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Your Uninformed and Incorrect Opinions About Psychology

[Content note: PTSD, online harassment & bullying]

This is going to be a little different from most of my posts because I’m angry about a number of things, most of which boil down in one way or another to this: I am tired of people with no experience or education (whether through formal schooling or one’s own research) presuming to condescendingly (and, at times, abusively and violently) talk down to those who do have that experience and education. I am tired of being presumed incompetent by default unless I laboriously prove my qualifications, knowledge, and skills, while older men get to prattle on about fields they have no apparent experience with without ever needing to qualify their unasked-for lectures with proof of their competence. That’s all for that.

Now. Apparently a bunch of Skeptics™ don’t know what posttraumatic stress disorder is, but insist on lecturing those diagnosed with it (or those who have studied it) without ever bothering to educate themselves about the disorder, its symptoms, and its etiology. Because nothing says skepticism quite like blathering on about what you have no evidence for!

This is nothing new, of course. Some other entirely unsupported claims related to psychology that I have heard from Skeptics™:

  • Religious belief qualifies as a delusion.
  • Having a delusion qualifies as a mental illness.
  • Religion is a mental illness.
  • Cognitive dissonance is a mental illness.
  • You can instantly stop yourself from feeling upset or angry about something “irrational.”
  • It is “irrational” to feel pride about one’s minority identity because you didn’t “do anything” to have that identity.
  • Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
  • It is “irrational” to fear strange men coming at you in the dark because most men are not violent.
  • It is “irrational” not to want to get the police involved after a sexual assault for fear of retraumatization.
  • If you feel traumatized by online harassment, then you are “weak.”
  • And, apparently, only war and similar experiences can cause PTSD.

Look, I could present you with shelves full of books and articles that refute all of these points. I could. Or, you could actually consider doing some research before you opine on subjects you’ve never studied and issues you’ve never personally faced. You could.

I understand that psychology is a unique discipline in a few ways. Unlike with other sciences, everyone has experience forming hypotheses about psychology, observing psychological phenomena, and analyzing those phenomena. We all do it every day whenever we try to figure out if someone is lying, whether or not a crush likes us back, how to help a friend who’s feeling really sad, how to appeal to an interviewer, what caused our parents to act the way they do, and so on.

There’s nothing really like that with, say, physics. The most interaction most people have with physics on a daily basis is just understanding that you probably shouldn’t leap off a building to try to fly. The most interaction most people have with chemistry on a daily basis is bemoaning the fact that some item that got left outside in the rain has gone all rusty. The most interaction we have with biology on a daily basis is remembering that our bodies need food in order to continue functioning, and that’s mostly automatic anyway thanks to our sense of hunger. The most interaction we have with computer science on a daily basis is maybe formatting an HTML tag on Tumblr.

There’s no reason for people to assume they are qualified to lecture others on physics, chemistry, biology, or computer science. There are many reasons for people to assume they are qualified to lecture others on psychology.

And to a certain extent, our individual experiences with human psychology are valid and real in a way that our opinions on other scientific topics might not be. We rightfully mock Jenny McCarthy for claiming that vaccines cause autism and creationists who claim that the earth is 5,000 years old because that is demonstrably false. But when someone writes one of those useless books on How To Get All The Women To Have Sex With You, we think, Well hmm, if it worked for him… When someone says that antidepressants are unnecessary because doing yoga made their depression better, well, maybe yoga really did make their depression better.

Think of the platitudes that are often proclaimed regarding human psychology. “Opposites attract.” “Relationships are ultimately about a struggle for power.” (Note: do not date anyone who says this.) “You can’t truly be happy unless you have children.” “Homophobes are just secretly gay and acting homophobic so that nobody guesses.” (Fuck that Freudian bullshit.) All of these statements have a little bit of evidence supporting them but a lot of easily-findable counterexamples, and yet people repeat them because they feel true to their experience and their understanding of the world. These opinions come from real experiences that really happened and can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. But that doesn’t mean that they are supported by research.

So, onto our Skeptics who think themselves qualified to determine who has PTSD and who doesn’t based on their own random little criteria. First of all, if someone has the symptoms of PTSD, then they have the symptoms of PTSD. You can’t Logic! and Reason! your way out of this.

But second, to anyone who claims that only things like combat, assault, or natural disasters can cause PTSD, maybe you should see what actual researchers in psychology have to say about that. Namely:

Research on online bullying and harassment is, unfortunately, still sparse. But given the dismaying way in which interactions online can incite the same strong emotions that interactions in person can, I fully expect this area of research to fill up quickly. We’ve already seen in several high-profile cases that technology-based bullying and harassment can provoke someone all the way to suicide. That they might also experience PTSD is not a huge logical leap at all.

As far as the official diagnostic criteria for PTSD go, here we have a further gap. There are several sections and subsections of the criteria, which I will attempt to summarize:

  1. Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual assault. This can be your own or someone else’s, and it can include exposure to traumatic details (like you might experience as a police officer or doctor).
  2. At least one “intrusion symptom,” which includes symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive memories, and strong unpleasant physiological reactions to stimuli that remind you of the event.
  3. Persistent avoidance of things that remind you of the event. This can mean trying to avoid memories, people who were there, and so on.
  4. Negative effects on mood and cognition, such as forgetting important parts of the event, distorted and negative thinking (such as blaming yourself for what happened), persistent negative moods like sadness or anger, and feeling detached from other people.
  5. Negative changes in arousal and reactivity, such as recklessness, angry outbursts, trouble concentrating, insomnia, and so on.
  6. The usual DSM-type caveats: it has to be longer than a month (these time frames vary for different mental illnesses, by the way); it has to cause “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”; and it cannot be attributable to the effects of a substance like alcohol or medication, or to another medical condition.

So. You can see that where we run into trouble is with that first criterion, which attempts to define the types of events that may cause PTSD. This is unusual. Diagnostic criteria for other mental illnesses rarely include etiology as part of the diagnosis, because it’s understood that various types of life stressors, environmental factors, and genetic/biological predispositions can combine to cause problems like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, ADHD, and even schizophrenia.

Notably, the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, which is the diagnostic manual used by the World Health Organization, does not attempt to stipulate which types of trauma cause PTSD. It just states that the first criterion is “exposure to a stressful event or situation (either short or long lasting) of exceptionally threatening or catastrophic nature, which is likely to cause pervasive distress in almost anyone.”

I can easily see bullying and harassment falling under that category, as the only people I have ever seen claim that bullying and harassment are not traumatic are people who have not personally experienced it.

