Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Personality diseases

July 26, 2009

About life, the wisest men of all ages have come to the same conclusion: it is no good. Always and everywhere one has heard the same sound from their mouths — a sound full of doubt, full of melancholy, full of weariness of life, full of resistance to life. Even Socrates said, as he died: “To live — that means to be sick a long time: I owe Asclepius the Savior a rooster.” Even Socrates was tired of life. What does that prove? What does it demonstrate? At one time, one would have said (and it has been said loud enough by our pessimists): “At least something must be true here! The consensus of the sages must show us the truth.” Shall we still talk like that today? May we? “At least something must be sick here,” we retort. These wisest men of all ages — they should first be scrutinized closely. Were they all perhaps shaky on their legs? tottery? decadent? late? Could it be that wisdom appears on earth as a raven, attracted by a little whiff of carrion?

— Twilight of the Idols

Nietzsche condemned ‘life-denying’ attitudes born out of a weak will, such as those of Socrates, often employing the metaphors of health and sickness. Nowadays the medical profession is diagnosing ‘personality diseases’ and realising his words in a more literal sense. A weak will, unable to overcome the challenges, trials and setbacks of existence, really is a disease. From Psychology Today:

Wayne Katon, whose research focuses on depression, anxiety and somatoform disorders, makes the case that stress and anxiety play a primary role. In his view, personality doesn’t just create a hospitable environment—it’s an integral part of the diseases. He believes that the initial injury or illness is almost irrelevant. What really matters is the interpretation and emotional reaction. Patients develop what he calls “catastrophic cognitions”: beliefs that if they start to get back to their activity, they will damage themselves further.

According to Katon’s clinical observations, patients with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia tend to be highly driven overachievers unaccustomed to feeling any loss of control. When injured or sickened, those who decide that the pain or illness has overwhelmingly and permanently damaged their bodies come to feel victimized and unable to cope. Learned helplessness sets in, and patients can find themselves perpetually depressed and inactive. “They have trouble getting back to that old lifestyle, and what sets in is depression,” Katon suggests. “In our modern society, for people who have driven themselves, fatigue becomes a palatable way out of a difficult existence.” Although Katon is well regarded in the field, this perspective is still widely debated, at conferences, in medical journals and even by peers at his own medical center.

However, some patients do describe their experience in similar terms. “Stress seems to be the killer,” Howard admits. “That’s what I think happened with me. I was a superachiever and a perfectionist. I was going to make it, no matter what. I didn’t anticipate the consequences.”

Fear of further damage and disability may keep patients from trying to get back to an active life. “Whatever caused this impairment is probably not what’s keeping it going,” Katon says. “What’s keeping it going to a large extent are the misbeliefs about getting back to an active lifestyle.”

Indeed, Hillenbrand had come to anticipate disaster when she tried returning to a normal life. “I had learned to expect complete collapses each time I overextended myself,” she recalls. “As I began to slide into exhaustion, I would anticipate how I would soon be unable to sit up and speak, and I would become very frightened. The anxiety I experienced as I slid into collapse would feed my exhaustion, and I would become still weaker.”


Politeness as manipulative strategy

January 23, 2009

Polite people are not polite because they are polite, rather because they using others as means to their own ends. Politiness is a strategy of the weak to disarm the strong.

The fog of morality will not let people see beyond good and evil to the real motivators of human action. Morality encourages a blind eye.

Polar politeness – byline: Negative politeness disarms superiors, encouraging them to grant your requests.

Who am I?

January 15, 2009

Thomas asks Who am I?

What do we mean when we refer to the “I”? What is the self fundamentally? Nietzsche instructs us: “become who you are.” But how is this possible? In becoming, I am changing, and thus I am different after I change than I was before. But it was I who changed, and so the I is in some sense a constant.

Ah, the Ship of Theseus paradox, Platonic forms, and all that jazz. The I that is changing is the I that changed, but the I is an abstraction. There is no concrete persistence, only interpretation makes it so. Everything is in a state of flux. Carl Jung talks of one of the ego’s functions being ‘stability of identity’. He sees this function as essential for our making consistent decisions in an otherwise world of chaos. To order (rationalise) is human and wise, but it is also to misunderstand.

