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Heavy Meta Poisoning
Supernatural is truth
Dean Meta!! 
23rd-May-2006 08:02 pm
SPN angst
With the permission of deannie and the encouragement of celli, I hereby present my meta on Dean's developmental arrest as seen in season one of Supernatural. By way of introduction, I feel compelled to point out that I am not a child psychologist or developmental pediatrician, but I do have some training in that area. Furthermore, in my defense, I want to say that this is certainly not a condemnation of Dean because I love him dearly. Enjoy!

On a dark, stormy night in 1983, something dramatic happened (okay, so I’ve always wanted to start a sentence with the words ‘on a dark and stormy night’. Sue me!), and it was not just the death of Mary Winchester. Instead, here we will focus on how the events of that evening led to the arrest of normal childhood development in Dean Winchester, thereby leaving him the developmental equivalent of a four year old trapped in the body of a twenty-six-year-old young man.

From the limited scenes of the Winchester home pre-demon attack, we have every reason to believe that Dean was a perfectly well-adjusted four-year-old boy. According to the theories of development posited by Erik Erikson (Erikson, E.H. Childhood and Society, Ed 2. Norton, New York, 1963.), the ages from 3-5 years of life represent the third developmental stage out of eight. Erikson’s stages of development are characterized by the predominant maturational crisis that arises during each period. Each crisis must be resolved in order to progress developmentally. The prevalent crisis in the 3-5 year age range is initiative versus guilt.

By the end of the third year in a normal childhood, the child is beginning to initiate activities, both intellectual and physical. If their intellectual curiosity is satisfied and/or they are granted physical freedom, then they progress through this critical stage towards more independent activity and play. However, conflicts over initiative, particularly in the form of guilt about self-initiated activity, will interfere with the child’s sense of ambition. Furthermore, by the end of this period, the child’s conscience (aka Freud’s superego) becomes established, particularly through the establishment of limits on aggressive behavior. If a child develops too strong a superego, then as an adult, he may insist that others always adhere to his moral code at the expense of the individual and society at large.

In the case of Dean, there is little doubt that John effectively crushed any self-initiated play or thought after Mary’s death. He was focused on keeping the boys safe and that meant complete obedience to “the rules.” Particularly once John started demon hunting, Dean had to follow John’s orders in order to keep himself and Sam safe. Case in point, in the episode “Something Wicked,” Dean takes the initiative to go out to play a game while John is out demon hunting. As a result of this initiative, Sam is almost killed by the shtriga, and John insures that Dean internalizes that guilt completely. Even though Dean is a much older child by the time of those events, it is clear that this is not an isolated incident. As such, Dean remains trapped in the conflict of initiative vs. guilt. As a result, the Dean that we meet at the beginning of the series is reluctant to initiate any actions without either an order from Dad or an understood, unspoken permission from Dad. This behavior is so prevalent that Sam comments on it in the pilot when he asks Dean about going on a hunt by himself. While Dean has a flippant answer for Sam, in fact, Dean was acting under implicit orders from Dad when he went on the hunt – find the bad thing and kill it. However, over the course of season one with its events and with his continuing interaction with Sam, we see that Dean is finally starting to deal with this conflict, as evidenced by him standing up to John in “Salvation”.

Dean’s conscience also remains locked in the realm of black and white that is a direct result of John’s parenting. While he demanded complete obedience from Dean, John also focused on training and focusing Dean’s aggressive behavior towards killing things that John deemed to be “bad.” While Dean clearly cares for people and wants to help people, his view of the world is quite black and white. For example, in “Nightmare,” despite Sam’s protestations, Dean is more than willing to kill Max, a human being, for his crimes. To Dean, Max’s childhood does not count as extenuating circumstances, and as he clearly states, Max is no different from anything else that they hunt and kill. Additionally, in the season finale, Dean tells Sam that he would do anything, including kill other human beings, to protect both Sam and John. On the surface that sounds like family dedication, but underneath it speaks to Dean’s inability to discern the grey in certain situations.

One of the other key issues of the toddler period can be sibling rivalry. The birth of a sibling during this age period (3-5 years) tests the child’s capacity for cooperation and sharing. Sibling rivalry is largely dependent on the child-rearing practices of the parents. If the new child gets special treatment for any reason, it can lead to angry feelings in the older sibling. This sibling rivalry may influence the older child’s ability to form meaningful relationships with his or her peers as they get older. In the case of the Winchesters after Mary’s death, Sam was clearly the focus of John’s need to protect his family. John’s interactions with Dean were often focused on the fact that Sam must be protected at all costs. This led to the sibling rivalry that we see between them throughout season one, but particularly in the episodes where either of the boys is not exactly in his right mind. For example, in “Asylum,” Influenced!Sam continues to taunt Dean with the good little soldier mantra, whereas in “Skin,” Skinwalker!Dean points out to Sam that “he sure has issues with you.” While you could argue the validly of the statements made by the boys in those episodes, there has to be at least a kernel of truth to those statements.

