Rob Ford on the couch

Why Rob Ford is Rob Ford’s biggest enemy

Rob Ford’s appetite for destruction

Brett Gundlock/Reuters

Rob Ford is a complicated man, a mystery to himself and a riddle to his city. More than that: Rob Ford is engaged in a secret war against a powerful enemy he can’t see. And his war won’t end until he surrenders.

Who am I to make such claims? I’ve studied psychoanalytic theories, put in my time on the couch and spent many hours poking a flashlight into my own unconscious. The only way I can make sense of the mayor’s behavior is by putting his psyche under a microscope. Why is Ford so fascinating? Simple: Humans love drama. Drama is conflict. And Rob Ford is conflict made flesh.

Take away Ford’s self-destructiveness and he would be no more interesting than the average politician. But what makes the mayor’s saga so gripping is the mayhem he has brought on himself: alienating his allies, associating with gangsters, abusing alcohol and drugs. Rob Ford is Rob Ford’s biggest enemy. Why?

I suspect that behind Ford’s civil war stands his father. A similar relationship lay behind another tale of political turmoil: that of George W. Bush. Both the Bush and Ford sons were raised in a climate of macho one-upmanship, where they had to jostle for their dad’s scant approval. Both men are right-wing anti-intellectual populists who refuse to admit their mistakes. Both feel driven to match or exceed their fathers’ high achievements. Both sabotage themselves in the attempt and ruin their legacies.


Suede’s lyrics, “Tragic as the son of a superman,” weren’t about Rob Ford, but he might relate. Doug Ford Sr., the patriarch of the Ford dynasty, rose from poverty to found the family business and become a Tory MPP. Rob calls him his hero and seems to want to live up to his example. So he became mayor and scored a few early wins. Then the civil war heated up.

Much of what Ford has done is infamous, but what he hasn’t done much of is perform any of the normal functions of his office: he barely shows up for work, ignores his counterparts in other cities, spends little time formulating policies, planning, or meeting members of council, attends few public events.

Does he really even want to be mayor?

Yes. And no. As I see it, two armies struggle for control of Ford’s psyche. The army of Ford’s conscious mind represents order, discipline, and achievement. Its flag, bearing the image of Doug Sr., flutters over the capital of his mind. This force made Rob Ford a councillor, kept him focused through a long mayoral campaign, won him a chain of office, regiments of loyal followers, and a few political battles.

But outside the capital is a steaming jungle of memory, fear and trauma: Ford’s unconscious mind. And when the guards of the capital are distracted, the insurgents come out of the undergrowth and creep over the walls. The mayor’s deeper self is pursuing a relentless, inventive and effective guerrilla war against his waking desires. The night soldiers have won many victories: Ford’s crack smoking, drunken rants, racist slurs and 911 calls from his home. But those are merely the headline grabbers. The dark forces within win subtler triumphs: on transit and budgets, Ford has repeatedly sabotaged his own plans and tainted his own victories

None of this makes sense if you sought public office motivated by a clear sense of yourself and a deep desire to serve the city. All of it makes sense if you learned at your father’s knee that you could never be good enough. Ford is following a well-established pattern.  Family therapist and author Terrence Real has written about men like the mayor: men who are “successful” by society’s standards–who built major companies, or reached the heights of their professions–yet harm themselves, their families or their legacies through addiction, destructive behaviour, self-sabotage or terrible decisions. (Many women have similar stories, but the culture tends to give men more direct access to this particular sickness.)

Real found that such men are dominated by the twin demons of grandiosity and shame. They may not consciously feel anything, but peel back the layers of their defence systems and they have an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. In the cases Real describes, men like this were typically taught such self-contempt from their fathers, men who may have meant well but denied their sons any compassion.

So the sons grew up and their conscious minds worked like fury to clock up achievements, to help them run away—the problem is that shame always runs faster.

I suspect that Ford is also running away from shame. You see it by its absence. Most other politicians would have resigned in humiliation after the least of his disgraces; Ford responds with blame, bluster, and denial. His recent apologies have been self-serving attempts to shut down all criticism while admitting nothing. He claims that he has nothing left to hide, even as new scandals emerge every day.

Ford has been called shameless. I think he has shame–he’s just fighting to keep it out of his conscious mind. Like a stern preacher wearing scarlet under his black linen, Ford is suppressing his own nature–and loudly proclaiming the opposite.

