Continuing with the series I started a couple of days ago; another aspect of mental health that I believe to be very important is the topic of morality. Now, morality gets almost no mention whatsoever in psychology textbooks and again I’m highly suspicious of this. The suggestion here is that morality is somehow outside the purview of psychology, however, I would argue that morality, or its lack, is actually at the heart of a lot of what we call mental illness. Consider how many times you hear about criminals pleading insanity in court to justify their crimes. Psychologists are often brought in as expert witnesses to give weight to such claims. Yet, why the lack of mainstream academic discussion among psychologists about morality and it’s relationship to mental health?
The first issue is of course defining what morality is. In the simplest sense, morality is about doing the right thing based on a set of rules. There are two major competing schools of thought about what rules count as moral: one that is very popular in academic writing and trendy social circles, and the other which is considered by many to be old fashioned, out of date, and ridiculous. The popular definition is that morality is socially defined, it is a set of rules that have no objective basis to them, they are just adhered to by people because of traditional and political authority. This is subjective morality, while the supposedly out dated version of morality is called objective morality and the argument here is that morals are not mere popular whims, but come from reason and are universal.
When it comes to the topic of narcissism, you might be surprised to learn that psychologists still hotly debate what narcissism actually is. Some say they have very high self-esteem, others that they have very low self-esteem. Others that they are self-aware and clever, others that they’re cognitively deficient and barely aware of themselves as active participants in their lives at all. Object relations theory suggests something is fundamentally wrong in their perception of objects both internal and external. Some say they don’t have any empathy, others that they have empathy, but they just don’t care. More importantly for a therapist; some say they can be treated successfully, but others that they are completely beyond rehabilitation. Then there are countless others who take up various positions between those ranges, and some additional views that I haven’t even mentioned. The only things that psychologists seem to agree on regarding narcissism is that they’re very difficult people to get along with; they tend to avoid therapy, they’re very easily offended, they are horrible parents, they’re almost never happy, and they’re controlling and destructive.
So when I talk about narcissism it is important that I am clear about what I am talking about, but also I often think with all the debate and disagreement among experts in the field maybe I should use a new term altogether in referring to them. I tend to use the term “tyranni” to refer to narcissists because for me the most distinctive aspect about a narcissist is not their supposed “self-love”, which is hotly debated, but their pervasive desire to dominate and subvert all their relationships: to act as little tyrants so to speak, hence I call them tyranni meaning “the little tyrants”. For this article I will use the term narcissism, but rest assured if I ever write a book about them I will probably call them tyranni instead.
You have reached the point in your life where you have decided that things can’t keep going on the way they are now. Depression is ruining your career, anxiety is keeping you up all night, you can’t stop fighting with your spouse, you feel there’s no joy or meaning in life anymore, you’re angry all the time, or any other number of problems pushing you to the limits of what you can take. Once you reach the conclusion for yourself that you want to live a better life then you are ready to make the effort to change. This is a significant milestone and a good sign that things in your life are ready to start improving. The next stage is asking yourself, “But how should I change?”
This is not an easy question to answer because simply recognising that your patterns of behaviour in action or in thought are dysfunctional is only the beginning of the struggle. One needs to know what healthy behaviour looks like and one needs to stay on the path towards changing those bad habits into good habits. This is why you need a therapist. You need a therapist because your current lifestyle and values are no longer functioning sufficiently to keep going. You need a specialist in helping take your life apart piece by piece to find and examine the problems and identify possible solutions. This essay will cover several keys arguments for why you need a therapist, with an obvious emphasis on the particular strengths of what a philosophical therapist can offer you. Before going into why you need a therapist, I just want to cover a misconception that many people have: that a therapist is there to tell you what to do. Continue reading
There are five traditionally accepted branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, politics, aesthetics, and ethics. Each branch answers specific questions that have a profound impact on our lives. Because each branch is focused on answering particular types of questions, it is possible for different branches to give different solutions to the same problem. Consider the branches of aesthetics and ethics. Aesthetics is concerned with the questions of what is beauty, what is ugliness, and how can beauty improve our lives, while ethics concerns the questions of what is right, what is wrong, and how can we make the best decisions. It might seem strange to some that these two branches can be confused with each other, but consider the following scenario where a person uses aesthetics, the awareness of beauty, as their approach to solving a problem.
Henry adores his daughter Beth’s smile. Nothing pleases him more than to see Beth smiling beautifully; likewise, the sight of his daughter crying fills him with revulsion. One evening, Beth comes to Henry and asks if she could have some extra dessert. Henry asks what her mother has said about this. Beth breaks down into tears and says that her mother has told her she isn’t to have any more dessert tonight unless she cleans her room. Henry recoils from the sight of his lovely daughter’s face spoiled by tears and he wishes he could gaze upon her cheeky, beautiful smile again. So he tells her that of course she may go and have some extra dessert. Beth’s face lights up with joy and Henry feels happy to see his favourite smile in the whole world again. Continue reading
On a whim last week I picked up a copy of (Thomas) Bulfinch’s Mythology from Costco. Purely for the inspiration it might give me for my writing. However, after reading out a story to a friend it occurred to me it might be amusing to share my analysis of the characters from a therapist’s perspective. This is at the risk of coming across as one of those people who can never detach themselves from their work and just relax! Anyway, because this post relates to both my writing and the therapy work I have decided to post to both of my sites.
