On feeling adequate: Unwashing


 (Fourth in a series.  The last post can be read here.

The next step towards adequacy must be to start unwashing our brains.

This series began with two posts that described how men and women are typically brainwashed — forced into meeting expectations which leave them emotionally dwarfed, frustrated and needy.

The polite term for this brainwashing is socialization.

Socialization is that process by which individuals are trained to adapt and conform to their social environments.  We are socialized by being taught — and eventually coming to perceive as our own — a set of rules, norms, values, behaviors and customs by which our tribe defines a person as normal.  

Anyone who wants to survive socially and psychologically has no choice but to accept these basic cultural assumptions. 

Unfortunately, they often conflict with our needs as human beings.

As a result we become split into two selves, one private, one public — which then proceed to war with each other.  This internal war is called neurosis.

How this happens was outlined fifty years ago in a book by two sociologists titled The Adjusted American: Normal Neuroses in the Individual and Society (Harper Colophon, 1964).  Its authors ask an interesting question: Why are Americans so hungry for the approval of others?  Their answer: Because they have been taught to disapprove of themselves.

The adjusted American lacks self-approval; that is to say, he has not developed a self-image that he can believe is both accurate and acceptable.  To do so he would require successful techniques for creating an accurate and acceptable self-image through honest introspection, candid association, and meaningful activity.  The patterns to which he has adjusted do not include such techniques.  Instead, the culture abounds with misdirections, which the adjusted American acquires.

What “misdirections”?  Most thoughtful observers would agree they include the value we place on things like money, success, possessions, consuming, celebrity and emotional control.

Pursuing these goals virtually forces us into lifestyles of deprivation and neediness.   Pursuing money and success, for example, interferes with our needs for relaxation and time with loved ones.  Valuing celebrity and emotional control pushes us to win the approval of others instead of self-approval.

Perhaps above all, [the adjusted American] learns to seek self-acceptance indirectly, by seeking to substitute the good opinion of others for self-approval….  Half-certain of his own inadequacy, he attempts to present himself to others in an appealing way.  When (or if) he has won their approval he hopes that they will be able to convince him that he is a better man that he thinks he is.

Thus (a) we are socialized into pursuing the wrong goals, which (b) leaves us needy and unhappy; but then (c) we misread the cause of our neediness (I’m doing something wrong, we think), and (d) conclude that we are inadequate.

As a therapist I see the cost of socialization every day in the emotional problems clients bring to therapy: 

~ How it erodes each person’s connection to his or her true self. 

~ How, over time, this becomes an inability to even know who that true self is — what one really thinks and feels, needs and values. 

~ How the person’s self-awareness gets replaced by preoccupation with other people see them. 

~ How self-care gets replaced by compulsion to manipulate other people, and how self-acceptance gets replaced by an insatiable craving to feel valued of by those others.

~ How this sad, self-defeating cycle gets unconsciously repeated in how they behave with and parent their children.

What to do about this?

Can we unwash our own minds?

Can we raise kids uncrippled by socialization?

(To be continued.)


Coming soon,

the next book in the Monkeytraps series:




2 responses to “On feeling adequate: Unwashing

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