Psychology Today recently posted an article titled “A New Way of Treating Anxiety, Depression, and Trauma” which explains the link between the personality trait of neuroticism and emotional disorders and a new treatment approach for said disorders.
One of the main premises is that mental illness is the result of interactions between stressful events and neuroticism and they define neuroticism as a “genetic predisposition for strong or frequent emotions” resulting in a “sense of uncontrollability or unpredictability expressed as aversive reactivity to emotional experiences.”
I’ve never really understood neuroticism, but I am a really negative/pessimistic person and I always struggled with self-compassion so sometimes I can be very cold and hateful towards myself for having the mental illnesses I have. I guess I don’t feel safe being human because we’re such a vulnerable race of beings so I hate my own humanness and wish I was something else–something safer to be. That’s why I’m thinking this problem may have started with neuroticism. I was hoping I could get your take on this neuroticism issue and how it relates to someone like myself who is in a state of severe trauma on both a psychological level and soul level. Are some of us really genetically predisposed to developing emotional disorders and mental illnesses? I mean, the thought of God–who is supposed to be our only chance for any real peace–taking pleasure in doing stuff this to us is just terrifying!
Let’s start with some basic discernment principles. Theories about mental illness (or any other topic) are always built on a set of prior assumptions. Before you accept someone’s conclusion about something, you should try to identify what some of their general beliefs are, because those beliefs are going to greatly bias the kind of study methods they use and the kinds of possibilities they are even open to considering.
There is no such thing as an unbiased human. We all have biases which are shaped by our personal beliefs. Being biased doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but fields of study that associate themselves with “modern science” act like being biased is terrible. They then make the utterly ludicrous claim that they have come up with a way to study things which guarantees total objectivity. Here is where we come to the much ballyhooed scientific method, which is held up as some golden standard for doing “proper, objective research” that will lead to the truth because it will eliminate human bias from affecting the researcher. What a bunch of hooey. The scientific method doesn’t even come close to eliminating bias. Instead, it adds an entirely new kind of bias by declaring that any theory that you can’t find sensory evidence for can never be verified as true. By sensory evidence I mean the kind of data your body’s physical senses can gather (sight, smell, sound, touch).
Now as technology has advanced, we have been been confronted with more and more evidence of how ridiculously limited human senses are. The development of the microscope allowed us to start “seeing” things that had been around us all the time, and everyone acted like that was some amazing breakthrough in our understanding of reality. Then there was the telescope: what a shocker to be able to “see” that the universe we live in is a whole lot bigger than we thought it was. Now we have the electron microscope, and suddenly we’re able to see a whole new world of molecules that we once again are shocked to discover. Meanwhile we’ve been able to figure out that there are far more sounds than our human ears can detect, and there are far more kinds of light than our eyes can see. Ironically, we’ve also gathered loads of evidence that the physical senses we’re relying on to lead us to truth are extremely easy to manipulate and deceive. Yet despite realizing how unreliable and unbiased our senses are, we still insist on using a method of study which holds our physical senses up as our only reliable tools for discerning truth from lies, and reality from delusion.
Now working from a premise of “If I can’t see, touch, or feel it, it doesn’t exist” is always going to hamper your effort to understand things, but in some fields of study, denying the existence of things you can’t see has a devastating effect on your ability to, well, avoid utter idiocy. Human psychology is one of those fields. This is because human psychology is really trying to understand the human experience as well as the human design. When it comes to understanding how humans function, you’re not going to have any hope of getting anywhere unless you acknowledge the reality of at least three beings which cannot be measured by any piece of human technology: the soul, the subconscious, and God. In addition to acknowledging the existence of these beings, you also need to realize that these entities are a whole lot more intelligent and complex than you expect them to be. If you really want to get somewhere in this field of study and not just remain at the level of mediocre, then you also need to acknowledge the existence of demons and angels, you need to realize that the body is an intelligent entity (not just a collection of mechanical parts), and you need to understand that every human is walking around with a community of intelligent entities dwelling inside them as well as having a host of external entities interacting with them on a daily basis. Your mind, your soul, and your body are separate entities who each have their own personality, priorities, and skills. These entities are constantly interacting with each other, and responding to each other. There are complex relationships that exist between each of your elements, and those relationships can drastically change over time. But according to the scientific method, none of these things can exist because they can’t be captured on any kind of scan. This is the utter lunacy of modern psychology: counsellors sit in their offices dialoguing directly with the various entities that are dwelling inside of their clients, yet they refuse to recognize that that is what they are doing. After talking to someone’s subconscious for a solid hour, a counsellor will say, “I don’t believe in the subconscious being an intelligent entity that is separate from the body or soul. That’s ridiculous.”
