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So look who went all meta!  After reading all the other great writers on this site take turns at character metas, it occured to me I hadn't done one in a while.  I've actually been working on this since the end of "Sam, Interrupted" but was inspired to finish it after Jasminka's fantastic "Dean Winchester Is Dead - Long Live Dean Winchester." What's resulted even fascinates me.  Who knew how deep Sam's issues go?  Fine, we all did.  Prepare for something a little mind numbing.  I don't think I've even scratched the surface, but it's a start.  

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It’s not a stretch for me to say that Sam Winchester is a misunderstood character. He’s exactly what he joked about in “Free To Be You and Me,” a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a taco. After all, Sam is an internalizer. He shoves his issues deep and won’t deal with them unless they’re pushed out of him in a rather harsh way. So, we as viewers have to cling onto those precious times when the inner conflict is shown or even hinted. Like the recent reveal that he’s very angry inside. Why is that and what exactly is all that pent up anger doing to the poor boy? It’s a question Dean refused to explore but hey, I’ll try it. 

Understanding Rage

Anger is a primal emotion. It usually manifests into many other emotions on various spectrums, rage being one of the most extreme. According to Wikipedia (yes, this entry sounds accurate to me) “When a person experiences rage it usually lasts until a threat is removed or the person under rage is incapacitated.” Sam’s issues with rage have mostly existed in the past two seasons (one big exception being at the end of season one’s “Salvation”) and when he’s raging, it’s difficult to get him out of that mode. He’s lost and unable to control himself, the crazy eyes saying it all.  The attacks against the hunters in the bar in “Free To Be You and Me” and the doctor in “Sam, Interrupted” are good examples, but there are plenty of other cases too like when he wouldn’t stop with Lilith in all of season four until she was dead. His desire to see her head on a plate bloody in “Wishful Thinking” was a very cold and dark wish coming from something burning deep within. Sam is in an entirely different zone when he channels his anger towards something evil and it’s frightening.

How did the rage start? Again from Wikipedia, “Anger is explained by current dissatisfaction in one’s life. This amount of anger or frustration is common. Rage, however, is caused from built up anger from past traumas.” Well, that scenario fits. Let’s go through just the high level list of traumas. His mother died when we was a baby.   He was dragged cross country his entire upbringing by his dad who hunted monsters. He was trained to hunt said monsters himself even though he didn’t want to. He left that life behind and got pulled back when witnessing the love of his life charcoaled on the ceiling. He found out he had psychic abilities rooted in evil. He watched his Dad die. He had to kill the first woman he loved after Jessica. He learned he was infected with demon blood as a baby and is a major part of a diabolical demon war. He died. He watched Dean die. He gave into his resistance over using said dark powers, got hooked on demon blood and accidently started the apocalypse. While he suffered from the guilt over that and rejection by his brother, the one person in his life that matters, he found out he’s supposed to be the vessel for Lucifer himself and will be a key part of the plan to destroy the earth. You think all that qualifies as the proper catalysts for rage?

There are two types of anger, passive and aggressive. Sam suffers from both. Wiki states, “One can mask rage by appearing overly dominant, or by being depressed.” Let’s face it, most of the time Sam is depressed. He has no joy in his life. He doesn’t go after women like his brother, he doesn’t socialize for fear of people close to him dying, he doesn’t let loose in a bar or a whorehouse or even go fishing for a good time either. Heck, he even eats salads all the time. That’s pure misery right there. He mostly sits in a motel room or in the car and either reads or thinks. And broods. We haven’t even had signs since season two that he still has his pay-per-view porn habit. He doesn’t dream of a happy future anymore. He’s maintained in both “Wishful Thinking” and “Swap Meat” whatever he hoped for once isn’t his life anymore. If he isn’t depressed, then he’s certainly depressing.

Then there’s the other side of masking rage, being overly dominant. There are times when Sam is pushed to the limit and the depressed complacent state turns into a show of massive force, aka using his powers. No wonder he craves the power that his demon blood brings him. Think about it, in order to unleash the kind of wrath he did in “My Blood Valentine” he had to channel that inner rage. It’s got to be a big source of fuel for that power. Anyone think that using his abilities to exorcise five demons at once and take out a horseman was actually calming his inner rage? Heavens no. If anything, it added gallons of jet fuel to an already out of control fire. It’s only building and getting worse.