The key is this: it’s called posttraumatic. Stress. Disorder. If trauma has occurred, and is now causing all of these symptoms, then it makes sense to refer to the illness as PTSD. I’ve written before that I think it’s harmful to refer to clearly non-clinical problems with mental illness terms, because that really does dilute the meaning of words like “depression” and “OCD.” However, if your psychological experience literally looks like the psychological experience of someone who served in combat and now has the same symptoms as you, I’m absolutely comfortable with calling that PTSD whether or not the DSM strictly agrees or not. Then it’s less appropriation and more self-diagnosis, which is often the only option for some people. The DSM is constantly evolving, and I predict that as more and more research is published that examines PTSD symptoms in victims of sexual harassment, bullying, and online abuse of various kinds, the DSM criteria will accommodate this evidence. Which, as I said, is already appearing, just not in huge numbers yet.

Now. I want to validate the discomfort or anger people may feel when they see that a diagnosis they have because of a horrifically violent experience, like military combat, is suddenly being used by people who receive abusive tweets online. It’s okay to be upset because you feel like your experiences are being minimized. However, it’s also important to try to look at it skeptically. Your military-caused PTSD is no less difficult and painful and legitimate just because someone who got bullied in school also has the same diagnosis, just like the fact that someone as privileged as I am still has depression does not minimize the fact that some people have depression because they grew up abused and in poverty. This is not a zero-sum game. It is not any type of game. There is not a limited number of diagnoses that can be meted out, such that if too many victims of online harassment get diagnosed with PTSD, some of your fellow vets will get a shrug and a “Sorry man, we’re all out.”

And those of us who care for and about people with mental illnesses do not have a limited and quantifiable amount of empathy to give out. I feel empathy for my clients who lost their entire families to the Holocaust, and I feel empathy for my clients who are upset because their children live far away and never visit. I feel empathy for my friends who are worried about getting a job after graduation, and I feel empathy for my friends who are worried about making it out of an abusive relationship. I don’t need to try to rank their problems from least to most severe. That is not what mental healthcare is about.

But now I’m angry again, because you don’t get to tell people what mental illness(es) they do and do not have. You especially (and yes, I’m back to all you Skeptics™ now) don’t get to speak authoritatively on topics you have no authority to speak on. I don’t subscribe to the elitist notion that a PhD is the only way to make your opinions matter, but I do subscribe to the notion that you should learn about the things you want to talk about before you talk about them.

Psychology may be something we all have experiences with and opinions about, but it is still a science. It’s a science with thousands of research journals and departments. It’s a science with good methods and not-so-good methods. You have libraries and Google Scholar available to you. If you’re confused about something, you can avail yourself of the opinions of people who study, research, and practice psychology.

I’m tired of hearing complete and utter bullshit from Skeptics™ about psychology, spoken without even a hint of caution, with nary a “I think that” or “Isn’t it the case that” or “I might be wrong, but.” Instead I hear, “Cognitive dissonance is a mental illness.” I hear “You can’t possibly have PTSD from that.”

Stop that.

Yes, I’m talking to you, dude who memorized a list of cognitive biases and thinks that counts as knowledge of psychology. And yes, you too, dude who memorized a list of logical fallacies and thinks that counts as an understanding of good argumentation. And you as well, dude who read some crap blog post about Top Ten Ways Religion Is Like A Mental Illness and thinks that counts as a clinical license to diagnose people.

