Outwitting Our Nerves - A Primer of Psychotherapy
by Josephine A. Jackson and Helen M. Salisbury
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse






1921, by THE CENTURY CO.






"Your trouble is nervous. There is nothing we can cut out and there is nothing we can give medicine for." With these words a young college student was dismissed from one of our great diagnostic clinics.

The physician was right. In a nervous disorder there is nothing to cut out and there is nothing to give medicine for. Nevertheless there is something to be done,—something which is as definite and scientific as a prescription or a surgical operation.

Psychotherapy, which is treatment by the mental measures of psycho-analysis and re-education, is an established procedure in the scientific world to-day. Nervous disorders are now curable, as has been proved by the clinical results in scores of cases from civil life, under treatment by Freud, Janet, Prince, Sidis, DuBois, and others; and in thousands of cases of war neuroses as reported by Smith and Pear, Eder, MacCurdy, and other military observers. These army experts have shown that shell-shock in war is the same as nervousness in civil life and that both may be cured by psycho-analysis and re-education.

For more than a decade, in handling nervous cases, I have made use of the findings of recognized authorities on psychopathology. Truths have been applied in a special way, with the features of re-education so emphasized that my home has been called a psychological boarding-school. As the alumni have gone back to the game of life with no haunting memories of usual sanatorium methods, but with the equipment of a fuller self-knowledge and sense of power, they have sent back a call for some word that shall extend this helpful message to a larger circle.

There has come, too, a demand for a book which shall give accurate and up-to-date information to those physicians who are eager for light on the subject of nervous disorders, and especially for knowledge of the significant contributions of Sigmund Freud, but who are too busy to devote time to highly technical volumes outside their own specialties.

This need for a simple, comprehensive presentation of the Freudian principles I have attempted to meet in this primer of psychotherapy, providing enough of biological and psychological background to make them intelligible, and enough application and illustration to make them useful to the general practitioner or the average layman.


Pasadena, California, 1921.




In which most of us plead guilty to the charge of "nerves."



In which we learn what "nerves" are not and get a hint of what they are.




In which we find a goodly inheritance.



In which we learn more about ourselves.



In which we look below the surface and discover a veritable wonderland.



In which we learn why it pays to be cheerful.



In which we go to the root of the matter.




In which we pick up the clue.



In which we discover new stores of energy and relearn the truth about fatigue.



In which the ban is lifted.



In which we learn an old trick.



In which handicaps are dropped.



In which we lose our dread of night.



In which we raise our thresholds.



In which we learn discrimination.



In which we find new use for our steam.







In Which Most of Us Plead Guilty to the Charge of "Nerves."



Whenever the subject of "nerves" is mentioned most people begin trying to prove an alibi. The man who is nervous and knows that he is nervous, realizes that he needs help, but the man who has as yet felt no lack of stability in himself is quite likely to be impatient with that whole class of people who are liable to nervous breakdown. It is therefore well to remind ourselves at once that the line between the so-called "normal" and the nervous is an exceedingly fine one. "Nervous invalids and well people are indistinguishable both in theory and in practice,"[1] and "after all we are most of us more or less neurasthenic."[2] The fact is that everybody is a possible neurotic.

[Footnote 1: Putnam: Human Motives, p. 117.]

[Footnote 2: DuBois: Physic Treatment of Nervous Disorders, p. 172.]

So, as we think about nervous folk and begin to recognize our friends and relatives in this class, it may be that some of us will unexpectedly find ourselves looking in the mirror. Some of our lifelong habits may turn out to be nervous tricks. At any rate, it behooves us to be careful about throwing stones, for most of us live in houses that are at least part glass.


Am I "Like Folks"? Before we begin to talk about the real sufferer from "nerves," the nervous invalid, let us look for some of the earmarks that are often found on the supposedly well person. All of these signs are deviations from the normal and are sure indications of nervousness. The test question for each individual is this: "Am I 'like folks'?" To be normal and to be well is to be "like folks." Can the average man stand this or that? If he can, then you are not normal if you cannot. Do the people around you eat the thing that upsets you? If they do, ten chances to one your trouble is not a physical idiosyncrasy, but a nervous habit. In bodily matters, at least, it is a good thing to be one of the crowd.

