Following with “The Matrix and narcissistic abuse” series, let’s analyze what is, possibly, the most “as literal literal as it gets” scene from the movie, to help us understand the dynamics of narcissistic abuse and what victims represent to narcissists.
So, Neo has been pulled out of his “cocoon” or “pod” (what would you call that??”), then goes through the process of having his entire body adjusted to live in the real world. This takes time, but when he’s finally ready to stand on his two feet, Morpheus has him sit on the reclining chair where he gets plugged into the “construct”. The construct is a loading program that allows Morpheus to give Neo a practical explanation about what the Matrix is, and demonstrate its power, its functioning and, above all, how real it feels, despite the fact that they are, in fact, inside a computer program.
Let’s watch this scene and I’ll comment below.
I watched this scene quite a few times to try and capture as many details as I could. After the last time watching it, to start writing this post, I felt sick to my stomach. The type of feeling many other victims may relate to, or feel themselves as well.
There are obvious aspects that immediately jump the eyes, relating to narcissistic abuse. But I’ll keep my comments in sequential order:
MORPHEUS: This is the construct. It’s our loading program. We can load anything, from clothing, to equipment, weapons, training simulations. Anything we need.
The construct could be seen as the beginning of a romantic relationship with a narcissist. It’s a fresh starting simulated reality, full of possibilities – for better or worse. Victim and narcissist haven’t yet built anything together. This is the blank canvas into which the narcissist will load anything he needs. So he starts loading the “love bombing”. It’s simulated, but it will feel real to victims. Then he loads devaluation. He keeps loading whatever serves his purpose of keeping you trapped and extracting supply from you.
NEO: Right now, we’re inside a computer program?
MORPHEUS: Is it really so hard to believe? Your clothes are different, the plugs in your arms and head are gone, your hair has changed. Your appearance now is what we call ‘residual self-image’. It is the mental projection of your digital self.
What calls my attention the most here is the idea of “residual self-image”. The narcissist will change your perception of everything around you, including yourself. The real you is out there, laying still somewhere out in the real world, however completely inaccessible to you. The only thing left of you inside the narcissist’s program is your fleeting residual self-image. Only a projection of your real self, interacting with the manipulative tactics and behaviors the narcissist is loading into the program.
NEO: This… this isn’t real?
Let’s keep in mind that New is waking up to the reality of the Matrix. He is starting to grasp that he had been living in a false, simulated world. Yet, he can feel what he’s touching. Hence, the inevitable question: “This… isn’t real?” When victims of narcissistic abuse finally find a way out of the relationship, something very similar happens. Upon the discovery of having been in a narcissistic relationship, this is the type of question we ask ourselves. “Wait, so you mean to tell me that none of that was real? No real love? No real empathy? Those “good times” were actually part of the manipulation?” Neo’s expression while saying this is very easy to relate to, if we think about how we felt when we first started to understand what that relationship meant to the narcissist.
MORPHEUS: What is ‘real’? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.
Electrical signals interpreted by the brain relate to the any input victims receive from the narcissist. Gaslighting, lying, manipulation, belittling, devaluation, ghosting, the silent treatment, the love bombing, all of it. The false reality the narcissist attempts (and succeeds) to make you internalize. What you come to believe is what the narcissists wants you to believe. This is his construct, his program. He lays and changes the rules as he sees fit and will surround you with the necessary input to confuse you and blind you from the truth about who he is and what he’s doing. And we believe it. It feels as real to us as the Matrix to the people trapped inside it.
MORPHEUS: This is the world that you know. The world as it was at the end of the twentieth century. It exists now only as part of a neural-interactive simulation… that we call the matrix.
Morpheus is showing Neo what his simulated reality looked like. To those of us watching the scene, those images look completely familiar – as they do to Neo. This is how we also feel, fresh out of a relationship with a narcissist. The memories are still fresh, it still feels real and looking at it with the knowledge that it was simply a simulated reality can be quite shocking and feel quite alien.
MORPHEUS: You’ve been living in a dream world, Neo. This is the world as it exists today.
