The Psychology of a Psychotic Break
The Black Swan (Academy Award Winner written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb) is a story of Nina, a young, fragile ballerina who lives a life of quiet desperation as a people pleaser.
When Nina is offered the lead role in Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" she is forced to confront her worst fears, including shedding her "sweet girl" image to gain the approval of the brutally demanding, sexually aggressive director.
She realizes her goal of perfection breaking the unhealthy emotional pattern of being a people pleaser. As the emergence of a newly found identity appears, the prima ballerina has come of age.
Nina is ill-prepared to embrace the dark side of the new role, which involves forcing her to confront her untested sexuality. With the clock running, her emotional immaturity fuels a major identity crisis. She must immediately grow up and embrace her mature persona by discarding her old self. Nina’s behavioral change triggers panic in her mother who blames Nina for her lost career.
"I just want to be perfect." "The only one standing in your way is you."
– Nassim Taleb, Screenwriter
Sadly, Nina's unhealthy reality fostered by succumbing to ill-timed external pressures comes too late. In the end she is only able to live her change in death. The development of a healthy self-image is a step-by-step process.
When outside pressures exist pushing you into unfamiliar waters, an ability to read your own emotions in the moment can help you discern right from wrong when it comes to your own emotional well-being. The wisdom of listening to how you feel will enable you to establish healthy boundaries with people that they must respect. This leads to self-respect and personal growth on your terms -- not succumbing to what other people want for you.
Nina throws her imaginary rival into the mirror and stabs her with a shard of glass -- the hallucination representing the killing her old self, allays her fears of imperfection.
The once-fragile Nina imagines emerging on stage as the powerful embodiment of the role she was meant to play. Her goal to achieve perfection is realized in her performance, but the fatal stab wound meant for her imagined rival was a self-inflicted wound. Nina’s final performance brings a standing ovation.
The power of guilt collides with her need for accelerated emotional growth, driving her to seek personal control amidst internal chaos through perfectionism -- an unhealthy drive symptomatic of an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
The weight of the imposed emotional transformation triggers body image issues, leading to the purging behavior of bulimia, a serious eating disorder.
Nina witnesses an aging prima ballerina’s suicide attempt over her loss of stature, foreshadowing her own future if she changes. The director’s constant criticism of Nina’s inability to let go gives rise to fears associated with paranoia when confronted with a new sexually open dancer’s desire for to take her coveted lead role.
The emotional chaos triggers a psychotic break, manifesting in a series of visual hallucinations in a mirror. Nina imagines the physical traits of a real black swan appearing on her body including feathers, which she scratches to the point of bleeding indicative of self-harming.
The push-pull of her emotional state peaks when her competitive rival materializes as a delusion in the mirror. Flashes of ”dark” Nina inter-cut with her “sweet” image driving her sanity to the brink.