understanding Jimmy Savile

There is a very good article in the Guardian titled ‘Inside the Mind of Jimmy Savile‘. It is an intelligent article and, while it doesn’t mention the word ‘trauma’ at all, and only looks briefly at his family background, it is easy to read the article with Ruppert’s theory in mind and see that it all fits.

The article starts with the important point that if we say that Savile’s crimes are evil or wicked it “misses the mark”. To hold this view of such a person as just plain evil is far too simplistic and an avoidance of the important issue which is: how do people become like this? How can we understand such a person, and more importantly how can we, as a society, take responsibility for ensuring that children do not grow up into such people. As the article says at the end: “It is horrible to contemplate the possibility that [Savile] may have spawned other abusers by his crimes.”

The writer, Oliver James, is a clinical psychologist and author or several books. His assessment of Savile is based on projection, the transference of one’s own unpleasant feelings and negative qualities onto others.

Interestingly this dynamic of projection is variously described as how we see in others negative qualities that we don’t see in ourselves (sometimes we ‘project’ positive qualities onto others that we don’t think we have), or how we get someone else to feel what we don’t want to feel. The idea that we can choose to see in others something that we avoid seeing in ourselves is fairly simple; how we get someone else to feel what we don’t want to feel is more complex, and so far scientifically unexplained… but then so is transference and the constellations process. Nevertheless it seems a very real phenomenon.

Savile’s sexual exploits, according to James, often seemed devoid of pleasure with little attempt to achieve orgasm, and as he says “There does not seem to have been a single instance of Savile displaying true affection, or a wish to give pleasure.” He goes on to describe Savile as showing “a high degree of dissociation”, and having the characteristics of psychopathy and narcissism, and then discusses Savile’s relationship with his mother as “a very intense enmeshment”. He hypothesises that Savile’s persona developed from a lack of responsiveness from his mother, her controlling behaviour and possibly emotional abuse, perhaps even physical and sexual abuse.

His final paragraph discusses the handing on of misery from one generation to the next, as not a genes issue, but an abuse issue, where, as he says “abuse, rather than genes, is now clearly emerging as the principal cause of both personality disorders and psychoses like schizophrenia.” The question behind this that rarely seems to be addressed is: why do some people become abusers? What are the origins of abusive behaviour?

A critique of Oliver’s article

This article is interesting to us as students of Ruppert’s MGPT theory in two ways: one is the things it touches on that Ruppert clearly explains – entanglement with the mother, abuse leading to abuse, the perpetrator devolving his unconscious avoided trauma feelings onto his victim, even symbiotic trauma, although the word ‘trauma’ is never used, and it is described in terms of the mother’s behaviour rather than in terms of understanding the motivation for her behaviour.

The second way in which it is interesting to me is that James doesn’t use the word ‘trauma’ at all. Dissociation as a phenomenon originated as being understood as the primary reaction to trauma by the early pioneer of psychology and neurology, Pierre Janet in the mid-19th century*, and I do not think one can use the word dissociation without considering trauma. Where dissociation is, there is trauma.

To discuss a mother as lacking in responsiveness to her child, without considering the cause of this lack of responsiveness really, in my view, takes us nowhere in terms of understanding the case of Savile, or anyone else.

To include the notions of trauma, symbiotic trauma as the trauma of the infant (even in utero) in attempting to attach to a mother who is, herself, traumatised, and the symbiotic entanglement of the infant with the unresolved traumas of the mother, makes the situation much clearer.  To include the notion of the mother as herself traumatised, perhaps sexually abused herself, emotionally neglected, physically abused, by a parent – mother or father – who must, according to our theory, themselves be traumatised in order to perpetrate such abuse, takes our understanding to a completely different level.

The traumatised bonding system

Savile was the child of a traumatised bonding system over several, even many generations, where parents, because they are traumatised, are emotionally unavailable to their child, and, because they have been victims themselves, their only behavioural dynamic is that of perpetrator to their ‘victim’ child. Perpetrators are victims who, because their trauma experiences are so awful and terrifying, develop survival strategies to ensure they never feel these feelings, they perpetrate harm on those weaker than themselves… They do to others what was done to them. By being a perpetrator they make their victims feel the feelings they avoid.

Children need love and connection. Their very survival in the early stages of their life depends on this as much as on food, safety and warmth. A child that cannot get love and connection will fear for his life, and that is a symbiotic trauma.