Morpheus is now showing the horror of the real world outside the Matrix. The reality behind the illusion. There’s nothing but destruction as far as the eyes can see. It’s a dark and horrific scene, very much like what is left of a victim’s life after either being discarded or leaving the narcissist. And also very much the image of the narcissist himself – impersonated destruction.
MORPHEUS: Welcome to the desert of the real.
MORPHEUS: What is the matrix? The matrix is a computer-generated dreamworld, built to keep us under control, in order to change a human being into this.
Now, this is the ultimate explanation/understanding of what a relationship with a narcissist consists of, in a nutshell: it’s a generated dreamworld, built to keep us under control, in order to change a human being into… supply. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Narcissists establish relationships for the sole purpose of extracting supply. It’s what they live off of, what they need to survive and the only reason why you’re there.
NEO: No. I don’t believe it… it’s not possible.
This relates to the stage of denial, when facing the horrifying truth about our relationship with a narcissist. We don’t want to believe it. It is so incredibly sick, the mind has trouble accepting. In fact, in a scene after this one, Morpheus explains to Neo that they have a rule about freeing minds after a certain age, because “the mind has trouble letting go”. It’s true… the mind has trouble letting go and we may stay in a state of denial for quite some time, as part of our grieving process.
MORPHEUS: I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo. I just said it would be the truth.
Very profound. There’s nothing easy about learning the truth about our relationship with a narcissist. It is, however… undeniably the truth. And the truth is what sets us free.
NEO: Stop! Let me out! Let me out! I want out!
Neo is now in a state of panic and taken by a sense of powerlessness. There’s a subtle message here: it is outside of Neo’s control to get out of the construct. Here is Morpheus, showing him the whole truth in a safe and controlled environment, and yet he is taken by a feeling of utter panic. Upon the realization that he has been controlled by artificial intelligence, the fact that he right now is inside a computer program is way too much for him to handle and process. It can feel very much like this when we face symptoms of complex post traumatic stress disorder. Many survivors suffer from extreme anxiety and panic attacks when triggered by any input that may resemble or remind them of the abuse, even if it offers zero actual risk. Narcissistic abuse is extremely difficult to process and feelings of panic, disbelief, horror and powerlessness are very common during recovery.
NEO: Get this thing out of me!
Neo desperately wants to completely detach himself from any possibility of being sucked back into a simulated reality, such as the construct. This is a good analogy for our need for no contact. Cutting off any and all possibilities of being sucked back in, or hoovered.
It is also representative of our feelings when we are forced to flee. I will quote Kim Wilson, from Kim Wilson TV, when she says “it feels like we can’t run fast enough. We run like we’re being chased by the devil“. Neo jumps off the chair in the blink of an eye, desperate, pushing away anything in his path, then looks around as if disoriented and not quite sure where to go for safety. Much like we feel when we finally break free of the narcissist by our own choice.
TRINITY: Easy, Neo. Easy.
NEO: Don’t touch me! Get away from me!
So, these are the people who freed Neo from the Matrix, and yet, he doesn’t want anybody touching him. That is reflective of our sense of suspicion towards everyone after narcissistic abuse. We don’t know who to trust. Who is friend, who is foe. So, when in doubt, we treat everyone as capable of causing us damage through manipulation, until proven otherwise. We acquire an inverse sense of fairness towards people, that is both detrimental and protective in nature – and regaining the trust in our ability to gauge people’s true nature and intentions is one of the most challenging steps in the healing process.
CYPHER: He’s going to pop!
And he does. He throws up, collapses and loses his senses. The truth is that sickening. And so is the truth about our relationship to the narcissist – and the narcissist himself. It makes us feel sick – figuratively and literally speaking.
I hope this analysis brings some insight to people learning about narcissistic abuse, as well as to those of us already in our healing journeys. I said it before, and I repeat: metaphors, especially those with visual components, such as the scenes above, can be very powerful in the process of integrating new understandings. Please let me know in the comments if this has been helpful to you. Thank you for sticking around if you read this entire post. Be brave. Stay safe. Free your mind.