Sunday, September 6, 2009

Dexter Wants to be Seen

When I was looking for a YouTube clip to accurately depict Dexter's seeming inability to develop trust or move beyond the superficial in his interpersonal life, (see Dexter Denies His Deeper Level) I noticed a pithy comment left by someone (a certain "dingpong2000") who wrote, "I think guys just generally relate to him. That's the magic of Dexter: he's the most normal abnormal person on TV."

Well, I couldn't have said it better myself. Dexter's character is simply an aggrandized version of all of us, which is why I like the show and why I wanted to mix it up with my unrelenting interest in human development and contextual influence. And while all television shows offer versions of our own experiences to peruse at a distance, it's Dexter's peculiar compendium of competing issues that most dazzles the viewing population. We're curious about how a serial killer is also capable of loving children and analyzing himself in the process.

What's been even more curious to me are the spiritual undertones that seem to be present in the writing, particularly when Dexter is opening and closing each episode with his thoughts. Throughout the first three seasons, he discusses the theme of feeling validated in a variety of ways. With his brother Brian, he risks losing the one connection that would reflect his real history and therefore confirm who he is. When he develops a connection to Lila and she appears to acknowledge and embrace his darkness, he's stunned and excited by this possibility. And in season three, Dexter looks again for the feeling of acceptance through another as he tries to forge a friendship with Miguel Prado.

Feeling validated, accepted, and acknowledged are all connected. They are primary feelings we experience which help us develop and define our unique selves. Physical touch, eye contact, and interpretation of facial gestures begin this process when we're infants and learning about who we are as the world reflects its face back to us. If a baby's first interactions are with an easy-going and generally happy parent, those emotional vibrations and tendencies will be transmitted to the child. Likewise, if a parent is tense, hostile, or insecure, the infant will experience this by looking at the parent's face and perceiving their anxiety through the way in which he or she is being held.

Since these first interactions are so vitally important to a child's development, it's no wonder that being validated and reflected in the eyes of another continues to be a powerful experience for us as adults. When Dexter says he wants to be "seen" this is what he means. And for me, there is something spiritual about this. When someone is capable of looking at me and appraising me or my circumstance with a compassionate, present-centered response, I feel loosened up, confirmed that I'm really okay, and free to move on to the next task at hand without as much resistance. Living with less resistance clearly has a spiritual component: there is a feeling of connectedness to the larger, non-physical aspect of who I am precisely because another human was able to reflect my experience back to me in a real way for a moment or two.

That's what Dexter's looking for and who isn't? Why else would people form friendships, get married, and make families? Feeling validated and esteemed for who we are gives us the ability to connect to another, and then becomes a springboard to connect to a field larger than us. We don't always have a name for it, and maybe that makes it even more delicious and mysterious. Some people report they experience these kinds of feelings rock climbing, laughing with their friends, sitting alone next to a tree, or being engaged in their work. And others are trying to experience this sense of connection to themselves and the larger world with other more risky behaviors, such as indiscriminate sex or binge drinking.

But the bottom line is we are all searching for ways to be "seen." This doesn't mean someone finds one of our external traits or successes alluring and tells us so. It's a little more delicate than that, and a bit more piercing. You know it when you feel it. It's someone who looks at us, experiences something, and reflects it back in a very open way. Or it's our own individual experience of sitting in front of the ocean and sensing we are part of it in some way.

When was the last time you felt "seen"? What happened inside of you as a result? How have your attempts to be seen changed over the years as you evolve? Have your attempts reflected things Dexter has done as well?

Chances are you haven't had to manifest your searching in such extreme ways, but nonetheless you are doing it. When you see Dexter ravenous to be acknowledged for who he is, you see yourself. It's really that simple.


  1. This is beautiful! And so true. I will write more after the cobwebs leave my brain. Meanwhile I'll think about this with regard to my own life... interesting.

  2. Hello DD,

    A specific scene comes to mind with regard to the spiritual undertones you referred to~ it's the one where Dexter is walking around the aftermath wreckage from the cabin in the swamp explosion... He calls it a miracle, and that if you don't believe in God or the Devil, who do you thank at a time like that? I thought that was a very good question, because he did indeed state earlier in the episode that he "needed a miracle". In my mind, he was wishing for one, and the wish was granted... but by whom?

    Just wanted to mention that. T answer your question about when the last time I wanted to be "seen" was. I guess just before we decided to get married, I thought my fiance needed to be a sort of witness to my past... or at least painfully aware of the cycles and patterns and players. That was the last time I remember wanting to be seen.

    i believe in my youth, I wore my "see me" on my sleeve as many confused young adults do. Acting out in a vain attempt for someone to see past the BS diversion to the core of what was really going on. Much of which I didn't fully understand or acknowledge at the time. I was deep in denial, but the need to be seen eeks out whether we are aware of it or not. I think this is because that need is primal and originates within our subconscious rather than our conscious mind.

    Great post. I hope to see more responses to these intriguing questions.
    See you!

  3. Hey PF,
    Thanks for dropping in...I was also struck by that scene you mentioned. To me, it left open the possibility that if you don't believe in either one, maybe it's because those two choices have been too glamorized or demonized to fit your tastes, and so you're left with yourself. Not in the individualist way, but in the way that says, "Those two choices don't work for me, but something else very meaningful is going on here with my steps and my desires....hmmmmm." Brings to mind the notion of living the question mark.

    Hope you are seen and appreciated in many ways today. Thanks for your post---every time you write, it generates about 10 more ideas of subjects to tackle. WOOO!

  4. I just had to tell you this. I was driving today... before my car died... and I saw this woman driving a sort of pale green shimmery jaguar. I remember thinking that this is sort of a classy color, but it seems all wrong for the car. Anyway, I was wondering why the woman had chosen that car and spontaneously answered myself.. "She wants to be 'seen'"

    Then I thought of you and Dexter! It was just a funny little moment in my day.

  5. I like this! Thanks for dropping into let me know about it. Here's to hoping if others reach my blog they will be as open and willing as you are to share things like this. Love it!