Your opinion does not deserve respect if you haven’t bothered to do even the most basic research to support it. Take a fucking seat. Preferably in a Psych 101 lecture.

~~~

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Comments

  1. says

    Cosigned, as another person with a degree in psychology.

    Additionally, if someone tells you that they have been professionally diagnosed with PTSD after being harassed, you do not get to harass them for some proof of that diagnosis. Not only is it invasive, you don’t have the training know what to do with that proof anyway.

    • says

      YUP.

      By the way, please submit a color photocopy of your diploma by midnight EST or else this comment will be deleted due to insufficient proof of your credentials. I mean, how can I REALLY know you have a degree.

    • says

      This is a worse version of the ignoramuses who try to argue against my daughter’s ADHD. As I’ve said before, before you proclaim yourself an expert in Psychology, become more familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  2. Kele Lampe says

    Hey, Miri. Just jumping in here to say it’s not just Skeptics(tm). My therapist (PhD &licensed) diagnosed me with PTSD from sustained horrific emotional abuse and neglect. She gave the diagnosis after knowing me more than a year. Yet many psychiatric professionals (including the ones determining my qualifications for disability) insist that PTSD does not occur from sustained trauma over time, but only as the result of a single horrific event. It seems strange to me that this should be such a bone of contention. But, as I’m sure you know, people have weird issues with the mere existence of mental illness, never mind the specifics.

  3. says

    In fairness, psychology’s easy to pontificate about because of its tremendous history of pontification and pseudoscience, coupled with its over-reliance on observation and categorization in lieu of empiricism. Having a background in psychology makes it look worse instead of better – when I was an undergrad every psych book loudly announced psychology to be a science, in spite of its general lack of predictive power. Yes, if someone is going to pontificate about psychology it helps for them to have a firm grasp of its neologisms and concepts but often they literally amount to word-games: that major disorders can appear and vanish in the various DSM versions is a sign that psychologists actually don’t know what disorders are. Psychology will be gutter by neuroscience eventually, as some disorders are finally put on a cause/effect basis. In the meantime, We shouldn’t be surprised when people talk bullshit about bullshit. For crying out loud, psychology has only relatively recently rejected fanciful, unfounded, freudian and jungian theories. Hell, they’re not even theories!

    Per your mention of diagnostic criteria for PTSD – that amounts to a laundry list of observables, not an actual understanding of a mechanism of a disorder. Yes, there is some underlying cause, but without understanding the cause psychology can’t even say if PTSD is one disorder or several that are usually comorbid. That isn’t science except in the wishful sense of putting up a placeholder called “gravity” and waiting for an explanatory theory to fill in the blanks. Psychology probably will never get anywhere with it, until neuroscience fills in the empirical basis for the diagnosis (in which case, psychology is just going to be a naming system on top of actual science)

    (I have a BA in psychology, 1985, Johns Hopkins University. I keep abreast of the field but work in another non-science that tries to claim scientific cred, namely computing)

    • says

      I really do have to resent your calling psychology “bullshit.” While there is pseudoscience in psychology, that doesn’t mean that psychology itself is bullshit. There’s plenty of rigorous studies out there on topics like misattribution of arousal, effectiveness of CBT, and so on. The fact that people come up with bullshit and pseudoscientific weight loss plans doesn’t mean that the entire idea of good nutrition is “bullshit,” for instance.

      As far as neuroscientific explanations of PTSD go, those seem to exist already. While “posttraumatic stress disorder” is a construct, things like “excessive physiological arousal in response to memories of a particular event” is something that can be measured. So if someone is experiencing symptoms that indicate, for instance, excessive physiological arousal in response to memories of a particular event, and we have chosen as a discipline to refer to this as “posttraumatic stress disorder,” it is inappropriate to insist that they do not have PTSD, because that means insisting that they are not experiencing the symptoms that they are experiencing.

      • Steersman says

        Despite the fact that I’ve been banned, I am desperate to continue commenting on this blog. Please, Miri, let me comment! I have nothing better to do with my time than attempt (and fail) to insult you, accuse you of saying things you haven’t said just because someone on FtB may or may not at some point have said them (it’s a favorite tactic of us slymepitters), continue insinuating that a person who says they have PTSD doesn’t actually have it, give you unsolicited and worthless writing advice, and basically leave a big stinking dump in your comments section that you now need to clean up. I am certain that this is somehow worth your time, and that you must engage with me even though you have no desire to.*

        *Comment edited slightly for clarity.

    • Jp of the Fluently Terrible says

      Having done some work in plant community ecology, I would note there’s a lot of apparent similarities between that field and psychology, and it’s not by coincidence that community ecologists use many of the same multivariate methods as psychologists (thanks for the NMDS, Kruskal). Based on your statement, one might even make an analogy between psychological disorders and plant communities – things that apparently exist, but are hard to define, fluent in time and space, and driven largely by stochastic variables that are impossible (or at least extraordinarily impractical) to predict. So in some sense, I understand where you’re coming from.

      However, I disagree with the logic behind your idea that neuroscience will gutter psychology by replacing the interpretation of general correlations with specific cause/effect mechanisms. The problem with obtaining simple cause/effect mechanisms and then applying those results to complex systems (whether it be the human psyche or an ecological community) is that one typically has to engage in extreme reductionism to obtain such reliably predictive results (basically, the realm of basic physics and chemistry), which makes them of limited utility when applied to questions of original system.

      Note that I’m not in anyway arguing against reductionist experiments – such things are part and parcel for any science. What I’m arguing, specifically, is that some fields of inquiry can be thought of as distinct in their responsibility to integrate results by testing broader models of complex interactions and determining how reliable they are. Dismissing these efforts as ‘not science’ because their results contain greater uncertainty is as sensible as dismissing the most-certainly-scientific information with which they work.

      • says

        The problem with obtaining simple cause/effect mechanisms and then applying those results to complex systems (whether it be the human psyche or an ecological community) is that one typically has to engage in extreme reductionism to obtain such reliably predictive results

        Here’s an example of this from psychiatry and clinical psychology. Studies on the treatment of mental illness usually only use “clean” patients: that is, patients who very clearly meet the criteria for one particular mental disorder but do not meet the criteria for any other mental disorder or medical condition. In fact, this is unusual. Mental illnesses can cause or exacerbate other mental illnesses, medical conditions can cause mental illnesses that need to be treated independently of the original medical condition, substance abuse is just a whole other can of worms, and so on. So the results of these studies may be generalizable to the population being studied, but the population being studied (i.e. people who have generalized anxiety disorder and nothing else) may not be large enough for the treatment to be very useful.

        • Jp, who went to R'lyeh and all he brought back was this lousy t-shirt says

          Your example illustrates exactly what I was getting at. The one I usually give people goes something like this:

          Imagine a series of small, vegetation free plots in which all environmental factors are held constant; same soil texture, same pH, same precipitation, same microbial community, same everything. You place a variable number of seeds from 2 species in each plot. The goal is to determine how propagule pressure determines the species interaction through time. Your carry out the experiment, make modifications as necessary, and are eventually able to make predictions with an extremely high degree of accuracy based on the initial seeding density of each species. Congratulations, your highly reliable results are applicable to approximately 0% of real world situations! So are those types of experiments worth doing? Absolutely. But they shouldn’t they be the end all of what we regard as science – using that impractical, piecemeal sort of information to come up with broader (but still scientific) models is just as important.