Thus, despite his chronologic age, Dean Winchester remains stuck in the developmental stages of a toddler as a result of the traumatic death of his mother combined with John’s dysfunctional parenting after Mary’s death. At the opening of the series, Dean stands before us as a young man who follows his father’s orders without question, who is overly aggressive, who sees the world as black and white, and who has “issues” with his younger sibling. However, during the first season, we see Dean finally begin to grow and move through these developmental stages for two main reasons: John is not present but Sam is. While Sam is hardly a normally adjusted twenty-something, he received the benefit of being the protected one vs. being the protector through his childhood. That, combined with his collegiate experience, allows him to model more normal development and behavior to his chronologically older sibling. Hopefully, over the course of the second season, we will continue to see Dean flourish and progress in his development now that the family dynamic has been changed. However, for now, we will all just continue to enjoy the little boy trapped in that sexy man’s body.
24th-May-2006 01:44 am (UTC)

I like this look into Dean the toddler and your analysis works for me (even though I've only see a few eps).
24th-May-2006 03:09 am (UTC)
Thanks! Always good to know that it was readable to someone as skilled at "the meta" as you!
24th-May-2006 03:06 am (UTC)
*happy sigh* Yeah, Dean and I have a few issues. That may be why I can relate to him far too well, yet have a hard time getting inside his head - to close to my own "issues". Brava, my dear! Excellent analysis.
24th-May-2006 03:10 am (UTC)
Thank you kindly. I just have such a big ol' soft spot for emotionally challenged characters. *g*
24th-May-2006 04:36 am (UTC)
Psychology + Dean = OTP.

24th-May-2006 11:37 pm (UTC)
24th-May-2006 10:02 am (UTC)
That`s a very good analysis of what made Dean the man (child *g*) we see today. And also what`s the difference between Dean and Sam`s upbringing even though they both went to the John Winchester school of "I`ve given you an order." Their situations weren`t exactly the same.

I always shake my head when people are all: Why does Dean follow his Dad without questioning? Why doesn`t he just go and do stuff for himself? Why doesn`t he even want things for himself?
Um, perhaps because people don`t just grow out of their childhood conditioning at the snap of a finger? *headdesk* Especially when they`re probably not even aware of what they`re doing.

And I agree that being with Sam is very good for Dean in that regard and we`ve seen some positive development on Dean`s part for it.

As far as the sibling rivalry is concerned I`m thinking Dean looking at Sam with at least quasi-paternal feelings plays a role there. Growing up I guess both brothers thought the other was the favourite but the main reason for Dean`s issues and possible resentment of Sam, I see in Sam going away, leaving them. Which is Dean`s number one fear: abandonment.
In his view of family as a close unit that should stay together 24/7 for ever and ever that would be seen as a huge betrayal. Dean neither has the emotional maturity and objectivity to see it for the normal thing it really was.
24th-May-2006 11:43 pm (UTC)
Growing up I guess both brothers thought the other was the favourite

You know, that's a really good point. I must admit that I haven't spent as much time thinking about Sam's psyche because I just love and adore Dean, but Sam is hardly normal in that department. I think Sam hasn't processed/internalized that everything John did was designed to protect Sam. Sam seems stuck in adolescence where a parent's attempts to protect are viewed as smothering, IMHO. So, Sam struck out to achieve some kind of independence and "normalcy" in his life.

See now, you're making me want to analyze Sam's psyche. Darn you!
25th-May-2006 10:06 am (UTC)
Sam seems stuck in adolescence where a parent's attempts to protect are viewed as smothering, IMHO.

Which it probably was to a degree. And in Dead Man`s Blood we`ve seen John and Sam practically falling back into the roles of exasperated "I don`t have to explain myself to a child" parent and rebellious "I`m not a kid anymore" teenager.
And Dean was sooo the Mom there. "Boys, get along or there will be no dessert for you today." *g*

See now, you're making me want to analyze Sam's psyche. Darn you!

