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Prince Harry Needs More Therapy — Not A Tell-All Book About His Family Drama

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King Charles II, Prince Harry and Prince William

For years now, the life of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle has been surrounded by drama, and Harry's new memoir "Spare" is unlikely to change that any time soon.

Harry seems to be spilling everything, from a physical altercation with his brother Prince William, to estrangement from his father King Charles II and stepmother Queen Consort Camilla Parker-Bowles.

And of course, the usual detractors are accusing him of cashing in on the Royal Family's dirty laundry, especially following his interviews with "60 Minutes'" Anderson Cooper and ITV's Tom Bradby in the UK.

Prince Harry has every right to tell his story, of course—especially since it gets to the heart of dynamics all too common in toxic families, royal or otherwise.

But as someone who's been through similar experiences—albeit on a "normal person's" scale—I can't help but feel Harry's memoir is a bit premature.

Harry says his aim is to "get my father ... [and] brother back," but telling your story before you're at the end of it tends to have the opposite effect.

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Part of what's remarkable about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's drama is how unremarkable it is.

Harry and Meghan's story is the same story as nearly all toxic families.

As mental health professionals will tell you, most families operate within rigid structures in which everyone plays a specific role.

In dysfunctional or toxic families, the stakes for the maintenance of this structure—what psychologists call "family homeostasis"—are exponentially higher. 

Upsetting the expected order tends to make everyone lash out and fight to preserve that homeostasis, no matter how toxic, because that predictability is the only way they can feel safe.

Clinicians use the term "scapegoat” for family members who are able to see through toxic family dynamics and buck the homeostasis by speaking up about them.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more on-the-nose definition of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who stood up for themselves and have been accused of destroying the Royal Family ever since.

The day I finally stood up for myself was the day my family and I began breaking apart too, and in the aftermath, I felt like I had to tell my story to anyone who'd listen.

But I later learned that if reconciliation is your goal, it’s important to have the entire arc of the story under your belt before you begin speaking out.

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Prince Harry absolutely has the right to tell his story, and doesn’t owe his family silence.

As celebrated author Anne Lamott once put it in a tweet now legendary among writers, "if people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better."

For me, writing and comedy are the ways I process things, and in the aftermath of my blow-ups with my family, that drama became central to everything I created.

But all I knew then was my own hurt, and that made for an incomplete, unnuanced story that accomplished little more than scratching my own itch for justice.

Like Prince Harry, I was hoping my story would make my family rethink their actions and reconcile with me. Instead, it had the opposite effect.

My other family members severed ties before I ever began speaking out, but to his credit, my father refused to do so.

But though we remained in touch, my storytelling made reconciliation impossible for years.

Divorced of context, my stories rendered him a monstrous villain, irredeemable and unforgivable, and that made him defensive—that's human nature, after all.

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Toxic families are traumatizing for everyone involved.

The system victimizes everyone in one way or another, and from where I stand now, I feel empathy for my family even though they were wrong.

And I can't help but wonder if, had I told my story with that context in mind, it might have done less damage to my relationship with my dad—or maybe even helped it.

The process of fully addressing trauma in therapy is lengthy and non-linear—and for some people, it can take years.

The way brains store trauma makes treating it a process of excavation—you dig up the biggest and worst things, then work down to more nuanced and contextual parts of what happened.

   

   

In my case, I entered therapy because I was despondent about the fractures that occurred in my family, but it was nearly five years before I understood why they happened.

And to understand any of that, I first had to figure out who I was without my family, and develop my own sense of self apart from the insular, toxic system I'd known all my life.

There are, of course, many other dynamics at play in Prince Harry’s family situation that I never had to face—racism, Britain's buttoned-up culture and inescapable media scrutiny chief among them.

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But that's the real crux of healing from family trauma, in my experience—finding your sense of self so you can see all sides of why your family fell apart.

And if reconciliation is the goal? You need to have that under your belt first.

I can’t speak to Prince Harry’s mental health journey, and Anne Lamott is right—it's not his job to keep other people's secrets.

But if getting his father and brother back is his aim, I can't help but feel he'd do better to take more time to focus on himself and his own healing before telling all.

Telling your story too soon risks entrenching people in their positions—and you make it easy for them to defend themselves by assailing your credibility.

Human nature is human nature, after all, even when you're royalty.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.

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