Many people who would resent being called anything but normal—in general—are not at all loth to be thought "different," when it comes to particulars. Are there not many of us who are at small pains to hide the fact that we "didn't sleep a wink last night," or that we "can't stand" a ticking clock or a crowing rooster? We sometimes consider it a mark of distinction to have a delicate appetite and to have to choose our food with care. If we are frank with ourselves, some of us will have to admit that our own ailments seem interesting, while the other person's ills are "merely nervous" or imaginary or abnormal. After all, a good many of us will have to plead guilty to the charge of nervousness.

We have only to read the endless advertisements of cathartics and "internal baths," or to check up the quantity of laxatives sold at any drug store, to realize the wide-spread bondage to that great bugaboo constipation. He who is constipated can hardly prove an alibi to "nerves." Then there are the school-teachers and others who are worn out at the end of each year's work, hardly able to hold on until vacation; and the people who can't manage their tempers; and those who are upset over trifles; and those who are dissatisfied with life. To a certain degree, at least, all of these are nervous persons. The list grows.

Half-Power Engines. These people are all supposed to be well. They keep going—by fits and starts—and as they are used to running on three cylinders, with frequent stops for repairs, they accept this rate of living as a matter of course, never realizing that they might be sixty horse-power engines, instead of their little thirty or forty. For this large and neglected class of people psychotherapy has a stimulating message, and for them many of the following pages have been written.

The Real Sufferers. These so-called normal people are merely on the fringe of nervousness, on the border line between normality and disease. Beyond them there exists a great company of those whose lives have been literally wrecked by "nerves." Their work interrupted or given up for good, their minds harassed by doubts and fears, their bodies incapacitated, they crowd the sanatoria and the health resorts in a vain search for health. From New England to Florida they seek, and on to Colorado and California, and perhaps to Hawaii and the Orient, thinking by rest and change to pull themselves together and become whole again. There are thousands of these people—lawyers, preachers, teachers, mothers, social workers, business and professional folk of all sorts, the kind of persons the world needs most—laid off for months or years of treatment, on account of some kind of nervous disorder.

Various Types of Nervousness. The psychoneuroses are of many forms.[3] To some people "nerves" means nervous prostration, breakdown, fatigue, weakness, insomnia, the blues, upset stomach, or unsteady heart,—all signs of so-called neurasthenia or nerve-weakness. To others the word "nerves" calls up memories of strange, emotional storms that seem to rise out of nowhere, to sweep the sky clear of everything else, and to pass as they came, leaving the victim and the family equally mystified as to their meaning. These strange alterations of personality are but one manifestation of hysteria, that myriad-faced disorder which is able to mimic so successfully the symptoms of almost every known disease, from tumors and fevers to paralysis and blindness.

[Footnote 3: The technical term for nervousness is psycho-neurosis—disease of the psyche. There are certain "real neuroses" such as paralysis and spinal-cord disease, which involve an organic impairment of nerve-tissue. However, as this book deals only with psychic disturbance, we shall, throughout, use the term neuroses and psycho-neuroses indiscriminately, to denote nervous or functional disorders.]

To still other people nervous trouble means fear,—just terrible fear without object or meaning or reason (anxiety neuroses); or a definite fear of some harmless object (phobia); or a strange, persistent, recurrent idea, quite foreign to the personality and beyond the reach of reason (obsession); or an insistent desire to perform some absurd act (compulsion); or perhaps, a deadly and pall-like depression (the blues).

As a matter of fact, the neuroses include all these varieties, and various shades and combinations of each. There are, however, certain mental characteristics which recur with surprising regularity in most of the various phases—dissatisfaction, lack of confidence, a sense of being alone and shut in to oneself, doubt, anxiety, fear, worry, self-depreciation, lack of interest in outside affairs, pessimism, fixed belief in one's powerlessness, along whatever line it may be.