Where Did It Begin?

So where did it all begin? When did Sam start to lose control? It’s interesting in “My Bloody Valentine” when it was revealed that Dean was going through the motions. Sam is too. He doesn’t know what else to do. Unlike Dean though, his void is filled with anger. He loses himself and who he is during those moments. It usually takes a rude awakening, like a wraith pointing out how deep his issues are or a horseman getting inside his head for him to realize exactly what’s going on inside. How wrong it feels. How messed up he really is. How far from normal he is. 

That lack of normality is where it all started. All Sam has ever wanted is to be normal. That was decided not to be the case while he was an infant. After Azazel’s fateful visit, after his mother died, he never felt right inside.   He never had say on the path to follow, he didn’t have a normal family life like other kids and his father was constantly absent. He probably didn’t have much of an identity until he began rebelling against John and went off to Stanford. The frustration of being unable to live the life he wanted is the early manifestations of anger. 

Sam dealt with his anger over Jessica’s death by seeking revenge. He gave up his chance at a safe life and took on hunting life on the road with his brother. The anger kept growing when he found he wasn’t getting closer to his goal and there were awful plans for him by the yellow-eyed demon.   He gave up on his dream life completely when his father died. A guilt ridden decision maybe? Oh yes (more on that coming soon). Then he eventually finds out the hard way that revenge doesn’t satisfy that anger inside. In his case, it only manages to heighten it. When the yellow eyed demon died, when Lilith died, none of that seemed to quell the rabid monster inside. Remember Sam’s words from “Sam, Interrupted?” â€œMost of the time I can hide it, but I am angry. I’m mad at everything. I used to be mad at you and dad and then Lilith, now it’s Lucifer and I make excuses. I blame Ruby or the demon blood but it’s not their fault. It’s not them, it’s me. It’s inside me. I’m mad all the time and I don’t know why.”

So why? Having some evil demon blood pumping through his veins contributes, but one big reason is he’s also the spitting image of John Winchester, another person too consumed by revenge and anger. Sam even understands what drove John’s actions based on what he said in “The Song Remains The Same.”  John would have gone insane if he didn’t try. So what keeps Sam going through all this then, knowing what it did to his Dad? Remember in “Jump The Shark” when he told Adam it never ends? It never ends. At what point does Sam let go? What keeps him going?


Sam had an obvious turning point when Dean died. It pretty much destroyed him. It made him weak, vulnerable, and ripe for manipulation. That brings on another catalyst for rage, guilt. Here’s the definition of guilt in the Encyclopedia of Psychology. â€œAn emotional state produced by thoughts that we have not lived up to our ideal self and could have done otherwise.” It further goes onto explain “Guilt feelings may also inhibit us from falling short of our ideal again in the future.” You mean like feeling responsible for your brother’s death by not using your powers to save him so you’ll learn to use them now to save others? 

Who could blame Sam for choosing that path? Why not turn his curse into a gift? He could use it to exorcise demons, save people. He hardly put up a fight when Ruby suggested it. He didn’t care what it did to him internally. He didn’t believe he would lose control. He was too weak to save Dean, so maybe he could save others instead. Sure, Sam suffered from guilt too when Jessica died, blaming himself even though he couldn’t have known the dream was going to come true. So how did he deal with that? By throwing his ideal life away and seeking out revenge. Sure, we wouldn’t have a series if he didn’t, but Sam’s extreme reaction to guilt not only comes from the anger within but it’s managed to make it worse. The anger gets worse, the desperation gets worse, the guilt gets worse, and the whole cycle continues until he explodes in a swirling fit of rage. You know, like when he’s under a spell by Famine and uses his extreme power to stop him.  

