Runcible Blog

that explains everything

A teenage girl working at Dunkin Donuts, talking with a coworker, said:

"...and that's why I had to drop out of school. It was the social anxiety... "
"...It's because I got into a serious car accident 7 years ago. After that I had Social Anxiety..."

What's fascinating to me is how casually she talked about a seemingly debilitating condition. It seemed like there was comfort in knowing that she had some disorder, caused by some discrete event in the past, and it predictably determined how she'd act today and forevermore. What's actually going on?

A dangerous side effect of the psychotherapy industry is the tendency people have to identify with their diagnoses, and with the events of their history. The scientific approach gives names and explanations for observations, which people then construct into understandable "narratives". "You have condition X because of Y, and the cure is 200mg of Z." Explanations are comforting, but they don't necessarily lead to healing or changing behavior. They can have the opposite effect -- a fatalism born from identifying with the explanation. "I have depression/schizophrenia/psychosis/anxiety" Who has what?

What I took away from Chogyam Trungpa's book The Sanity We Are Born With is that western psychology and psychotherapy can learn from Buddhism that people are fundamentally healthy, and perhaps it's possible to get in touch with this basic nature, without having to cover things over with drugs or delve into details of the past. In other words, sanity is available right now. Right now, for an instant, is it possible to be without the explanations, stories, historical conditions?