Saturday, April 16, 2005

Taking Responsibility

From ShrinkWrapped, we get a wonderful post about Responsibility:

The Psychoanalyst interprets defenses (essentially to help people stop fooling themselves about their own mental processes) in order to bring into consciousness those motivating ideas and feelings that the person has been incapable of facing directly. As I have pointed out to patients on many occasions: When you do not know why you behave the way you do, or feel the way you feel, you can not change anything. It is only once you understand why you are feeling the way you feel and why you do the things you do, that you have the choice of changing the behavior that causes you, and others, grief. In brief, the goal of psychoanalysis is to enlarge the area of mental life, feelings and behavior, that a person can take conscious responsibility for.

(Please note there are many types of treatment that help people change behavior, that do not involve "making the unconscious conscious", but they are treatments with different, more modest, goals than Psychoanalysis, which aims for deeper structural alterations in the character. The differences lead to a long discussion, better suited for another time and place.)

I have never been fond of "Pop" Psychology. Typically, when media types write about psychology and try to use psychoanalytic concepts, they oversimplify to the point of meaninglessness and generally misuse the concepts they write about, often with a (probably unconscious) political and philosophical bias. The emblematic themes of modern liberalism, with their selective use of psychological concepts, are victimhood and externalization of responsibility. In so much of what has occurred in our culture over the last 40 years, the idea of "root causes" became an unquestioned assumption. The "root causes" invoked as explanatory and exculpatory all seemed to arise in the external culture and especially in "abuse" by the powerful (with "abuse" being defined by spokespeople for the designated victim classes), or in the person's biochemistry, over which he would, of course, have no control.

The outcome of much of this has been the novel theory of causation, which essentially says that man is a helpless creature, at the mercy of his surrounding society and internal psycho-physiology, and therefore cannot be held responsible for anything he does. The exception is that the wealthy and successful, whether individuals, companies, or nations, are responsible for all that goes wrong for the victim and for the world.
What a refreshing attitude! I know that I grow weary sometimes fighting the perception that somehow Psychiatry (of which Psychoanalysis is a part) encourages victimhood and decreases personal responsibility. ShrinkWrapped correctly asserts that this is a result of "pop" psychiatry and psychology, which over-simplifies and trivializes psychological processes. This same "pop" psychology has either glorified or demonized theorists like Freud, and have used watered down versions of hisand other's ideas to "prove" many ridiculous assertions. The entire societal attitude towards preserving a child's "Self-Esteem" at any expense is a perfect example.

Read the entire post!

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