*G* I`m evil that way. I`m normally all about crawling into Dean`s psyche but I`ve recently tried my hand at a Sam-meta myself and was surprised how easily I could get in his head. So, go ahead. I`d be interested to read your thoughts on Sammy.
24th-May-2006 02:23 pm (UTC)
also in devil's trap, doesn't dean admit that he's troubled by the fact that killing people to keep the family together (ie, keep sam in one piece) doesn't trouble him? he recognizes that there SHOULD be some gray in his thinking, that he should be able to allow for mitigating circumstances and context and all that, and he's kind of wigged that there isn't and he can't, because he knows that ain't normal. when you're killing demons and evil spirits it's easy - they're bad, you're good, you get out the salt and consecrated iron and kill their undead asses - but he's not mentally equipped to deal with hurting people, and so has been dealing with living bad guys the same way he always dealt with supernatural bad guys. but he's maturing enough to realize this is kind of a problem that he's going to have to work out. which, yeah, i would agree is due to sam's influence and a lack of dad.

dodger_winslow did a meta kind of like this, working from the theory that dean's emotional development stopped at five years old. i think you've both got a really good point.

john may be proud of his boys (or was once...) but man, he fucked them up but good, especially dean.
24th-May-2006 11:46 pm (UTC)
he recognizes that there SHOULD be some gray in his thinking, that he should be able to allow for mitigating circumstances and context

Absolutely!! I'm hoping (**crosses fingers**) that the writers will pick up on this and that we'll continue to see growth in Dean through the second season now that the family dynamic has been irrevocably changed by the events of season one. I know it's hoping for a lot, but who knows, maybe they'll do it by accident!

Also, thanks so much for pointing me in the direction of dodger_winslow! I'm going to go check it out!
24th-May-2006 05:42 pm (UTC)
Yea!!!! Someone else who thinks Dean got emotionally fast frozen at a young age. Great meta. I'm gonna pimp in on my LJ (where we've been having a similar discussion).
25th-May-2006 12:58 am (UTC)
Thanks for the pimpage!

I just went over and read your really awesome meta!! I left some comments, and I really wish I had more brain cells tonight to do more. Maybe I'll have another crack at it once I get my work crap dealt with. Anyway, welcome to spn_heavymeta!
25th-May-2006 06:14 am (UTC)
Thanks! When you get recovered from the brain-nibbling affections of zombisque coworkers, you might skim on through these 2 metas, too, as they are both relevant to your comments on Sam's emotional age as well as Dean's, and these two are the ones in which I found myself defending the "Dean's an Emotional 5 Year Old" stance.

Is Sammy Selfish or Functional? @

Sammy's Choice: Success or Failure @

I'd love to hear your thoughts on them.
24th-May-2006 08:20 pm (UTC)
Okay I'll be the dissenting opinion. :) Not that I don't agree with a lot of it but I think it takes a simplistic and "black and white" view of Dean. :) For one thing I think alot of his feelings are kind of parental almost due to playing such a large part in helping to raise Sam. There is sibling rivalry yes, in both of them, but not to an abnormal degree. If they both had something of the view that the other was the favored son, if anything Sam seemed to be more resentful about it than Dean was.

I also think it belittles the choices Dean has made and maturity and control he has shown in many situations to put him down as just a little boy in a man's body. He's an adult with issues, serious issues, he's definitely messed up...but there are times when he's shown alot of sensitivity and maturity too. This view doesn't seem take into account or give him any credit for them.

Lots of us want things we can't have, if we admit to it. Lots of people have a wish to return to "how things used to be" or "how they wish things used to be". So Dean wants them to be together again--but he's shown time again he's not going to hold anyone else to that. He's not going to hold Sam to it, he's not going to hold John to it and he's going to accept whatever they want. It's just something he wishes for and he only stated it because Sam pushed him. I don't think the wishing makes for the immaturity.

If Dean was that black and white he wouldn't have been concerned about killing those people. It's one thing to talk(Roy and Max)and another thing to do, the fact that he was so concerned about it after he did shows he's not as black and white as he seemed. If he was, he wouldn't have been concerned. Most people would be shocked after the fact at what it turns out they are willing to do for their family without flinching at the time(how often are young mothers shocked when they first realise they'd kill without a second thought to protect their child?). And alot of them wouldn't bother to spend much time questioning it afterwards and wondering what it says about them. He also overall hasn't been overly aggressive(I've seen over aggressive guys, Dean hasn't acted like any of them, in fact he's rather surprisingly laid back most of the time).

And with Max in a way Dean was right--how is he really any different from the shapeshifter? The shapeshifter was mistreated and hated too. Max wasn't just going to stop when he killed his stepmother. No one had a problem with him killing the shapeshifter, including Sam. Or is it like that whole "ugly animals are okay to kill but not cute ones" thing? :) Max looked "normal"(kinda freaky but normal) whereas the shapeshifter way of dealing with it was well...shapeshifting, Max was with his development of the telekinesis. Obviously they both had something in them which allowed them to do this. Sam just got lucky, he didn't have to kill Max, Max did it for him.

