided we wanted to go on TRL (Total Request Live for those of you who didn’t watch MTV every day after school like I did) and lo and behold, Lindsay Lohan was the guest star for that day. It was the stage where every one was beginning to suspect things were amiss. She was still dating Wilmer Valderrama (you remember that mess of a relationship?) and she was on the show to promote one of her Disney movies or something.
She walked out looking quite chipper and stood right in front of me. She had on leggings and as I sat there staring at her calf (since I was on the edge of the stage sitting, you guys that watched know what I’m talking about), I began to notice how fragile her leg looked. Then I peered up at the rest of her body and it was all like that. I swear I could have broken her wrists if I had sneezed on her hard enough.
As we all know, that was sort of the beginning of the end for her career. There was Mean Girls and then there was… disaster. We can all point our fingers at this young lady and say “drug addict!”, “jezebel!”, “lazy and selfish!” or we can practice some empathy and try to understand why Lindsay Lohan is more than just a spoiled starlet and someone who probably needs counseling and a serious reprogramming of her life.
Family & Upbringing
So, we all know Lindsay’s parents are pretty horrendous. She’s got a bad case of stage-mom. Dina Lohan, Lindsay’s mom, has regularly encouraged Lindsay’s acting, modeling, and singing career. In the beginning it was great because Lindsay was young and she wanted to do these things. She was obviously talented, I mean come on, how cute was she in The Parent Trap remake? Parents are responsible for setting boundaries and saying no, something I don’t think Lindsay ever heard from her mom. Why should she? She was making tons of money, her mother was living vicariously through her daughter’s stardom, and things were going swimmingly. Did I mention Dina is a former singer and dancer? Yeah.
Lindsay’s parents are divorced. Not just divorced, but like super-turbulent divorced. They separted when Lindsay was three (strangely synchronized with when Lindsay’s modeling career started) and later reunited. They separated in 2005 and finalized their divorce in 2007. Talk about a rough childhood. Divorce is traumatic for any kid, but imagine the constant separation and reunion of your parents and the likely volatile behaviors surrounding these circumstances. Oh, by the way, Lindsay has three younger siblings who act and model, all going through this process as well.
Also, Michael Lohan has been incarcerated on multiple occasions, beginning with his 1990 conviction for insider trading and contempt of court. He was again incarcerated for violating his probation by flying to California to see Lindsay after she had an asthma attack on set.
Not surprisingly, Lindsay’s parents have created a fair amount of drama and tension around how her career should be handled. Dina is Lindsay’s manager and Michael has maintained she should have a professional manager. This disagreement resulted in a fistfight between Michael and Dina’s brother outside of Michael’s Long Island home following their youngest son Dakota’s first communion. While awaiting sentencing for aggravated assault based on this fight, Michael was in a car accident where he was convicted of a DUI. Yep.
So, we’ll highlight that Lindsay was traumatized from an early age. The oldest child in a fractured family often gets the brunt of the emotional baggage parents go through as the couple dissolves. Dina probably felt for a good portion of her life that Lindsay was the closest thing to a friend she had along with the only way of making a regular income. Divorce is traumatic on its own, but the continued reunion and dissolution of a relationship is just so difficult for a young child to understand and very often becomes something the child blames themselves for if the relationship especially ends. In this circumstance, I would not be surprised if Lindsay felt she needed to be successful in modeling and acting to relieve the pressure on her parent’s relationship and facilitate their reunion, especially with younger siblings in the picture.
The presence of a father in the home of young girls and women has been proven time and again to be a positive influence on the outcome of how young girls grow up. Specifically, having a father in the home of a daughter is known to be linked to later engagement of sexual intercourse and abstaining from substance use and abuse.
Career & The Rest
I’m sure most of us are aware of Lindsay’s successes and failures. We know she was awesome in Mean Girls, I loved her for her beautiful red hair, feminine body, and seemingly normal life. She was a girl I thought I could relate to (remember I am just a year younger than her, it made sense to me). Lindsay admits her downfall is associated with her dad’s public discussions about the family’s private life, including his desperate attempts to reconcile his relationship with Lindsay. My opinion as an outsider is that both Linday’s folks have a bad case of wanting to be famous as well.
“When my father was going public, that’s when I hit rock bottom. I abused substances too much and it wasn’t the answer to my problems. People need to know that. I tried to mask my problems with alcohol, cocaine and mind-altering substances. Now I’m in a place where I don’t need to use anything and I can feel emotions because I choose to.”
Michael Lohan is a self-reported alcoholic, which is something else we know about kids. When kids see their parents abuse substances, they are more likely to abuse substances. It’s the adults who use substances in moderation who most commonly have children who do the same. We also know addiction is genetic.
Lindsay had her two DUIs in 2007 which got her placed on probation. Then there was the whole drama with stealing necklaces. Also, don’t forget about her highly publicized and volatile relationship with Sam Ronson. There were reports of diva behavior and stealing from photo shoots.She was “out of control,” and as a country we all thought it was necessary to have Nancy Grace host an entire show harping about Lindsay’s behavior. Joy.
The Case File
There’s only so much resilience involved in a situation like Lindsay Lohan’s. Kids who don’t grow up under the scrutiny of millions with 1/5 of Lindsay’s trauma or life experiences have a difficult time not turning to substance abuse or outlandish behavior. The source of this stuff is almost always anger and victimization and to some extent, girlfriend has a right to be angry. Her upbringing was chaotic and confusing, she had substance abuse and bad behavior as examples of how to handle life’s problems (e.g. beating up your brother-in-law over a family disagreement), along with the cards stacked against her in relation to her father’s presence in her life. Add in that addiction is genetic and I’m not surprised she kept it together as long as she did. Oh, did I mentioned that she was the main breadwinner for her entire family? No surprise Dina wasn’t so keen on getting Lindsay treatment and intervening in her substance use. That’s what we call enabling.
While her career is not a lustrous as it once was, let’s give credit where credit is due. Lindsay Lohan is still alive and she’s still working, albeit not as often as she once did, and maybe that’s good for her, no? Three attempts at rehab and some semblance of self-awareness about what her issues are and how her father’s behavior contributed to her substance abuse. I’ve spoken to many clients who are twice her age who lack that insight. Plus, she hasn’t given up. She keeps going.
I have a feeling most of us wouldn’t want to trade our lives in for the life of Lindsay Lohan. That’s the marker of someone who deserves understanding from others instead of persecution. Some of the most unlikeable, easy-to-judge people are the ones that if we really understood them and practiced a little bit of grace, we’d find that they are the ones with the biggest emotional wounds. Having a crappy upbringing isn’t a good reason for being a jerk, but it’s a foundation for empathy, which is what makes all of us better human beings. This much we know.