Underneath all these differing forms of nervousness are the same mechanisms and the same kind of difficulty. To understand one is to understand all, and to understand normal people as well; for in the last analysis we are one and all built on the same lines and governed by the same laws. The only difference is, that, as Jung says, "the nervous person falls ill of the conflicts with which the well person battles successfully."


Since at least seventy-five per cent. of all the people who apply to physicians for help are nervous patients; and since these thousands of patients are not among the mental incompetents, but are as a rule among the highly organized, conscientious folk who have most to contribute to the leadership of the world, it is obviously of vital importance to society that its citizens should be taught how to solve their inner conflicts and keep well. In this strategic period of reconstruction, the world that is being remodeled cannot afford to lose one leader because of an unnecessary breakdown.

There is greater need than ever for people who can keep at their tasks without long enforced rests; people who can think deeply and continuously without brain-fag; people who can concentrate all their powers on the work in hand without wasting time or energy on unnecessary aches and pains; people whose bodies are kept up to the top notch of vitality by well-digested food, well-slept sleep, well-forgotten fatigue, and well-used reserve energy. That such a state of affairs is no Utopian dream, but is merely a matter of knowing how, will appear more clearly in later chapters.


In which we learn what "nerves" are not, and get a hint of what they are



"Nerves" not Nerves. Pick up any newspaper, turn over a few pages, and you will be sure to come to an advertisement something like this:

Tired man, your nerves are sick! They need rest and a tonic to restore their worn-out depleted cells!

No wonder people have believed this kind of thing. It has been dinned into their ears for many years. They have read it with their breakfast coffee and gazed at it in the street cars and even heard it from their family physicians, until it has become part and parcel of their thinking; yet all the time the fundamental idea has been false, and now, at last, the theory is exploded.

So far as the modern laboratory can discover, the nerves of the most confirmed neurotic are perfectly healthy. They are not starved, nor depleted, nor exhausted; the fat-sheath is not wanting, there is no inflammation, there is nothing lacking in the cell itself, and there is no accumulation of fatigue products. Paradoxical as it may sound, there is nothing the matter with a nervous person's nerves. The faithful messengers have borne the blame for so long that their name has gotten itself woven into the very language as symbolic of disease. When we speak of nervous prostration, neurasthenia, neuroses, nervousness, and "nerves" we mean that body and mind are behaving badly because of functional disorder. These terms are good enough as figures of speech, so long as we are not fooled by them; but accepting them in their literal sense has been a costly procedure.

Thanks to the investigations of physiologist and psychologist, usually combined in the person of a physician, "nervousness" has been found to be not an organic disease but a functional one. This is a very important distinction, for an organic disease implies impairment of the tissues of the organ, while a functional disorder means only a disturbance of its action. In a purely nervous disorder there seems to be no trouble with what the nerves and organs are, but only with what they do; it is behavior and not tissue that is at fault. Of course, in real life, things are seldom as clear-cut as they are in books, and so it happens that often there is a combination of organic and functional disease that is puzzling even to a skilled diagnostician. The first essential is a diagnosis as to whether it be an organic disease, with accompanying nervous symptoms, or a functional disturbance complicated by some minor organic trouble. If the main cause is organic, only physical means can cure it, but if the trouble is functional, no amount of medicine or surgery, diet or rest, will touch it; yet the symptoms are so similar and the dividing line is so elusive, that great skill is sometimes required to determine whether a given symptom points to a disturbance of physical tissue or only to behavior.

