I have come to understand that our thinking is influenced (often in ways that we don’t recognise) by certain “cultures of understanding”. One of these “cultures of understanding” is psychology itself. In my conversations with people about their problems, I have begun to witness how ‘psychology’ seems to have influenced us into thinking that if we just chastise ourselves enough then we will “get better”. As an undergrad student, each time I learned a new pathology, with strange excitement I would point out all the traits I had that approached mental illness. Somehow, pointing out my own pathos to myself became, what I believed to be at the time, a form of self-growth.
Some clients seeking help tend to do the same. They arrive with a barrage of criticisms about themselves in the hope that with enough criticism they will grow. To make things worse, psychology has come up with an entire dictionary of categories and terms to support this process. Terms like anorexic, borderline, bi-polar, histrionic, depressed, narcissistic, and the list goes on… . Such terms and descriptions do not invite qualities like resilience, bravery, ingenuity or resourcefulness. Furthermore, when psychological language like this is used to describe a problem, such descriptions are very “sticky” and do not leave much room for change. However, I must note here that there is a difference between self-criticism and accountability. Therapy, or any other relationship, is very difficult unless there is a preparedness for genuine accountability for how one contributes to a problem. Unfortunately, when accountability comes smeared with guilt, shame and self-depreciation it is of little use to us.