Psychology today is generally accepted as part of modern life, although, many people, when honest, admit they have a fear of psychology. This is the study of how mind and body work together to influence human behavior. Why, then, does psychology as a science scare people when it could be useful making their lives better?
At social gatherings, the usual questions are asked, ones that people use in such events to get better acquainted with each other. You’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about: “What’s your name?”, or “Where do you come from?” “What kind of work do you do?” “Where do you live?” Of course, age, gender, situation and other factors will modify these to include other questions such as, “Do you have children?” “Are you married?” “What good books have you read lately?” and “What about those (fill in your favorite sports team)?”
All of these kinds of question are innocent enough but they have a lot to do with your personal psychology. As people give answers to these questions of who are you, listeners begin to form opinions about the person giving the answer. Then, we begin to put that person into categories that will help us give meaning and understanding about how to relate to this person.
These are survival based processes of interpersonal interaction designed, governed and regulated by each person’s individual psychological configurations. At the same time, we are social animals and how we relate to others of our kind can determine our success in life. What we come to think and feel about others determines the memberships we establish such as tribes, families, neighborhoods and nations. We use psychology to determine who is in and who is out of our spheres of belonging, who to shun and who to connect with.
However, I dread this part of conversations at social gatherings. Sooner or later questions will be focused on me. If I’m honest when asked what do I do (and I know this does not mean any other kind of doing than what I do to make my living, although it’s seldom said that way) I run the risk of being isolated for the rest of the evening.
“Oh, a counseling psychologist, eh? That’s interesting,” and immediately I feel the social distance between me and others beginning to increase. There may be a little chitchat before I get ostracized, but sooner or later I see the eyes roll of most people standing around listening to my answers. Then, they find other people to talk to for the reminder of the gathering. Truth is, especially at a party, anxiety and depression is the last thing I want to discuss.
I think the reason people have a fear of psychology and do not embrace this science of human behavior to use it for their own betterment is because they do not understand what it is and are anxious it may be used to hurt them.
They worry that as a psychologist, I can see all their secrets and vulnerabilities. That’s understandable. Even psychologists are uncomfortable when deep truths about self are revealed without their permission. Rest assured, especially at parties and other social events, I have no need to make people feel exposed or distressed. Only in a professional and confidential setting (such as my office) and with my client’s permission is it right to ask people to discuss their secret worries and private concerns.
In the most simple and practical terms, the definition of psychology is a science or study of the self, yourself, and it leads to insight, knowledge and understanding which you can use to better manage yourself, your relationships with others and your success levels in the world.
Psychology reveals to us our patterns of behavior, thought and emotional functioning. Sometimes these are called habits which we use to live and survive. The more we understand those habits, the better we can determine if they work well for us. If it looks like you would be better off changing some of those habits or patterns and take better care of yourself, psychology can provide the insight and knowledge to make those changes.
The fear part comes in when we assume another person, using psychology, can see past our protective self-defenses, see through our armor and then penetrate our protective personas we use to keep from being hurt, judged and suffering. We worry that another person might understand them better than I do myself and will manipulate or use me for their own gain. Even if that doesn’t happen, if a person using psychology sees me for who I am, some part of me worries that I will be criticized, judged, disapproved of and ultimately rejected. No one wants to be an outsider against their will.
These are not idle threats. Our survival as social creatures depends upon being included in a group that will help to take care of us. Inclusion generally is contingent upon a person conducting themselves in a way that meets the group’s expectations and values. To survive, especially before adulthood, confirmation to group values is critical. If I’m judged to be something other than what I desire to appear to be, I might be judged unacceptable. And who might best to be able to know the truth about me other than the psychologist at a party or some other smart cookie who has learned to use psychology for manipulative reasons and personal gain. No wonder people grow suspicious when they find out about my profession.
Of course, anything in the world, including seemingly good things such as love, acceptance and nurture can be used for hurtful reasons. Psychology is no different. So, here’s the good news. Let me show you how to use this science of self-care to better yourself and bring about good in your life.
The proper use of any science gives us tools for increased awareness about a particular aspect of life and human experience. A science is a disciplined way of studying a topic or subject.
Geology helps us better understand the formation of the earth, its history and how to find its treasures, such as petroleum oil or precious metals.
Medical science increases knowledge and awareness of the body which can be used for healing and healthy living.
Likewise, psychology can illuminate us in areas of self-understanding and increase the ways and means we can use to manage ourselves better. If you go to a psychologist or counselor to help solve a particular problem in your life, you expect to become better aware of how you are living and what needs to change to make things better. Psychology, properly used by your mental health professional, will also give you specific and effective tools you can use to continue living your life better.
The benefits of psychology start by giving you ways to better study and pay attention to who you are, the habits you use to guide your life and tools or skills you can use to not only be aware of options, but guidance on how to pick the best option for any given decision or circumstance you may face.
Don’t run away. Stay awhile. Give me a call (Paul W Anderson, PhD, 843-422-1408) if you like. You might learn some things that will change your life, including why you have a fear of psychology.