Life After Neverland: Can Paris Jackson thrive in the real world?

Life-altering experiences such as living through her father’s molestation trial, followed by his untimely death, greatly affected the King of Pop’s only daughter


While checking out the latest issue of Bazaar Magazine I was struck by the image on the cover. There was Paris Jackson, dressed in the style of a young Madonna. With tattooed arms akimbo she appeared to be joyfully leaping in front of the Eiffel Tower. Here was a depiction of a carefree young woman inviting us to join her in celebration, embracing life in the city whose name she bears.

One couldn’t help but contrast this with the Paris Jackson we first met years ago, dressed as a proper little princess with her face hidden behind a mask or with the deeply troubled punk adolescent who kept attempting to kill herself. Naturally, I wondered about this latest incarnation. I must admit that I found the image deeply disturbing. How could anyone believe that this beautiful 19-year-old, shielded from the world until she was an adolescent, could suddenly turn into this publicly exposed, frolicking ingenue?  I believe we should be extremely cautious before accepting that Paris Jackson’s Neverland story has given us a “happy ever after” ending.

When a certain confluence of jarring and life shattering events come together for children, a traumatic psychological response is inevitable. Let me share a psychological profile which best describes this conclusion; the profile of a child whose life experiences were bound to result in identity confusion, drug abuse and major depression.

This is a story of little girl who was home schooled and believed the outside world was, “scary as hell”. Her life was every child’s dream: a fairy tale replete with endless rides, non stop fantasy and a famous father who could afford to shelter himself and his children from the painful realities of life. To further complicate this delusion of perfection, her father compared himself to Peter Pan and called her Tinker Bell and “the queen of my heart.”  Small children are developmentally incapable of telling the difference between fantasy and reality but for this little girl fantasy was her reality.

[Photo: AP/Mark J. Terrill, Pool, File]

While she was still very young her father was accused of child molestation and forced to go through a very public and humiliating trial. Yet, instead of perpetuating her protective existence, her father chose to share with his children all the sordid details of the accusations, as well as all of his emotional upheavals. He justified this by saying it was wrong to keep secrets. She was faced with the impossible task of trying to make sense of something beyond her comprehensive abilities. She was also burdened with the omniscient childhood belief that she should be able to save her father from the bad guys who lived in the mean outside world, and were out to hurt him.

One can only imagine the feelings of confusion and fear she grappled with after her father was exonerated and forced his family to leave fairyland. Let me interject that, at this point, had she been able to interact with other children besides her siblings and been exposed to a wider world,  there was still a possibility that she could grow thicker skin and develop coping strategies to deal with the vicissitudes of life. Instead, her father continued to cut her off from the real world.

During the few instances she was photographed she always wore a mask, and fiercely held on to her father’s hand as he led her back to their secluded existence. When she was 11 her family finally settled in England while her father prepared for a momentous come back performance.

Suddenly, without any warning or preparation, her mask was painfully and permanently ripped off. Her father, the person who defined her existence, died from of a drug overdose. She was there, amidst the hysteria, as her 13-year-old brother and her father’s personal physician desperately tried to revive him.

In truth, this little girl’s real story begins here, when she was abruptly forced to deal with a tragic loss while confronting a world she never knew existed. Given this history, is it any surprise that Paris Jackson became an antisocial, drug addicted teenager who, after repeated suicide attempts, spent her most stable years in a residential therapy program?

Michael Jackson’s greatest desire was to shield his children from the toxic environment he experienced while growing up. Unfortunately, his ideas about parenting seemed to come from the dreams of an abused little boy. As is often the case in profiles of abuse, without having experienced a healthy emotional environment, he was unable to create one for his children. History was repeated in a way he could never have anticipated.

[Photo: AP/ Matt Sayles/Invision]
As a psychologist I feel tremendous empathy for Paris because I understand how terribly defenseless and fragile she must feel. The only adult she ever knew, the only person with whom she could identify, was taken from her overnight.

At Michael Jackson’s funeral, she was revealed for the first time, bearing a combination of courage and naivety as she stood before thousands of people, and eulogized her father. Many of us remember the tremulous little girl who talked about her love for her perfect father. As I watched her on that sad day, it was easy to predict that we would be hearing more from Paris Jackson in the future.

So who is Paris Jackson now? Is she the rebellious, doped up teenager or the Madonna/Marilyn Monroe mature woman we are now seeing in the fashion magazines? From all indications she remains the frightened little girl trying to make sense of an alien world. Her life continues to be inexplicably linked to her father’s.

Paris chooses to live in the rundown house where her father once lived with his family. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t believe that time has helped her cope with her father’s death. She is quoted as saying “I lost the only thing that has ever been important to me.” Because she believes nothing can ever be as bad as Michael’s death she feels she can handle anything. However, when closely examined, her personal history belies that belief.

Much like Michael, Paris is obsessed with the fate of the world. She believes that the planet is dying, which frightens her.

“Poor Earth, man,” she recently reiterated during an interview. Her idols are often performers who killed themselves or died young: Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Prince. Paris’ brother, Prince Michael Jackson, believes, “She is who my dad is,” and that the only difference between them would be age and gender. He claims “she is very emotional to the point where she can allow emotion to cloud her judgement.”  We can see this not only in the choices she’s made but in her persistent belief that her father’s death was the result of a conspiracy. Once again, people were out to haunt him.

From all that I’ve researched I continue to feel strong empathy for Paris and fear for her future. The truth is that her father, Michael Jackson, was a brilliant performer but his life was plagued by demons of insecurity and self doubt. His daughter, who wears his bracelet because “it still smells like him,” claims that she feels him with her all the time. She is completely dependent on her boyfriend and spends “nearly every minute of every day with him.” Her only experience of joy was with her father.

Paris Jackson has never emotionally separated from her father and, despite her claims to the contrary, never developed a strong, positive sense of herself. Her latest foray into modeling seems to be an attempt to convince herself that she’s pretty. Like her father, she’s unable to come to terms with her physical appearance and I am quite certain that her beautiful photographs won’t fix her ugly self image any more than Michael’s repeated surgeries helped fix his.

When I recall all that she has experienced in her brief 19 years: from fantasy to horror; safety to molestation and security to abandonment, I am left with a portrait of a fragile, fractured person. Looking back at the photograph on the cover of Bazaar, I can only see the fearful child behind the mask.

My strongest desire is to cradle the vulnerable little girl whose father continues still lives inside her, rock her back and forth and say, “Poor, poor Paris Jackson.”

[Feature Photo: AP/Richard Shotwell/Invision]