Grandiosity, shame’s opposite, is the brittle rock on which Ford’s consciousness is built. The grandiose Ford does not compromise. He is only interested in complete victory. He is certain of the rightness of what he believes. This certainty won him votes. He could cut two billion from the city budget without affecting services, build subways for free, lose fifty pounds. When he fails, it’s someone else’s fault.


Why is shame exiled from Ford’s psyche? To admit to shame, to apologize, to surrender, you must make yourself vulnerable. If Ford would admit to his troubles, he might be repaid with support. But Ford lacks that sense of trust. He learned long ago to fear being wrong. With his father gone, his brother Doug Jr. has stepped into the role, feeding Rob a toxic mix of praise and pressure to maintain him in his worst habits. What can Ford do but keep lying and denying?

Still, the unconscious isn’t fooled. It has a single aim: to make us confront all the things we suppress. Why does Ford do what he does? Maybe because his deepest desire is to be respected on his own terms; to stop trying to live up to his father and to start learning to be himself. As long as the twin shadows of Dougs Sr. and Jr. tower over his psyche, he can’t do any of these things. So his deeper impulses are compelled to sabotage him until his conscious mind gets the message.

I sometimes like to picture the alternative careers of such men, had they been born into less burdensome families. I imagine George W. Bush as the unambitious and genial mayor of Crawford, Texas, much loved by his undemanding citizens. And Rob Ford? He would be a full-time high school football coach, helping the players with their troubles on and off the pitch, lighter and happier than the man we know.

I believe Ford could still have that life. But only if he surrenders unconditionally to his unconscious. Until then, his civil war will rage on. And the citizens of Toronto will be caught in the crossfire.

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Rob Ford on the couch

  1. Looking at the shape they mayor’s in, I’d say he spends a lot of time on the couch. In fact, it looks as if he never gets off the couch

    • At least this guy’s trying to understand what motivates Ford. With juvenile cracks like yours, it just degrades both yourself and the subject.

      • Have you ever seen Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs? I know it’s a children’s movie, but there’s some very good social commentary in it. You could say it bears a striking resemblance to Toronto

  2. Oh the Oedipus complex pseudoscience again… Mr Murphy, I can’t believe:

    1) That a mature person with pretense for being an intellectual will spend time on mastering a completely and irrevocably debunked pseudoscience (the so called psychoanalysis)

    2) That in 21 c., a magazine with similar pretense would publish your Freudian musings

    Elitism is as vacuous, self-centered, and intellectually mastrubating and bankrupt by nature is it comes. The article reveals more of your inner self than Ford’s one.

    • ‘Elite’ means the best.

      As in ‘elite troops’

      Or calling in an ‘elite heart surgeon’

      We need more elite.

      • Agreed. We need more elite representatives of professions, trades, etc., but less elitism.

        Suffering from terminology deficiency? “Elitism” means:

        1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.


        a. The sense of entitlement enjoyed by such a group or class.

        b. Control, rule, or domination by such a group or class.

        • So….we’re tossing the Queen are we?

          I’d rather have this:
          1. a. the belief that society should be governed by a select group of gifted and highly educated individuals

          • Why would we? She is an elite stateswoman, unlike some of her predecessors.

            Oh well, your definition will force me to acknowledge that Mr Murphy, having mastered the obsolete “science” of psychoanalysis, belongs to a select group of gifted and highly educated individuals, who should be entrusted with forming public opinion.

          • LOL the queen inherited her position and wealth. I’d rather have ‘gifted and highly educated individuals’ running things.

          • I see the method. So inheriting a position and wealth will preclude the inclusion of Darius the Great, Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great (tutored by Aristotle), Octavian Augustus, Charlemagne, Elizabeth I, Peter the Great, to name just a few, in the “gifted and highly educated individuals” elite? But Mr Murphy or the TO Marxist “intelligetsia” will make it, eh?

          • Well you are talking inheritance….I am talking meritocracy.

            Mr Murphy, Marxists and Torontonians have nothing to do with any of this….what ARE you on about?

          • History does not discriminate, it’s like the market attaching value to goods and services based on utility and demand. Meritocracy does not exclude gifted and intelligent royals: the ones that were not were introduced to the axe, the guillotine, the echafaud, the abdication, etc.

          • Well, you seem to have lost the plot entirely now, so since I have work to do….ciao.

