Sunday, March 15, 2009

Our Brave New Reality

It's always a good day when you find someone else thinking like you. More so when that person is a distinguished columnist and wordsmith.

Yesterday was such a day. In the Wall Street Journal Peggy Noonan was pondering a question that has preoccupied me. What did Prozac contribute to the crash? Did Wall Street financiers lose all perspective because their chemically altered emotions were obscuring their view of reality. Link here.

For my own views, see here and here.

Peggy Noonan articulates the issue clearly: "We look for reasons for the crash, and there are many, but I wonder if Xanax, Zoloft, and Klonopin, when taken by investment bankers, lessened what might have been normal, prudent anxiety, or helped confuse prudent anxiety with free-floating fear. Maybe Wall Street was high as a kite and didn't notice."

No one likes to talk about it, but is it possible that people were so mellowed out that they did not see the danger lurking ahead? Or, if they did see the danger, were they so lulled into complacency that they did not see the need to take immediate action?

Our therapy culture seems to be telling us that we should be happy and stress-free all the time. It rarely tells us to learn how to read our emotions in order to get in touch with reality. It's mantra is to get in touch with our feelings.

Emotions can open a window on reality. But when your emotions are biochemically altered or psychotherapeutically manipulated they become numbed to the cues reality is giving. If Xanax is reducing your anxiety, it might also be reducing your ability to see danger and to react accordingly.

It is not just pharmacology that is at fault here. Many therapists want their patients to connect present emotions to past emotions, to past events, and to unresolved issues.

The way to know whether therapy or coaching is helping you is to judge whether it sees emotion as a means to the end of exploring the past or whether it takes emotion as an indicator of an unacknowledged crisis or threat.

To those who say that an emotion refers to something in the past when there is nothing in the present that could have provoked it, I would say... look harder, question more closely, and ask yourself whether you yourself are sufficiently sensitive to reality.

If a therapist or coach wants to help you discover what it is in the real world that has provoked your emotional response, and then wants to help you to resolve it, then you are moving in the right direction.

If your therapist or coach wants you to stay within the narrow confines of your mind, he or she is misleading you by fostering the illusion that you can still be happy no matter how bad things are and no matter how little effort you make to deal with them.

Noonan devotes most of her article, however, to describing the new reality. It would not make very much sense to say that people cannot see the real world without attempting to remove their blinders.

She describes the new reality with her characteristic elegance: "People sense something slipping away, a world receding, not only an economic one but a world of old structures, old ways, and assumptions. People don't talk about this much because it's too big."

And she concludes: "The moment we are living now is a strange one, a disquieting one, a time that seems full of endings.

"Too bad there's no pill for that."

No comments: