December 25, 2013 we will see the advent of another Christmas and dare-I-say the much anticipated release of, The Wolf of Wall Street. It is a visually titillating biography that depicts the story of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who rose to great financial heights in the eighties and nineties only to crash and burn by the hand of his own gluttony and ruin. The film is directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo DiCaprio (Jordan Belfort), P.J. Byrne, Jon Favreau and Jonah Hill.
Belfort was convicted of money laundering and securities fraud in 2003, received a four-year prison sentence—he served only 22 months—and was ordered to repay $110.4 million to a victim compensation fund. Today, Belfort extolls his “rich message” as a motivational speaker. His sins of yesterday are the blessings of today’s learned life experiences having defrauded others. If his story weren’t so prophetic I could say that this cinematic depiction of ruinous rise to glory is, well…pathetic. But, his fall from grace shares a deeper kinship with a Greek mythical character, Icarus, and a greater theme in my 2013 release, For Love and Money: Exploring Sexual & Financial Betrayal in Relationships.
Of Men and Greek Gods
According to Greek myth, the story of Icarus is a cautionary tale of ambition and arrogance. Icarus and his father Daedalus were imprisoned inside a labyrinth that Daedalus had built for King Minos of Crete to capture the Minotaur, a half-bull, half-man creature. In an attempt to flee capture, Daedalus formed two sets of wings made from feathers and wax. Before flight, Daedalus cautioned his son to follow him and at all costs to avoid flying neither too close to the sun nor too close to the sea. Icarus became overwhelmed with his capability to soar and instead of listening to his father’s cautionary words, he flew with reckless abandon. Icarus became unaware of the danger he had created for himself and in the process he came too close to the sun, which melted the wax. Icarus kept flapping his wings and as his father had warned him, the wax soon melted leaving him with only his bare arms for flight. Icarus rejected prudence and ignored instruction and soon drowned just as he had been warned.
The 21st century Icarus— the type A personalities are driven by their inner compulsions. These men operate from a strong sense of entitlement and false power, and are compelled to reenact their deep psychological wounds for attention and adulation. This complex has played out in the past few years with detrimental results.
Today, the twentieth-century Icarus men, that I speak about in, For Love and Money: Exploring Sexual & Financial Betrayal in Relationships experience their own Icarus moments usually involving sex, money and power. Looking like Dan Draper of Mad Men, (Belfort’s 2009 doppelganger), Belfort delivers a slick, self-effacing performance describing how he drove his life into ruin with greed, drugs, sex, and other excesses, how he stole millions from people and went to jail for it, and how he reinvented himself as a “legitimate” businessman. Does his ability to turn off any vestiges of guilt make him a natural performer (in spite of his tarnished background) or more likely is it because of his lack of any remorse that audiences appear genuinely manipulated (read fooled )by what he says.
Jordan Belfort, aka and dba, the Wolf of Wall Street, allegedly said, “I hate it when people describe me as a criminal. I know it was true, but it’s not who I am. I say to my son, I say it to everybody who I try to mentor: We are not the mistakes of our past. We’re the resources and capabilities that we glean from our past.”
To return for a moment to For Love and Money, to simply name these Icarus men as, narcissistic, men behaving badly, or addicts does not capture the full breadth of internal psychological, discrepancies that are at odds with one another. As such these men who can act with impunity do so at the expense of their authentic selves—the deeper seated issues stemming from early deficits in attachment, ego state integration, and family dynamics that set the stage for their personality structure.
To act with total disregard of empathic awareness of others requires a capacity to compartmentalize and split off the parts of self that are too loathsome to acknowledge. These parts of self that are split off carry the shame, guilt, fear and loneliness that remain buried deep from the public, grandiose self. In question here is the level of structural dissociation allowing for such delusion of reality that could not otherwise be tolerated had all internal ego states been consciously working together bringing psychological checks and balances to task.
The story that Belfort tells himself is a closely held secret to most. But what is likely is that The Wolf of Wall Street is likely a gluttonous ride–all the way to the scene of his fall from grace.