Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Rocket science is easy, psychology is hard

A www.theatlantic.com commenter added his two cents worth to a mostly anti-Trump thread. The president’s narcissism, he wrote, is a “trait,” just a quality or quirk in the complexity of the man. Reading that statement, that word, one can grasp to a depressing depth the blindness so many people have to psychology, the psychology within them and around them.

To believe “traits” are the difference between people is to assume we are all essentially the same. More fundamentally, it is to judge oneself to be a generally normal, viable person, though with some “unique-ifying” brand. The brand might mar you somewhat (such as a public speaking phobia) or give you a super-power (obsessive-compulsive persistence), but it would not be you. Who wouldn’t want to believe he or she is essentially healthy and right in the world?

But psychology shows us this is not true. A look at the literature – five generations of it ’til the present feel-good era – shows that a person’s errors are forged in the furnace of his history. We read about all the exotic problems but few cures. Freud didn’t heal with his “interminable” psychoanalysis. Laing believed that the schizophrenic young adult was the “sanest” member of his family, a “mystified” person. Presently there are many trauma therapies du jour that are making no inroads into veterans’ suicides.

It is when we sink inside ourselves, though, that we discover truths that arent in a hundred books. We glimpse very undermining things. We see that we are a built or contrived persona. We conclude that despite some “hope,” we may have no ability to dream of anything better for ourselves. We find that we live in a world within our skull, not in the earth’s wonders that excite and motivate a child.

I believe it’s safe to say that people would prefer – given these options – to think that they have been injured, rather than to think they are intrinsically defective. They would prefer to think they have a problem, not that they are a problem. They would prefer to think they have an “inner child,” not that they are their inner child and that the adult is an accretion with much less weight. Call this a health mechanism, or some less clunky term like “wishful thinking.” We don’t want to see beneath our safe-making perspective on ourselves, to see from a different angle an alien. To do so would be to cancel our life out significantly, and replace it with another life already condemned, and of course outside of our control.

Most of us, I believe, could understand difficult principles in math and science, deconstructionist literary criticism, esoteric philosophy, given enough patience and time. I believe our brains are that good. But we may never allow ourselves to know that a person is his history, that a Narcissist is his child-self gone wrong and lurching in the real world. Isn’t it interesting, though, that there are so many of us who assess the new president to be thoroughly – literally every atom of his being – twisted, while his followers perceive a real man, a competent actor, possessed of certain “traits”?

The many months straddling the recent election have revealed a psychological landscape different from and more bleak than any other in my lifetime. We have learned that much of our country lives on generalized anger, an empathy deficit, and with no capacity to see their psychological selves or the nature of another person. This has, of course, always been true but is brought out in scab relief in the face of the burgeoning autocracy in Washington, D.C. I believe we are at the beginning of a new civil war, a psychological civil war, where we must win and the sympathizers of a narcissistic-sociopathic menace must lose – lose power, prestige, the benefit of the doubt, the banner of legitimacy.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.