What is Cassandra Syndrome?

Cassandra Syndrome, also known as Cassandra Complex, Phenomenon, Predicament, or Curse. What is it? In this blog-post you will learn about Cassandra. Three women describe their experiences with Cassandra Syndrome.

IN SHORT: Cassandra Syndrome applies to a person whose valid warnings or concerns are not believed by others.

Cassandra by Ferdinand Rothbart

A TAD BIT LONGER

In Greek mythology, Cassandra is a beautiful daughter of King Priam of Troy. Apollo smitten by her beauty, gives her the gift of prophecy. Despite this gift, Cassandra does not return Apollo’s romantic feelings. As a result, Apollo is so angry that he ensures Cassandra’s prophecies are never believed. Thus, in stories, Cassandra often appears as a prophet of doom, forewarning all her warnings stay unheeded. Over time, Cassandra’s name has become synonym with prophets of doom.

IN DEPTH

Modern people have little knowledge about prophesies; we prefer statistical data and scientific simulations to map out our future. Those who dare to speak about prophecies are seen as mad or religious fanatics. That said, we fill our days with policy making. Whether you are a housewife/man, or a governmental senior policy maker, we run errands for the rest of the week and make plans for the next five year. We are very busy with forecasting and foretelling our future. Keeping an eye on the future is an integral part of living a well-planned life.

Remember the fall of Troy? Cassandra attempted to warn the Trojan people that Greek warriors were hiding in the Trojan Horse. Nobody believed Cassandra. Instead the Trojans resorted to calling her names and hurling insults at her. At night, the Greek soldiers hiding inside the horse, take the city of Troy, leading to its fall. So, what is Cassandra Syndrome? It consists of two aspects: prophesy and disbelief.

PROPHESY

Prophesying is about seeing, or believing, or knowing something goes wrong. This knowing is based on a gift by the god Apollo in Cassandra’s story, but we -modern and often secular people- can base this knowledge on life experience, intuition, or scientific data. Whatever the source or method of knowing, Cassandra Syndrome is about knowing what is about to happen, and this can be very stressful.

I once read about a man who saw his whole life playing like a movie in his mind when he suffered a NDE (Near Death Experience). After this NDE, his life evolved just the way he had ‘seen’. He knew what would happen, who would die (first), just as he had ‘seen’. I gave this much thought and asked myself ‘Would I want to know all that? And would I be in such acceptance?’ The man’s wife died before him. ‘Would I put effort in trying to change that, to change the ‘natural’ course of things as they had presented in his NDE?’ These are difficult questions.

DISBELIEF

It is extremely stressful if your warning or knowing is met with disbelief. People die; Troy falls. All of that could have been prevented had people listen to Cassandra. Most climate change advocates must have suffered from a Cassandra Syndrome. Who believed their doom scenario (of rising sea levels, increased heatwaves, horrendous floods) till we actually saw it happening?  

Max Klinger, Cassandra, 1893

Have you ever suffer Cassandra Syndrome?

I did at least twice and it was very stressful. Am I bestowed with the gift of prophesying? No, of course not. Whether knowledge comes intuitively, divinely, logically, or scientifically, that is rather irrelevant. The point is that you had knowledge about a future development and you weren’t believed. Like Cassandra, I was ridiculed.  

Cassandra was seen as a liar and a madwoman by her family. Her father, Priam, locked her away in a chamber and guarded her like the madwoman she was said to be. How could Priam rule when his daughter could foretell the future? As a king, he should be in charge of the future, not his daughter. But because of the gift of Apollo, Cassandra was the real policy maker; she could anticipate the future. Thus, she was shamed as a madwoman. She was silenced.

THREE PERSONAL NARRATIVES ON CASSANDRA SYNDROME

Maria: ‘I got Cassandra syndrome from a conflict with my father. We strongly disagreed about his future. In my opinion, he should sign up for an old people’s home because he needed care and socializing. He said I was psychiatric, which is a very classical reaction of an old man in relation to a woman speaking her mind. Priam drove a knife in Cassandra’s back to stay in power; my father back-stabbed me in order to silence me. That is what (some) men do when they hear women saying things they dislike. This begs question; has anything changed since Ancient Greece?’

Kathryn: ‘When I think of Cassandra Syndrome, I think of Camille Claudel. She was a very talented sculptress but she lived in the shadow of Auguste Rodin. Claudel made art at the time when it was highly unusual for a woman to make a living as an artist. How could she ever step out of the shadow of the famous Rodin with whom she was in a collaborative and passionate relationship? It is said she lost her mind and lived for 30 years, till her death, in a mental asylum. Why was it that the woman of the artistic couple was stored away? Was she a madwoman or was she perhaps silenced by a male oriented society?’

