By Lisa Erickson, MS, LMHC
Spoiler alert—this posting may reveal plot information.
Lisbeth Salander is the fictional heroine of Steig Larsson’s trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. As the heroine, Lisbeth Salander embodies certain characteristics of giftedness, and these characteristics help her survive terrible, long-term physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
What helps Lisbeth Salander survive her ordeals?
Good problem solving skills mediate trauma.
Lisbeth Salander survives traumas that might lead to addiction or the suicide of a less resilient character. Giftedness contributes to her resiliency by aiding her problem solving, which increases her ability to cope.
Her giftedness provides a supportive mediating factor to the experience of trauma.
It allows her to hold on to the knowledge of what was done to her without questioning, minimizing or rationalizing away the reality of what happens, or internalizing a false belief that she has done something to deserve it.
She is able to squarely face the truth, and not be broken by it.
If you are a gifted trauma survivor, trust that your problem solving abilities will help you.
Use your giftedness to hold on to the truth of what happened.
Resist the urge to internalize what is done to you.
Claim resilience as part of your nature.
To learn more about this, read Drama of the gifted child by Alice Miller. This short but emotionally powerful book has become a classic and may help you view your childhood from a different perspective.
Integrity helps maintain self-respect.
Gifted people tend to put a lot of thought into determining the right course of action—a course of action that serves the greater good and is consistent with a sense of personal integrity. These moral codes may not always match cultural or legal norms.
Lisbeth Salander is victimized under the guise of a legal authority, but her treatment is immoral. More than most, she understands that what is legal is not always moral, and that what is moral is not always legal. One is not a guarantee of the other.
Lisbeth Salander acts in defense of the underdog while meting out harsh judgment to those who wrong her and others. She takes care to support those that help her along the way, and makes amends to those intimates that are harmed by her enemies.
She finds solutions outside the traditional legal channels that, in some instances, prevent further abuse by her perpetrators.
While we may not approve of her harsh actions or the nature of her integrity, there is an internal moral consistency to what she does. Maintaining personal integrity and morality in the face of trauma and abuse can mitigate some of the harmful effects.
If you are a gifted trauma survivor, please know that I am not advocating that you take harmful actions against those that have hurt you, after all Lisbeth Salander is fictional. But I am suggesting that you act in accordance with your highest moral values. Living life with integrity, even if others do not, can contribute to a healthy sense of self.
For more information about this topic, I recommend Don Ambrose’s article, “Morality and high ability: Navigating a landscape of altruism and malevolence” in the book, Morality, ethics and gifted minds.
Be responsible for your own destiny.
Gifted people tend to be independent and place a high value on autonomy and self-determination. They have the capacity to think outside the box and the drive to be the best they can be. Some people call this entelechy.
Lisbeth Salander spends much of her life institutionalized or under government supervision. Rather than succumb to the dependency and learned helplessness that is a common result of extended institutionalization, she fights to develop her own life and escapes the abusive control of those who try to subjugate her.
Once she attains her independence, she guards it fiercely. She finds a way to access resources that allow her to live an independent life.
If you are a gifted trauma survivor, your life may depend upon your independence and capacity to develop your own skills, even within the constraints of your situation. Harness your drive and energy to help yourself feel better physically and psychologically. Healing the effect of trauma can help you live the kind of life that you want.
For more information, check out the article, Encountering the gifted self again, for the First Time by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen on this website. She has good sections titled “Independence and Perceptivity” and “Driven Goal Orientation”.
Lisbeth Salander is frequently believed to have Asperger’s Syndrome.
The character that knows her best and is most kind to her, Holger Palmgren, describes her as having some Asperger-like qualities, but not enough to warrant the diagnosis.
He also states that she does not fit the diagnostic criteria of any particular diagnosis despite many psychiatric assessments.
He describes her as answering correctly every question on a Mensa intelligence test and having a photographic memory.
In creating Lisbeth Salander, Steig Larsson was inspired by Pippi Longstocking, the iconic child character with red braids and super-human strength. Pippi lives alone and has many adventures, alone and with friends. She is not a character that is associated with Aspergers.
For more information about Asperger’s Syndrome and giftedness, check out Misdiagnosis and dual diagnoses of gifted children and adults, by James Webb, et al.
Lisa Erickson, MS, LMHC Seattle, Washington
My clinical interests include the relationship between giftedness, addiction and trauma. For the gifted, I help them awaken to their giftedness and associated character traits, and integrate this awareness with their work, creativity, and relationships with self and others. I have extensive experience working with addictions, and have helped many people learn to manage their intensity and their sense of differentness without using substances or addictive processes.
I have been a psychotherapist for over 30 years. For 25 years I was an adjunct professor in a graduate psychology program teaching courses such as professional ethics and substance abuse and addictions. I also train other clinicians via continuing education classes on a variety of subjects including learning about the clinical presentation and treatment implications of giftedness. My training schedule is posted on my website with links to the sponsoring organizations.
I can be reached at 206-352-0363 or via my website at http://www.lisaerickson.net
See more articles by Lisa Erickson.
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Photos (added by site author/editor Douglas Eby): Top: Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in U.S. version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; bottom: Noomi Rapace in the 2009 Danish movie.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson.
The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius
by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen.
Misdiagnosis of the Gifted, by Lynne Azpeitia, M.A. and Mary Rocamora, M.A.
Rooney Mara on the Extra Intelligent and Intense Lisbeth Salander – “She’s this brilliant hacker and wise beyond her years, and at the same time, she’s emotionally stunted at 12 years old and naive in a lot of ways. She is full of all these contradictions. And we never wanted to make her just this angry and violent person.”
Creative People, Trauma and Mental Health – Pretty much all of us experience some kind of trauma in life; how does creative expression help people heal and recover? And how do people make use of traumatic experiences in their creative work?