          Another thought –

          A goodly portion of the stuff we consider evidence for evolution doesn’t fit the the narrowest definitions of science. Control/treatment experimentation certainly plays into it, of course, but a lot things like our interpretation of the fossil record, observations of homologies, etc. wouldn’t qualify. Creationists like to play this kind of crap up with their (largely bogus) distinction between ‘real’ and ‘historical’ sciences.

  4. says

    so much this.

    and pretty much the same goes for sociology, especially those dudebros who scream “marxism” and “post-modernism” at everything that isn’t either traditional functionalism or from a libertarian perspective.

    • brucegee1962 says

      Right. Also, anyone who screams “marxism” as if that means it’s something that should be automatically dismissed. Marx said a whole lot of stuff — just because he was wrong about capitalism’s inevitable conversion to communism doesn’t mean he was wrong about everything. For instance, his idea that economics has an enormous influence on culture, and that divisions in social class would be a growing source of conflict as economic disparity grew, were pretty much spot on.

      • lpetrich says

        There is supposedly a Russian political joke that states that a Russian was describing to a friend two terrible things that he had learned over his life:

        “Everything the Communists told us about Communism is false.”

        “Everything the Communists told us about capitalism is true.”

        So while Marx and his followers had a good overall idea of the problem, their solutions left a lot to be desired. We’ve seen this most recently in Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez had attacked the country’s oligarchs, but without being very successful in building a good alternative.

        • says

          also: gotta remember that what Marx wrote about and how he imagined “communism” has fuck-all to do with Leninism/Stalinism/Maoism/etc. Mind you, the kind of anarchic society he imagined is likely impossible, but I’m kind of over people assuming Marx = Soviet Union.

          ANYway, point was: everyone does sociology a little bit (because everyone needs to figure out how to function socially), but that little bit doesn’t translate into being able to talk knowledgeably about society, social structures, social change, etc.

  5. A Masked Avenger says

    I have no credentials. I was told, though, by a therapist who does research in PTSD, that research exists indicating chronic low-level anxiety, such as working for years under threat of layoffs, can produce the same symptoms as PTSD. In fact I was referred to her precisely because she specializes in PTSD, and she deemed the referral “remarkably astute,” because apparently I do more or less fit the profile for complex PTSD, which wasn’t in the DSM-IV (and isn’t in the DSM-5).

    When discussing my situation with others, if I’m inclined to share, I say that I “have PTSD.” It’s usually obvious that they’re taking what I say with a grain of salt, which is OK with me.

    • says

      To clarify, not having “credentials” is totally okay. I’m ranting about people who don’t bother to learn anything, not people who don’t happen to have a Real Official Degree. You’ve clearly learned (through that therapist, who was performing an important role we call psychoeducation) about the research on chronic anxiety and PTSD symptoms, so I don’t think you even need to include the caveat about lacking “credentials.”

  6. says

    I make no claims to knowledge other than of my own situation. At one time or another I’ve had every mental illness diagnosis known stuck on me. All to no purpose since even the various doctors concerned (this stuff is rarely dealt with by psychologists in UK, they’re all psychiatrists with medical qualifications) acknowledged that my problems and difficulties related to experience. Those who knew me closely observed that it looked more like what they’d read of ‘shell-shock’ long before it was renamed ‘PTSD’. I ended up with a diagnosis of ‘personality disorder’ and the way I was told it felt like they were saying ‘we acknowledge you’ve got a big problem here – so just f-off since it’s not a mental illness, can’t be treated with drugs, and you’re taking up space in our facility’.

    i know, and all the doctors have always known that I ended up severely messed up because of child abuse. i could never understand why the only diagnosis which made sense (shell-shock, replaced by PTSD) could be applied to soldiers, or emergency service workers but not to people like me. I’m a lot more sorted now (at 58) but the anger you have expressed is incredibly familiar to me.

  7. Jacques Cuze says

    Hey Miri,

    A suggestion: when you write “White Males” or “Skeptics” as you do, it would be clearer if just wrote “older white males”, I mean, that’s who you mean for the most part, because no one who isn’t white or male (or older) would ask questions about a claim that twitter gave them PTSD so bad they are bedridden.

    And no one other than older white males could question statements that being a woman with twitter ptsd is worse than being a soldier with well, you know, ptsd from the horrors of war (or a elderly person who as a young child lost their entire family in the holocaust.)

    So really, be specific, “older white men” question those sorts of claims.

    Women don’t do that.
    Young men would never.
    Doctors wouldn’t dream of it.

  8. says

    Thank you for writing this.
    I was diagnosed with PTSD (caused by being homeless) while being in group therapy to treat my chronic depression. And like Kele Lampe, I’ve encountered many healthcare professionals who insist that that can’t be the case, because I wasn’t in combat, or didn’t witness a major catastrophe, or whatever. In fact, the refusal of first-line mental health care people to take me seriously resulted in numerous problems, includingme being homeless a second time.

    I simply don’t mention the fact that I have PTSD, out of fear of not being taken seriously.

    • Blanche Quizno says

      magicthighs, being homeless even ONCE qualifies as catastrophic stress and trauma. Just the statement “being homeless” gives you automatic credibility when you state that you have PTSD.

      No, I’m not a mental health professional – I just play one online :)

      That doesn’t negate what I said, though.

  9. Travis Clark says

    This is my first post ever on FTB–just had to thank you for this post. I recently got a Master’s and will soon have a PhD in psychology. It is supremely frustrating being part of a discipline that people have so many lay beliefs about, particularly when they defend those lay beliefs so vehemently. You captured this perfectly.

  10. says

    Flawless. That was flawless. Thank you, from a social worker working with juvenile offenders, many of whom are dealing with C-PTSD from the sort of childhoods that don’t bear description. PTSD is far more complex than the average layperson can begin to understand, and, frankly, more complex than the rigid diagnostic criteria account for. Armchair psychiatrists are a dime-a-dozen, and never mind your (or my) years of extensive schooling, training, and experience–don’t you DARE tell them their personal opinion based on that cracked.com article is useless.

    Funny how those people inevitably use their self-proclaimed “expertise” as a weapon against the suffering. Ugh.

  11. says

    . I want to validate the discomfort or anger people may feel when they see that a diagnosis they have because of a horrifically violent experience, like military combat, is suddenly being used by people who receive abusive tweets online.

    I recently broke my foot.
    I did it by doing the thing I’d been doing since my first birthday: taking a step forward.
    No truck ran over my foot, it wasn’t even extremely painful.
    Nobody hit me with anything, I did not fall down the stairs or suffer a car accident.
    My foot, the poor thing, was still broken. I still needed medical treatment, I still needed to hobble around on crutches for 6 fucking weeks, I still needed people to hold doors, carry things and generally cut me some slack.
    Just because the event that caused the bone to break was trivial and one that roughly 6 billion people manage a few thousand times a day without breaking their foot does not mean it didn’t happen, it can’t happen and that I just should have ignored it.
    Oh, and just because I’m apparently still walking forward also does not mean I didn’t really break my foor taking a step forward.
    This shouldn’t be rocket science.

  12. Rick Robinson says

    You forgot one other aspect Miri. In response to what could easily be interpreted by the average human being as a cry for help, for community, for understanding…a torrent of assholery was instead unleashed. It’s not so striking to me, an uneducated heathen, that uneducated opinions were offered. What strikes me is that it was all so mean and pointless.

