Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The "uneasy bargain we strike to be social creatures"

Today's Science Times has an interesting piece by Benedict Carey on denial, and no it's not just a river.

For Freud, denial was a defense against external realities that threaten the ego, and many psychologists today would argue that it can be a protective defense in the face of unbearable news, like a cancer diagnosis.

In the modern vernacular, to say someone is "in denial" is to deliver a savage combination punch: one shot to the belly for the cheating or drinking or bad behavior, and another slap to the head for the cowardly self-deception of pretending it's not a problem.

Yet recent studies from fields as diverse as psychology and anthropology suggest that the ability to look the other way, while potentially destructive, is also critically important to forming and nourishing close relationships...And it is these highly evolved abilities, research suggests, that provide the foundation for the most disarming of all human invitations, forgiveness.

Michael McCullough has written what sounds like a fascinating book - The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct, discussed in the article. Much of the research written about in the article looks at the balance between unreal idealization and the necessary social guides of tact and taboo - unhealthy lies or greasing the wheel?


Anonymous said...

There was a fantastic article in the NY Times post 9/11 - maybe a year after?? - about how those who were in the towers and survived were coping. I think I kept a copy of it, Ted - I'll see if I can dig it up for you. Basically - the point of the article was that an entire ARMY of self-help people descended on New York in the wake of the attack, to help people "cope". But it was found that those who "repressed" the memories - those who threw themselves into their work, or their hobbies - or who just moved on - were doing much "better". That reliving horrible memories is not only NOT healthy, but can be harmful. This is so against the natural Oprah/Dr. Phil self-help theme of the day - but if you look at human history, the long long tale of war and death and tragedy ... it seems to me that those who were able to SUPPRESS and keep moving - have a greater chance of survival. But to even say that these days is paramount to blasphemy in certain circles.

Victims of childhood sexual abuse know very well that there are "triggers" that they have to avoid. In order to survive, and keep going, and not have a psychotic break every other second. The whole point is to avoid the triggers. Some would call this "denial" - but is it, really?

I'll see if I can find the big study on repression that I mentioned in the first paragraph of my comment - it was SO interesting.

Ted said...

Anything that challenges the socially entrenched wisdom of psychoanalytic talk-based theories has been tantamount to sacrilege - how do you spell that word? - in some circles. But understanding is growing as to which types of therapy are right for which problems and knowledge of the brain will assist that too, but I think that level of complexity will take a while to reach oprah. There's a reason that format is so complementary - you know TALK therapy, TALK show!?
It would be interesting to see that study.

Anonymous said...

Every time I visit your blog I come away with yet another intriguing non-fiction title. Thank you for reminding me that non-fiction is a splendi and compelling way to learn. This one sounds wonderful.

Ted said...

Verb - Thanks for that complimentary comment! It does sound intriguing, doesn't it?

Dewey said...

I have to read this. I'm fascinated by denial, or rather the ways I can observe people around me using it to function. Sometimes it's infuriating, when you see someone in denial about something that they could so easily move on from. And you know from watching so many others that they WILL eventually move on. But to suggest it at this point would destroy whatever relationship you have with that person. Other times, like Sheila says, you can see what an important self-protective measure it is.