I think it is useful to distinguish between self as self-identity (the socially-constructed ‘I’) and biological entity (‘bio-self’) , although we are both and the two aspects are intertwined. The bio-self may be more accurately seen as a force in particular contexts, rather than an entity.

I have taken “become who you are” (Pindar, in full “learn and become who you are”) as a strictly ethical imperative dealing with ‘authenticity’ of behaviour. It means become that projection of yourself (self-identity) that is most virtuous, or that gives you the greatest sense of self esteem/self-expression. Our self-identity is socially constructed, conditioned by upbringing, peers, etc.; we don’t have control over it by default. However, we can create a new narrative or conception of self, and through meditation pursue and fulfill it. “Become who you are” is an indictment to courage, to understand and master yourself, recognising both the reality of your circumstances and your freedom to choose an empowering, life-affirming response to them. Courage is not the popular image we have of it (e.g. Bruce Willis in the Die Hard movies), but rather the simple, dispassionate recognition and passionate, thankful embrace of our ability not to impose excessive, restrictive, ever-fictional interpretations (rationalism) on phenomena, your self-concept, your past, limits on your behaviour and self-expression, and the world in its entirety.

But whose (or what’s) authenticity of behaviour do we refer to? Some objectification of our’s, the name matters not. An object is a point-in-time focus of consciousness to which we may attribute behaviour and/or qualitative/quantitative properties. The bio-self will always be an abstraction due to it never being concrete, however it can be well defined as body in the traditional vernacular. The reference of self-identity, however, cannot be defined. To attribute any essence to it would be ‘bad faith’. It would not be who you really are because in restricting yourself (and your behaviour) through a particular self-defintion you deny the freedom that you have not to be defined. Once you label me, you negate me (Kierkegaard).

The Locus of Control within Buddhism

January 10, 2009

Notice that it is your thoughts, attitudes and actions that are the concern, not those of others. We are responsible for the world that we see around us. The imperative is ‘do not judge but be just’.

Care of Thomas:

Do not be concerned with the faults of other persons. Do not see others faults with a hateful mind. There is an old saying that if you stop seeing others faults, then naturally seniors are venerated and juniors are revered. Do not imitate other’s faults; just cultivate virtue. Buddha prohibited unwholesome actions, but did not tell us to hate those who practice unwholesome actions.

Aristotle on the good life

January 5, 2009

I have just finished reading Sophie’s World, an excellent introduction to philosophy for teenagers and adults alike. One of the pearls of wisdom it contains is Aristotle’s criteria for a life of happiness and fulfillment:

According to Aristotle, man’s “form” comprises a soul, which has a plant-like part, an animal part, and a rational part. And now he asks: How should we live? What does it require to live a good life? His answer: Man can only achieve happiness by using all his abilities and capabilities.

Aristotle held that there are three forms of happiness. The first form of happiness is a life of pleasure and enjoyment. The second form of happiness is a life as a free and responsible citizen. The third form of happiness is a life as thinker and philosopher.

Aristotle then emphasized that all three criteria must be present at the same time for man to find happiness and fulfillment. He rejected all forms of imbalance. Had he lived today he might have said that a person who only develops his body lives a life that is just as unbalanced as someone who only uses his head. Both extremes are an expression of a warped way of life.

The same applies in human relationships, where Aristotle advocated the “Golden Mean.” We must be neither cowardly nor rash, but courageous (too little courage is cowardice, too much is rashness), neither miserly nor extravagant but liberal (not liberal enough is miserly, too liberal is extravagant). The same goes for eating. It is dangerous to eat too little, but also dangerous to eat too much. The ethics of both Plato and Aristotle contain echoes of Greek medicine: only by exercising balance and temperance will I achieve a happy or “harmonious” life.