    These are not nice people.

    I know thats not much of a revelation, but it still kind of amazes me that the ideal of reason can be held in such high esteem by the unreasonable.

  13. says

    Standing ovation. Exactly this. Cannot be said better (IMO, of course).

    I asked over on Facebook for clarification about PTSD because it was not something I’m familiar with. And partially because I needed to beat myself up for actually feeling a twinge of skepticism when I first read about it… ’cause… you know… Twitter.

    I’m happy to say it took me all of 5 minutes to realize where I was going wrong, and it’s exactly what you stated here. After doing just a bit of research (even before asking for help), I understood everything.

    Amazing what a few minutes of wanting to alleviate my ignorance can do.

    Anyways… thank you so much for this, Miri. As usual, I agree completely with you… :p

    • billythefish says

      I’m a sad little person who thinks they can get away with insulting one of Miri’s friends. I am very, very wrong about this. You won’t be hearing from me again.*

      *Comment edited slightly for clarify.

  14. Lee1 says

    I have a degree in evolutionary biology, and I experience a similar frustration with people who have no real training (formal or informal) in evolution making authoritative statements about what traits must be adaptive and why, usually in a self-serving way with regard to human behavior. The field of “evolutionary psychology” (which for the most part as far as I can tell is pretty poor evolution, and I’m guessing not very good psychology either), and the way some alleged discoveries in that field are portrayed in the popular media, has created a cottage industry of people making largely untestable claims about how their shitty behavior or attitudes are OK because they’re the result of millions of years of natural selection. No need to try to rigorously separate that from contemporary social/cultural influences (which would be pretty much impossible to do in humans).

    • Travis Clark says

      As an undergraduate getting a degree in psychology, I hated “evolutionary psychology.” Further along in my career (soon with a PhD) I’m actually reading the original authors instead of being exposed to evo psych from the media. Evolutionary psychology is going to be a major subfield in psychology for the foreseeable future and I think that’s a good thing. Let me draw a parallel to a very successful subfield: Cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology was founded in part on viewing the brain like a computer–a metaphor that is being discredited more and more every year. Cognitive psychology is thriving, however, because that stance actually gave insights into how the brain actually is structured. Evolutionary psychology was founded, in part, on the foundation that the human brain evolved just like the human body did. Many theories in evolutionary psychology are being discredited more and more every year. Evolutionary psychology is thriving, however, because that stance is continually giving insights into how behavior operates. Cognitive psychology gave us great insight even though the central metaphor–brain is a computer–has many flaws. Evolutionary psychology is giving us great insights into human behavior, and to what degree evolution plays a part in many of those findings will be, in the long term, irrelevant.

      • Lee1 says

        Cognitive psychology was founded in part on viewing the brain like a computer–a metaphor that is being discredited more and more every year…. Evolutionary psychology was founded, in part, on the foundation that the human brain evolved just like the human body did.

        I’m not sure how well this analogy holds up, because while that basis for cognitive psychology isn’t true (I’ll take your word for it – it’s well beyond my expertise), it’s undeniably true that the human brain has evolved along with every other aspect of our biology. The problem isn’t with the basic premise that our brains and our behavior have been shaped to some degree by evolutionary pressures, it’s with trying to separate that from societal influences. Doing good, rigorous behavioral evolution in a species where behavior is largely genetically determined is one thing; doing it in a species where behavior is as environmentally contingent as it is in humans is completely different (and of course for obvious ethical reasons we can’t do the same controlled studies in humans that we can in, say, fruit flies).

        Evolutionary psychology is thriving, however, because that stance is continually giving insights into how behavior operates…. Evolutionary psychology is giving us great insights into human behavior, and to what degree evolution plays a part in many of those findings will be, in the long term, irrelevant.

        I’m not really sure what to make of this. The whole point of evolutionary psychology is to try to understand human thinking and behavior in an evolutionary context; if the degree to which evolution plays a part is irrelevant, it doesn’t sound like these insights are coming from a field that could reasonably be called evolutionary psychology.

        • grpfrt says

          Yeah, actually, as someone who has done computational and systems neuroscience — I don’t think that that view _has_ been discredited. I’m curious to see on what evidence this assertion is based.

      • says

        because that stance is continually giving insights into how behavior operates

        does it? cuz all the EP papers I’ve had the misfortune of reading have retreaded ground on which sociology has done research for years while either claiming the social sciences have no explanation for the studied phenomenon, or the social factors were listlessly tagged on at the end in the discussion section as “well, that’s another possible explanation”.

        • says

          It does, actually. Evo Psych does indeed come with a lot of bullshit, unfortunately, but behavior does indeed have evolutionary roots. We are, after all, still animals.

          No, that is not an excuse for most shitty human behavior. In fact, when I see EP explanations for shittier behavior (bigotry, violence, etc), my next question is “okay… great! So how do we go about curbing or even stopping it?”

      • says

        I was attempting to avoid launching a sort-of defense of Evo Psych, because a) it has been used as an excuse for shitty behavior, which is inexcusable, and b) it’s off-topic.

        But it may end up being part of my field of study since I’m very much interested in Fanaticism and am absolutely convinced there is an evolutionary explanation for it. Which, of course, means studying Evo Psych.

        That does not mean excusing the behavior, however, and that’s where things go wrong with Evo Psych.

        I may have to write a blog post on this…

        • Lee1 says

          That does not mean excusing the behavior, however, and that’s where things go wrong with Evo Psych.

          I think it generally goes wrong before that, in that even if it weren’t used to justify shitty behavior or attitudes the supposedly scientific conclusions drawn aren’t based on good science. It’s exceptionally difficult (in many cases I’d say essentially impossible for current practical purposes) to separate innate biological and social/cultural factors in complex human behaviors, and many studies that claim to do that are just poor science. For example when you say “I’m very much interested in Fanaticism and am absolutely convinced there is an evolutionary explanation for it,” I don’t doubt that you plan to try to develop a rigorous framework in which to test that hypothesis, and if you’re unable to properly control for confounding variables that are difficult to deal with in humans you’ll constrain your conclusions accordingly. But too many EP studies start with “I’m very much interested in behavior X and am absolutely convinced there is an evolutionary explanation for it,” then come up with some half-assed pseudoscience to justify their preconceptions. Even if the social/cultural inferences they make from their conclusions are relatively benign, that’s still bad science.

          Having made that response, if this is too off-topic Miri I’ll stop adding to this sub-thread.

          • says

            I don’t doubt that you plan to try to develop a rigorous framework in which to test that hypothesis, and if you’re unable to properly control for confounding variables that are difficult to deal with in humans you’ll constrain your conclusions accordingly.

            Yes. But I have to start with a definition, first, and that inandof itself is proving to be a pretty big obstacle, if for no other reason than the fact that “fan” is short for “fanatic”, which basically makes the vast majority of people on the planet fanatics of one form or another, which sort of forces any definition to be ridiculously vague and loose, which… um… yeah…

            Which is why I’m focusing on Cultural Anthropology and will most likely also have to find my way into Sociology and Psychology. I’ll just be happy if I can come up with a cogent, workable definition before I die, honestly… something that other people can take and work on.

