Skip to content

A Healthy Normality: I Wonder? Part I

Sep 23

G’day all!  Before I begin, I would like to offer a tip of your Stetson (if I may be so bold) to some regular foreign viewers of “re-sergeance”.  I’m not sure you are all aware that we have visitors from afar.  I can see them on the “stats” page behind the scenes.  I wish to thank them for their interest and to encourage them to “throw in”.  I would welcome their comments and I’m quite sure we would all find it interesting.  These visitors include places like the UK, Trinidad and Tobago, Japan, France, South America, European Union, Australia, and of course our neighbours to the south, the US.

So to begin…….the kind of Psychology I studied during my undergraduate and graduate days was based upon (and to the greatest extent still is) an assumption that there is something called “a healthy normality”; that is, by nature we humans are psychologically healthy, and if we have the right ingredients e.g. environment, life-style, social context etc. we will be mentally healthy and happy.  You may have noticed by my general tone, that I question this.  I’m not sure that a degree of psychological pain is entirely abnormal.  After spending 70 years as a human, and over 40 as a psychological clinician I’m not entirely sure that psychological pain is abnormal.  I have begun to question whether psychological difficulties are really disease processes fueled by pathology.

Check this out!  Take a moment to ramble around your “googler” and you may be surprised to find stuff like this:  Pick a year, any year, and you’ll find that approximately 30-33% of the world’s population is suffering from clinical levels of Depression (depending upon which site you pick).  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression is consistently among the top 3 psychological problems in terms of cost and patient debilitation around the globe.  It is thought that within the next couple of years it will move into the top 2.  This would suggest that within any week, go ahead and pick one, fully one tenth of the world’s population is suffering from this clinical mood disorder.  Moreover, one fifth of us (globally) will suffer clinical depression at some point during our time on this planet.  If you think that is “jaw dropping” check this out… in four of us will become addicted to drugs or alcohol at some point during our lives.  Statistics for the US, alone, suggest that there are now approximately 22-25 million alcoholics in that country (no wonder Donald Trump is such a ……..but I digress).  To continue, in support of my earlier statement, and again depending upon whose numbers you use, it seems that at least half of us will seriously consider suicide in our life time.  In short, there seems to very little correlation between our standard of living (that continues to rise) and our psychological health.

I recently completed some postdoctoral study (can you tell?) that makes a strong case for a destructive normality vs. the old healthy normality perspective.  This (well considered and researched) approach suggests that our language is the culprit.  Not the particular language we speak (e.g. English, French, Italian) but our ability to speak (in any language) a system of complex symbols including words, images, grunts, facial expressions, physical gestures etc.  This ability can be used in a couple of ways; the public and the private.  When we use the ability publically we are speaking, writing, singing, gesturing and such.  In the private domain we are thinking, imagining, planning, visualizing and so on.  When you refer to “cognition”, this is the stuff you are speaking of.

Now here comes the part that will take you out of your “comfort zone” (…….I can say this as I think I know you somewhat).  When you really think about it the “mind” isn’t a thing that you can touch, like a brain or a heart.  It’s more like a very complicated bunch of cognitive processes that include visualizing, evaluating, comparing, analyzing, criticizing, planning, etc; and all of these rely (on what?), our ability to use language.  (Nice try……….. even if you are mute you use language in the sense I am describing).  So you might even say that the word “mind” is synonomous with human language itself (OK, OK calm yourself and hear me out).

While useful, our ability to speak has a downside.  On the up-side it allows us to “play nice” by cooperating with each other in community, to plan, to predict, to create stuff, to share knowledge, to learn from others, and the past, and to communicate with one and other.  However, as I am hinting, there is a downside as well.  The mind can be used for a list of anti-social purposes ranging from mistreating to killing each other in a variety of ways.  We use it to obsess about the past, to rehash painful events, to catastrophize about the future, to judge, to condemn, to criticize others and to create unrealistic and crippling expectations.

I’m going to stop here (a very special reader has told me that I go on far too long!), but first (until the next installment on this topic), I would like you to consider strongly that it is our capacity for language that catalyzes suffering for human beings.  It seems that as we have this capacity to anticipate and solve problems through the evolutionary advantage of human language, we just might be trying to avoid natural human emotion (and its’ constituent pain) and “feeling bad about feeling bad”………..wherein the real problem may lay?

“Pain is universal, but suffering is not”

Dr. Mike Webster

Reg’d Psych.    (#0655)

(P.S.  I’ll be on the road for a few days; send in your comments and I’ll get to them when I return).


From → Other

  1. Anonymous permalink

    Thank you for this very interesting write-up, good Doctor!!! Something well worth pondering and a helpful tool in self-evaluation. Looking forward to more.

  2. Anon. permalink

    Maybe we are all depressed because we are communicating less in person (seeing, touching, speaking, the facial gestures you speak of) and more virtually (emails, texts, phone), so these days we actually connect less but just think we are connecting yet we are still lonely. Real human contact and interaction is surely the healthiest kind?

  3. thekraaken permalink

    I find the fact that half would consider suicide disturbing.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: