“Nathaniel Branden: Overcoming Barriers to Romantic Love”

“Cracking Depression: It is NOT a ‘Biological Disease'”

SpartanLifeCoach put out a video on depression a few months back:

I’m very much in agreement with his position expressed there. What we’re dealing with in modern times is expanded forms of slavery that have us caged in a sick way of life. This creates life out balance, which should come as no surprise as proving psychologically unhealthy. What’s healthy about it? We’re over-stressed and repressed, with all support networks humans historically relied upon now being actively disrupted and our ways of life being overhauled by new technologies — so is it really that shocking that our existence increasingly feels meaningless? Welcome to the Age of Nihilism.

It’s a question of how to now get out of this maze humans have constructed. Or how to cope if escape isn’t a possibility. For me it boils back down to what power we do possess to make needed changes and how to restore and maintain bonds with select others so that we can make the best of this tough situation we’re all faced with.

MORE wisdom and ideas passed along by Professor Anton

“The Lie of Standing Alone”:

“Information, relevance, and great acts”:

“What is Mental Health?”:

“Update Vid: (Lifemaking, Learning, & the Seductions of Neoliberal Extremes)”:

“Making the Scene”:

“Predictions & Promises: on human action”:

On our culture, depression, and suicide (Talks 1 & 2)

On our culture, depression, and suicide (Talk 1):

On our culture, depression, and suicide (Talk 2):

The article referenced in both videos was published in Newsweek (May 22, 2013) titled “The Suicide Epidemic” (also mentioned elsewhere on this blog): http://mag.newsweek.com/2013/05/22/why-suicide-has-become-and-epidemic-and-what-we-can-do-to-help.html

From The Guardian, “Facebook reveals governments asked for data on 38,000 users in 2013 (First report of its kind reveals more than half of government requests for user data in first half of 2013 came from the US)”:  http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/aug/27/facebook-government-user-requests

“Technology giants struggle to maintain credibility over NSA Prism surveillance (Strongly-worded denials issued by Apple, Facebook and Google about their co-operation are followed by further revelations)” (plus Verizon): http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/09/technology-giants-nsa-prism-surveillance

More news of Google and Yahoo’s connections with the NSA: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/technology/nsa-is-mining-google-and-yahoo-abroad.html?_r=0

Ernest Becker and the Fear of Death

Ernest Becker and the Fear of Death:

On the topic of neurotics — an excerpt from Ernest Becker’s book “The Denial of Death”

This excerpt comes from chapter 9 titled “The Present Outcome of Psychoanalysis” in Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death, picking up on page 177:

Neurosis has three interdependent aspects. In the first place it refers to people who are having trouble living with the truth of existence; it is universal in this sense because everybody has some trouble living with the truth of life and pays some vital ransom to that truth. In the second place, neurosis is private because each person fashions his own peculiar stylistic reaction to life. Finally, beyond both of these is perhaps the unique gift of Rank’s work: that neurosis is also historical to a large extent, because all the traditional ideologies are just too thin to contain in. So we have modern man: increasingly slumping into analysts’ couches, making pilgrimages to psychological guru-centers and joining therapy groups, and filling larger and larger numbers of mental hospital beds. Let us look at each of these three aspects in more detail.

The Neurotic Type

First, as a problem of personal character. When we say neurosis represents the truth of life we again mean that life is an overwhelming problem for an animal free of instinct. The individual has to protect himself against the world, and he can do this only as any other animal would: by narrowing down the world, shutting off experience, developing an obliviousness both to the terrors of the world and to his own anxieties. Otherwise he would be crippled for action. We cannot repeat too often the great lesson of Freudian psychology: that repression is normal self-protection and creative self-restriction—in a real sense, man’s natural substitute for instinct. Rank has a perfect, key term for this natural human talent: he calls it “partialization” and very rightly sees that life is impossible without it. What we call the well-adjusted man has just this capacity to partialize the world for comfortable action. I have used the term “fetishization,” which is exactly the same idea: the “normal” man bites off what he can chew and digest of life, and no more. In other words, men aren’t built to be gods, to take in the whole world; they are built like other creatures, to take in the piece of ground in front of their noses. Gods can take in the whole of creation because they alone can make sense of it, know what it is all about and for. But as soon as a man lifts his nose from the ground and starts sniffing at eternal problems like life and death, the meaning of a rose or a star cluster—then he is in trouble. Most men spare themselves this trouble by keeping their minds on the small problems of their lives just as their society maps these problems out for them. These are what Kierkegaard called the “immediate” men and the “Philistines.” They “tranquilize themselves with the trivial”—and so they can lead normal lives.