          • You don’t seem to comprehend that a gifted and educated individual may well have inherited his/her position in an elite. What exactly does that have to do with meritocracy?

          • yep, lost the plot. Non-elite—that is, non-merited— analysis! And so this is Toronto’s real problem: defensive mediocre minds want a leader who is as dumb or dumber than they so they don’t feel so bad! And then the city goes to heck. Look at the Fords, never worked a day in their lives, can’t add up numbers, can’t plan out things for the future or understand consequences…..RF is the “worst.mayor.ever.” It’s like putting some uncoordinated schmuck in at quarterback for a professional football team so we don’t feel envious of the best person for the job because he’s a better athlete than the rest of us. There’s real-world consequences for this psychosis, folks! Scarborough and Etobicoke, you adolescents, grow up, get real, stop muttering and rolling your eyes, and join the city in moving forward in a mature and rational way.

          • Defensive mediocre minds, psychosis? Wow. No, just revolting taxpayers after the disconnect between them and the – yes – elitist regime of Haaavaaad Miller and his media/academia/union accomplices. OPM is over, adieu, grand leftist visions and tax revenue destruction.

          • Oh no, you’re not an elitist are you? You talk about Murphy’s psycho babble, what about your preposterous statement that: “Elitism is as vacuous, self-centered, and intellectually mastrubating [sic] and bankrupt by nature is it comes. The article reveals more of your inner self than Ford’s one” and your words reveal more about you than they do Murphy. If your above posts are not brow beating, I don’t know what is. That you present yourself as an elitist while decrying elitism is a subject worthy of another Murphyian analysis.

          • No histrionics, please. I was just spoon-feeding Mr Murphy his own quasi-intellectual lingo, in a reverse order.

          • What you did “Mr. Pot”, was call the kettle black. Elitists have a tendency to do that. Introspection evades them.

          • This comment was deleted.

          • Actually, there are studies which show that many people of average intelligence thinking about and debating a problem will arrive upon better solutions than just a few highly intelligent people. That’s why unsuppressed democratic debate is critical during elections. PR firms and politicians should not be allowed to hire propagandists to pepper forums like these and skew the public conversations.

          • Do you imply that I am a “hired propagandist”? LOL. Or you’d prefer like-minded leftists all around for an “unsuppressed democratic debate”?

          • average intelligence is fine… it’s the below average tweedle dumb and dumber that we shouldn’t have in charge (RoFo and DoFo).

          • it would not preclude them if they were gifted and highly educated.

          • Explain that to EmilyOne.

          • Emily never said it would.

          • You’re canvassing for anti-evidence politics too much here. Mr. Murphy wrote a column using his own experienced and educated brain and the public can use what he offers as well as other sources to form our own opinions. Called CRITICAL THINKING.

          • If Mr Murphy’s “own experienced and educated brain” is still peddling, in 21 c., a debunked pseudoscience called “psychoanalysis”, and the public is taking the bate and applauding, then the so called public definitely lacks critical thinking.

          • Emily, get it into your head, the queen does not govern or rule anything, that is done by the government of the day. She is a figurehead to provide stability within a constitutional monarchy, rather than having to change your head of state every four years.

          • Then we don’t need a monarchy.

        • By that definition, Ford is a classic example of elitism. He’s the extremely wealthy son of a politician, not joe lunchbox. His family’s financial resources are far beyond those of his opponents in the race for mayor, and his family company bankrolled his campaign – over legal spending limits. Sense of entitlement? How else do you explain repeatedly lying about his actions in his speeches to the public, refusing to co-operate with police, and lying to attack the integrity of those who dare challenge him? Finally – who is ruling and dominating? The “downtown elites” or Ford Nation? They’re in charge, they demand favored treatment, they feel entitled to allow Rob Ford to live above the law the rest of us must follow.

          • Bravo Gordie! You absolutely nailed it! This disgusting rich big fat ignorant scarecrow has to face criminal charges for what he did just as any Joe lunchbox! Get rid of this monster ASAP!

          • Under a democracy, there are elections. You have to live with their consequences, the way I lived with Miller’s regime.

            Re the “elitism” of Ford, you definitely prefer pseudoegalitarian liars and public finance bankrupts like McGuinty, Miller or Wynne. Why are leftist politicians always judged by their lofty intentions, and not by their inevitably dismal records?

