Today, we know that using a seatbelt prevents death, washing your hands prevents spreading disease and infection, and wearing a helmet prevents concussions.
If someone you know bragged about never washing their hands, you would look at them with concern.
And, yet, this is precisely what we do with psychology. We boast about never needing therapy (when we do), “being fine” (when we are not), and having “moved on” (when we have not – you cannot “move on” from something you have not faced).
This is not to say everyone needs therapy (they do not) or people are not fine (they are).
It is to say there is a physics to how thoughts and feelings work. And when we are ignorant of that physics we hurt ourselves and others, intentionally or not.
I put together a list of 11 things we know for certain about our minds to help clear up some common misconceptions about psychology to combat the prevalence of psychological ignorance running rampant lately.
The following 11 items are facts, even if your dad does not agree with them:
- Your brain is mostly an unreliable narrator
- There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance
- You are not your thoughts (you are the observer of them)
- Feelings you don’t process, you pass down (and/or they metastasize)
- Crying is a reliable and healthy way to regulate your nervous system
- Avoiding or denying feelings makes them worse
- The family system you grew up in determines a lot of what you believe (rightly or wrongly) about the world and yourself
- You will repeat (unhealthy) patterns you picked up or developed in childhood until you address them
- Feelings are data from your insides telling you what’s up in the same way a burp tells you you drank soda too fast or gas tells you not to eat so much dairy. They’re not good or bad.
- Your body communicates with you (see this and this or anything Peter Levine has published on somatic experiencing and trauma)
- Therapy is not complaining, “just talking,” disclosing personal details to a stranger, over analysis, “fixing” you, catharsis, paying for validation, or blaming your mom
The science has come very far since 1930 and what we are discovering is incredible.
So the next time someone says to you they don’t “need therapy” or that “boys don’t cry” I want you to hear: “Only weak people drink water!” and “I don’t poop. Only people with healthy digestion poop!”
And remember that nothing good comes from denying you’re thirsty and need to poop.
PS: If you’re new(ish) to this conversation, or skeptical, a great place to start is Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain and Predictably Irrational (this one isn’t about clinical psych, it’s behavioral economics but it’s relevant insomuch as it shows you that we aren’t purely rational actors and that’s a key part of understanding how you function – not to mention it’s FASCINATING).
I read Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain in college in a course about neuroplasticity and mindfulness and my brain exploded.
This stuff isn’t psychobabble, it’s science. And it is awesome.