If the physician is sometimes fooled, how much more the sufferer himself! Nausea from a healthy stomach is just as sickening as nausea from a diseased one. A fainting-spell is equally uncomfortable, whether it come from an impaired heart or simply from one that is behaving badly for the moment. It must be remembered that in functional nervousness the trouble is very real. The organs are really "acting up." Sometimes it is the brain that misbehaves instead of the stomach or heart. In that case it often reports all kinds of pains that have no origin outside of the brain. Pain, of course, is perceived only by the brain. Cut the telegraph wire, the nerve, and no amount of injury to the finger can cause pain. It is equally true that a misbehaving brain can report sensations that have no external cause, that have not come in through the regular channel along the nerve. The pain feels just the same, is every bit as uncomfortable as though its cause were external.

Sometimes, instead of reporting false pains, the brain misbehaves in other ways. It seems to lose its power to decide, to concentrate, or to remember. Then the patient is almost sure to fancy himself going insane. But insanity is a physical disease, implying changes or toxins in the brain cells. Functional disorders tell another story. Their cause is different, even though the picture they present is often a close copy of an organic disease.

Distorted Pictures. It should not be thought, however, that the symptoms of functional and organic troubles are identical. Hysteria and neurasthenia closely simulate every imaginable physical disease, but they do not exactly parallel any one of them. It may take a skilled eye to discover the differences, but differences there are. Functional troubles usually show a near-picture of organic disease, with just enough contradictory or inconsistent features to furnish a clue as to their real nature. For this reason it is important that the treatment of the disease be solely the province of the physician; for only the carefully trained in all the requirements of diagnosis can differentiate the pseudo from the real, the innocuous from the disastrous.

False or nervous neuritis may feel like real neuritis (the result of poisons in the blood), but it gives itself away when it localizes itself in parts of the body where there is no nerve trunk. The exhaustion of neurasthenia sometimes seems extreme enough to be the result of a dangerous physical condition; but when this exhaustion disappears as if by magic under the proper kind of treatment, we know that the trouble cannot be in the body. Let it be said, then, with all the emphasis we can command, "nerves" are not physical. Laboratory investigation, contradictory symptoms, and response to treatment all bear witness to this fact. Whatever symptoms of disturbance there may be in pure nervousness, the nerves and organs can in no way be shown to be diseased.


"Nerves" not Imaginary. "But," some one says, "how can healthy organs misbehave in this way? Something must be wrong. There must be some cause. If 'nerves' are not physical, what are they? They surely can't be imaginary." Most emphatically, they are real; nothing could be more maddening than to have some one suggest that our troubles are "mere imagination." No wonder such theories have been more popular with the patient's family than with the patient himself. Many years ago a physician put the whole truth into a few words: "The patient says, 'I cannot'; his friends say, 'He will not'; the doctor says, 'He cannot will.'" He tries, but in the circumstances he really cannot.

The Man behind the Body. The trouble is real; the organs do "act up"; the nerves do carry the wrong messages. But the nerves are merely telegraph wires. They are not responsible for the messages that are given them to carry. Behind the wires is the operator, the man higher up, and upon him the responsibility falls. In functional troubles the body is working in a perfectly normal way, considering the perverted conditions. It is doing its work well, doing just what it is told, obeying its master. The troubles are not with the bodily machine but with the master. The man behind the body is in trouble and he really has no way of showing his pain except through his body. The trouble in nervous disorders is in the personality, the soul, the realm of ideas, and that is not your body, but you. Loss of appetite may mean either that the powers of the physical organism are busily engaged in combating some poison circulating in the blood, or that the ego is "up against" conditions for which it has "no stomach." Paralysis may be due to a hemorrhage into the brain tissues from a diseased blood vessel, or it may symbolize a sense of inadequacy and defeat. Exaggerated exhaustion, halting feet, stammering tongue, may give evidence of a disturbed ego rather than of a diseased brain.

All Body and no Mind. At last we have begun to realize what we ought to have known all along,—that the body is not the whole man. The medical world for a long time has been in danger of forgetting or ignoring psychic suffering, while it has devoted itself to the treatment of physical disease.