Sam’s anger and subsequent outbursts of rage are a combination of the depression, the extreme guilt, and hopelessness inside all coming from being constantly caught in no win situations. His fears from his drunken tirade in “Playthings” still holds true today. â€œEven now everyone around me dies.” How does someone in that mess break the cycle? He can’t use revenge, like when he tried to use Pamela’s death as a reason to get mad enough to go after Lilith in “On The Head of a Pin.” He can’t run and hide either like he found out in “Free To Be You and Me.” All that’s left is to go through the motions, taking it one day at a time. Needless to say, that complacent life doesn’t help inner rage either. He keeps losing more and more control, especially when something supernatural pushes his buttons. 

Oh, but it gets even more complicated for Sam. There’s a theory I read out there that shame plays a big role in developing guilt and subsequently rage too. In her article “When Shame Becomes Rage,” Lynne Namka says this. â€œShame rears its ugly head when there is a threat and you feel helpless, humiliated and dehumanized. If you lose control when you are angry, you have learned to substitute the emotion of rage to take yourself out of the bad feelings of being a victim.” 

Sam, a victim? Heck, he’s the victim poster child. More so than Dean just because of his demon blood and dark destiny. However, Sam didn’t know about being fed the blood until he was 23 years old. So did he always feel like a victim? Yes. For one, he’s on more than one occasion said his family is cursed. That’s classic victim mentality. Notice that’s something Dean has never said. We really don’t know how long Sam has felt that way, but I’m presuming for some time, probably while waiting in those motel rooms for John to return two weeks later, not knowing if he was dead or alive. Another sign of feeling like a victim is negative self talk. You know, things like “I should have saved him/her.”  Yes, both Dean and Sam are guilty of this, but it seems to be more of a catalyst for Sam’s condition. Sam especially though is bad about negative self talk. Take for example the beginning of “Lucifer Rising” when talking with Ruby. â€œDean’s better off as far away from me as possible.” Then he goes through with the plan to drain the nurse of her blood after getting a final rejection from Dean’s voice mail. Sure, he thought he was saving the world, but he ultimately did it because he was only acting like what he really was; a monster, a freak.

Another sign of being a victim is feeling unfairly treated and trapped. Just look at Sam’s conversation with his hallucinated mother in “When The Levee Breaks.” Sam is terrified at the idea of facing Lilith, facing his destiny. As “Mary” tells him he has to kill Lilith, his real hidden fear surfaces. â€œEven if it kills me.” Sam doesn’t see any choice. He’s the only one to kill Lilith. He has to drink the demon blood, he has to die, because killing Lilith will stop the apocalypse. There’s no time to consider the fact that he’s scared out of his wit or is worthy of better. He has no choice. He’s never had a choice when it comes to things. 

This sign of being victimized though is what gets me the most; what others say. Dean means well and so loves his brother, but he doesn’t know how to help Sam. He took Sam’s actions in “Lucifer Rising” as betrayal and when Sam forced the truth out of him (as he often does) in “Sympathy For The Devil,” Dean’s harsh honesty managed to crush an already dripping with guilt and shame Sam. Enter more intense self-loathing. Then Sam had his moment of clarity at the end of “Sam, Interrupted” and Dean shut him down. He told him to bury it. I know Dean didn’t do that out of harm but that was the absolute worst thing Sam could have heard at the time. Sam had to listen to Dean though, he had no choice. He’s still trying to build Dean’s trust. He’s still trying to prove his worthiness. Through all his guilt. All his shame. All his self-loathing. Throw in talk of how he’s going to say yes to Lucifer and friends are dying brutally and his helplessness is at an all time high too. So there we have it, the perfect recipe for extreme anger and rage. 

Is There Hope?

The signs are faint, but Sam still clings on to hope. Granted lately that hope is hanging on by a thread, but it’s all he has. Even when the ghost of Jessica (aka Lucifer) tried to beat him down in “Free To Be You and Me” he told her there was reason for hope. He showed signs of letting go of that anger by making amends with John (albeit past John) in “The Song Remains The Same.” We have to wonder if he still prays daily like he revealed in “Houses of The Holy.” Does he still think that something out there will save him? Will he finally earn that redemption that has been eluding him his entire life? I think it’s possible, judging by the final scene in “My Bloody Valentine.” Sure, Sam was suffering horribly in withdrawal, but we can’t help but believe, especially when he came clean with Dean about his demon blood hunger, that Sam voluntarily put himself through withdrawal this time. He could have easily, just like in “Lucifer Rising,” decided to take the one track course to his end and gone out high on blood and power. There’s still hope for Sammy. 