          • Unless you’re in a legislature, there a government can dissolved by one non-confidence vote… why not a mayor?

          • Respect the current municipal law, dear.

          • Laws can be changed, my question was, why not a mayor?

        • Yes, this matches the Fords’ description!

          • You mean the “favoured treatment” Ford got from media/academia/unions for turning around the bankrupted by Miller TO?

          • no, the favoured treatment of people like you that favoured him by believing those lies and ignoring his serious faults.

      • Wrong context. For populists, “elites” doesn’t mean “the best”, but, rather, it means pompous, condescending, snooty, self-important leftists, a.k.a. the “champagne socialists” of Rosedale and the Annex, the very type of people whom I detest.

        • Saying things like that tells people that you have a huge case of class envy.

          It means you have little education, aren’t successful and resent people who are.

          • So in your opinion, McGuinty, Smitherman, Miller or Wynne are highly intelligent and educated, successful, competent, and capable of leading TO/ON? It’s ALWAYS the economy, stupid. Check ON’s economy, deficits, debt that doubled under ON liberals, and ballooned under Miller in TO, escalating energy prices, and scandals and boondoggles (Samsung, Ornge, eHealth, gas plants, etc).

            Any orangutang could have done better.

          • If any orangutan could have done better, why didn’t you run?

          • Too many on the liberal side to squeeze through.

          • In other words it was just your partisan bluster.

        • So you detest fictions that live between your ears? Fascinating

        • But stereotyping is OK, I gather.

        • The mayor has admitted to having used crack cocaine, and is on the record repeatedly lying about in his speeches to the public. He also seems to be neck-deep in an extortion plot with a violent drug dealer to cover up his own drug use. He gets drunk in the woods during office hours.

          If anyone is “condescending” and “snooty” and “self-important”, it’s our spoiled little rich-boy mayor who thinks he’s above the law.

          Nothing to do with neighbourhoods or class conflict – the only people who try to make it about those things are people who want to avoid talking about Ford’s own words and actions.

        • so where do the pompous, condescending, snooty, self important rightists fit is? Two sides of the same coin and we could do without both. Elite means the best, unfortunately we now use it as a derogatory epithet for anyone we disagree with, especially if we don’t understand their arguments.

    • You know, I finally found out what the heck Harper and his mouthpieces mean by “elite” when I read his recent interview for his hockey book. The “elite” reference is to the Toronto social construct of 100+ years ago, when the wealthy Tory families were just handed parcels of huge land and money by Britain, and professionals were given the social stature and payment that they still have in some countries in Europe today. But – and get this, it’s bizzare – the miners, lumber barons, etc. were fabulously wealthy but not considered elite because being smart at business was not as valued socially. In the US, the wealthy Astons and Rockefellers achieved “elite” status not from influencing the economics of the whole country and their mansions but from marrying into European royalty and acquiring titles.

      And so Harper and his mouthpieces have somehow decided that they’re going to live in the past and refer to people living now as if we’re judged by societal constructs of 100+ years ago. And this would explain why he tries to present himself as an “outsider”. Because over 100 years ago, representing the fabulously business wealthy, he would have been. But that world doesn’t exist anymore! The business wealthy make up a majority of the elite, and professionals are now considered for the most part a notch BELOW them.

      • Feel better now? Did you get your irrational, misplaced resentment toward the PM off your chest? Did you, by any chance, happen to notice that this article is NOT ABOUT PM HARPER! It’s about Toronto’s mayor. Sheesh!!!! You lefties, never miss an opportunity to snipe at the PM, no matter how irrelevant.

        • FORD MOAR YEAR’S

      • Hmmm good insight. He’s still fighting the Family Compact!

        Makes sense. If we can’t have a warrior society anymore, he’s trying to make businessmen into our warriors…even though they can’t be.

        Too much Ayn Rand methinks.

        Thank you for this post.

    • Agreed. We need to stop all this liberal nonsense about trying to “understand” criminals like Ford and just lock them up.

  3. Ford’s just a tosser. It’s not complex at all.

  4. Very interesting. But I have to wonder one thing: is Doug Jr. stronger and more ambitious than his father? The Globe&Mail reported that he didn’t sell drugs directly to end users back in the 80s. He sold larger amounts to dealers. So, if true, he was placed higher up in the chain and would have had to have an even higher connection to get his supply from. Just as we all feel Doug is running the mayor’s office, is Doug in charge of Lisi, etc. and did he really arrange their jobs at City Hall? But why keep these connections? Anything to do with the casino Rob tried to push through? Casinos are one way to launder drug money. Feeling like we’re only skimming the Ford surface here, and trying to live up to his dad may only be a secondary reason for Rob’s dysfunction.