By way of condoning this fault it must be recognized that the five years of medical school have been all too short to learn what is needed of physiology and anatomy, histology, bacteriology, and the various other physical sciences. But at last the medical schools are realizing that they have been sending their graduates out only half-prepared—conversant with only one half of a patient, leaving them to fend for themselves in discovering the ways of the other half. Many an M.D. has gone a long way in this exploration. Native common sense, intuition, and careful study have enabled him to go beyond what he had learned in his text-books. But in the best universities the present-day student of medicine is now being given an insight into the ways of man as a whole—mind as well as body. The movement can hardly proceed too rapidly, and when it has had time to reach its goal, the day of the long-term sentence to nervousness will be past.

In the meanwhile most physicians, lacking such knowledge and with the eye fixed largely on the body, have been pumping out the stomach, prescribing lengthy rest-cures, trying massage, diet, electricity, and surgical operations, in a vain attempt to cure a disease of the personality. Physical measures have been given a good trial, but few would contend that they have succeeded. Sometimes the patient has recovered—in time—but often, apparently, despite the treatment rather than because of it. Sometimes, in the hands of a man like Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, results seem good, until we realize that the same measures are ineffective when tried by other men, and that, after all, what has counted most has been the personality of the physician rather than his physical treatment.

No wonder that most doctors have disliked nervous cases. To a man trained in all the exactness of the physical sciences, the apparent lawlessness and irresponsibility of the psychic side of the personality is especially repugnant. He is impatient of what he fails to comprehend.

All Mind and no Body. This unsympathetic attitude, often only half conscious on the part of the regular practitioners, has led many thousands of people to follow will-o'-the-wisp cults, which pay no attention to the findings of science, but which emphasize a realization of man's spiritual nature. Many of these cults, founded largely on untruth or half-falsehood, have succeeded in cases where careful science has failed. Despite fearful blunders and execrable lack of discrimination in attempting to cure all the ills that flesh is heir to by methods that apply only to functional troubles, ignorant enthusiasts and quacks have sometimes cured nervous troubles where the conscientious medical man has had to acknowledge defeat.

The Whole Man. But thinking people are not willing to desert science for cults that ignore the existence of these physical bodies. If they have found it unsatisfactory to be treated as if they were all body, they have also been unwilling to be treated as if they were all mind. They have been in a dilemma between two half-truths, even if they have not realized the dilemma. It has remained for modern psychotherapy to strike the balance—to treat the whole man. Solidly planted on the rock of the physical sciences, with its laboratories, physiological and psychological, and with a long record of investigation and treatment of pathological cases, it resembles the mind cure of earlier days or the assertions of Christian Science about as much as modern medicine resembles the old bloodletting, leeching practices of our forefathers.

For the last quarter-century there have been scattered groups of physicians,—brilliant, patient pioneers,—who, recognizing man as spirit inhabiting body, have explored the realm of man's mind and charted its paths. These pioneers, beginning with Charcot, have been men of acknowledged scientific training and spirit, whose word must be respected and whose success in treating functional troubles stands out in sharp contrast to the fumblings of the average practitioner in this field. The results of their work have been positive, not negative. They have not merely asserted that nervous disorders are not physical; they have discovered what the trouble is and have found it to be discoverable and removable in almost every case, provided only that the right method is used.

Ourselves and Our Bodies. If the statement that "nervous troubles are neither physical nor imaginary but a disease of the personality," sounds rather mystifying to the average person, it is only because the average person is not very conversant with his own inner life. We shall hope, later on, to find some definite guide-posts and landmarks which will help us feel more at home in this fascinating realm. At present, we are not attempting anything more than a suggestion of the itinerary which we shall follow. A book on physical hygiene can presuppose at least a rudimentary knowledge of heart and lungs and circulation, but a book on mental hygiene must begin at the beginning, and even before the beginning must clear away misconceptions and make clear certain fundamental principles. But the gist of the whole matter is this: in a neurosis, certain forces of the personality—instincts and their accompanying emotions—which ought to work harmoniously, having become tangled up with some erroneous ideas, have lost their power of cooeperation and are working at cross purposes, leaving the individual mis-adapted to his environment, the prey of all sorts of mental and physical disturbances.

