Self-help, self-improvement and Psychology are good things. However, these have taken on an aura as substitutes for spirituality and religion. Many of the ideas and concepts expressed in many self-improvement books are good, but they are only a partial solution to our human and existential problems.
I grew up reading many of self-improvement books, and they did me some good and I know they often do a lot of good. I enjoyed, and still do, reading (and writing) these type of books. The ideas contained in these type books have helped and help many others every day. They may save lives. But the needs of humans are deeper then just some self-improvement book or program; we can begin there, but a more profound approach is necessarily if we are to get at the root of our existential angst, our neurosis and our deep seated crazies.
I often find myself talking to people who are older than I (I still consider my self quite younger then most of them – if anything at heart!). And they from time to time relay some of their troubles, the issues that they wrestle with daily and so on and so forth. Now with all my mental health training, I can put words to all of their issues. I can easily come up with that someone suffers from low self-esteem, I can readily know if they have post-traumatic stress; or if the person is are products of a dysfunctional family. Sometimes I even run into people that strike me as one that is a danger to themselves or others; or see a child that would likely benefit from an enriched environment; another person that exhibits a schizoid personality; others that suffer from delusions of grandeur; or the need of some psychological intervention, or someone who needs to be maintained for mental health observation; and so on and so forth.
As I was saying these designations are worthwhile because these designations help us help the person. At best this is good a place to begin. After all, we need to start somewhere. The problem really is many rely on these ideas, concepts, ideas and labels as the final solution. They are a beginning for most. We often think that because “we label something” we now own it. That is true to an extent. I often wonder what people did before these categories existed? My guess is they lived with what they had.
Now days, we know people can gain insight. “Oh, my life now makes sense to me now” or “Now I know why I act this way”. They have gained “insight” (sorry I could not help myself). It is as if someone turned on the lights for them. Someone is finally home! Undoubtedly what usually follows is that they go to books that they believe will further enlighten them on their condition. They might surf the net to learn more about their condition, join some or even establish self-help group. These are all good things to do because the person wants to feel “empowered” and take on some responsibility for the course of their life.
The only problem is that we may have made self-improvement a passion and perhaps even a religion. They enter a quest to find a cure for their flaws.
But, before psychology came along, there was religion and its offshoot – relationship. I am not saying that we should not use these psychological tools, and any other techniques we might stumble across. What I am saying is that, we need to be mindful that these have limitations. These are not an end all. You probably remember the Sufi story about the blind men and the elephant and how each of them touched a certain part of the elephant. And drawing some conclusions from that, each viewed the elephant – wrongly. The one that touch the leg said that the elephant was a like a tree trunk, the one that touched the tail said to themselves it was like a snake, the one that touched the ears said the elephant was like a very flabby animal and finally the one that touched the elephant’s tusks said he’s smooth and sharp. I think you get my point. When we compartmentalize human beings we are doing something very similar.
You see people are complicate: they have a physical-temporal components, a psychosocial part, a political part, and a spiritual part. There probably are more “ports” in people and then we can discuss here. I want to talk and concentrate on the spiritual port here. I think often we stumble in this arena. What we often are doing is a good attempt at trying help people, but we in advertently only looking at part of the whole equation. I guess if were were to ask an amateur in human behaviors, those who do not have the level of psychological sophistication we might have, they might say that what ails many people we work with, and perhaps themselves, is something that cannot be fully explained by psychology with all its wonderful and intriguing designations. There is an attempt to holistically look at people nowadays including looking at the spiritual dimension. I think this is because we are just beginning to realize that so many “mental health things” preceded psychological understanding. I think this is happening, in part because people have cognitively rebelled against many limited approaches, to who were are and our nature. Sigmund Freud’s (who you must remember from Intro to Psychology) suggestions that we driven by instinct alone and that many of us have some neurosis and thus as consequence are not psychologically healthy. I also think this stems from a reaction to B. F. Skinner’s and Pavlov’s mechanistic theories of behaviorism. I do not want to leave Charles Darwin out of the picture. These theorists have left many ordinary people with a sour flavor their mouths about the nature of human beings. We all believe in our minds and in our hearts of hearts we are far more then programmed automates or mere animals lead by some primoral instinct.
In fact there is some good news for us ‘spiritually-minded person. Some biologist and psychologist have suggested that humans have a G-gene, the God-gene. That is, it is nature for humans to seek God and be spiritual because we are programmed to do so. I think there is ample evidence for this theory. What this essentially suggests is that packed within our genetic codes is the need to search out an ultimate reality, i.e., a higher being. I think we are meant to seek and in some way unite with our Creator. And this was always known before psychology – we knew it all the time!
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.