Harry Potter Syndrome
I call it Harry Potter Syndrome. We find ourselves trapped in one world, desperately longing to escape to another—one where we feel powerful, affirmed, chosen, and blessed.
Many of us remember our first visit to Privet Drive. The quiet neighborhood where we first met a boy with glasses and hair that won’t stay in place, living under the stairs. J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece of children’s fiction was, and remains, an enormous commercial and critical success. Her story takes us into a world, known by many, where a young and well-meaning adolescent boy suffers from (in our language here at Faithful & True) a failure in all Seven Desires.
Chosen? – He’s living under the stairs at the home of his only relatives, always an object of humiliation.
Included? – He has no friends and is only able to go on a visit to the zoo because his aunt and uncle don’t trust him at home.
Safe? – He’s bullied at school and at home, and too small to stand up for himself.
Safe touch? – The closest he gets here is Dudley, his over-large cousin, beating him regularly.
Heard/Understood? – Yeah, right: by whom?
Affirmed? – He’s a disgrace, a loser, and nothing he does or can do ever gets recognized.
Blessed? – He’s an orphan, cut off from his parents, and knows no one to treasure him unconditionally.
Rowling paints a fairly one-sided picture and does so without apology. But that’s not to say it’s unrecognizable. In fact, many of us have known ourselves in that little boy: in a home where I’m not understood, not safe with who I am, never able to be “enough” even for those who ought to love me no matter what. She paints a portrait of a lot of modern Western adolescents: lonely, isolated, and powerless.
And then comes the plot twist…Harry finds out that a world exists where he is “the chosen one.” The definite article is important: just as his not being chosen was in an extreme, so here he is, THE chosen one. In this other world he finds he’s powerful, known, and celebrated to the same extent he was powerless, unknown, and not celebrated in the first world. He has friends who are loyal and good. In this world his parents, though dead, really did love him absolutely. His headmaster, a father figure more powerful than anyone else, affirms him and trusts him. Sure, he has his struggles with some people, but he’s strong, good, powerful, and all Seven Desires are suddenly met.
A lot of us know the longing for that second world, and many of us have spent so much time trying to live in that second world. For some it comes while lying in bed, fantasizing about winning the lottery, having different parents/families, excelling in sports, garnering fame, or having all the affirmation, inclusion, and chosenness that sex whispers to us. For some, the effort to live in that world includes pornography, one-night stands, and affairs. We sexualize the Seven Desires and try to live in that world where our desires are met (at least for a moment, or at least a moment with a shadow of the truth).
Longing to Escape
I have taken to calling this the Harry Potter Syndrome. We find ourselves that little boy or girl, trapped in one world and desperately longing to escape to another—one where we can feel powerful, affirmed, chosen, and blessed. We escape to that world, not through Diagon Alley, but through our phones or hook-up apps, through our own imaginations or the person we meet at the bar. But it is always a desperate attempt to escape. And like all desperation it derives from despair (in Latin spero is hope, and de-speratio is having no hope).
At Faithful & True we help men and couples face into our very real world, even if it feels more like Privet Drive rather than Hogwarts. That means facing into what it means sometimes not to feel chosen, safe, blessed, or affirmed. It means learning to grieve, to be angry, to take responsibility for our own lives in that self-same world. It means giving up our search for Diagon Alley, not to admit defeat and live humiliated in the cupboard under the stairs, but to stand upright in faith, hope, and love. It also means that we learn to stop pretending. Life on Privet Drive was sometimes ugly for us, too. It hurt and we don’t have to be alone or in despair.
I love the Harry Potter books—we’re reading them with our kids right now. I talk openly with them about my own struggles with Harry Potter Syndrome. I remember I felt like Harry at Privet Drive all the time in junior high. Do you feel like that sometimes? Because a part of our healing is to bring our good longings for what Hogwarts promises back into the reality of Privet Drive. We learn to express those desires, invite others in, and unashamedly seek—and often find!—those desires met. Only now those desires are met in truth rather than fantasy, substance rather than shadows.