The promise from Kripke himself is that season five would be where Sam finds redemption. I think Dean earned his redemption in season three when he faced his bitter end self-actualized and chose to accept the consequences of his actions. Sure, Dean has some big issues right now, but redemption is not something he needs to seek. He’s just trying to hold it all together in impossible circumstances (so not easy). Sam has yet though to have his moment of vindication. Since season two he’s been in a downward spiral that has yet to bottom out. Just when we think it can’t get worse for Sammy, it does. 

So why is Sam Winchester so angry? The answer is quite obvious. The bigger and more pressing question is how does Sam stop being so angry? How does he get redemption? That’s the trickier answer and one will have to play out the rest of this season and possibly beyond. Both brothers are deep in a dark place right now and help will have to come from other places. Being there for each other just won’t be enough. Something’s got to give soon though or the results will get very messy.  Sam said it best though, “There is reason for hope.” For your sake Sammy, we hope you are right.      

Comments  

Randal
# Randal 2010-02-25 11:16
Of course the answer is quite obvious: all those damn salads.

Alice, you should go meta more often, this was most excellent. I definitely buy the whole guilt thing, and what's great about the show is that they never explicitly come out and beat you over the head with it textually (oh, look, sulfur - writers, stop it) but the poor dude feels he's failed at every turn, failed to protect those that he loves, and even when he tried, he failed, in the eyes of the one person whose support he *needs*.

To us chomping on chips beyond the fourth wall, it's easy to say that Sam should buck up or that Dean should chill and forgive his brother, but this is Scary Life Stuff on steroids. Anyone want to try tackling all that, topped off with the knowledge that you're the vessel for Old Scratch? Bonne chance.

In an odd way, the rage, the guilt, it's a comfort, a safety net. Does it drive one mad? Sure, but it's so much easier than recognizing that you need to break the cycle of adding napalm to gasoline, let alone moving beyond that crucial first step.
Lisa
# Lisa 2010-02-25 14:18
Alice, thank you for that. I just love your take on things. You make me think things in a whole different light. :-) And I just love Sam!
Sablegreen
# Sablegreen 2010-02-25 16:40
Okay...posted my first post under the wrong article. Here it's under the RIGHT one!

Good article Alice. I think there is plenty of hope for Sam, and Dean. Both boys just need to stop beating themselves up over events they really had no control over. (And that doesn’t mean I believe in the destiny ideas). Like Lindsey said in FTBYAM, "No one has ever done anything so bad they can’t be forgiven, they can’t change." That is SO true. For me, it’s sad that this has dragged on for so long. Hopefully they will get back to the happier things soon.

I do have to disagree with one thing. I don’t think Sam is a monster. I think he THINKS he’s a monster, and Dean does too. Both of them are wrong. Sam has extraordinary abilities that he needs to learn to use properly, not throw away. I think in MBV, he learned that for the first time, and hopefully soon he will learn that he doesn’t need blood to turn them on. At least that’s what I hope the writers will do. Smile
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-02-25 17:07
Alice, this is marvellous! Somebody really did her homework, great research, my compliments!!

Ah, dear Sammy… my beloved character… Why is Sam angry? Because else he would be depressed. I believe his anger is the main asset that saves him from sliding down the pit into a deep, lonely darkness of depression…. To my experience, when people don’t find a way to articulate their anger (and we all feel that from time to time), it will have a negative effect on their mood, eventually bearing the threat of major depression.
In addition to that, anger is the brother of fear, something I’m touching upon in the article I’m going to send you tomorrow.