Petra: ‘How long did it take for the pharmaceutical industry to acknowledge that it has been a men’s industry, testing medicines on men, for the benefits of men? How long have women taken medicines that were designed and tested on men? I understand there has been reluctance with testing medication on women for fear of damaging the reproductive system or unborn babies. But when these male designed medications didn’t help women, women too often were advised to seek psychological help for ‘psycho-somatic’ illnesses. In essence, the pharmaceutical industry was failing women and by suggesting they needed emotional help this industry was ridiculing and silencing women, saying they were a bit loopy, in need of mental help. In fact, the industry should have designed medicine for women. I think that women collectively suffer from Cassandra syndrome.’

How many women (and men) -do you think- have been Cassandra during a time in their lives?

My guess? Too many. Far too many.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula Kuitenbrouwer, owner, commission artist, and writer at Mindfuldrawing.com, a website full artwork, art-musings, art-appreciation, and art-essays. Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and loves painting and drawing. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Paula’s artshop is at Etsy. Just go there and have a look. You do not need an account to order art. Paula is also at Instagram, where she uses her Instagram as a portfolio for pictures and videos for you to enjoy.

THE ANATOMY OF A FAILED CHARACTER ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT

Ina, a former arts & crafts teacher, tells her story about a failed character assassination attempt. Her narrative does not focus on the causes or conflicts that lie at the roots of the attempt nor on the mortally malcontented being in need to vent their frustrations on her and her family. Instead Ina’s story centers around the notion of a failed attempt. Why did it fail? And how did it fail? What role did art play? Ina shares her experiences because she profoundly hopes that it might help others. ‘Even if it is one teenager or woman that is helped by my story, I am happy‘. Her story is illustrated by several artworks.

Medieval Illuminated Manuscript
of a Phoenix burning and regenerating itself. Ina says that she adopted the phoenix as her role model. She got burned but regenerated herself.

Ina’s interview takes place inside her studio. Her large work table and various artisan tools ignite a desire to become creative. Various unfinished projects give evidence of an overload of inspiration. Reluctantly Ina revisits a time in her life in which she and her family received hate mail after hate mail. ‘Hateful emails seek a reaction, a response, they invite a counter attack’.

I read ‘Religion and Violence’ by historian René Girard when I was in my twenties and I was struck by his theory of the Scapegoat Mechanism. How important a scapegoat is for social cohesion and how collectively accusing is more important than the substance. Thinking back of Girard’s theory, I concluded that -unluckily and apparently- it was my time in life to experience that mechanism first-hand. Scapegoating me was skillfully done with drip-feeding fabricated and exaggerating accusations that resulted in attacks on me’. 

As soon as Ina realized that attempts to counterbalance false accusations didn’t help, and that she wasn’t responsible for one other’s envy, she withdrew and refused to interact with those who made it their mission to bring her down. She hoped that the campaign against her would die down as soon as some fact-checking was done. It was not the accusations that hurt her (they were silly, made-up, and unfounded) but the fact that people were so willingly believing gossip. Ina knew therefore that trying to get into the good books of her aggressors was a Sisyphean task. Thus, Ina decided to wait it out. That didn’t work. Eventually, she had to hire a lawyer as a firewall. ‘Seal off your personal space, and resort to things that are soul nourishing, like studying, being creative, doing sports,’ advises Ina.

‘Just because there is an attempt to harm your life, to bring you down, to harm your family, it does not imply that you should get emotionally involved. That said, hate-mails hurt no matter how dumb the content. I noticed that I started to excuse myself and resorted to using disclaimers, I adopted an apologetic attitude. That was not good, so I changed that’.

‘I realized one has to live one’s own life, suffer one’s own sufferings and rejoicing in one’s own luck and happiness. Not to say that I have adopted a hyper-individualized form of existence, instead, I am Aristotelian in believing that one’s telos, one’s full potential should be the focus of our lives in relation to others. We are inherently social beings. But you need to select carefully with whom you hangout. Relations are healthy when they support each other’s telos and growth, unhealthy when they hamper one’s telos. It was unfair to ask from me (and my family) to absorb other people’s hate and discontentment.

What does character assassination look like? What is its anatomy?

