Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

21st Century Neuroses

Originally posted on June 21, 2009

On this Fathers’ Day I am proud of my son and son-in-law, and their wives, as parents. I find that they don’t impose a broad range of foolish expectations and injunctions that were common two generations earlier (the mid 20th century). I am hopeful that perhaps even a majority of kids will not be afflicted with the same kinds of psychopathology—usually associated with excessively harsh and rigid superegos due to parental and parental-generation introjects—the kinds of neuroses described by many psychodynamically-oriented psychotherapists in the mid-20th century. However, I don’t doubt that my grandchildren will still find life problematic and have a goodly number of issues to work out, whether that be in whatever psychotherapy has morphed into by that time, or as part of lifelong education. There will always be the challenge of unlearning what may have been true in the past and re-programming one’s mind to be optimally adaptive to the present and anticipated future.

My fantasy is that what will need to be unpacked are the thousands of misleading injunctions that come not so much from parents or  teachers or preachers as from peers and the mass media. If I had to name the most prevalent sources of misleading attitudes it would be these latter-named sources. The worst we can blame our parents for is not preparing us adequately to combat the lies that are arising from the television sets, the video games, the songs, the advertisements in magazines, the pressure to “be cool” and to “have an attitude.”  One of those pressures is not that dissimilar to what has always been around—“Don’t be smart”—but the reasons have a slightly different twist.

This also needs to be paired with another common but under-appreciated source of psycho-pathology: Inner temptations. In the idealism of the mid-1950s, the sense was that if others wouldn’t put bad stuff into you—unrealistic and negative expectations, excessive guilt, etc.—then you would grow up free and happy. What was insufficiently appreciated is another, equally problematic source—the inner desire to continue the prerogatives of carefree childhood while at the same time the status of having access to the prerogatives of adulthood.  Kids who are pampered so they’re not overly afflicted by too much guilt may be vulnerable to growing up with too little guilt—and there is such a thing as too little—it’s call sociopathy (in its worse forms), or adult, disguised brattiness.

Interestingly, it is possible to achieve this goal of mixing child and adult to a limited degree: If you can accept some discipline in skill building and then skill-application, if you are willing to do your part in a business-like, matter-of-fact fashion, there will then be ample free time to enjoy yourself immensely and in a wholesome fashion. The child-like can coexist with the mature adult. However, achieving this compromise requires a heightening of skills not only in doing your work, but also cultivating more wholesome play, and to avoid the seductions of slacker-half-work (that ends up making more work for everyone in the long run) and slacker half-play (i.e., party-time drunk and related irresponsibilities).  In other words, as a Zen Buddhist saying puts it, “If you’re going to stand, stand. If you’re going to sit, sit. Stop wobbling!”

Part of the problem is that the culture as a whole rejects being conscious—fully conscious, rather than just conscious enough to avoid running your car into something awful. That’s a whole ‘nother topic. But that prevalent rejection of full consciousness is as problematic in its accumulated impact as any impulsive act of wickedness.  I awoke from a dream this morning with a renewed commitment to try to spread the word about both the values and benefits and enjoyment of raising consciousness and about how to achieve these goals. The world needs it.

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