I just don't see how killing Tom or Meg shows either thing--with Meg the only choice besides exorcism was leaving the demon in there, they couldn't do that that really aws not an option. And Tom was beating Sam to a pulp and had a telekinesis, again the only real option to save Sam was killing him. When someone is charging at a cop with a knife and they have no other way to stop them, they shoot, sure the person may have all sorts of extenuating circumstances including mental illness but shooting them doesn't mean an inability to discern the gray and neither does Dean's shooting of Tom. Heck with most shows like this it wouldn't even be a concern, too bad they were possessed but hey it was the only option, end of story. Dean's showing discernment even by questioning himself so soon afterwards.
25th-May-2006 12:18 am (UTC)
For one thing I think alot of his feelings are kind of parental almost due to playing such a large part in helping to raise Sam.

Absolutely. John put him into that role from an early age, and I think whether Dean ever admits it to himself or not, he really resents Sam for that loss of childhood.

I also think it belittles the choices Dean has made and maturity and control he has shown in many situations to put him down as just a little boy in a man's body.

I am certainly not trying to belittle Dean. I love him dearly! However, I don't think he has a whole lot in the maturity department. I still maintain that he has a real problem with grey areas. You're absolutely right that he's not completely black and white, because he recognizes that those areas are indeed grey. However, I think that is largely a result of the year that he has spent with Sam, away from John. He's grown hugely over the course of the season. I just find it a particularly fascinating aspect of how I view his character. I'm sure others view his character differently. In fact, I would wager that the writers of SPN would think this whole meta was whacked. :-)

He also overall hasn't been overly aggressive

Absolutely. Thanks to John's training, his aggression is very focused on those things that he kills, i.e. demons. When it comes to those things, he definitely has some aggression issues, i.e. Meg's interrogation scene.

And with Max in a way Dean was right--how is he really any different from the shapeshifter?

Actually, I think that's a great case of showing how Dean is starting to grow during the series. I actually had a huge problem with Dean killing the shapeshifter. Dean was positively cold in the way that he shot him. Why we get no comment on it from Sam could make part of a very interesting meta on Sam (darn you all for making me want to delve into Sam's psyche too!). However, by the time we get to "Nightmare" later in the year, Sam has a definite problem with killing Max, and I think Dean realizes (although he's hesitant to do so) that killing Max is a bit of a problem.

When someone is charging at a cop with a knife and they have no other way to stop them, they shoot, sure the person may have all sorts of extenuating circumstances including mental illness but shooting them doesn't mean an inability to discern the gray and neither does Dean's shooting of Tom.

See, I have a huge issue with that because I would argue that a cop should never shoot to kill in those circumstances. I know that it happens, but I would argue that a cop with an intact moral center would only shoot to incapacitate (I know this is going to get me flamed to high heaven...). Unfortunately, in the case of Dean and Meg/Tom, there was no good way to incapacitate them, so Dean did what he had to do. My comment is more based on Dean's statement that he had no remorse for his actions. Sometimes we all have to do things that we don't like/don't agree with/are morally questionable, but we all experience some kind of remorse or second thought afterwards. Dean acknowledges that he probably should feel that, but he doesn't.

Anyway, thanks for the comments! If I ever get around to delving into Sam's psyche, I hope you'll come back for more commentary!
4th-Jul-2008 05:48 pm (UTC)
Police officers are not allowed to shoot to maim, under the law. They are only allowed to shoot when deadly force is necessary, so when they fire, they are expecting to kill their target. Otherwise they're not supposed to be shooting under the rules they are trained to obey.
19th-Mar-2007 08:44 am (UTC)
sorry couldn't find an email address!
anteka and I have decided to put a collection of metas, essays and other fandom related projects that explore the world of Supernatural in detail. The book will be available in either a print-it-yourself .pdf format or a bound book available at-cost from Cafe Press.

I’ve been going through all my favourite metas and the meta of yours I particularly loved was this one!

So I thought I’d ask you if you’d like to be involved in this project. You might like to put forward these metas, or some others or write a new one. Or even rec someone else!

We are accepting up to 3 submissions per person. At this point we just need you to put forward links to the essays you would be interested in being considered for the collection by 31st March. If accepted we’ll get back to you and give you time to edit/polish the piece.

There is a sticky post at the top of my LJ with the submission guidelines, but feel free to email or comment with any questions you have.
21st-Mar-2007 03:36 am (UTC)
While I'm very flattered, I really don't want my meta included in the project. I have very sensitive job and am just too paranoid to have anything in print that might somehow lead back to me.

Good luck with everything though!
21st-Mar-2007 03:52 am (UTC)
Understood! Just to say that I think was a very influential meta, and a great insight in Dean.
10th-May-2008 02:31 am (UTC)
Very enjoyable meta, works very well to help understand the dynamics of the show
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