|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.88(w) x 10.92(h) x 0.93(d)|
About the Author
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Our inherited survival responses;
coping with other people by fight, flight, or verbal assertiveness”
Almost twenty years ago, in college just after being discharged from the army, I met an honest, gutsy man. Joe was a young professor then and I was one of his students. He taught psychology when I met him, and still does. He taught it in a tough, opinionated, open style. He left his students none of their naïve notions about the discipline of psychology. He refused to give the expected explanations for morbidly interesting aberrations or even for mundane normalities of the human mind, behavior, or motivating spirit. In place of complicated theories on why we behave in a certain way, he stressed simplicity. For him, it was enough to describe how things worked psychologically, and that they did work, using simple assumptions, urging us to let it go at that. He held the firm, scholarly belief that 95 per cent of what is pandered as scientific psychological theory is sheer garbage and that it will be a long time before we really know our basic mechanics well enough to explain completely most of what we see.
The merit of Joe’s argument is as compelling now as it was twenty years ago … and I agree with it! Long-winded technical or mystical explanations are often intriguing and even literary, but not only are they unnecessary, they actually complicate without adding a jot to our understanding. To use what psychology does have to offer, it is more important to know what will work, not why it will work. For example, in treating patients, I find that it is typically useless to concentrate a lot on why a patient is in trouble; that tends to be academic masturbation and can go on for years with no beneficial results. It may even be harmful. It is much more beneficial to concentrate on what the patient is going to do about his behavior rather than to understand why he behaves as he does!
Joe even took away any notion we had about psychologists being the new, all-knowing high priests of human behavior by grumbling in class, “I hate students who ask questions I can’t answer!” As you might guess, Joe’s character out of the classroom wasn’t too much different, and in spite of being an expert in human behavior, he had his share of problems with other people. Joe had enough problems besides those I caused him to grouse at me with gusto each semester after assigning grades: “These students always complain about having too many personal problems to study. They can’t cope with problems? If you haven’t had problems, you haven’t lived yet!”
As I came to know Joe over the years as a close friend and a fellow expert on human behavior, it turned out that he had the same problems with other people that I did, and in about the same proportion. As I gradually got to know more and more experts on human behavior in psychology and psychiatry, I found that they too had problems in coping. The title of “Doctor” and the knowledge that went with it did not exempt us from experiencing the same problems we saw in our relatives, neighbors, friends, and even in our patients, no matter what their occupation or education. Like Joe, like other psychologists and nonpsychologists, we all have problems with other people.
When our husbands, wives, lovers are unhappy about something, they have the ability to make us feel guilty without even talking about it. A certain look does it, or a door closing a bit too loud announcing an hour of silence, or a frosty request to change the television station. Joe once complained to me, “I’ll be damned if I know how they can do it, or why I respond that way, but somehow I finish up feeling guilty, even when there’s nothing to feel guilty about!”
Problems are not limited to those provided by our mates. If parents and in-laws want something, they have the power to make their grown sons and daughters feel like anxious little children, even after they have children of their own. You and I know too well what the gut response is to a mother’s silence over the phone; or an in-law’s disapproving look; or a prompt from Mom or Dad like, “You must be very busy lately. We never see you any more,” or “There’s a nice apartment for rent in our neighborhood. Why don’t you come over tomorrow night and we’ll all look at it.”
As if having to cope with those stomach-knotting conflicts was not enough to make us wonder about ourselves, we also have problems with people outside our families. For example, if the auto mechanic does a poor repair job on your car, the garage manager has the knowledge to explain in great detail why your radiator still overheats after you paid $56 to have it fixed. In spite of his ability to make you feel ignorant about your car and rotten for somehow not taking better care of it, there is still the nagging uneasiness that an honest day’s work for a day’s pay does not apply here. Even our friends cause problems. If a friend suggests something to do for an evening’s entertainment that doesn’t appeal to you, the almost automatic response is to make up an excuse, you have to lie so your friend doesn’t get his feelings hurt, at the same time feeling like a guilty sneak for doing so!
No matter what you or I do, other people can cause problem after problem. Many of us have the unrealistic belief that having to live with problems day after day is an unhealthy or unnatural lifestyle. Not so! Life presents us all with problems. It is entirely natural. But very often, as a result of the unrealistic belief that a healthy person has no problems, you may feel the lifestyle we are all caught up in is not worth living. Most of the people I get to know well from therapy sessions develop this negative belief. But it is not the result of having problems, it is the result of feeling inadequate to cope with our problems and the people who present them.
In spite of similar feelings in myself when I cope poorly, the sum of all my experience as a psychologist rebels at the idea that human beings are some genetically obsolete species designed for an earlier age when things were simpler. Rubbish! I do not accept that we are losers who cannot happily live our everyday lives and cope adequately in this industrialized, urbanized, sanitized space age. Instead, I have a different, more hopeful outlook from my own experience; from my professional reading; from what I was taught and my own teachings; from my research in the laboratory and in the clinic; from training people to cope with life’s problems; from going out into the community and having to hospitalize hundreds of people against their will simply because they did not know how to cope with other people; and from clinically treating the mildest to the most bizarre and dangerous psychiatric disorders. Placing all these experiences in perspective with a naturalistic observation of the thousands of other humans encountered in my lifetime prompts a sounder and more realistic conclusion: not only is it natural to expect that we will have problems in living, it is also natural to expect that we all have the ability to cope adequately with these problems.
If we did not have an inherited ability to cope with all sorts of problems, human beings as a species would have died out long ago. Contrary to what some doomsday prophets tell us, we humans are the most successful, most adaptive, smartest, and toughest biological organisms ever to come off nature’s evolutional drawing board. If we can believe the evidence and general conclusions that anthropologists, zoologists, and other scientists place before us, we can see that eons ago, a long evolutional struggle took place on this earth. In this struggle, the genetic family of our human and animal ancestors competed with other species for survival under the harsh terms laid down by the ecological forces of nature. Not only did our ancestors survive under these competitive conditions, they flourished. We have survived and prevailed while other species have died out or are facing extinction because we are physiologically and psychologically built for survival under all conditions. Our primitive ancestors survived, not in spite of problems, but because of them. We have developed as humans from a series of animals who evolved the ability to cope successfully with problems in harsh times and a harsh environment. With this ability, not only have we conquered our earth, our environment and found no other life form that could compare with us in terms of our grand capacity for coping with difficulties, we are beginning a process of preserving our earth and the other species on it for the survival of future generations.