Traumatised bonding systems start with a simple trauma, an existential trauma (an accident, an attack, a war trauma), or a loss trauma (a child whose mother dies, or a mother or father who loses their young child for example). The child of this traumatised mother or father naturally seeks love and connection, but the traumatised parent’s ability to give this is compromised. For the mother to feel love will stimulate the split off feelings of the trauma, and ‘love’ then becomes confused with terror, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame and so on. So this child, in the frustration of his attempts to connect to his mother, fears for his survival… he cannot survive without her. He compromises, of course, in his behaviour, but at the very beginning are the excruciating feelings of despair, loneliness, desolation and the terrifying fear that he or she cannot survive. This is the trauma of symbiosis, and this, then, underlies everything in his or her life.

The traumatised bonding system develops from this over several generations as the symbiotic traumatisation is repeated with each generation. Every child then is unconsciously preoccupied with how to gain the un-traumatised love of his or her mother, and this preoccupation can lead some to seek love in distorted ways.

For example, a man who never could access his mother’s love, tries to compensate with his wife. However this will fail of course, but it may stop there. But if it doesn’t he may then seek to gain this love from his child, and this is where the danger of a first incidence of sexual incest may occur.

Ruppert cites in his latest book, Trauma, Fear and Love (due for publication at the end of 2014), many cases in Germany where fathers who were traumatised during World War II came home after the war, wanting a fresh start. They got married or were already married, and had children. In their desolation and unconscious despair, their war trauma sitting on top of the much earlier symbiotic trauma, they reached out for their child as a compensation, a relief, a new beginning, reaching out, in fact, for the love never attained with the mother. This distorted motivation for relationship with the child then often drifts into sensuality and sexuality. This child then, abused and confused, traumatised by the abuse and perhaps a pre-existing symbiotic trauma, grows up to become another traumatised mother. She chooses her husband from a confused traumatised psychological state, and so chooses someone similarly traumatised, and so it will continue, without some appropriate intervention.

This is the traumatised bonding system, developing over three or four generations, that produces someone like Jimmy Savile.

It just isn’t enough to try to understand Jimmy Savile without considering the context over several generations and without concepts of trauma. We have to understand the context from which someone like Savile came, not just his mother’s behaviour and attitude. We have to understand her trauma and her context. We have to persevere with asking questions as to why this, and how come that. Behaviour and attitudes come from somewhere.

And yes, we also have to consider the victims of Savile, how we help them so that Savile’s actions do not proliferate further traumas.



*There is some disagreement as to who actually originally used the term dissociation, while many cite Janet as the originator (van der Kolk et al, 2007), van der Hart & Friedman cite Moreau de Tours as the originator. (van der Hart & Friedman, 1989)


Ruppert, F. (2014). Trauma, Fear and Love. Green Balloon Publishing. Due out autumn 2014.

van der Hart, O. & Friedman, B. (1989). A reader’s guide to Pierre Janet on dissociation: A Neglected Intellectual Heritage. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation.

van der Kolk, B. A., McFarlane, A. C., Weisaeth, L. (1996). Traumatic Stress: the effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body and Society. The Guildford Press, New York & London.


understanding Jimmy Savile — 3 Comments

  1. Dear Vivian

    I found your article on Jimmy Saville very enlightening, and it has helped me begin to understand his compulsive behaviour.

    What I find difficult to understand though is why so very many people allowed him to behave in this way. It seems to have been the most widespread collusion. Perhaps people need a terrible scapegoat to carry all their horrendous desires?

    Kind regards

    Kate Bridgwater

    • Dear Kate, thanks for your comment… that’s a good question, and you may be right, but in terms of the MGPT theory everyone is functioning from their survival self in not looking at what is going on. If one saw Savile from one’s healthy self one couldn’t avoid or deny the reality… there is a great collusive impulse when functioning from the survival part… we collude in the deluded truth that helps us avoid our own traumatisation.

      • I’ve only just read this article. There seems surprisingly little interest in understanding the Savile case. It seems to me that failure to understand it means that the problem perpetuates itself. For example, the following observation from Oliver James’s article about Jimmy Savile is relevant to at least one candidate in the US election
        : “He had what is known as the dark triad of personality characteristics: psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism. These are common in famous or powerful people.”

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