The Plastic Surgery of Identity

I wish I’d thought that title up. It’s a post referring to self-help books and a “You Can Do Anything” trend popular in the culture, embodied in such books as “The Secret”. I found it at the blog Everyone Needs Therapy, which has an extremely long subtitle. Long, but really, really, really worth the extra click.

Rethinking: You can do anything and You go girl. This is coming up quite a bit in therapy lately. Maybe it’s the positive thinking movement in psychology catching on. Or maybe the books that Oprah talks about are having the desired hypnotic effect, books like The Secret and A New Earth: Awakening Your Life’s Purpose…

The Rambam, a 12th century commentator on the Talmud (and a doctor) advised that we exaggerate the opposite of the personality trait we don’t like in ourselves. If we’re shy, rather than try to be assertive, shoot for loud. Exaggerate that which you think impossible.

[On a supervisor’s introduction to a Family Therapy class…]

The first day of class he introduced the concept of a Family World View. He told us that this is integral to how a family sees life and affects our behavior as adults in subtle, unconscious ways. Since it’s so embedded in our upbringing, we’re barely conscious of it. I don’t know if he said it exactly this way, he probably didn’t, but it’s how I took it home.

We were a small group of trainees, probably five, and we had to tell over our family of origin world views, at least some of what we could remember.

And I said, thinking I was bragging about my old man, “Well, my father used to tell me, ‘There’s nothing you can’t do.’ I wasn’t allowed to say, I can’t. Ever.”

This astounded John. “Poor you.”

Excuse me?

“Yeah. What a set up.”

“I don’t understand,” I objected. “I think it gave me confidence. I approach most problems with a go-to-it attitude. If I fail I don’t care. It’s the challenge that matters. I’m a loser at Trivial Pursuits,** but I don’t care!”

He told me that this worked, MAYBE, for me, (seeing through my every possible insecurity) because of natural talents and aptitudes and all sorts of strengths, mainly the family on my team, the big net to catch me.

So I was lucky. If I had come from a different family, however, and if I kept failing, and falling, I’d have been criticized and even emotionally, certainly verbally abused. In a different family, this kind of world view is dangerous.

In the wrong kind of family, if I had failed and kept failing, then for sure the flaw wouldn’t be in the system. The flaw would be in me.

Low self-esteem. Self-loathing. Sex, drugs, rock and roll.

I guess I’m lucky I survived.

The whole experience really shook me up. Here you think that your parents raised you right, only to find that indeed, you’re lucky that you made it past seventeen. Different genetics, different family, same world view, kabang!

Sure, I’m exaggerating. But what DO we do with this positivist, no can lose, be what you wanna’ be, you-go-girl movement that’s rocking the culture? Are our children going to raise children who are destined for disappointment? Johnny has to take antidepressants because he’s too tall to be an astronaut? Becky can’t lift five hundred pound weights so she’s smoking crack?

If you liked that, please click on the Digg button. Thanks.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

2 thoughts on “The Plastic Surgery of Identity”

  1. Thanks for the compliment. Lots of people are reading your blog, friend, because the traffic to mine is piling in. I’ll link over here, too. You’re doing a great job on this blog.


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