Suppose your friend Hal gets his hands on a magic suit that makes him turn invisible when he puts it on. One day you’re talking to Hal while he’s wearing his special suit. You can’t see him, but you can still hear him, and the two of you chat about several different topics for quite a while until your mother comes into the room and says, “Who are you talking to?” You explain that Hal is sitting right there with you. She shakes her head. “I don’t see anyone else in this room. What’s wrong with you? Are you starting to see things that aren’t there? How long has this been going on?” At this point Hal calls out, “I’m right here. You can’t see me right now, but I’m right here. Your son isn’t crazy.” When she hears Hal’s voice, your mother’s eyes widen in shock and alarm. Then she glares at you angrily and says, “How dare you throw your voice like that to try to trick me! Do you think this is funny? You’re scaring me with your behaviour, son! I think you need to see a doctor!”
This is the kind of absurdity that occurs in the field of psychiatry. Counsellors sit there listening to a whole host of entities talking directly to them: souls, subconsciouses, bodies, God, and demons. Yet they refuse to acknowledge the existence of any of these things. Instead, they try to explain the behaviour of their clients solely in terms of things that can be measured by the body’s senses.
If you deny the existence of intelligent beings, then you try to explain the behaviour of those beings, any theory you come up with is guaranteed to be a million miles from truth. In the article you are referencing, psychologists are trying to explain human behaviour in terms of genetics. Why is there such an obsession with genes in this field? Because you can see genes (with the help of the right equipment). You can’t see the soul or subconscious, so when one of these entities becomes upset by an experience you go through, and they respond to that experience by acting anxious, how do you explain that behaviour? You can’t. You can’t explain what the soul is doing until you actually acknowledge that the soul exists. If you refuse to do that, then you’re stuck trying to come up with some really lame alternate theories, like “Well, gee, maybe this person was genetically predisposed to develop anxiety, because look at this gene that exists in his body’s DNA. I’m thinking this little sucker is what’s responsible for the fact that he is now freaking out every time he goes near a swimming pool. Okay, sure, I get that he was held underwater as a child until he almost drowned, but other kids have scary water experiences and they don’t all react the same way. I say that the differences in their behaviours can all be explained by a difference in their genes.”
To me, this is sheer idiocy, but that’s because I am using a very different bias than the folks who support this theory. To them, humans are nothing more than what you see in a mirror: a complex physical machine whose behaviours can all be traced back to their genetic programming. In other words, humans are nothing more than automatons who are pre-programmed to have certain automatic responses which really have no deeper meaning. Your genes make you anxious. It’s just wiring, nothing more.
Once you accept this premise, then you will focus your treatment efforts on the goal of trying to help people make subtle adjustments to their own wiring. Since medications impact the body, it’s quite popular to incorporate drugs as part of psychiatric treatment plans once you feel that “it’s all in the genes”. Then you’ll throw in a lot of attempts to adjust surface symptoms by teaching clients to “observe” their reactions to things, then try to change those reactions without directly acknowledging the intelligent entity who is behind them. The problem here is that once we decide all human behaviours can be traced back to a physical gene, we are never going to recognize that there are actually multiple entities affecting human behaviour.
If you want to properly treat anxiety, you need to start by identifying the primary source of the anxiety. When you accidentally kick your toe into a door, your body is the primary source of the angst you immediately experience, because it was your body that just got injured. But then there is you. In your case, you’re not dealing with body anxiety. You’re dealing with subconscious and soul anxiety. How can you tell the difference? Look at the wording you use in your question:
I guess I don’t feel safe being human because we’re such a vulnerable race of beings so I hate my own humanness and wish I was something else–something safer to be.
This is your subconscious talking. Notice how it is focused on the issues of safety and vulnerability. Your subconscious’ top priority is to protect you from harm, yet here it is explaining that it feels incapable of doing this and this really bothers it. After quoting your subconscious like this, you then say:
That’s why I’m thinking this problem may have started with neuroticism.
This leap you’re making doesn’t make logical sense. Your subconscious just told you why it feels so anxious: because it feels your basic design is too darn vulnerable. Why do you then shut it down by saying, “Okay, then I guess it’s a gene thing.” What do your physical genes have to do with your subconscious’ feelings about how well it can protect you? Instead of changing the subject like this, you should be asking your subconscious when it first came to the conclusion that it was incapable of protecting you. It will then point to specific real life experiences you had in the past of being assaulted by other people. You already know you have had these experiences so why are you refusing to bring them into the equation here? Talking about your genes is a copout and more than a little insulting to your subconscious’ intelligence. Your physical genes are part of your physical body. Your soul and subconscious don’t have genes, so stop insisting that they have to be super interested in the components of your body’s DNA. One of the main reasons your subconscious is so stressed today is because it doesn’t know how to protect you from other humans randomly coming over and assaulting you. It doesn’t understand why you were assaulted in the first place, but it does feel awful about failing to protect you, and now it’s freaked out about failing yet again in the future. These are very logical fears which don’t have bumpkus to do with your body’s genetic material.
Now let’s hear from your soul, because it has added some of its own thoughts in your question:
Are some of us really genetically predisposed to developing emotional disorders and mental illnesses? I mean, the thought of God–who is supposed to be our only chance for any real peace–taking pleasure in doing stuff this to us is just terrifying!