The fact that the cause is mental while the result is often physical, should cause no surprise. In the physiological realm we are used to the idea that cause and effect are often widely separated. A headache may be caused by faulty eyes, or it may result from trouble in the intestines. In the same way, we should not be too much surprised if the cause of nervous troubles is found to be even more remote, provided there is some connecting link between cause and effect. The difficulty in this case is the apparent gulf between the realm of the spirit and the realm of the body. It is hard to see how an intangible thing like a thought can produce a pain in the arm or nausea in the stomach. Philosophers are still arguing concerning the nature of the relation between mind and body, but no one denies that the closest relation does exist. Every year science is learning that ideas count and that they count physically, as well as spiritually.

Such Stuff as "Nerves" are Made Of. Dr. Tom A. Williams in the little composite volume "Psychotherapeutics" says that the neuroses are based not on inherently weak nervous constitutions but on ignorance and on false ideas. What, then, are some of these erroneous ideas, these misconceptions, that cause so much trouble? We shall want to examine them more carefully in later chapters, but we might glance now at a few examples of these popular bugaboos that need to be slain by the sword of cold, hard fact.

Popular Misconceptions about the Body.

1 "Eight hours' sleep is essential to health. All insomnia is dangerous and is incompatible with health. Nervous insomnia leads to shattered nerves and ultimately to insanity."

2 "Overwork leads to nervous breakdown. Fatigue accumulates from day to day and necessitates a long rest for recuperation."

3 "A carefully planned diet is essential to health, especially for the nervous person. A variety of food, eaten at the same time, is harmful. Acid and milk—for example, oranges and milk—are difficult to digest. Sour stomach is a sign of indigestion."

4 "Modern life is so strenuous that our nerves cannot stand the strain."

5 "Brain work is very fatiguing. It causes brain-fag and exhaustion."

6 "Constipation is at the root of most physical ailments and is caused by eating the wrong kind of food."

Some of these misconceptions are household words and are so all but universally believed that the thought that they can be challenged is enough to bewilder one. However, it is ideas like this that furnish the material out of which many a nervous trouble is made. Based on a half-knowledge of the human body, on logical conclusions from faulty premises, on hastily swallowed notions passed on from one person to another, they tend by the very power of an idea to work themselves out to fulfilment.


Ideas Count. Ideas are not the lifeless things they may appear. They are not merely intellectual property that can be locked up and ignored at will, nor are they playthings that can be taken up or discarded according to the caprice of the moment. Ideas work themselves into the very fiber of our being. They are part of us and they do things. If they are true, in line with things as they are, they do things that are for our good, but if they are false, we often discover that they have an altogether unsuspected power for harm and are capable of astonishing results, results which have no apparent relation to the ideas responsible for them and which are, therefore, laid to physical causes. Thinking straight, then, becomes a hygienic as well as a moral duty.

Ideas and Emotions. Ideas do not depend upon themselves for their driving-power. Life is not a cold intellectual process; it is a vivid experience, vibrant with feeling and emotion. It therefore happens that the experiences of life tend to bring ideas and emotions together and when an idea and an emotion get linked up together, they tend to stay together, especially if the emotion be intense or the experience is often repeated.

The word emotion means outgoing motion, discharging force. This force is like live steam. An emotion is the driving part of an instinct. It is the dynamic force, the electric current which supplies the power for every thought and every action of a human life.

Man is not a passive creature. The words that describe him are not passive words. Indeed, it is almost impossible to think about man at all except in terms of desire, impulse, purpose, action, energy. There are three things that may be done with energy: First, it may be frittered away, allowed to leak, to escape. Secondly, it may be locked up; this results usually in an explosion, a finding of destructive outlets. Finally, it may be harnessed, controlled, used in beneficent ways. Health and happiness depend upon which one of the three courses is taken.