            The answer is most definitely not going to come from EP alone. It will likely need to involve all fields of Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology… and possibly some fields of Neuroscience…

            But yeah… now I’m sure we’ve veered wildly off topic… sorry, Miri.

          • says

            I’m feeling really compelled to post this point, too, on the EP derail. Miri, I am so sorry and if you feel the need to, just delete it. I’ll feel better just getting this out either way, so if you do feel the need to delete it, go ahead, because I’ll be happier just having posted it then it remaining up.

            Lee1… I should also note a(nother?) bias: I don’t actually believe that there’s anything truly unique about human animals within the animal kingdom other than the scale/complexity at which we do things.

            Basically… as I see it, the only difference between, for example, a non-human primate using a rock to crack open a nut and the Hubble Space Telescope is one of scale, because if our evolutionary ancestors hadn’t figured out that you can use rocks to crack open nuts, we never would have built the HST.

            Hence, I do actually feel as if basically all human behavior can be boiled down to some much more basic evolutionary instinct… which, of course, is enhanced and complicated through thousands of years of sociocultural engineering/influence. And it’s not like there’s not precedent for this, as we know that pretty much all social species have what amounts to simplistic societies and governments (hierarchies and such), some animals besides us are self aware, and some, such as the elephant, appear to have an acute awareness of death.

            Again, none of this would excuse shitty behavior at all, and the basic evolutionary explanation can only go so far in explaining human behavior because, again, as I said, that behavior has become a hell of a lot more complex through thousands of years of sociocultural engineering/influence, which means that any robust explanation of human behavior (fanaticism, bigotry, violence of any kind, social gathering, faith, etc) MUST include the evolutionary explanation, the cultural explanation, the psychological explanation, the sociological explanation, the neurological explanation, etc.

            So Evolutionary Psychology on its own isn’t enough, but I’d argue that including it can only help to expand and make more accurate any account of human behavior.

  15. says

    Of course, part of the problem is that there’s not really any thinking about psychology/psychiatry going on in this specific instance. The train of thought is “We ‘skeptics’ hate a certain person, and we’ll use any weapon against them.”

    Hurting other people in the only goal. It doesn’t matter that none of the attacks make any rational sense, because causing harm makes perfect emotional sense to a big chunk of the “skeptical movement.”

  16. qwints says

    I’m curious about the factors at play in distinguishing “real” combat-induced PSTD with “fake” PSTD. It seems like there’s a carving out PTSD as an “acceptable” mental illness, especially the focus on whether the underlying event or events were sever enough to count. Or maybe it’s that mental illness is only “acceptable” if it’s related to some sort of heroic event. The focus on combat veterans rather than other groups with high risks for “uncontroversial” PTSD is telling.

  17. BrainyOne says

    Psychology is not bullshit when done properly, but there is and has been an awful lot of bullshit masquerading as psychology. The definition of “bullshit” here is claims that either cannot be empirically tested or are made in the absence of such empirical verification. Frankly, psychology has not been nearly as diligent IMNSHO at weeding out the bullshit artists as have other fields of science, which is why laypeople much more easily pose as “experts” than they do in other fields such as physics or chemistry or biology (and yes, there HAVE been plenty of bullshit artists in those fields, exhibit A being “cold fusion” in physics).

    For instance, the DSM is bullshit (I realize this is more psychiatry than psychology, but bear with me), because of the “D”: it claims to be making diagnoses, which imply an understanding of the physiological etiology. A diagnosis is not a mere classification of symptoms, which is all the DSM is. Classifications of symptoms are fine as far as they go, but they do not add any additional layer of understanding, and may sometimes even impede progress, as different pathologies (from a physiological perspective) may sometimes manifest with similar symptoms. Moreover, “symptoms” can be easily conflated with normal variants. Not that long ago homosexuality was listed in the DSM as a “mental illness”. It’s actually not that easily to distinguish if statistical measures alone are used (such as if +/- 2 SD from the mean is classified as “normal”, then by definition 5% of the population will be “abnormal”.)

    Psychology proper often suffers from the problem of “reifying” what are in reality only latent variables (such as, “intelligence”, “affect/emotion”, “motivation”, “executive function”, etc.). Latent variables are fine in themselves, but it is too often forgotten they are only constructs, and therefore any study which purports to “prove” something about these as primary outcomes is, by definition, bullshit, as a primary outcome must be an empirical, observable phenomenon.

    None of this means that those who deny the symptoms of PTSD are correct, of course, since increased physiological arousal to stimuli is simply an observable, empirical fact.

  18. J B says

    Just want to say thanks for doing what you do. I’m trying to be more “out” about depression, ADD, and amnesia (which I could probably get diagnosed as PTSD if I wanted to) as my own little campaign to remove the stigma of mental health issues. The biggest obstacle for me is my own self-judgment, even when psych professionals are supportive. The clear reasoning and impassioned voice you use to defend those like myself (as well as many in far worse shape than me) lends me strength.

  19. says

    Thank you! I get so exhausted by people attempting to dictate to me what my experience with mental illness is like. It’s not like anyone else’s–it’s mine. Seeing this deluge of vitriol and abuse being sent Melody’s way has had me all up in nerves since yesterday and reading this helps a lot with my hope for the immediate future. So again, thank you!

  20. leni says

    Great post, Miri! And I love the edits, especially with Steersman lol. *Points at Steersman’s “post” and laughs*

    Steer that, motherfucker!

    ***
    I actually did have a serious comment here. Mostly about how I can see the many ways in which a less traumatic initial experience could be seriously exacerbated by subsequent gaslighting and death threats when it occurred to me that the subject of PTSD is irrelevant to the Twitter armchair psychologists. It’s just the most convenient weapon they have at the moment. It could be and will be anything. Some people will argue that you shouldn’t give them ammo- don’t admit you have PTSD or like broccoli or sometimes sing Broadway musicals to your pets (that’s a perfectly normal thing, dammit!)

    But there will always be something. I am glad we have people like you to whackamole and thank you so, so much. (I will hit many contribute buttons when I get my own shit together! Soon!) But I’m just watching and it’s exhausting.

  21. queequack says

    The idea that PTSD only affects soldiers and rape victims makes no sense and is entirely a result of the idiot pop culture version of the disorder, which only affects soldiers and rape victims.

    As you said, PTSD is a medical disorder; if you manifest the symptoms, you likely have it. This in no way implies that every person who has PTSD has suffered equally, or that the events that triggered their PTSD were equally traumatic . Likewise, both chemotherapy patients and people who have the flu have been known to experience nausea and vomiting; this does not imply that chemotherapy and the flu are equally bad. Does that seem like a stretch? It’s actually not.

  22. says

    It always astonishes me how, despite all we know about the physiological effects of stress, some people can just dismiss online bullying and harassment as “not real”.

  23. says

    I came here from PZ’s blog, because the idea of PTSD from long-term stress or childhood bullying is something I’ve been thinking about after several years of prolonged severe stress (job-related) and depression.

    I was bullied in childhood, in Middle School … not physically hurt most of the time, but mocked and basically shown I was disgusting. I know I had bipolar disorder at the time, though I wasn’t diagnosed until i was in my late 40’s, and had no friends. I was terrified to go to school and had to walk over an overpass where the “mean kids” congregated … I literally had to run the gauntlet to get to school. I pretended to be sick so I could skip gym class, where the tough kids felt most powerful . . . something my straight-arrow nature would never have dreamed of doing if I hadn’t been so terrified. I would worry constantly about returning to school during breaks and summer vacation. I hid in my room and seldom came out, and reacted strongly to having strangers in the house … even my sisters’ friends. I had some support from my mother, but I don’t think she felt there was much she could do. I saw my first shrink at age 13. I had little to no support, because even in my family I was the “black sheep.”