What’s the real fear that’s being expressed here? It has nothing to do with genes; it has to do with the Character of God. Your soul is saying, “Do we have a sadistic Creator who gets some creepy delight in seeing His own creatures writhe? If God is really some mean Ogre, then obviously there’s no hope for any of us!” Again, let’s appreciate the logic here. Your soul is quite correct in realizing what a critical issue God’s basic Character is. If our own Creator is against us, we are indeed in a truly terrifying position (see Why God is Good (From the Human Perspective)).
Your soul is very intelligent. So is your subconscious. They are expressing very valid concerns here, yet notice how they are each focusing on different aspects of the same general topic of human safety. While your subconscious is focused on the issue of how you can protect yourself in the day to day, your soul is focusing on the issue of what God’s personal motivations were for designing us the way that He did. This is what is so wonderful about these two entities: they each bring their own unique perspectives to the situation. They each view reality through their own special lens, and because they have such different interests and biases, the human experience is greatly enriched by the fact that we each have multiple intelligent entities reacting to our life experiences and forming theories about what it all means. It’s a brilliant design, but you can’t begin to appreciate it until you recognize the existence of a Designer, which of course modern psychology refuses to do. Such a loss.
You’ve asked for my opinion on the definition of neuroticism. The reality is that psychologists use this term in different ways, so there is no single, straightforward definition for the term. But according to the article you read, “Neuroticism is a trait characterized by a tendency to experience frequent and intense negative affect, such as anxiety, sadness, or rage.” What do I think of this definition? I think it’s far too broad to be of any practical use. As a counsellor, I do not lump sadness, anxiety, and rage into the same basket. I feel its very important to try to identify the source element for every individual symptom a client is experiencing. A man’s rage might be coming from his subconscious, while his sadness is coming from his soul, and his anxiety is coming from his body as it responds to all of the internal stress. To correctly diagnose someone, I feel it is critical to understand how each element is reacting to and defining the current crisis. To treat any kind of stress effectively, I believe the stressing elements need to be dealt with individually as well as corporately. Spiritual stresses need to be dealt with using spiritual means, etc. You can’t hope to properly resolve a multi-element issue by only treating one element. While I do believe that psychiatric drugs can be an immense help in certain situations, I also believe that a very common motivation for drugging psychiatric patients is to suppress symptoms instead of dealing with the causes of those symptoms. It’s rather like slashing the tires of a vehicle which has a raging man behind the wheel. Because the man is so upset, he has been crashing his car into things and causing all kinds of havoc. By slashing his tires, we prevent him from being able to drive anywhere–now he’s stuck in one place, endlessly revving his engine. What has this accomplished? Have we “fixed” the man? No, he’s still raging inside the car, only now he’s even more frustrated than he was before because we’ve found a way to block him from trying to vent some of his fury. This is often how it works with psychiatric drugs: once the drugs suppress the negative behaviours, the client is considered “treated” when they haven’t been treated at all, they’ve just been introduced to a new form of suppression. No one has talked to the driver inside the car–no one has really tried to help that guy by really listening to him and respecting his intelligence and believing in his potential to heal.
The more we point to “genetic predisposition” as the cause of issues that have nothing to do with genes, the more useless our treatment methods will become. Take this disturbing comment that was made in your article as part of a multistep plan for treating people who have gene-induced neuroticism:
Understanding and confronting somatic sensations: Getting repeated exposure to uncomfortable bodily sensations (e.g., rapid heart rate, dizziness) to increase tolerance of sensations.
Emotion exposures: Getting repeated exposure to emotional triggers, such as threatening sensations and situations, in order to increase emotional tolerance.
Seriously?? So if I have a woman who is afraid of drowning, I should routinely hold her head under water so she can build “tolerance” for the “uncomfortable bodily sensation” of suffocating? Or if I’m working with a soldier who was traumatised on the battlefield, I should keep hauling him into live war zones so he can get “repeated exposure to emotional triggers”?
It is far too easy to use comments like these to justify the brutal torture of vulnerable human beings, and the field of psychology already has a very dark and bloody history of doing just that. Now is there an appropriate time to nudge your client towards scary terrain? Yes. If I’m trying to help someone with agoraphobia, my goal is to eventually get them to venture outside into a world that terrifies them. But I’m not going to suggest they set even one toe out the door until I’ve taken the time to understand exactly why they are so afraid and which of their elements are specifically pushing for them to hide in the house. I’m also going to spend a lot of time trying to ease some of those root fears before I even consider trying to get them to go outside.
My issue with the above recommendations is that they don’t include any mention of parameters. If a child is terrified about a monster in his closet, you don’t just throw him into the closet and wait for him to “build tolerance.” Such sloppy language should never be used in a serious discussion of mental health issues that is posted online. It isn’t just mental health professionals who read these articles, there are also a bunch of folks like you who are dealing with very upsetting issues and who are vulnerable to being badly misled by such comments. Look how much all of this yammering about genes is already hampering you from hearing what your own mind and soul are clearly telling you about why they are so upset. You should trust what your own elements are telling you over the theories of “experts” who refuse to acknowledge that you even have a soul.
This post was written in response to OneRoughDiamond.