Unfortunately, I have to disagree with Wikipedia at one point – I have never found depression serving as a cover for rage. It is often a result of not expressed rage.(I’ll try to look Wiki up and find out on which study that is based, I’m curious)
So, I’d say although Sam is undoubtedly depressed, he is still on a more hopeful side, as he gets that anger out of his system once in a while – which always evoked hope in me that Sammy will make it through all that trauma that poisons the Winchester lives. But when he does, he is utterly terrifying…
His anger and revenge seeking kept him alive for a long time. He needed to externalize it, or else that rage might have turned against him and he might have become suicidal. He has been sometimes.

I’m with you – there is hope for Sammy. He has instinctively often chosen paths to save himself from succumbing completely to being a ‘monster’. I’m very curious to see how it will play out .
Why don’t you write meta articles more often? Go ahead, woman, do it. I’m eager to read them…. Feed me…. ;-)

Thanks for this great piece! Jas
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-02-25 17:10
P.S.:I love that screecap you use for the article announcement up there - it's one of my favourite pic's of Sam. So, thanks for that little treat...
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-02-25 17:49
I guess mindbending comes as a professional hazard :shock:, but hey, I'd never love over your 'frail attempt at psychoanalysis' , oh,dear, don't sell yourself short. Let me share a secret: a huge amount of psychoanalysis is common sense, a very human virtue, and one you own in spades.

As for the screencaps.. I used to find some great ones at Home of the Nutty or Supernatural Paradise, but HotN seems to be gone.. Shame....


Best, Jas
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-02-25 17:50
Ha, freudian.... I meant to say: *laugh* over... Gosh it's too late and I had to do a lot of mind bending today... :lol:, I can be such a freak...
Ardeospina
# Ardeospina 2010-02-25 18:47
Great article, Alice! Since the site is up and running, you'll no doubt have some more time to write up more meta articles, since you're obviously very good at it, and because you like it. It's great when things you like to do and things you have a talent for come together!

I hope Sam does find his redemption this season, or at least makes some real headway on the path there, because his level of suppressed anger and rage is pretty frightening. Plus, Lucifer said he wanted Sam to have all that rage, so finding some way to sooth the anger would help him in that regard, too. Of course, as you pointed out, he's in a downward spiral, a sort of self-perpetuati ng vicious cycle that seems pretty hard to stop.
Megan
# Megan 2010-02-25 23:20
I wish I could just run over to wherever you are and give you the biggest "THANK YOU" hug ever. Nothing aggravates me more than people who yell at Sam for doing the things he does or for "angsting over nothing." That kid has more emotional baggage than I can even begin to cover, though you did an absolutely fantastic job with this. Every single Supernatural fan should read this, especially those who insist that Sam is a terrible brother/person and should be forever cut off from Dean. I've seen people adamantly insist upon that, not even kidding.

It's so clear to understand why Sam is the way he is. With everything he's gone through, I'd be surprised if he was any way else. I constantly wonder how Sam even has the strength to keep going. Both Sam and Dean have absolutely horrible lives, but Sam's had more crap thrown on him than anyone I've ever heard. The day he finds redemption will be one of the most beautiful moments on the show. I simply can't wait. And I had actually forgotten that Kripke said Sam would find his redemption this season, so you've renewed my hope!

Thanks so much for writing this!
Crystal
# Crystal 2010-02-25 23:24
That's a good review!..love it :-)...keep up the good work !
Supernarttu
# Supernarttu 2010-02-26 04:57
YAY!! Alice doing meta!! Took you long enough ;-)
Heh, just joking. I know you have an actual life and all topped with all the "little" site running duties you listed above :-) So when ever you get this way, I just rub my hands in glee and dive in.

Oh boy. What a powerfull piece on our Sammy. And true, very true. I'm sure that if Sam wasn't so angry, he'd be dead allready (well, you know what I mean lol). All the shit that has happened to him, I'm quite amazed he hasn't just given up. Well, actually he did that when he couldn't bring Dean back but that anger (and Ruby, ironic) helped to focus him, give him 'something' to life for, revenge. Even though it backfired, big time.
But even now, after all that's happened, he still clings on to hope, and that's such a good thing. There is always hope if you just believe it. Dean is... not in a good place right now. His hope is just gone, he's hanging on by his sheer fading stubborness. But Sam. Sure, he has issues, major ones (apocalyptic ones), but the fact that he still has even a little bit of that light inside him, I will not lose hope for him, for the both of them. They will save each other, I'm sure of it.

