Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Let’s Talk About the Social-Individual-Environment-Whole

Let’s Talk About the Social-Individual-Environment-Whole

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When you woke up this morning, what was it that awoke? A mind? A brain? A body? A person? A self? When you woke up this morning, did you have to decide how to get out of bed?  (If you did, do not admit that to anybody!)

But just as we are deluded about the kinds of beings we are, we are deluded about the value of individualism and competition.

When an average human being awakes in the morning, there is already some degree of mind-chattering going on. But that mind-chattering depends upon the brain that underpins it being fully functional (or largely functional).

And the brain which underpins the chattering mind needs to draw upon oxygen and glucose from the blood supply. The heart and blood supply channels depend upon the lungs for the supply of oxygen, and upon the guts for the supply of glucose. 

If any element of that body-brain-mind-whole is malfunctioning (including the neurotransmitters, which depend on our diet), then the action of waking up and getting out of bed will be anywhere from impaired to impossible.

The vaunted individual who ‘get up’, peels off his pyjamas, and steps into the shower, thinking: ‘Today I feel (this), and later I will do (that)’ – is normally unaware of the heart, guts, brain-mind, liver, lungs and family history that makes his shower and self-congratulations possible.

But how did the family history get smuggled into this story about the body-brain-mind of a man getting out of bed?

Our man, let’s called him Jack Sprat, was born as a ‘thing’ – according to Sigmund Freud.  He was born as a subject, with a (developmentally dependent capacity) to grow and learn, and to move beyond being a sensing-thing, to become ‘the one’ who subjectively experiences ‘the other’ (mother, father, etc.).  But all ‘things’ that are born, do not encounter absolutely equal ‘others’ (or ‘objects’).  Some mothers (and fathers) are good enough to help the little ‘thing’ develop a secure sense of belonging, and to become a confident child. But some mothers (and fathers) are not good enough, and so their ‘little born things’ become insecure and unconfident little children. 

Jack Sprat’s performance, in the shower, and in the subsequent activities of getting dressed, having breakfast, and going out to some kind of work (or school, or business) was shaped in his family of origins. He may want to take full credit for how charming he is; or how socially aware he is; or how emotionally intelligent he is. But all of those things were shaped in his encounters with his family of origin. 

We live in a world in which individualism and competition are emphasised, and celebrated. But just as we are deluded about the kinds of beings we are, we are deluded about the value of individualism and competition. Most of what goes on here on planet Earth depends upon social processes of cooperation, or division of labour. Most of the important processes of life are predicated upon cooperation – marriage, reproduction, socialisation, education, research; and manufacturing, transportation, buying and selling; and so on. Within those processes, elements of completion show up from time to time, but the whole system depends upon a profound urge to cooperate.

If Jack Sprat fails to function psychologically in the world today, we (counsellors and psychologists) need to look at his social relationships, his diet, his exercise regime, his stress levels and his coping capacities, his ability to relax, his income and job security, his home environment, his experience of noise pollution, how far he has to commute each day, his work-life balance, and so on.

The last thing we need to do is to assume he is a discrete individual who has ‘chosen’ to upset himself, by his ‘freely chosen’ beliefs about something.

We might need to ask him to think long and hard about how his childhood experiences have led to his being the kind of adult he is today. And how processing some of his experiences from the past might be just the thing to resolve his current emotional and behavioural problems.

But we might also have to look at several of his lifestyle factors – like favourite foods, use of alcohol, use of recreational or prescription drugs, etc.; which, taken together, can destabilise the body-brain-mind of a Goliath. 

And if Jack thinks he can just soldier through, using his willpower, we might need to tell him that his willpower depends upon his blood-sugar levels, which depend upon his diet, and his level of exercise.  And on and on, into the complexity which is denied in our over-simplifying ideology of individual choice.


Image credit: Freepik

Dr Jim Byrne has a doctoral degree in counselling from the University of Manchester. He works for ABC Coaching and Counselling Services.

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