Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Pristine psyches

It's easy to assume that if someone's doing all right materially - nice house, big car, exotic holidays and all the rest - then they must be doing all right psychologically as well. I mean, would they have got all that if they were mentally screwed-up? They must be well-adjusted, emotionally secure, productive individuals.

Despite all the well-known examples of people who had a glittering lifestyle but were in inner turmoil - like Marilyn Monroe, Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain - we still imagine material success goes hand in hand with personal serenity. It's hard to picture these apparently privileged souls secretly struggling with feelings of anxiety, worthlessness, despair, grief or addiction.

We all know friends or relatives who wrestle with inner demons of one kind or another. We know those seemingly capable, confident people may be very different in private, when they put aside their well-rehearsed public persona and reveal what's underneath. Yet we still believe that worldly success is some sort of magic psychic cure-all.

Even if we know Ms Doing-Very-Nicely has the odd phobia or panic attack, we just see it as a curious quirk in a basically problem-free person. We don't want to think of her as a hopeless psychological wreck, barely staggering from one day to the next. We want her to be a role model, someone we can look up to, someone inspiring.

We like to believe there are people out there with pristine psyches, perfectly attuned to life, free of all the mundane mental hang-ups. Which is why all these charismatic gurus and preachers are so popular. But nobody is that angelic. Even these supposedly saintly figures are regularly unmasked as fallible mortals, prone to groping young women or defrauding their devotees.

Show me a hang-up free person, and I'll show you a corpse.

What are my inner demons, I hear you ask? Oh, surely you know by now. Anxiety, self-doubt, insecurity, fear of the dark. Need I go on?

25 comments:

John Gray said...

we all have our scars
its just some of us deal with them with vaying degrees of success

years ago i had a bout of psychotherepy, not only did I reconcile myself to my mother's alcoholism.... i gained the strength to leave an abusive relationship....

nursemyra said...

Scratch the surface and you'll always find something. some are just better at hiding it.

Grannymar said...

Is there such a thing as a pristine psyche? We all have warts or blemishes to our characters, that is what makes us human.

e said...

Have you seen all the self-help/therapy tomes that exist in bookstores? We've got the most un-pristine psyches anywhere on the planet...another product of unfettered consumerism?

Scarlet Blue said...

My psyche has a fear of [ amongst many others] self service cafeterias.
Sx

Nick said...

John - Sounds as if your spell of psychotherapy had very positive results. Good that you found the courage to leave an abusive relationship.

Myra - Indeed, some are better at hiding what's inside than others. Some people are very good at presenting a totally false exterior.

Nick said...

Grannymar - True enough, we all have warts and blemishes, however perfect we may appear at a casual glance.

e - There's an awful lot of people desperate to sort themselves out. But usually our flaws can't be erased, we have to somehow come to terms with them.

Nick said...

Scarlet - Self service caf├ęs, huh? I'm only afraid of them if the food looks like it's two weeks old.

Wisewebwoman said...

I think the addition of so much "stuff" adds to unhappiness and the subtraction and simplification is the path to true happiness (i.e. acceptance of self, flaws 'n all).
XO
WWW
Pristine? No one I ever met, though some were pretty close having slayed their inner demons.

secret agent woman said...

Well, there is me - pristine psyche, perfectly attuned to life, free of all the mundane mental hang-ups.

Bwahahahahaha (insert more maniacal laughter here)

I can vouch for the fact that material success doesn't ward off emotional turmoil because I've seen it in too many patients. And certainly trauma is no respecter of wealth or social standing. There is a bit of a protective effect if you can more easily afford to get help, and certainly it helps if you are not struggling to put food on the table or a roof over your head. But otherwise, we all have our issues.

Nick said...

www - I don't think having too much stuff or having very little makes a lot of difference. Hang-ups come and go regardless.

Secret Agent - Yes, that's probably the only significant factor, if you're wealthy you can afford as much psychotherapy as you want. If you're poor, you just have to muddle through.

Nick said...

I'll be in England for a couple of days, visiting my mum and my sister. I'll respond to new comments when I get back....

Jenny Woolf said...

I agree. Sometimes though I think we are too busy coping with our own lives to really spare a thought for those who appear to have so much. It must help to be wealthy but fame is another matter,it's something I've always hoped very much to avoid.

John Myste said...

If anyone is sane it is just because you don't know them well enough.

Macy said...

Nick, I'm not being flip at all, but I really don't think I have anything to worry aobut psyche wise.

I get sad, and have been known to have crying jabs - but these are just reactions to stuff. Not a sign of a psyche in trouble or anything.
I'm in better shape psyche wise than I ever was. Mind you, no money....

Rummuser said...

I can assure you that I am not a corpse. I battle my inner demons on a day to day basis and by now, you would have come to know what they are too. I have all the material comforts that I could possibly want, but the inner demons will not leave me alone. I find forgiving and forgetting extremely difficult and being caught in a death dance, I do the best that I can do under the circumstances. In other words, grin and bear it and do the best with the other good things in my life. My weekly gratitude list is one of the tools that I use to count my blessings.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I think the glittering lifestyle you mention often contributes to psychological problems for many reasons, not the least of which is that there is very little privacy in which to let down ones mask. It takes a toll. Plus there is the constant expectation of more success, both from others and from oneself as well, which creates a lot of pressure. While I would like to have more material abundance, I would never choose to sacrifice my privacy and autonomy for it.

Have a lovely visit with your family.

Nick said...

Jenny - Wealth is handy for tapping into psychotherapy, but I guess it creates psychological problems of its own, like wondering if people are genuinely interested in you or if they're only after your money.

John - I think that's true. The more you learn about someone, the more weirdnesses you uncover.

Nick said...

Macy - I'm glad to hear your psyche is in such splendid shape. How do you manage that? You must have had a very healthy and positive upbringing.

Ramana - Forgiving and forgetting I find surprisingly easy, but as you know I have plenty of other psychic flaws.

Heart - Very true about lifestyles that allow very little privacy and autonomy and involve inflated expectations from the public. If you can cope with all that and stay sane, that's quite an achievement.

Liz said...

It's so easy to believe that others have perfect lives when really we should know better by now. Especially bad when we compare ourselves to others.

When I go to Zacs I probably look like the only normal well-adjusted person there - ha ha ha ha.

Nick said...

Liz - It's easy to believe glossy accounts of other people's lives and forget the less glossy aspects they're carefully concealing.

Baino said...

You're right, we all have those demons on our backs. Wealth and outward appearance have little to do with it really. You and I share the same hangups appaently

Nick said...

Baino - We share the same hang-ups, huh? That must make your life difficult at times!

blackwatertown said...

Lots of self-analysis going on here - so I'll join in. i think my approach is that I acknowledge and try to accept whatever my hang-ups are - if I can't sort them out - and then having accepted them, get on with things. Why should the bad stuff have dominion over the good stuff? Doesn't always work - but fairly successful.

As for the material goods = happiness - or not... Reminds me of a wealthy, over-tanned, super-thin fashionable woman of my acquaintance. I wasn't one of her in-crowd, but having recently met her I felt obliged to go over and say hello when I saw her standing alone in the park after school. She was on her mobile, so I didn't speak immediately. To my surprise she instantly closed her phone and began a conversation - explaining that she'd been pretending to be on the phone because she had no one to talk to. Now that's sad - in the old-fashioned sense of the word.

Nick said...

Blackwater - Pretending to talk to a friend on your mobile, that's very sad. I think an awful lot of people feel alone and isolated, even if they appear to have masses of friends.