The undesirability of cultivating extremes is also expressed in Aristotle’s view of society. He says that man is by nature a “political animal.” Without a society around us, we are not real people, he claimed. He pointed out that the family and the village satisfy our primary needs of food, warmth, marriage, and child rearing. But the highest form of human fellowship is only to be found in the state.

Aristotle’s philosophy is loudly echoed in the movement of Positive Psychology. In his talk, What positive psychology can help you become, Martin Seligman speaks of three “happy” lives:

The Pleasant life

  • Having as many pleasures as you can
  • Learning the skills to amplify them

The Good Life (Engagement) – good refers to Arete, which means excellence or virtue

  • Flow
  • Exercising your strengths in work, love and play to achieve Eudaimonia (flourishing).

The Meaningful life

  • Using your strengths in the service of something (e.g. positive institutions) larger than you

While I appreciate what Positive Psychology (PP) sets out to achieve and think that it is tremendously helpful, I am cynical about the one-sided, happy-happy-joy-joy rhetoric that the movement employs. Things just aren’t that simple. There are darker sides to living that everyone faces, even the most virtuous. If the good life merely involved cultivating and exercising strengths in three distinct areas we would have all followed Aristotle’s advice centuries ago and have no need of PP.

Locus of control and Existentialism

December 27, 2008

The primary ethic of existentialism is concerned with Locus of control, which is perhaps the greatest idea of psychology – though unoriginal.

The point is, regardless of historical circumstances, genetics, family upbringing, etc., you are free and responsible for your own life. You create your own life, meaning and destiny.

The Buddha preached the locus of control also. Rather than looking to judge others, the external world or Satan  – for whatever absurd reason – as the source of pain and misery, the Buddha saw that is was the subjective, human sensitivity to pain that was the problem. A solution to this problem was only to be found in the self.

Why we like ‘good people’

December 27, 2008

Simply, because we have power over them.

The good person has internalised society’s laws and customs to a neurotic degree. They are highly susceptible to social pressure and overly-concerned with what others think of them. They are weak and vulnerable. They use niceness as a defence mechanism. They are not skilled in the use of assertiveness to maintain their dignity, so seek pride in being ‘a nice person’. We feel safe around the good person because they have terrorised and repressed themself.

But within the good person we suspect ressentiment; repressed anger and resentment lie below the surface. They are harsh on themselves, but they are also judgemental of others. They only express their judgemental attitude when they feel safe, because they are too weak to express themselves in open aggression – that would make them feel ashamed, like they are committing an odious sin. However, we sense their judgemental view of the world in our attempts at casual conversation. The good person is nervous and it takes some time to get them to lower their guard (alcohol is a big help!). We sense the good person judging us, sometimes over the most light-hearted, trivial remarks. We are disappointed that the good person can’t simply be unself-conscious for a moment and let others of the hook of judgement also.

I know many good people and I wouldn’t want to be one for a second; what a terrible waste of life.

People are innocent

December 18, 2008

People are not basically good, nor basically bad. They are innocent; not due the judgement and condemnation we so readily heap on them.

Morality is a pragmatic social device that comes into existence through covenant. This device ought to only serve the ends of human survival and flourishing, but we frequently lend it too much power.

Morality has become its own end. Foolish people have been willing to annihilate each other for the sake of ‘right’. Total annihilation has even been a threat, during the Cold War.

Another corrupt morality is often used by the weak for their self-aggrandisement and self-righteousness. The weak employ this morality as a weapon against the strong, who are innocent of any real wrongdoing. Jealousy, envy and resentment motivates the bludgeoning of the innocent. The innocent are the strong, but to the weak they are the immoral.

The psychology of Internet debate

October 29, 2008

Through argument, the pitiful man displaces his precious self-concept into the hands of his judgemental opponent and then seeks to retain it with honour by vanquishing him in rhetorical battle. The trophy is his returned self-concept, with added smug self-righteousness – truly gratifying!

Freud’s view of humanity

October 19, 2008

Check this out, it’s quite edifying: Future of an Illusion