    Throughout my adolescence and young adulthood I had few to no friends and was a complete outsider.
    Today, I still have nightmares about rejection. I am hypervigilant most of the time, especially in crowds or among strangers, expecting to be attacked emotionally or verbally. Among others, I am almost always in fight-or-flight mode. I have problems with uncontrollable rage that ends up turning inward. My anxiety level is often high enough to cause physical discomfort. At the first sign of rejection, I will cut off a relationship and now seem happiest when I’m alone with my dogs and/or my husband.

    These all seem, to me, to be signs of PTSD, but the idea that it might come from something over the course of time than from one traumatic event was a concept my most recent therapist brought up for the first time. It all fits so well. Many people, even psychs, don’t seem to believe in bipolar disorder, either, but I honestly think I may have a combo of the two. No meds have ever helped me keep my bipolar completely under control, especially the extreme periods of depression, and though I’m doing fine right now, I dread the next descent.

    Years and years of therapy have been of no help. I can’t “perform” to the expectations of the cognitive therapists who seem to blame me for not following their advice/regimen. Two of my last two therapists seemed to blame me for this, and none has done lasting good (and I’ve seen about 20 over the course of my 55 years.)

    So what does someone do in my position?

    • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

      I kind of have a similar experience. I recently had the revelation that I spent half my waking life, for years of my life, not only being harassed, belittled, isolated, gaslighted, and systematically and contemptuously dismissed by the authority figures I was supposed to trust, but reminded, daily, pointedly, and often deliberately, that was I was surrounded by people who might decide to do violence to me at any moment, on the flimsiest of pretexts, and would probably get away with it.

    • Blanche Quizno says

      Sue, I have a similar background, and I can relate to a lot of your symptoms, though mine are clearly less severe than yours. I’m simply acknowledging that; mine are plenty severe enough for me! While I don’t feel anxious in a crowd per se, when I’m, say, at a conference, and people are clustered in little cliques and knots all around me talking and laughing with each other and I am all alone, with no one to eat lunch with, it’s Jr. High all over again. That’s what they used to call middle school.

      Recently, I was on a forum discussing stuff, as I’d been doing for several months, and who should suddenly appear but someone who had cyberbullied me a few years ago. And it was straight into (what I suppose is) a panic attack (though I’ve never met with any mental health professional) for me. It took me *hours* to get calmed down. I’m still not all the way there.

      So what does someone do in this position? I posted a Public Service Announcement there alerting the forum participants to the particularly poisonous and belligerent MO of this poster, which he then provided an abundantly clear example of all on his own. That being said, I was done with him. My work there is finished, at least as far as asshole is concerned. I can continue to participate while ignoring him as if he never showed up in the first place. The online-verse is nice that way. I called a good friend and talked with him for almost an hour. That helped. And then I made dinner and did some stuff and here I am. I came here to talk about my specific situation, which is similar enough to yours that I decided to put it in a reply to you.

      That’s what I did in that specific situation. Perhaps what you do in your position is on a situation-by-situation basis, whenever there are discrete, explicit situations to address. You address them, and you walk away. Maybe that’s a start. And then you come here and talk to the rest of us :)

      I, too, am most comfortable with a close circle. When you put yourself into situations where you don’t really like the people you’re with and they don’t really like you, nothing good is going to come of it. Limit where you reasonably can; regulate the rest.

      That’s all I got. Sorry I can’t offer more. I do wish you all the best. Anyone who has any insights – those would be really welcome.

  24. Jo says

    Great post! I do have to slightly object to the “dude” portion, though. While it may be predominately male, I personally know several “dudettes” who fall into this “I dismiss/minimize your mental illness” ploy. Whether it be ADHD, depression, anorexia, etc: it’s all balderdash to them.

  25. says

    I was diagnosed with PTSD from a traumatic pregnancy/childbirth experience. You can just imagine how the people around me validated my experience and supported me afterward while I was having panic attacks and nightmares.

    Haha! No, just kidding! Actually, I was told you don’t get PTSD from pregnancy and I should just suck it up and get pregnant again. When I said I was afraid of getting pregnant again, I was told that was ridiculous and surely a second time it wouldn’t be as bad. I was too negative and too pessimistic, etc. and so on.

    Four years later, I got pregnant again and it was even worse. Among other things, I nearly died on the operating table. Less than a week after I nearly died, while my son was still in the NICU, my husband and a “friend” conspired to have the baby shower I’d requested they not have because I was still having near-constant panic attacks and crying fits. I walked out on it (even though it still hurt to move and I just wanted to be in bed) because the only other thing I could do was break down in hysterical tears.

    I’ve mostly recovered from the PTSD (just occasional nightmares now), but years later, I’m clearly still having trouble forgiving my husband and other people who dismissed the importance of my psychological state. I’m really not sure how to move on from that.

  26. =8)-DX says

    This whole thing reminds me of the classic ignorance about mental health problems in general.
    “But your job is fine, your kids are healthy, your husband loves you, why are you depressed?”
    “If people with drug addictions wanted to change, all they have to do is stop.”
    “I really hate people who complain about condition X, I’ve had a difficult life and I’ve managed, why can’t they just get over it?”
    “People who self harm are just manipulating others. They’re attention seekers.”
    “If this realy was a problem for S-, she wouldn’t be talking about it in public.”

    It’s all just a really loud and obnoxious way of shouting out that you, aggressively, don’t care about that person’s problems and that you get to judge the validity of other people’s experiences.

    I try to be a person who admits ignorance, so thanks for writing pieces like this, it helps clarify a lot of things.

    • says

      Oh yes, indeed, that’s so common. When I first started having panic attacks, I encountered so much of this “there’s nothing to be scared of, so you should just stop.” Great, if I knew how to do that, I wouldn’t be having a panic attack!

      What I didn’t completely understand happened (until it happened to me) is people dismissing your mental health concerns when they’re about *things that actually happened*.

      I knew that people said “Your life is fine, so stop being depressed” and I knew that was wrong. But I didn’t realize people said “Yeah, you [got raped/were in a war/had a traumatic experience] but it’s over, so you should get over it.”

      The most valuable thing my therapist ever said to me was “It’s not crazy to be upset when bad things are happening!” I was recovering from a terrible pregnancy, my daughter was in the hospital, and my husband was being an ass, and I was beating myself up over being panicky, and she made me stop and say “Oh. Right. It’s *normal* to be upset right now.”

      Obviously, I don’t think anyone’s a horrible person for having mental health issues that aren’t tied to a traumatic event, since I had panic disorder long before the terrible pregnancy.

      • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

        Agreed. Frankly, using the words “get over it” without a permit should be a felony. >.>

  27. johngreg says

    My goodness: editing people’s posts to try and make them look stupid. Such a clear example of intellectual integrity. Bravo!

    • says

      So you’d much rather Miri allow toxic, insulting, trolling shit through?

      Personally, I rather like the edited posts. They’re much better worded, much easier to read, and much more honest in terms of the posting personalities behind them. I admit a minor curiosity over what billythefish felt would be a good insult towards me, but it’s also not strong enough to need to be satisfied, and I much prefer the edit.

      Yet again it seems some people don’t realize that private spaces, INCLUDING BLOGS, are not, in fact, obligated to uphold the free speech clause of the constitution, which only protects you from government persecution. As this is Miri’s blog, which is hers, she is free to run it as she sees fit. I for one like the way she runs her blog, because it makes this place a bit less toxic to post in.

