In my article Time Out of Mind (Toronto, Ellen L. K. (2009). Time Out of Mind: Dissociation in the Virtual World. Psychoanalytic Psychology. 26 (2) 117-133. ) I discuss excessive involvement with Internet use as a means of coping with unbearable trauma as is, I believe, illustrated in the examples of Timmy, The Boy Who Lived in Toontown and Casey and the House People. Each had internalized frozen and sequestered self-states which could now be acted out in their online world. Both Timmy and Casey were dealing with traumatic life situations and trauma memories. The successful treatment of their frozen inner world involved recognition of both the coping mechanisms that have protected them, however destructive they may be in the present, and, ultimately, a re-visiting of the trauma that brought them into being.
Timmy—The Boy Who Lived in Toontown
Timmy is an angel-faced boy of ten who was caught in the middle of a custody battle between his parents who had separated when he was one and a half and divorced when he was four. Initially, the parenting arrangement had been amicable. The parents had lived close enough that Timmy was able to spend part of the day with each parent. When the father remarried and moved farther away, the daily schedule became much more difficult to maintain, particularly since the mother was unwilling to do any of the driving. Alternating weeks with each parent made public schooling problematic. When I saw Timmy he was being home-schooled by his mother. His father objected to this arrangement however because he felt that his son spent too much time playing on the computer and lacked social contact with other children. He was suing for full custody so that his son could live with him during the week and attend the public schools.
Timmy’s Life Situation
The choices for Timmy were bleak. When he was with his mother he did indeed spend a great deal of time playing on the computer.
A weekly schedule of home-schooling activities as provided by his mother indicated the following: August 28th: A few hours on the Toontown website; August 29th: Corrected spelling on Toontown site and added additional toon tips; Timmy created a back button in his gif animator. Text was not displaying properly. Suspect syntax error but could not find it; Toontown with Sarah in the evening; August 30th: Toontown with Sarah in the morning; August 31st: Toontown with Sarah in the evening; September 1st: Toontown with Nathan; Timmy read to me for ½ hour from Toontown’s maintenance and update logs. He has a tendency to substitute similar-looking words for each other, but he understands what he reads and is interested in the history and development of the game. Read more of Mansions of the Gods while Timmy was playing Toontown and waiting for his father to come. Timmy’s comment: “Whenever anyone says they see dragons in a book and they take someone else to see them, the dragons are always gone.”
In addition to grave emotional problems, Timmy’s mother has been diagnosed with serious immune-related disorders. She has been in chronic pain and finds it difficult to keep up with the demands of work and housework. When Timmy was small she acknowledged that her housekeeping was unacceptable. At the time of the evaluation, she kept the home rigidly immaculate. She is a writer and writes literary erotica, including rape fantasies and descriptions of actual rapes, though she assured me that Timmy has his own computer and does not have access to this material. Her mother has a Ph.D. in computer engineering and both her mother and brother write video games. For these reasons, she stated that she felt comfortable with the amount of time that her son spends playing on the computer. Timmy’s father is a maintenance engineer and at the time of the evaluation was living with his second wife and her two children, a son who is eleven years old and a daughter who is nine years old. The son has a mild but observable physical handicap and the daughter has been diagnosed as bi-polar. When I observed Timmy with his father and step-family, the parents described the difficulty of the daily transitions and the problem of integrating Timmy into the ongoing schedule of homework, chores and bedtime routine. They stated that when Timmy first arrives at their home he is “hyper and crazy”.