Hot Potatoes and Episcripts
Within families or tight-knit groups, sometimes there is a phenomenon like a psychological contagion whereby a disturbing condition, (e.g. anxiety, depression, suicidal wishes, etc.) may be passed from one person to another, or over several generations. This happens sometimes when a potential “donor” of pathology believes, consciously or unconsciously, that he or she can become magically free of troublesome symptoms by passing them on to someone who thus becomes a “vulnerable recipient.” At the root of this process are magical beliefs like those that existed in primitive tribes.
I refer to such transmissions, which have a hypnotic quality, as “passing on a hot potato”. (English, l969). In addition to transmissions within family groups, hot potato transmissions can occur whenever one partner of a dyad is in a psychologically more powerful position than the other, (e.g. teacher/student, or priest/ parishioner, therapist/client, etc. and patient, especially if the donor of the hot potato is an Oversure character type and the vulnerable recipient is an Undersure type. Sometimes the transmission is quite deliberate, in relation to total life-projects, although the donor might deny this. Accordingly, one or more vulnerable recipients might take on specific harmful goals for their lives while believing they are making voluntary choices. Such instances, which are far more complex and harmful than transmissions of hot potatoes, are referred to as “episcripts”. Tragic examples of these include the suicide bombers who struck the United States on September ll, 2001, after taking on episcripts to destroy from Osama Bin Laden, and Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel after having been episcripted by Yasir Arafat or some zealous cleric.