Right away we can see the immensely fertile horizon that opens up in all of our thinking on mental health and “normal” behavior. In order to function normally, man has to achieve from the beginning a serious constriction of the world and of himself. We can say that the essence of normality is the refusal of reality. What we call neurosis enters precisely at this point: Some people have more trouble with their lies than others. The world is too much with them, and the techniques that they have developed for holding it at bay and cutting it down to size finally begin to choke the person himself. This is neurosis in a nutshell: the miscarriage of clumsy lies about reality.

But we can also see at once that there is no line between normal and neurotic, as we all lie and are all bound in some ways by the lies. Neurosis is, then, something we all share; it is universal. Or, putting it another way, normality is neurosis, and vice versa. We call a man “neurotic” when his lie begins to show damaging effects on him or on people around him and he seeks clinical help for it—or others seek it for him. Otherwise, we call the refusal of reality “normal” because it doesn’t occasion any visible problems. It is really as simple as that. After all, if someone who lives alone wants to get out of bed a half-dozen times to see if the door is really locked, or another washes and dries his hands exactly three times every time or uses a half-roll of toilet tissue each time he relieves himself—there is really no human problem involved. These people are earning their safety in the face of the reality of creatureliness in relatively innocuous and untroublesome ways.

But the whole thing becomes more complex when we see how the lies about reality begin to miscarry. Then we have to begin to apply the label “neurotic.” And there are any number of occasions for this, from many ranges of human experience. Generally speaking, we call neurotic any life style that begins to constrict too much, that prevents free forward momentum, new choices, and growth that a person may want and need. For example, a person who is trying to find his salvation only in a love relationship but who is being defeated by this too narrow focus is neurotic. He can become overly passive and dependent, fearful of venturing out on his own, of making his life without his partner, no matter how that partner treats him. The object has become his “All,” his whole world; and he is reduced to the status of a simple reflex of another human being. This type frequently looks for clinical help. He feels stuck in his narrow horizon, needs his particular “beyond” but fears moving past it. In terms we used earlier we could say that his “safe” heroics is not working out; it is choking him, poisoning him with the dumb realization that it is so safe that it is not heroic at all. To lie to oneself about one’s own potential development is another cause of guilt. It is one of the most insidious daily inner gnawings a person can experience. Guilt, remember, is the bind that man experiences when he is humbled and stopped in ways that he does not understand, when he is overshadowed in his energies by the world. But the misfortune of man is that he can experience this guilt in two ways: as bafflement from without and from within—by being stopped in relation to his own potential development. Guilt results from unused life, from “the unlived in us.”

More sensational are those other familiar miscarriages of lies about reality, what we call obsessions and compulsions, phobias of all kinds. Here we see the result of too much fetishization or partialization, too much narrowing-down of the world for action. The result is that the person gets stuck in the narrowness. It is one thing to ritually wash one’s hands three times; it is another to wash them until the hands bleed and one is in the bathroom most of the day. Here we see in pure culture, as it were, what is at stake in all human repression: the fear of life and death. Safety in the face of the real terror of creature existence is becoming a real problem for the person. He feels vulnerable—which is the truth! But he reacts too totally, too inflexibly. He fears going out in the street, or up in elevators, or into transportation of any kind. At this extreme it is as though the person says to himself “If I do anything at all . . . I will die.”

We can see that the symptom is an attempt to live, an attempt to unblock action and keep the world safe. The fear of life and death is encapsulated in the symptom. If you feel vulnerable it is because you feel bad and inferior, not big or strong enough to face up to the terrors of the universe. You work out your need for perfection (bigness, invulnerability) in the symptom—say, hand-washing or the avoidance of sex in marriage. We might say that the symptom itself represents the locus of the performance of heroism. No wonder that one cannot give it up: that would release all by itself the whole flood of terror that one is trying to deny and overcome. When you put all your eggs in one basket you must clutch that basket for dear life. It is as though one were to take the whole world and fuse it into a single object or a single fear. We immediately recognize this as the same creative dynamic that the person uses in transference, when he fuses all the terror and majesty of creation in the transference-object. This is what Rank meant when he said that neurosis represents creative power gone astray and confused. The person doesn’t really know what the problem is, but he hits on an ingenious way to keep moving past it. Let us note, too, that Freud himself used the expression “transference-neurosis” as a collective term for hysterical fears and compulsion neuroses. We can say that Rank and modern psychiatry merely simplify and carry through this basic insight, but now putting the burden of explanation on life-and-death fears, not merely on Oedipal dynamics. One young psychiatrist has recently summed up the whole matter beautifully, in the following words:

