I frequently use psychiatric and psychological concepts to describe behavior in this blog, and because of that, many people accuse me of labeling anyone who disagrees with me politically as having a mental illness.
This is not true; and it suggests that most of these critics know little about psychiatry, psychiatric diagnoses, or psychological defenses.
While I do believe that some of the people I describe might indeed have a mental illness; and that some are, in fact, perfectly healthy but simply malevolent or evil; it is simply not the case that by exposing certain psychological defense mechanisms that explain their behavior, I am giving the political opposition a medical/psychiatric diagnosis. Nevertheless, if a particular diagnosis fits, I am perfectly content to let them wear it.
In discussing psychological defense mechanisms, what I am trying to do is understand how and why people behave in the way that they do. Describing psychological defenses is not the same thing as "making a diagnosis" for one very simple reason. All humans utilize psychological defenses, all the time. Both Democrat and Republican; Left and Right. Good and Bad.
Psychological defenses are involuntary, regulatory coping processes.
By themselves, defenses are not evidence of "illness". When used, they may appear to be "sick," evil, or even irrational, but basically, they reflect a creative adaptation to the world.
Many people have "creatively adapted"--in some cases, extremely creatively-- to the realities of a post-9/11 world. Denial of reality has become so much a part of their day to day life, that it seems simply amazing to an observer like myself that such individuals, groups, and even nations continue to be unaware of what is actually happening in the world today.
Unfortunately, their unwillingness to face the reality of the rise of Islamofascism and the barbarism it has unleashed around the world has had the consequence of facilitating that barbarism and even encouraging it.
I think of such people as beyond mere psychological denial...they are denialists, those who proudly and defiantly wear the multicultural and PC blinders of the psychologically obtuse. Usually they refer to themselves as "progresssive" and "reality-based"; which just goes to show how creative and imaginitive they actually are.
And, of course, even the most insightful and self-aware among us (which I most certainly do not claim for myself) are vulnerable to lapsing into a state of denial when we are too stressed; or simply when we are too lazy and don't want to examine our own motivations and inner conflicts too clearly.
This seems like a good day to link to a series of essays that I wrote on Strategies for Dealing with Denial.
Part I: The Many Faces of Denial
Part II: Logical Fallacies and Rhetorical Ploys Used in Denial
Here is a particularly relevant portion of Part III of that series:
[T]he reality is that some people in denial prefer the lethal consequences of their denial as long as they don't have to question their own motivations, beliefs, and ideologies.
Those individuals, groups, or nations who live in the world of deep denial are practically untouchable by reality or rational argument. They go through their daily lives secure in the knowledge that their self-image is protected against any information, feelings, or awareness that might make them have to change their view of the world. Nothing--not facts, not observable behavior; not the use of reason, logic, or the evidence of their own senses will make them reevaluate that world view.
All events will simply be reinterpreted to fit into the belief system of that world--no matter how ridiculous, how distorted, hysterical or how psychotic that reinterpretation appears to others. Consistency, common sense, reality, and objective truth are unimportant and are easily discarded--as long as the world view remains intact. As discussed in Part II, there are countless strategies --rhetorical ploys and logical fallacies--that can be used to keep the truth at bay.
Identifying the underlying motivational factors are important to understand the phenomenon of denial; the reasons why denial is used; and the overally psychology of deniers--whether they are individuals, groups, or even entire nations. There are limitations to this kind of analysis, however; and it is that exposing a motivation or even a hidden agenda in denial is not the same thing as a rational argument or analysis of what the denier is saying or arguing.
In a therapeutic relationship (i.e. therapist /patient) theoretically, a person in denial and the therapist collaborate and work together to discover the underlying problem. Even when very motivated to change, it is often the case that the denier exhibits a great deal of resistance to the idea that he or she is in denial.
In real life (not a therapeutic or professional relationship) we all have to deal with people in denial, and getting a person to accept that he or she is in denial is even more problematic. Unless there is a serious crisis in the person's life, there is little or no incentive for a person to emerge from the comforting cocoon of denial and rationalization--particularly when the consequences of doing so are more threatening to the sense of self than remaining ignorant or oblivious to one's true motivations.
What the psychiatrist does when a patient uses any psychological defense to interfere with treatment is to interpret the defense.
In psychiatry, particularly in psychoanalysis, the psychological defenses --especially the immature ones such as denial and projection --often stand in the way of a person being able to understand the source of their dysfunction and to deal with reality. These unconscious mechanisms act to protect the individual from reality by distorting that reality.
That is why I sound like a broken record and talk about DENIAL, PROJECTION and PARANOIA (see here and here for example) over and over again. Each time I observe such defenses, I work to get those who are using them to be conscious of what they are doing. Only then can they change their behavior.
Ultimately, an individual must CHOOSE to deal with reality. Noone can make anyone face a terrible truth they wish to avoid. One of the purposes of this blog is to "shine a psychological spotlight" on the maladaptive responses to the realities of our world....
Considering all the different vulnerabilities, sensitivities, and biases all human beings have, it actually requires a considerable effort of will to remain in touch with reality.; as well as a continual and conscious effort at a committment to truth. This is fundamental to personal honesty and integrity. Obviously this is not easy, and we are all prone to those self-deceptions that spare us from unpleasant truths about ourselves.
One of my frequent commenters, "Oh Bloody Hell" left a quote from Isaac Asimov on the Part II thread which is particularly relevant here:"What I'm doing, really, is to look at things as they are. It's what you must do. Forget your ideals, your theories, your notions as to what people OUGHT to do. Consider what they ARE doing. Once a person is oriented to face facts rather than delusions, problems tend to disappear. At the very least, they fall into their true perspective and become soluble."
So many people look at the world through glasses that filter unacceptable thoughts, feelings and reality; and hence they are only able to see what they want to see, instead of what is (and no, that does not depend on the meaning of the word "is").
Again, this does not require perfection--you don't even have to have "pure" motives--just conscious ones that help you to understand why you think and/or feel a certain way. Then you will be open to recognizing the truth and what is. Then you will have a choice in your actions.
If you are lucky, your scrutinized motives, beliefs, wishes, and desires will not seriously conflict with reality. But, if they do, then you must face the music.
Unfortunately, denialists don't even hear the music.
UPDATE: Siggy has some thoughts that are particularly relevant to yesterday's discussion.