I have never really had any trouble understading these brothers. Sure I think I get Sam a little better (I'm youngest too, dunno if that makes it easier). I understand why he rebelled, left to Stanford, came back to hunting, has left Dean a couple times, has made some bad choices etc etc. I get it all. I can see why he does the things that he does. The decisions that he makes. Maybe it's just my own interpretation of him, but I can live with that :-) Same goes for Dean. I can see why he is the man he is and why he does what he does.

These guys aren't perfect (thank God) and they suffer like hell but they suffer through, they keep going. Going through the motions (you're right Alice, they are 'both' doing that) right now 'cause that's all they seem to think they have. But they will make it. There is light at the end of the tunnel and this time it ain't hellfire.

Thank you Alice. Truly an interesting read.
Randal
# Randal 2010-02-26 11:18
Alice, this is why I taught my kids how to make their own macaroni and cheese without burning down the house. More time to write. They still won't do laundry though. :D
MaryF
# MaryF 2010-02-26 14:06
Brilliant article Alice, thanks!

I really hope that you're right about Sam's journey in Season 5. Both brothers are in desperate need of hope and the opportunity to begin anew.

In Dean's case, even though it may be surface-level and transitory, he has always (up to this point at least) had the ability to find humour and at times even joy in his everyday life. I really love how he can tap into an almost childlike enthusiasm and joie de vivre, even if it may sometimes be a way to mask his ongoing inner turmoil and lack of self esteem.

In contrast, I have always felt sorry for Sam, in that it appears he does not allow himself this kind of release or innocent pleasure. With his growing anger and guilt, as you have detailed so well here, he becomes ever more serious and dour, and refuses to allow himself even the most basic of human pleasures. No wonder when the pressure becomes to much he eventually explodes with rage!

Thanks again for a great article :D
Karen
# Karen 2010-02-26 15:14
Hi Alice
I loved what you had to say. It really puts a light on why Sam is so angry.
I know I say this a lot but my heart breaks for both Sam and Dean.
With all they have had to endure, how could they not have some kind of emotional problems? I know I would probably be in a rubber room by now or dead.
I still want to believe that they will both over come their issues and although they will never be what they were, to at least regain some of their hope and possibly find some happiness in their lives.
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-02-26 15:59
I sometimes tend to forget, Alice, how much work goes into running a site like this, so I need to emphasize again how much I love it when you find time to do anything meta.
I can relate to the chronic lack of time, though - same here. I don't have a site like this to take care of, but the work that comes up seem to be incessantly growing, so whenever I want to write,I usually have to do it late in the night (since the people in my life also have their place and require a piece of my free time...), okay, the bags under my eyes just keep getting bigger.. ;-), it's worth it.

Jas
Ashley
# Ashley 2010-02-26 17:38
Yeah I gotta say why WOULDN'T Sam be angry too. EVERYTHING but Dean in his life has gone wrong. I can tell by his nature he's a bit of a control freak, he likes for things to go his way, and when you mix that with NEVER having control, it makes PISSED OFF! ;P Everone he's ever loved, and I mean EVERYONE besides Bobby has died on him, and he's watched about all of em die too. I'm surprised the poor guys hasn't killed himself by now. I definitely wouldn't be able to take it. Even after all that, I think a little bit of anger is mild. I think he's a very strong individual. ;-)
Suze
# Suze 2010-02-26 17:45
Good thinking, Alice ... I hope he doesn't sort himself out any time soon though as Happy And Satisfied Sam would be both dull and deeply weird! :lol:

PS. LOVE the new look site with the cool skelly bones and stuff ... I'm out of the loop for five minutes and you come over all trendy :D
cd28
# cd28 2011-02-23 09:54
This article is awesome, but really disturbing in season 6 after all of the allusions of Sam's soul being gang-banged down in Hell, and Dean telling Sam to bury it all rather than scratching the wall.