It must be clear that the despair and anguish of which the patient complains is not the result of such symptoms but rather are are the reasons for their existence. It is in fact these very symptoms that shield him from the torment of the profound contradictions that lie at the heart of human existence. The particular phobia or obsession is the very means by which man . . . eases the burden of his life’s tasks . . . is able to . . . assuage his sense of insignificance. . . . Thus, neurotic symptoms serve to reduce and narrow—to magically transform the world so that he may be distracted from his concerns of death, guilt, and meaninglessness. The neurotic preoccupied with his symptom is led to believe that his central task is one of confrontation with his particular obsession or phobia. In a sense his neurosis allows him to take control of his destiny—to transform the whole of life’s meaning into the simplified meaning emanating from his self-created world.

The ironic thing about the narrowing-down of neurosis is that the person seeks to avoid death, but he does it by killing off so much of himself and so large a spectrum of his action-world that he is actually isolating and diminishing himself and becomes as though dead. There is just no way for the living creature to avoid life and death, and it is probably poetic justice that if he tries too hard to do so he destroys himself.

But we still haven’t exhausted the range of behaviors that we can call neurotic.

[all emphasis his.]

Stopping for now on page 181, to be resumed another day.

On our feelings of insignificance and powerlessness — an excerpt from the book “Escape From Freedom” by Erich Fromm

Let’s get back to transcribing a little bit this afternoon since it’s been a while. Picking up Erich Fromm’s book Escape From Freedom (1941), beginning on page 150:

What holds true in the economic sphere is also true in the political sphere. In the early days of democracy there were various kinds of arrangements in which the individual would concretely and actively participate in voting for a certain decision or for a certain candidate for office. The questions to be decided were familiar to him, as were the candidates; the act of voting, often done in a meeting of the whole population of a town, had a quality of concreteness in which the individual really counted. Today the voter is confronted by mammoth parties which are just as distant and as impressive as the mammoth organizations of industry. The issues are complicated and made still more so by all sorts of methods to befog them. The voter may see something of his candidate around election time; but since the days of the radio, he is not likely to see him so often, thus losing one of the last means of sizing up “his” candidate. Actually he is offered a choice between two or three candidates by the party machines; but these candidates are not of “his” choosing, he and they know little about each other, and their relationship is as abstract as most other relationships have become.

Like the effect of advertising upon the customer, the methods of political propaganda tend to increase the feeling of insignificance of the individual voter. Repetition of slogans and emphasis on factors which have nothing to do with the issue at stake numb his critical capacities. The clear and rational appeal to his thinking is rather the exception than the rule in political propaganda—even in democratic countries. Confronted with the power and size of the parties as demonstrated in their propaganda, the individual voter cannot help feeling small and of little significance.

All this does not mean that advertising and political propaganda overtly stress the individual’s insignificance. Quite the contrary; they flatter the individual by making him appear important, and by pretending that they appeal to his critical judgment, to his sense of discrimination. But these pretenses are essentially a method to dull the individual’s suspicions and to help him fool himself as to the individual character of his decision. I need scarcely point out that the propaganda of which I have been speaking is not wholly irrational, and that there are differences in the weight of rational factors in the propaganda of different parties and candidates respectively.

Other factors have added to the growing powerlessness of the individual. The economic and political scene is more complex and vaster than it used to be; the individual has less ability to look through it. The threats which he is confronted with have grown in dimensions too. A structural unemployment of many millions has increased the sense of insecurity. Although the support of the unemployed by public means has done much to counteract the results of unemployment, not only economically but also psychologically, the fact remains that for the vast majority of people the burden of being unemployed is very hard to bear psychologically and the dread of it overshadows their whole life. To have a job—regardless of what kind of job it is—seems to many all they could want of life and something they should be grateful for. Unemployment has also increased the threat of old age. In many jobs only the young and even inexperienced person who is still adaptable is wanted; that means, those who can still be molded without difficulty into the little cogs which are required in that particular setup.

The threat of war has also added to the feeling of individual powerlessness. To be sure, there were wars in the nineteenth century too. But since the last war the possibilities of destruction have increased so tremendously—the range of people to be affected by war has grown to such an extent as to comprise everybody without any exceptions—that the threat of war has become a nightmare which, though it may not be conscious to many people before their nation is actually involved in the war, has overshadowed their lives and increased their feeling of fright and individual powerlessness.