      If you personally have a problem with the way Miri chooses to run her blog, there’s a very simple solution: don’t post here.

      And if my saying so causes you to whine and cry about being silenced… well… that says a hell of a lot about you, and none of it good. Same, of course, goes to the trolls who got edited. One blog owner on one blog can’t silence you when you have the whole internet and world to run crying to.

      • johngreg says

        Nate, I am not “whining and crying about being silenced”.

        I am not criticizing how Miri runs her blog — though I suppose I could if I felt it wouldn’t just get edited or deleted.

        And, I am not suggesting that Miri should allow “toxic, insulting, trolling shit through” — though how you can know the original content of an edited post is a point worth pondering; that is an advanatge over anyone late to the chopping block.

        I am merely saying that editing the posts with blatant intent to make the posters look/sound stupid reflects both directly, and with great clarity, on the depth, maturity, and honesty of her intellectual integrity.

        If the posts are actually “toxic, insulting, trolling shit”, rather than just basic disagreements or points of disagreement, then wouldn’t it be better to simply adopt the standard SJL mode of intellectual discourse and simply remove them? That is both a more honest and more direct responsive action.

        • says

          See… now you’re basically saying “don’t feed the trolls”, a technique that, as has been established multiple times (<- each word is a different link), will fail basically every time (<- whole line is one link).

          I like shaming trolls. Miri's method is a good one, IMO.

          And actually, one can judge the content of a person's post by their screenname… because they will sometimes have a history. If it is a recognized screenname, one can simply look at their posting history to determine if the edited post was one worth editing. I admit that the only poster who got edited I recognize is Steersman, and based on his posting history here, I'd say the edit was well-deserved. As to the others, I don't know them, but FtB is a big network, and just because I don't recognize a handle doesn't mean Miri and others don't.

        • thetalkingstove says

          I note jongreg ignores the very good advice from Nate not to post here if he doesn’t like Miri’s approach.

          He also ignores her earlier point about unsolicited advice.

          And the irony of lecturing on ‘intellectual credibility’ from the slymepit, where photoshop and making insulting puns on people’s names is considered the height of wit….

        • hoary puccoon says

          Yes, diddums, you are “whining and crying about being silenced,” and you are “criticizing how Miri runs her blog.” If Slymepitters don’t want to “look/sound stupid” they are perfectly free not to post here.

          Although, really, I’m not sure that Miri could possibly make Slymepitters look or sound more stupid than they already make themselves look, without any outside editing at all.

    • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

      She’s not editing them to make them sound stupid. She’s editing to honor and preserve the spirit of their efforts to sound stupid, while relieving rather than increasing the stress she and other decent human beings experience being under siege by fuckheads 24/7.

  28. Jacob Schmidt says

    My goodness: editing people’s posts to try and make them look stupid. Such a clear example of intellectual integrity. Bravo!

    Having seen Steersman’s original, and the inanity of Jacques Cuze first post, I’m not convinced much, if anything, was lost. I have no problem with editing silly posts to make them more explicitly silly, so long as the edit is clear.

    I’m also not sure what integrity has been compromised here. People put forth hyperbole an parody of the words of others fairly often. Why such acts, in this instance, compromise ones integrity, you don’t bother to explain (unless, of course, you’re not being sarcastic, but I don’t think that’s the case).

  29. Timothy says

    Great article. I’m a white male (BA in psych.; MEd in Counseling). Been a psychotherapist for over 20 years.

    What you said, ” I am tired of being presumed incompetent by default unless I laboriously prove my qualifications, knowledge, and skills, while older men get to prattle on about fields they have no apparent experience with without ever needing to qualify their unasked-for lectures with proof of their competence.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m tired of it as well. Even after 20 years, I get still challenges from men and women who have little to zero experience in mental health. I try not to take it personally, but it’s hard some days ….

    Sigh.

    Hang in there. I for one very much appreciate your words.

  30. Jade says

    This was an excellent post; it’s not easy to sum up exactly what constitutes a legitimate argument on this subject (just watch Thunderf00t pontificate around it for 45 minutes at a time), and I think you did it beautifully.

    I am, however, disappointed by the insinuation that the homophobia example is “Freudian.” Neither Freud, nor any post-Freudians or psychoanalysts from different schools (that I’ve read) would champion those sorts of generalizations. There’s a persistent snobbishness in more conventional psychology that tends to equate PopPsych ramblings that even vaguely relate to the unconscious with actual psychoanalytic theory. That’s not fair. It was only a very small part of your article, but how about keeping with that not making claims to authority on subjects you’ve not studied in depth?

    • says

      how about keeping with that not making claims to authority on subjects you’ve not studied in depth?

      Actually, I have a BA in psychology and am halfway through a Masters in social work. Freud and his writings have featured prominently in my education and I have read a few of the originals.

      The idea that homophobia stems from homosexuality is just one example of the defense mechanism called reaction formation, which is the idea that people who feel threatened or anxious by some aspect of themselves will perform an exaggerated version of the opposite in order to deal with those feelings or in order to keep anyone from realizing how they really feel. Now, I don’t know if Freud himself would’ve claimed this (not that his views on homophobia were exactly progressive as is), but the idea that people might do this is a Freudian idea in that it stems from Freudian principles (i.e. defense mechanisms).

      Psychological research has been conducted to test this hypothesis (see study here, abstract for another study here, and NYT article here). In the introduction of that first study, the authors write:

      One psychoanalytic explanation is that anxiety about the possibility of being or becoming a homosexual may be a major factor in homophobia (West, 1977). For example, de Kuyper (1993) has asserted that homophobia is the result of the remnants of homosexuality in the heterosexual resolution of the Oedipal conflict. Whereas these notions are vague, psychoanalytic theories usually postulate that homophobia is a result of repressed homosexual urges or a form of latent homosexuality. Latent homosexuality can be defined as homosexual arousal which the individual is either unaware of or denies (West, 1977).

      The West citation is for a book by a British psychiatrist named Donald J. West called Homosexuality Re-examined. I could not find any other confirmation that West wrote or worked from a psychoanalytic perspective, but that’s how he’s described in this paper. As for de Kuyper, his paper that’s cited there is called “The Freudian construction of sexuality: The gay foundations of heterosexuality and straight homophobia.” The abstract for that paper can be found here.

      If you disagree that this view of homophobia relies on the principle of reaction formation, or if you disagree that the principle of reaction formation and defense mechanisms in general can be considered “Freudian,” or if you disagree that the papers I’ve cited here have any relation to psychoanalytic theory or practice, or if you believe that in order to call something “Freudian” it must have been explicitly stated by Freud or one of his followers (define “follower,” though), that’s a legitimate disagreement. But first of all, I made no “claims to authority,” and second, I have, in fact, studied the subject in depth. I might be wrong, but I might be wrong about anything I’ve written in this article or elsewhere. The fact that I might be wrong doesn’t mean I’m ignorantly bloviating on something I haven’t studied, as I have studied it. Even experts are sometimes wrong about their fields of expertise, and I’m not even claiming to be an expert.

  31. Joy inTorah says

    Hi Miri,

    I have a BA (Hon) in Psych and that was a really good piece. Thanks so much. I refrained from studying evo psych but I did a lot of work in cognitive and developmental psych.

    Cheers,

    Joy

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