Review of Saints, Sinners and Psychiatry by C. Anderson

When, in the 1960s, my best friend Arthur turned his attention from philosophy to psychology, the most useful book he discovered was Beyond Freud by Camilla Anderson.  I prefer the shorter work under review here.  It is aimed at a wide audience, while Beyond Freud was aimed at Freudians — perhaps the majority of those in psychotherapy at the time, but an endangered species today.  Both books are long out of print but turn up regularly at online used book stores, though you might have to be patient.

Anderson’s theory of neurosis is pretty simple and down to earth, though it does indeed take a book to communicate all the implications.  She holds that humans live through a long period of dependency following their birth.  During that time they need support in setting and achieving their own goals.  Unfortunately, most parents would prefer the child fulfill goals of the parent.  This creates a conflict between the child’s desire to assert its own goals and its dependence on the parents for support.  A common outcome is that the child practices, and eventually automates, behaviors that please the parents, at the price of self-alienation.

Usually that coping strategy gets children to adulthood, but they arrive with a set of automated responses geared to their parents rather than the adult world.  Due to the mismatch, strategies that worked in childhood may fail to work, or even backfire.  By now, though, they have become so automatic that their failure to work is seen as a defect in reality rather than a defect in the strategy.  As an example, throwing a temper tantrum might be very effective with some parents, but less so with an employer or spouse.

Arthur did not say much about this underlying theory but he said a lot about its implications for adult behavior.  One might analyze a puzzling act by asking, “What would this person have to believe in order to think this strategy would work?”  Here is just one example from Anderson.  Think of the different behaviors that might ensue as regards honesty for people who believe that being honest will result in

 

  • being trusted
  • being taken advantage of
  • eliciting honesty from others.

 

But these are not conscious strategies, rather beliefs from childhood, beliefs we feel entitled to have reality confirm.

Arthur’s interest in psychology grew out of the aftermath of an early Objectivist denunciation.  Browsing through Saints and Sinners today I am struck by how much it has to say about Rand’s later denunciation of Branden, and the circus that followed.

 

Perhaps the commonest of all methods of dealing with anxiety is with a display of rage.

The usual and most natural approach whenever there is a conflict is to try to force the other person to make such changes as will enable us to continue to operate in our accustomed manner, but this method has never been known to foster self-understanding.

The things we have doubt about are the things we defend most vehemently.
Commonly the individual has his eyes so perpetually on … the result of his behavior, which means on how he is being treated, that he is blind to his own patterns of behavior which have produced these reactions from other people.

No one objects to standards, but commonly, instead of their being guiding principles they are vicious masters which permit no use of intelligence, no appraisal of the situation, and are ready to inflict untold cruelty on those individuals the person claims to love and cherish most.

The following line brings back memories of a passage in The Fountainhead

They have never formed any appreciable “I”.

and this one of Roark and Wynand.

One person achieves because he has an image of himself as one who is competent and capacious.  Another achieves in order to deny his self-image of littleness. The end product may look exactly alike, but the dynamics are different, and the feelings of the individuals involved are most distinctly at variance with one another.

 
Anyone who loves or thinks he ought to love his neighbor more than himself is certainly quite seriously mixed up.

 
People never feel virtuous about doing things that make sense to them.  One never feels virtuous about resting when he is tired, or dressing warmly in cold weather.

 

Anderson’s placing the roots of neurosis in child rearing makes the work of Roslyn Ross, described earlier on this blog, even more important.

 

The pattern which is commonly followed in rearing children is to make hard and fast connections in their conceptual thinking between certain behaviors and certain consequences.  This is good and will be rewarded; That is bad and will be punished.  It is no wonder we have such a vast number of entitlements…

 
Children are not moral judges as adults are, and many a parent who has little in the way of commonly accepted assets other than that he spends time being interested in his child, ranks as tops with the child.

 
Movement toward the goal of freedom from anxiety or toward peace of mind depends on the contributions of every single individual, but chiefly on the efforts of all those people who deal with children under the age of ten or twelve.

 

It is not an activity or movement which depends on some leader to start, or some philanthropic person to make a grant for research, or on the government to subsidize or sponsor. In the final analysis, movement toward better mental health depends on us as individual people and parents.

 
There is no sound, realistic, or healthy piece of behavior on the part of any person that will not have its positive and lasting repercussions.  Just as the “sins” of a parent are visited on the children, so are the healthy attitudes transmitted or passed on from generation to generation.

Posted Thursday, December 25th, 2014 under Uncategorized.

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