‘It is much more than an ordinary squabble or an unresolved conflict. Character assassination is a coordinated and prolonged effort to maliciously harm a person, to damage a person’s good reputation, and to destroy one’s self esteem. I will not sum up the long list of areas that were targeted but the vile accusations were emotive, paternalizing, and downright hateful. There was relentless criticism on almost every aspect of my life along with reproaches and objections. My education, my choices, what I said-thought-felt, the way I looked… my husband, his work, his voluntary work, even my child, nothing got spared. I noticed many characteristics of conspiracy thinking too: deep and unfounded suspicion, blaming without evidence, no fair hearing (jumping to conclusions or unsubstantiated ideas). It grew -even without me interacting- and after a few months the hate had accumulated in that I was a despicable and dangerous person. That I was dangerous made me almost laugh, had it not been so sad, because I am a boringly good citizen. And, also very conspiracy-like, I was to blame for everything that was wrong. My villains were so proud of echoing that I was the single cause of a layered, multi-faceted, and complex problem. Yeh, ever since Eve! Such is the beautiful, simple world in which one woman causes the fall out of paradise.

‘Things completely spiraled out of control. It was frightening (and interesting) to see how every next email or letter was harsher in tone, more accusative. When my family and I received a physical threat and a death-wish, we were advised to go to the police and a lawyer.

‘At that time, I came across ‘Tax Collectors’ by Reymerswale but I did not know the title of this artwork. It shows two tax collectors doing their paperwork. Despite their luxurious clothing and fine interior, the painter has deliberately made them look downright ugly. To me, this painting could have been titled ‘Two Hate Mail Writers’ because hate makes ugly’.

Workshop of Marinus van Reymerswale Two Tax-Gatherers probably 1540.

‘I asked myself what in my life had been left untouched by hate. There was not much left. Realizing this, I knew it was about a need for hating, exactly like Girard had theorized. There was a need for a shared enemy on the part of the accusers to ease tensions. I had become a lightning rod for an unsolvable conflict and problem. I was deeply shocked.

HOW TO DEAL WITH ATTEMPTS TO DESTROY YOU?

I suffered terribly. I have had moments wondering whether I could cope with all the anger directed at me. Hate is a terrible monster, like Cerberus (the three-headed dog of Greek myth guarding the entrance to the underworld). Envy is an even more devilish monster. You have to protect yourself against monsters. I was greatly supported by my husband but I needed judicial help too. So, get help is number one.

‘Number two: look at where the anger comes from. Is it justified? Does it come from a well-educated, well balanced person (or persons) who is open to mediation, respecting the choices you make in your life? No? Then try to stay unaffected. People willingly venting their unrestrained anger are harming themselves; it is like the trash taking itself out. So, get help and try to stay unaffected. That sounds contradictory, but it isn’t’.

Peasant Mother by David Alfaro Siqueiros. To Ina this painting shows there are times you feel surrounded by cacti.

Ina came across a painting of a mother with her child positioned between man-high saguaro cacti navigating her way through a barren and hostile landscape. She felt one with the painting. ‘This is a great expressionist painting. You immediately are drawn into the painting. The background shows a sunset but it looks like it is on fire, adding to the dramatic scene. I loved this painting because it so cleverly shows danger juxtaposing tenderness. I felt like the mother in this picture. But I also felt like the child, held by the protective arms of my family. As long as my family and I kept on walking, that landscape would change for the better’.

Phoenix Regenerating, Aberdeen University Library: showing a Phoenix after its regeneration.

‘During the prolonged attacks, I felt as if I had died a bit inside. A crisis can break or make you. I opted for the latter. If I died a bit inside, I decided that I would be like a phoenix, the mythological, immortal bird, who dies by flames and arises from its ashes. It took time, but I completed my regeneration. My health was restored (that took more than a year) and I felt good again. The biggest compliment I gained is that I looked younger. There is much truth to that observation. I adopted a Phoenix as my mascot. Its picture helped me to keep strongly focused on regeneration. That was very important to me’.

Will you forgive and what did you learn?

‘It would be a mistake to forgive because it was a well-planned and prolonged attack, not a faux pass. I decided against forgiving because I am setting an example to never allow emotional abuse’.

I learned that people are shockingly easy to mobilize against another person. All somebody has to do is preying on their envy or frustrations’.

DID THE HARM CAMPAIGN FAILED OR SUCCEEDED?

