When Hickey turns up at Harry Hope’s drinking salon in Eugene O’Neill’s 1939 play, the regulars are expecting the usual party. But Hickey says he has stopped drinking. He has woken up from the drunken spell they are all still under. He tries to convince them to give up their delusional “pipe dreams” and to face the reality of who they are. But it doesn’t turn out to be as easy as that. When they do give up their pipe dreams, they are in an even worse state than before.
The three corners of the “ego triangle” as I call it, are the Muggle, Muppet and Diva subpersonalities. They maintain themselves primarily through ignorance, delusion and vanity. The live on the smoke of pipe dreams, and have absolutely no wish to be rudely awakened from their reveries.
Just like in The Iceman Cometh, it can be dangerous to wake sleeping dogs. The ego triangle keeps us from growing up and fulfilling our potential, but it also protects us from the “id triangle”, the Addict, Victim and Demon. It is an important defence mechanism. When we lose the myths and stories by which we justify our existence, we are apt to fall into existential despair and fall prey to rage, fear and an insatiable desire for unconsciousness.
T.S. Eliot was right: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality”. If illusions are the only thing keeping people sane, then beware of shattering them. When the Iceman comes (always with the very best of intentions of course), those who are not ready to give up their illusions will end up not in a rosy Heaven of new life and possibility, but in Hell.