The “style” of the whole period corresponds to the picture I have sketched. Vastness of cities in which the individual is lost, buildings that are as high as mountains, constant acoustic bombardment by the radio, big headlines changing three times a day and leaving one no choice to decide what is important, shows in which one hundred girls demonstrate their ability with clocklike precision to eliminate the individual and act like a powerful though smooth machine, the beating rhythm of jazz—these and many other details are expressions of a constellation in which the individual is confronted by uncontrollable dimensions in comparison with which he is a small particle. All he can do is to fall in step like a marching soldier or a worker on the endless belt. He can act; but the sense of independence, significance, has gone.

The extent to which the average person in America is filled with the same sense of fear and insignificance seems to find a telling expression in the fact of the popularity of the Mickey Mouse pictures. There the one theme—in so many variations—is always this: something little is persecuted and endangered by something overwhelmingly strong, which threatens to kill or swallow the little thing. The little thing runs away and eventually succeeds in escaping or even in harming the enemy. People would not be ready to look continually at the many variations of this one theme unless it touched upon something very close to their own emotional life. Apparently the little thing threatened by a powerful, hostile enemy is the spectator himself; that is how he feels and that is the situation with which he can identify himself. But of course, unless there were a happy ending there would be no continuous attraction. As it is, the spectator lives through all his own fears and feelings of smallness and at the end gets the comforting feeling that, in spite of all, he will be saved and will even conquer the strong one. However—and this is the significant and sad part of this “happy end”—his salvation lies mostly in his ability to run away and in the unforeseen accidents which make it impossible for the monster to catch him.

The position in which the individual finds himself in our period had already been foreseen by visionary thinkers in the nineteenth century. Kierkegaard describes the helpless individual torn and tormented by doubts, overwhelmed by the feeling of aloneness and insignificance. Nietzsche visualizes the approaching nihilism which was to become manifest in Nazism and paints a picture of a “superman” as the negation of the insignificant, directionless individual he saw in reality. The theme of the powerlessness of man has found a most precise expression in Franz Kafka’s work. In his Castle he describes the man who wants to get in touch with the mysterious inhabitants of a castle, who are supposed to tell him what to do and show him his place in the world. All his life consists in his frantic effort to get into touch with them, but he never succeeds and is left alone with a sense of utter futility and helplessness.

The feeling of isolation and powerlessness has been beautifully expressed in the following passage by Julian Green: “I knew that we counted little in comparison with the universe, I knew that we were nothing; but to be so immeasurably nothing seems in some way both to overwhelm and at the same time to reassure. Those figures, those dimensions beyond the range of human thought, are utterly overpowering. Is there anything whatsoever to which we can cling? Amid that chaos of illusions into which we are cast headlong, there is one thing that stands out as true, and that is—love. All the rest is nothingness, an empty void. We peer down into a huge dark abyss. And we are afraid.”

However, this feeling of individual isolation and powerlessness as it has been expressed by these writers and as it is felt by many so-called neurotic people, is nothing the average normal person is aware of. It is too frightening for that. It is covered over by the daily routine of his activities, by the assurance and approval he finds in his private or social relations, by success in business, by any number of distractions, by “having fun,” “making contacts,” “going places.” But whistling in the dark does not bring light. Aloneness, fear, and bewilderment remain; people cannot stand it forever. They cannot go on bearing the burden of “freedom from”; they must try to escape from freedom altogether unless they can progress from negative to positive freedom. The principal social avenues of escape in our time are the submission to a leader, as has happened in Fascist countries, and the compulsive conforming as is prevalent in our own democracy. Before we come to describe these two socially patterned ways of escape, I must ask the reader to follow me into the discussion of the intricacies of these psychological mechanisms of escape. We have dealt with some of these mechanisms already in the previous chapters; but in order to understand fully the psychological significance of Fascism and the automatization of man in modern democracy, it is necessary to understand the psychological phenomena not only in a general way but in the very detail and concreteness of their operation. This may appear to be a detour; but actually it is a necessary part of our whole discussion. Just as one cannot properly understand psychological problems without their social and cultural background, neither can one understand social phenomena without the knowledge of the underlying psychological mechanisms. The following chapter attempts to analyze these mechanisms, to reveal what is going on in the individual, and to show how, in our effort to escape from aloneness and powerlessness, we are ready to get rid of our individual self either by submission to new forms of authority or by a compulsive conforming to accepted patterns.

[Bold emphasis mine]

Leaving off for now on page 156. This is one of my favorite books from Erich Fromm, having first come across and read it back around 2008 or so. His views oftentimes make a great deal of sense to me personally, and I carry them forward inside myself.