Thoughts on the myth of ‘mental problems’ – how Victorianism made ‘mental problems’ bad and a moral condemnation

I have always felt that having ‘mental problems’ is not a bad thing.  We all have some sort of ‘mental hangup’, some worse than others.   Having a ‘mental problem’ can be a strength in some cases.  In other cases, it goes by unnoticed.  As a result, a ‘problem’ is only a problem if it creates problems for you, the people around you, or your situation.  This means that a ‘problem’ is not a problem in and by itself, really, but in its relation to the greater context of things.  The question is not in having a ‘mental problem’ but how it affects your life.

Over the years I have found that I often admire some people’s ‘mental problems’, hangups, eccentricities, and so forth.  This often gives them great strength, a uniqueness, and individuality that ‘normal’ people never attain.  It also can bring out some rarely seen and uncommon qualities in people.  Oftentimes, these qualities are something positive and beneficial.  In addition, more than once have I said that a persons true self is often revealed in their hangups, eccentricities, and problems.  That’s when you see them as themselves.  This is because most ‘mental problems’ hit to a persons beingness and core.  Because of this, any ‘mental problem’ goes straight to the heart of who they are. 

When I was studying psychology the general stance toward ‘mental problems’ were that they were “bad”.  Over time, I could see that all this was is a form of Christian moralizing in the name of psychologyIn effect, psychological problems became a form of moral condemnation.  As such, they were treated as ‘morally bad’. This could have drastic effects on a person and could, in fact, do more damage than their ‘mental problem’.  Even now, to be diagnosed with a psychological problem could have great impact on a person and how they are perceived by other people.

This tendency to moralizing is not all that unusual as psychology was begun and developed during the Victorian era (1800’s to mid 1900’s).  This was a time of great moralizing.  It is only natural that a lot of those Victorian tendencies would appear in the psychological theories developed during the time.

I’ve often found it interesting that a lot of Victorian moralizing is not moralizing at all.  That is to say, it is less religious than it appears, nor is it based in a religious outlook.  A lot of Victorian moralizing is really nothing but the result of the imitation of the nobility that is such a dominant trait of this era.  In other words, a lot of the moralizing is not really based in religious points of view but the class struggle.  This often made moral condemnation nothing but a statement of “you’re lower class” or “you’re inferior” then having any religious significance.  This attitude, of course, would be carried into psychology and the perception of ‘mental problems’.

Not only this, because of the imitation of nobility stance the Victorians tended to have an attitude that they must ‘follow the current convention’.  This is because imitation of the nobility is nothing but an attitude of ‘aping’ other people, of being a ‘want-to-be’.  As a result of this, if a person did not follow the current convention, or was different in some way (such as a ‘mental problem’), it was often condemned and often quite heavily.  Often, during this era, a person that was ‘different’ was ostracized to no end.  This quality also made the Victorian mentality a mentality of non-toleration.  This tendency to non-toleration was extended to ‘mental problems’ as well.

But what all this did is start a tendency to always look at any ‘mental problem’ in a bad way or in a negative light.  This is because of the whole Victorian attitude.  As a result, it tended to look at people, in general, in a very critical way.  Looking back on it now, it was often too critical.  In many ways, the critical nature of Victorianism created more problems for people than the ‘mental problems’ themselves, and caused great suffering for many people.

We must also remember that psychology was developed to first explain various mental ailments, which means looking at humanity in a critical way, than with the intent of explaining the human person.  Psychology was not created to ‘understand’ the human person but to explain its problems.  This created a tendency in psychology to look at the human person in that critical way, which continues to this day.  I have often felt that, because of this, the general stance of psychology is to avoid the human person as a person.  It creates a condition where a  ‘purely human psychology’ cannot be created.  I still feel, to this day, that it has not been created, though there have been attempts.

With all this the Victorian stance has greatly influenced and determined the direction of psychology and its explaining the human person.  This effect is still seen today.  It has created something of a ‘warpage’ in psychology and the perception of ‘mental problems’.  In some sense, this Victorian attitude can almost be described as a ‘tradition’ in psychology, attitudes that people maintain as part of the ‘psychological field’.   

But, in general, it has left a general attitude that, I don’t think, leave a positive perspective on ‘mental problems’.   For example, because a ‘mental problem’ is ‘bad’ in the Victorian context, it must be ‘done away with’ or, what psychologists call being ‘cured’.  In many cases, there is no cure to people problems.  Instead, a lot of what needs to be done is to give their ‘problem’ meaning and a place in the world.   Victorianism psychology is rooted in going through great lengths to make people ‘normal’ (which is their ‘cure’) but, oddly, this is part of the ‘disease’ of Victorianism.  A lot of the problems and stresses of the Victorian era revolve around just that . . . the striving to be ‘normal’.  And by ‘normal’ we mean to follow the current conventions (in the want-to-be attitude of Victorianism) and ape what everyone else is doing.  And so, Victorianism, by its ‘cure’, actually created the basic problem that defined a lot of this era.   This is because, behind all the fancy nomenclature and terms, it really revolved around the Victorian imitation of nobility and subservience to the ‘current convention’.  In other words, psychology is not really psychology but the class struggle perceived through psychological theory. 

This shows that psychology, in my opinion, needs to move beyond Victorian attitudes.  The more we move away from the Victorian era the more out-of-place these attitudes are.  The problem is that psychology is, really, a Victorian creation.  As such, Victorian attitudes are inherrent in the attitudes and stances of psychology.  This means these attitudes are probably here to stay.  Not only that, the ‘system of psychology’ has already been established.  It has organizations supporting this system who have great power (such as the Amerian Psychological Association) and have created methods of standardizations (such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual).  In addition, there is great support for this ‘system’ in the legal system as well.   This means that in psychology, more than likely, many Victorian attitudes are here to stay . . . and this probably means the stance toward ‘mental problems’.

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