Like so many others and against my better judgement, I got sucked in and watched Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey this week. And no, it’s not just because I’ve become a massive fan of The Crown over this pandemic (although that’s definitely part of it, and I do find the show a delightfully addictive labour of historical fiction).
It’s also because as a former therapist and lifelong mental health advocate, I’m endlessly fascinated by people and why we do the things we do. Especially the outliers.
On that note I had many thoughts and inklings, opinions and psychological analyses, musings and contemplations about Meghan and her Prince’s tell-all. Again – like so many others. Most of which are not rooted in any fact.
Let me first start off – before any feathers are potentially ruffled by what I have to say – that the way the British media and press treated Meghan was nothing short of ghastly. Anyone who disagrees with this one clear fact would be wise to have their head examined (literally).
The deliberately abusive and blatantly disparaging attacks on her heritage, her skin colour, her family relationships, her impending motherhood, her eventual motherhood, and so on, can only be described as violence by the written word. It certainly constituted privacy invasion along with slander and defamation.
The side-by-side comparisons between Markle and her sister-in-law Kate Middleton, showing virtually identical photos of them doing virtually identical things in them, yet written up in polar opposite ways, was like adding coarsely cut sea salt to the open wound. One outlet finally took a very public hit for this in Meghan’s February 2021 legal victory against Associated Newspapers.
The slandering is all on vivid record, right there in black and white (pardon the screamingly appropriate pun). And while some people within the Royal Family are probably not actual racists, so they claim as recently as this morning, it’s clear the Royal Institution, as it’s called, is indeed so, and that institutionalised racism is alive and well across Britain as it is everywhere else in the world.
Analysing the interview psychologically, a few key things stand out. The first is the title of the interview itself: Oprah with Meghan and Harry. Oprah gets top billing, natch – it is her $7 million dollar baby. Then it’s Meghan and Harry.
This was really Meghan’s show, and she clearly had a deep desire to air out the laundry. Some thought she came across as self-victimising; blaming and finger pointing across the pond. And they’d be right because yes, there was some of that. You can’t ‘make’ someone cry, as Meghan said Kate made her. People do things and we choose how to interpret them, and we create our emotional response in how we process the event. Translation: Meghan made herself cry about something that happened, as we all do, possibly with good reasons. Oprah of all people should have called her on that.
But she could also be seen as a person from extraordinary circumstances, speaking up and taking control back over the freedom of speech that is denied to Royals (certainly their preferred narrative). Someone who decided that if being a member of the Royal Family cost her mental health, it was simply too expensive.
When we open up our mouth, the ego comes out. Sometimes we all need a sounding board to make our beliefs more of a reality to ourselves.
Speaking as a therapist, when someone says they are thinking about hurting themselves, contemplating suicide, or is scared to be alone for fear of what they might do to themselves – as Meghan emphatically stated, you take it very seriously. Every time. Here’s why.
If they are telling the truth it’s a serious matter of protecting their welfare – no explanation needed. If you think they are making it up, you do not say so (I’m looking at you Piers Morgan). You validate their experience of their own self. Because either way it’s still a clear, albeit differing, cry for help.
Whether or not you believe Meghan was in fact suicidal as she says, it seems clear she was sufficiently miserable to the point that any damn-giving human being would offer their concern and support.
At one point in the interview Harry mentioned he feared history repeating itself, referring specifically to the fate of his late mother, Princess Diana. All of the women who chose to marry the Princes of this family (Charles, William, and Harry) endure the intense scrutiny of the unquenchable British press and tabloids. The difference for Diana was that in the eyes of the British media (and arguably media around the world), she could do no wrong. They loved her. They also love Kate Middleton. Not so for Meghan. All three are hounded incessantly, even posthumous in the case of Diana.
The lesson here is that whether the press love you or they hate you, they are annoying as hell most of the time either way. All press is most definitely not good press.
Also worth noting is that Diana was a tall, white, blond, beautiful, unspoiled, English rose with a title, so to speak. Meghan is a tall, mixed-race, dark, beautiful, divorced, older, American. Yet both saw their mental health decline in the palace, and both saw the Royal Institution turn their backs on them when it did.
That’s the thing about institutions. There is no in-between. You’re either in or you’re out. And when you’re out, boy you better watch out.
We are generally inclined to make a radical change to our lives (such as extracting ourselves from say, the Royal Family) only when we cross our personal pain threshold: That is the point at which the pain of our not making a change outweighs the pain of making it.
During the interview Meghan appeared calm and serene, her body language projecting the peace she spoke of at length. A tad overcompensating with the coos and sighs, but confident in her narrative. Harry on the other hand appeared nervous and kind of tense (can’t say I blame him) though he seemed to relax more later on. Mostly, however, he seemed sad.
This is a man who, notwithstanding comes from a host of relatives who quite possibly put the ‘funk’ in ‘dysfunctional families’ (really whose isn’t anyway?), was by all accounts very close to many members of said family for nearly 40 years. Particularly his brother William. Hostility between them will likely be very tough on him, especially living outside of the UK. And though he’s gained much in the way of a nuclear family, the loss of his birth family is likely to catch up to him over time, possibly leading to resentment and deepening sadness. I hope they make the effort to patch their relationships up in time (I hate seeing close family members torn apart), though any time soon seems unlikely after this interview.
I lived in London for three years during my late 20s, working for various corporations and organisations before coming back to North America for graduate school in psychology. As a Canadian of South Asian descent I will say that while I was there, I always felt it was my inherent ‘North Americanism’ that sometimes kept me on the out, rather than the colour of my skin.
In the end, as Meghan said so herself: You will never really know what goes on in the lives of people who you just don’t know, no matter what you see or what they say. In a twist of irony, that sentiment also applies to the very interview they gave this week.
Image credit: Mark Jones
Natasha Sharma, PsyD is the founder of NKS Therapy.