Shame withheld me to look for help. It is probably a womanly thing to react as a sin-eater. I felt ashamed being so hated. Shame is a very bad reaction to bullying (there is no way you have brought scapegoating onto yourself). It results in withdrawal and silence. What one needs is the opposite, to set up a robust defense. I remember my lawyer hearing my story and saying; ‘I’ll take it from here and I’ll run this pass a criminal lawyer too’. The intense relief that caused! So, did the character assassination fail? Initially, no. It caused emotional and physical damage. Also, money was spent on lawyers which could have better benefited the next generation. And I still keep my friends at an arm’s length, afraid they too pop out of Pandora’s box as hateful puppets. But overcoming shame and seeking help changed everything. I am absolutely not a fan of Nietzsche, but he is frequently quoted for having said that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. In the end, the character assassination epically failed’.

Any advice for teenagers who get bullied, for women who become conduits of anger?

‘In teenage language? What the fuck! Seek support NOW. You are worth living your cool life without the bullshit of others. To adults, I advise the same, though in different wording: go to the police, get a good lawyer. Stop feeling shame, stop suffering; harassing behaviour by others is socially or judicially unacceptable. Seek help’.

–XXX–

THE MORAL OF THIS BLOG-POST? You have read this before on this website: We make art, appreciate art, and see our lives reflected in art. The great stories about the human predicament, whether Ancient Greek, Biblical or classical literary sources, or famous fine art paintings, all cover some part of our lives. Seek refuge in art and literature. Nourish your soul with literature and art. Art matters. Books matter. Art heals. We -humans- have created a huge reservoir of healing properties to be found in libraries, museums, galleries, studios, and bookshops. Use it; enjoy it.

Next blog post will be about the Artist Studio and What is a Cassandra Syndrome?

Mindfuldrawing.com is owned by Paula Kuitenbrouwer who holds an MA degree in Philosophy. Paula’s pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic. Paula has an Etsy shop here. Her Instagram account serves as an online portfolio and is here. Contact Paula freely by email or a contact form for commissioned artwork.

OTHER BLOG POSTS:

What is Cassandra Syndrome?

What is Cassandra Syndrome and have you ever suffered Cassandra Syndrome? Artist Paula Kuitenbrouwer sheds light on this syndrome by weaving definitions, illustrations, and personal narratives together.

What is Future Faking?

What is Future Faking? Artist Paula Kuitenbrouwer illustrates her definition of what Future Faking is with the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Midwinter Holiday Season Christmas Art Cards 2022

It might sound paradoxical but thanks to the heatwave of Summer 2022, I have my Midwinter holiday season art cards available in my Etsy shop. I know this is very early so let me explain why.

I am too much a northerner to enjoy weeks of deep blue skies, high temperatures, and sweltering nights. In fact, during a heatwave I prefer to stay out of the sun, pretending trees, shrubs, and plants do not suffer from drought, animals aren’t thirsty, and all is perfectly normal. But of course, it isn’t. We are breaking weather record after weather record and these high temperatures are very challenging. The heat also has taken a bite out of our holiday. Not that we didn’t enjoy our holiday; we did! But the high temperatures prevented us making long walks and caused long delays on motorways due to fires on the shoulders of roads. So, these are the downsides to a heatwave. Now, the upside! A deep longing for cooler temperatures, made me work on two Midwinter compositions. Perhaps, subconsciously and illogically I thought that as long as I focus on winter, I can endure the hot summer a bit better. ‘Art-heals’ is said, isn’t it?

Midwinter Forest
Six languages

I designed a round composition showing a midwinter forest with deer, hares, and a squirrel with pine trees and holly. Inside there is a Christmas wish in six languages and on the backside you find a deer, the title of this painting as well as my name in small print.

The other composition shows a mandarin duck couple resting near their duck pond that is surrounded by holly, ivy, and overhanging rowan branches. The scientific side of me urges me to tell you that a mandarin drake loses much of his bright plumage before winter arrives. Should he keep his outrageous bright colours, he would stand out too much and soon would become a colourful meal for predators. That said, you won’t spot a teddy bear with a snowman’s hat during your winter walk either; the holiday season allows us some room for imagination.

Enjoy my Midwinter Mandarin Duck postcard and Midwinter Forest double folded note-card. Should you like to order a set, or a large quantity, contact me freely. As I will have them printed on demand, allow me 2-3 weeks of production time.

There is nothing better to have all seasonal greetings cards ready halfway November. Not only because it takes away last-minute pressure, also because there are still postal delays.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

I have my shop at Etsy & my portfolio (including videos) at Instagram.

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