Evidently, it is highly important to have a working knowledge of these emotions and instincts; important to know enough about them and their purpose to handle them rightly if they do not spontaneously work together for our best character and health. The problems of character and the problems of health so overlap that it is impossible to write a book about nervous disorders which does not at the same time deal with the principles of character-formation. The laws and mechanisms which govern the everyday life of the normal person are the same laws and mechanisms which make the nervous person ill. As Boris Sidis puts it, "The pathological is the normal out of place." The person who is master of himself, working together as a harmonious whole, is stronger in every way than the person whose forces are divided. Given a little self-knowledge, the nervous invalid often becomes one of the most successful members of society,—to use the word successful in the best sense.

It Pays to Know. To be educated is to have the right idea and the right emotion in the right place. To be sure, some people have so well learned the secret of poise that they do not have to study the why nor the how. Intuition often far outruns knowledge. It would be foolish indeed to suggest that only the person versed in psychological lore is skilled in the art of living. Psychology is not life; it can make no claim to furnish the motive nor the power for successful living, for it is not faith, nor hope, nor love; but it tries to point the way and to help us fulfil conditions. There is no more reason why the average man should be unaware of the instincts or the subconscious mind, than that he should be ignorant of germs or of the need of fresh air.

If it be argued that character and health are both inherently by-products of self-forgetful service, rather than of painstaking thought, we answer that this is true, but that there can be no self-forgetting when things have gone too far wrong. At such times it pays to look in, if we can do it intelligently, in order that we may the sooner get our eyes off ourselves and look out. The pursuit of self-knowledge is not a pleasurable pastime but simply a valuable means to an end.


Counting on Ourselves. Knowing our machine makes us better able to handle it. For, after all, each of us is, in many ways, very like a piece of marvelous and complicated machinery. For one thing, our minds, as well as our bodies, are subject to uniform laws upon which we can depend. We are not creatures of chaos; under certain conditions we can count on ourselves. Freedom does not mean freedom from the reign of law. It means that, to a certain extent, we can make use of the laws. Psychic laws are as susceptible to investigation, verification, and use as are any laws in the physical world. Each person is so much the center of his own life that it is very easy for him to fall into the way of thinking that he is different from all the rest of the world. It is a healthful experience for him to realize that every person he meets is made on the same principles, impelled by the same forces, and fighting much the same fight. Since the laws of the mental world are uniform, we can count on them as aids toward understanding other people and understanding ourselves.

"Intelligent Scrutiny versus Morbid Introspection." It helps wonderfully to be able to look at ourselves in an objective, impersonal way. We are likely to be overcome by emotion, or swept by vague longings which seem to have no meaning and which, just because they are bound up so closely with our own ego, are not looked at but are merely felt. Unknown forces are within us, pulling us this way and that, until sometimes we who should be masters are helpless slaves. One great help toward mastery and one long step toward serenity is a working-knowledge of the causes and an impersonal interest in the phenomena going on within. Introspection is a morbid, emotional fixation on self, until it takes on this quality of objectivity. What Cabot calls the "sin of impersonality" is a grievous sin when directed toward another person, but most of us could stand a good deal of ingrowing impersonality without any harm.

The fact that the human machine can run itself without a hitch in the majority of cases is witness to its inherent tendency toward health. People were living and living well through all the centuries before the science of psychology was formulated. But not with all people do things run so smoothly. There were demoniacs in Bible times and neurotics in the Middle Ages, as there are nervous invalids and half-well people to-day. Psychology has a real contribution to make, and in recent years its lessons have been put into language which the average man can understand.

Psychology is not merely interested in abstract terms with long names. It is no longer absorbed merely in states of consciousness taken separately and analyzed abstractly. The newer functional psychology is increasingly interested in the study of real persons, their purposes and interests, what they feel and value, and how they may learn to realize their highest aspirations. It is about ordinary people, as they think and act, in the kitchen, on the street cars, at the bargain-counter, people in crowds and alone, mothers and their babies, little children at play, young girls with their lovers, and all the rest of human life. It is the science of you, and as such it can hardly help being interesting.