My professional website: philosophicaltherapist.com
My writing blog: sophisticatednonsense.blog.
Apollo and Daphne
The first line of a story is important. It sets the entire scene. In fact, the first line of a story should be the last line the author writes in my opinion. The first line of this fable tells us this: “Daphne was Apollo’s first love.” Here we have the word ‘love’ used and it is important to keep in mind that ‘love’ is a weasel word. It can mean almost anything to anyone. It might mean, “like” in the context of “I love ice cream”, it might mean sexual lust, “I love that babe in the swimsuit over there,” and it might mean a willingness to self-sacrifice, “the soldiers died for the love of their nation.” In fact love can mean just about anything a person wants it to mean: “if you loved me you would say ‘yes’ to me” versus “it’s because I love you that I say ‘no’ to you.” What does it mean that Daphne was Apollo’s first love? The reader should keep this question in mind all the way through this fable. Continue reading
Agency is a philosophical term that refers to one’s ability to act in a given situation. When discussing the nature of free will and responsibility, it is important to be mindful of how much agency a person has. If there’s an electrical fault in your house and you’re alone, there might not be anything you can do about it. If you’re a trained electrician, there might be a great deal you could do to fix the problem. However, being knowledgeable about electronics might not be enough if your tools are at your workplace. Thus, agency depends on both having the knowledge and having the means. A person with electrical training and tools has full agency over the problem of the electrical fault, whereas a person with no training and no tools has no direct agency over their electrical problems. They will have to pay someone who does have agency in this situation to fix it. Despite sounding so simple, problems with agency account for a lot of drama in relationships. This article will discuss a healthy sense of agency and then compare it to unhealthy perceptions of agency such as hyper-agency and hypo-agency. Continue reading
Wonderful news. I’m now a YouTube star! Well… I’m on YouTube at least. I’ve put together a few short YouTube videos in a playlist called “Q&A”. After the friend who was helping me record them said that I talked more naturally when she just asked me questions. Longer videos covering subjects in depth are already in the pipeline, but expect a few more of these short Q&A videos. If there’s a question you’d like to ask, please leave a comment and I will consider making a video about it.
There is a funny meme that one can look up by going to Google Image Search and typing in “what people think therapists do”. I can tell you that I do relate to a lot of these. The “what people think” meme is one of my favourites because it concerns my one of my favourite subjects: empathy. Agree or disagree with what some people put in these memes it nonetheless challenges one to think about how differently people see the same thing. I have worked as a therapist/mentor/behaviourist for several years now and I’ve picked up that few people understand what a therapist does and why these things are important. This list of three functions of a therapist is what I consider to be the most important things that I do as a therapist. Keep in mind that other therapists would possibly disagree and that maybe their approach suits their clients. This list is ordered by the importance I place on them; here are the three things I believe therapists should do:
Imagine an ordinary porcelain bowl sitting on a table in front of you. There’s nothing special about this bowl. It is plain without any distinguishing features. There are thousands, if not millions, of bowls like this in the world. They are useful, one can put rice in it, a salad, water, fruit or any other number of things. Despite it being useful, it would be odd if anyone missed it should it fall to the floor and smash to pieces. The bowl has utility, but it doesn’t have value. One day a tattoo artist was feeling bored and decided to paint an original and intricate art work depicting Norse gods from an epic saga. Now something peculiar has happened: the bowl that was once so ordinary that its destruction would have been inconsequential has gained a new quality: value. It’s still just as useful as a bowl, but now it requires more protection, care, and respect. This bowl that was once so ordinary could now sit comfortably in a museum or an art gallery. It has become important not just because of its usefulness for holding objects, but because it has acquired a value through the beautiful art work now inscribed on it. People are similar, they can be useful, but they have a value that extends beyond their utility. Surprisingly enough, an incomplete understanding of these terms can actually lead to suicidal thoughts.
When I was a teenager, I had a fascination with all things supernatural and superstitious. It started out with me telling stories about witches and the occult. Then I started to carry an astrology book with me and work out the horoscopes of my schoolmates. My tarot card reading phase got me into trouble with a catholic priest once. I must confess I actually read those incredibly boring books about witchcraft while the other kids merely put them on their shelves to impress fellow adherents to the gothic sub culture. But one day a classmate produced something truly scandalous: a copy of “The Satanic Bible“. Now I can’t for the life of me articulate what I actually was expecting to find in this book, I just knew it had to be bad. Preferably dark, sinister, and disturbing so I could impress girls with my wicked seductions or some other nonsense. However, I remember feeling disappointed with the book. It just didn’t contain anything in it that sounded particularly evil. The idea behind the book was the assumption that Christianity was altruistic and therefore Satanism logically should be the opposite of Christianity and thus be selfish. However, the book quickly ran into some philosophical problems regarding the nature of selfishness and how it related to evil. Namely the assumption was that being selfish was necessarily a bad thing, however, this assumption about selfishness quickly hits a brick wall. So for a book that’s meant to be about being evil it ends up being a rather peculiar, if not silly, unintentional self-help book.