    • Perfect post!

  5. I think that Rob Ford’s father (today – from wherever he is NOW…) would agree with Luke Murphy’s article…but Doug Ford Sr. (Rob’s dad) would have vehemently disapproved of it while he was living. Something his mom said stood out like a sore thumb. Diane Ford (Rob’s mom) states something to the effect that as a family is united when together, while divided and conquered when apart. Some interpret this as meaning that you can’t let children make mistakes and accept the consequences for them. Some parents think that if they love their children, they must keep them from suffering, even if it means that it stunts . their emotional and developmental growth (so to speak). So even in his mid-40’s, there you have it, Rob Ford is like a little boy whose family refuses to let him learn on his own, to think for himself and to face his own consequences (without the family train barrelling to his rescue).. Big bro Doug would gain by stopping to be the hero, let his brother grow and focus on his own life.

    • He has to face criminal charges,and also be given a pink slip from City Hall – just as any regular citizen would in this situation. THIS I would call democracy!

  6. In any given society we could try to measure the 10% of the population who have the highest capacity to make “the best” decisions and then try to measure the 10% of the population with the lowest capacity to make good decisions for the public best interest – we also have 80% of the rest of us who make both good decisions and bad decisions on a daily basis. What makes democracy great is that we can accept all kinds of capacity for decision making exist, some we agree with, some we don’t. When we get tired of one group governing we can choose to elect from either end of the spectrum, or somewhere in between. We are lucky to live in a country where we have a democracy, and we have an important choice to make in 2014. We must never trade our democratic rights for an elitist state in good times or bad.

    • He has to face criminal charges,and also be given a pink slip from City Hall – just as any regular citizen would in this situation. THIS is called democracy! No one is above the law!

    • He was elected(hired) as mayor(job) and has had some successes and some failures. The personal troubles and behaviour would get him fired or severely reprimanded in any “real” job.

      I fail to understand why Ford supporters feel that a civic employee that screws up (say a sleeping worker) should be fired no excuses, but somehow a mayor (and no other political leader) is sacred an must only be removed during an election.

      Somehow it’s OK for a provincial or federal government to be defeated on a confidence vote, on a budget or similar, but gawd forbid removing an incompetent mayor. No way that’s sacred!.

      Conservatives are chomping at the bit to get a non-confidence vote in the provincial legislature, but the same action at city hall is somehow undemocratic?

      I just don’t get the difference… seriously!! Someone, please explain it to me?

  7. Fascinating assessment of Ford family dynamics and the mayor’s psyche, full of wonderfully evocative analogies and metaphors. Unfortunately, its intellectual underpinning – Freudian psychoanalysis – has no demonstrable (empirical) validity, whatsoever.

  8. Look at his compensation package: what an insult to all of us regular tax payers: a criminal in office: make him face charges and get of this fat disgusting scarecrow ASAP!

  9. In reality, all politicians are their worst enemy.

  10. i’ll bet good money he was abused as a kid.

    • There is always some trauma in an addicts background. We have no way of knowing what the trauma is unless he tells us.

  11. Reasons, no excuses.

  12. I think that Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto is making Canada in general look foolish on the world stage. There must be something in accepting this position that he signed that would provide just cause for releasing him from his job. In most jobs he would have been fired for just cause long ago

  13. Good article. Great points. Pity it is ruined partially by the author, picking a partial angle and trying to make a case against right-wing membership. It is totally irrelevant, of course. Being an addict, living in denial, not going to work…It is not linked to being right-wing. It is not intelectually honest, while the rest of the article is interesting and could have been excellent without this agenda. Speaking of being populist…

  14. You didn’t have to smoke it, but you did, but you did, but you did,
    and Ford haters thank you
    You didn’t have to bulls**t, but you did , but you did, but you did
    and I especially thank you

    All your life, you’ve been shortchanged
    Your fat and ugly living a drug kingpin’s game
    Now I know what hot babe Robyn Doollittle’s talkin bout
    When you go to jail I am going to stand up and shout


  15. Great assessment of Ford. Great article.

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