“A person who has not been completely alienated, who has remained sensitive and able to feel, who has not lost the sense of dignity, who is not yet “for sale”, who can still suffer over the suffering of others, who has not acquired fully the ‘having’ mode of existence – briefly, a person who has remained a person and not become a thing – cannot help feeling lonely, powerless, isolated in present-day society. He cannot help doubting himself and his own convictions, if not his sanity. He cannot help suffering, even though he can experience moments of joy and clarity that are absent in the life of his “normal” contemporaries. Not rarely will he suffer from neurosis that results from the situation of a sane man living in an insane society, rather than that of the more conventional neurosis of a sick man trying to adapt himself to a sick society. In the process of going further in his analysis, i.e. of growing to greater independence and productivity, his neurotic symptoms will cure themselves.”
In our experience, this is accurate. The journey some of us make from the perception that ‘something is wrong with’ us, to a more whole (and wholesome) way of being with ourselves, inevitably at some point involves a recognition of the toxicity of our culture and some form of coming into relationship with that – just as it involves a recognition and coming into relationship with unintegrated trauma and pain from our personal/familial histories. A person who retains or recovers the sensitivity, compassion, self-respect and empathy that Erich describes – and who might thrive in a culture which also embodies those qualities – will almost inevitably struggle in our culture as it is. As Jiddu Krishnamurti puts it:-
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
This is a process of acknowledging trauma, and of grief, and beginning to engage with profound questions like ‘So what shall I do?’ and ‘so what is my role?’. We are encouraged to ask these questions from an individualistic perspective: ‘What can I take?’. Our growth and survival as a species is likely to depend upon our moving into asking from a communal/collective perspective: ‘What can I give?’.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
Counselling Exeter since 1994