Paul Gascoigne: the torments of a tangled life


`When I think about Paul Gascoigne I think about his sheer resilience. His determination to provide for those he loved something that has eluded him his entire life, stability, security, safety. `

(Carrie Armstrong, Huff Post, 2014)

Although it is a term in everyday use, I am uneasy when people use the word `p***head. ` It is a popular label in the UK, describing a person that misuses alcohol, usually, as a means of self-medicating. For many, alcohol misuse is a means of dulling troubling thoughts and emotions but of course, it brings its own difficulties.

When internalized, negative terms can prove shameful and further damaging to a person who is, likely, already struggling with unrecognized trauma and so the cycle of shame, blame and trauma continues.

This is a reason that many rehabilitation and recovery programmes are ineffective, or at least not lasting, as guilt and shame are mobilized and labels internalized – yet, not always addressed effectively.

Shame and guilt can in themselves prove toxic. While shame makes a person want to hide away, sometimes in addictions, guilt can make a person want to put things right. Together, they can be contradictory and bring about difficulties with problem solving and rational decision making.

A problem inherent in many substance misuse recovery programmes, the Minnesota and twelve step methods, for example, is that they essentially use guilt, shame and labelling, not always knowingly, to encourage changes in behaviours. This can lead to a fundamental feeling of being wrong in some way, not in all instances, but the potential exists.

In many circumstances, nonetheless, trauma, and dysfunction, can give birth to incredible talent and creativity but ability can mask severe trauma and underlying distress.

The English footballer Paul Gascoigne is probably a good example. Loved for his personality, generosity of spirit and football abilities he has struggled with addictions,’ alongside obsessional compulsive disorder, for most of his life.

Yet, he has also shown resilience and a determination to care for himself, his family and friends in the face of incredible adversity. A fact often overlooked by many in the popular press.

So what might have happened to Paul that brought about his enduring difficulties with alcohol and addiction?

Carrie Armstrong offers an insightful analysis and provides some clues:

`Paul Gascoigne was born into poverty. His family struggled badly. He was an anxious child having been surrounded by domestic upset. This manifested more when his friend’s little brother was killed in front of him in a hit and run whilst Paul was supposed to be looking after him. Although Paul himself was a mere 10 years of age, he never got over the feeling of guilt and responsibility for his death, regularly admitting he still cried over it as an adult.`

Pauls’ father also died when he was still in early adolescence, and later in life his nephew, conceivably bringing about and consolidating further fears insecurities, and beliefs that his world was not safe.

Death awareness and death anxiety, at too early an age, may have fueled his varied compulsive behaviours. Alcohol misuse and checking were established as coping mechanisms and defences against guilt, shame, responsibility and an early awareness of death.

The figure three was a prominent checking compulsion and may have related to the early experience of death in traumatic circumstances.

Sublimation is a psychological term referring to a coping mechanism. It allows a person to convert unacceptable feelings, impulses and emotions into acceptable activities, and this may have been the case for Paul and football, in terms of routines and distractions from anxiety, while allowing him to provide for his family and friends.

Disturbances, such as insecurities concerning loss of form as a footballer, aging and retirement would all cause an awakening of the original traumas with corresponding, and replacement, coping styles. The stability, security and safety, ` referred to by Carrie Armstrong, compromised. Alcohol and food would provide comfort and distractions from his deep seated anxieties and fears.

Paul has often commented that too much attention is given over to his struggles, while overlooking his achievements. They are many and not immediately recognizable to an uninformed observer.

As Carrie Armstrong concludes:

`Paul Gascoigne took what could have been a life spent hiding in the shadows, from childhood, and he did something incredible with it instead. He used the gift that provided him relief from the mental anguish that otherwise knew no respite. He took it and he shared it with us and gave us all uplift in the process. `

Psychotherapy a may still provide some relief for Paul, while previously seemingly unhelpful, along with the enduring support of friends and fans. Helping Paul to address the many traumatic circumstances occurring in his childhood, lasting into adult life, freeing himself from guilt and a sense of responsibility for, instead of towards, others along with banishing shame might bring about a more lasting recovery.

Something good to needs to happen in Paul’s life again – to feel safe, regain a sense of security and to feel loved without needing to achieve – also to be recognized for the remarkable man his, family, friends and many fans know him to be.