While psychology deals with such topics as the subconscious mind, the instincts, the laws of habit, and association of ideas and suggestion, it is after all not so much an academic as a practical question. These forces govern the thought you are thinking at this moment, the way you will feel a half-hour from now, the mood you will be in to-morrow, the friends you will make and the profession you will choose, besides having a large share in the health or ill-health of your body in the meantime.


Perhaps it would be well before going farther to summarize what we have been saying. Here in a nutshell is the kernel of the subject:

Disease may be caused by physical or by psychic forces. A "nervous" disorder is not a physical but a psychic disease. It is caused not by lack of energy but by misdirected energy; not by overwork or nerve-depletion, but by misconception, emotional conflict, repressed instincts, and buried memories. Seventy-five per cent. of all cases of ill-health are due to psychic causes, to disjointed thinking rather than to a disjointed spine. Wherefore, let us learn to think right.

In outline form, the trouble in a neurosis may be stated something like this:

Lack of adaptation to the social environment—caused by Lack of harmony within the personality—caused by Misdirected energy—caused by Inappropriate emotions—caused by Wrong ideas or ignorance.

Working backward, the cure naturally would be:

Right ideas—resulting in Appropriate emotions—resulting in Redirected energy—resulting in Harmony—resulting in Readjustment to the environment.

If the reader is beginning to feel somewhat bewildered by these general statements, let him take heart. So far we have tried merely to suggest the outline of the whole problem, but we shall in the future be more specific. Nervous troubles, which seem so simple, are really involved with the whole mechanism of mental life and can in no way be understood except as these mechanisms are understood. We have hinted at some of the causes of "nerves," but we cannot give a real explanation until we explain the forces behind them. These forces may at first seem a bit abstract, or a bit remote from the main theme, but each is essential to the story of nerves and to the understanding of the more practical chapters in Part III.

As in a Bernard Shaw play, the preface may be the most important part of this "drama of nerves." Nor is the figure too far-fetched, because, strange as it may seem, every neurosis is in essence a drama. It has its conflict, its villain, and its victim, its love-story, its practical joke, its climax, and its denouement. Sometimes the play goes on forever with no solution, but sometimes psychotherapy steps in as the fairy god-mother, to release the victim, outwit the villain, and bring about the live-happily-ever-after ending.



In which we find a goodly inheritance



A fire mist and a planet, A crystal and a cell, A jelly-fish and a saurian, And caves where cavemen dwell; Then a sense of law and beauty, And a face turned from the clod; Some call it evolution And others call it God.[4]

If we begin at the beginning, we have to go back a long way to get our start, for the roots of our family tree reach back over millions of years. "In the beginning—God." These first words of the book of Genesis must be, in spirit at least, the first words of any discussion of life. We know now, however, that when God made man, He did not complete His masterpiece at one sitting, but instead devised a plan by which the onward urge within and the environment without should act and interact until from countless adaptations a human being was made.

[Footnote 4: William Herbert Carruth.]

As the late Dr. Putnam of Harvard University says, "We stand as the representative of a Creative Energy that expressed itself first in far simpler forms of life and finally in the form of human instincts."[5] And again: "The choices and decisions of the organisms whose lives prepared the way through eons of time for ours, present themselves to us as instincts."[6]

[Footnote 5: Putnam: Human Motives, p. 32.]

[Footnote 6: Putnam: Human Motives, p. 18.]


Back of Our Dispositions. What is it that makes the baby jump at a noise? What energizes a man when you tell him he is a liar? What makes a young girl blush when you look at her, or a youth begin to take pains with his necktie? What makes men go to war or build tunnels or found hospitals or make love or save for a home? What makes a woman slave for her children, or give her life for them if need be? "Instinct" you say, and rightly. Back of every one of these well-known human tendencies is a specific instinct or group of instincts. The story of the life of man and the story of the mind of man must begin with the instincts. Indeed, any intelligent approach to human life, whether it be that of the mother, the teacher, the preacher, the social worker or the neurologist, leads back inevitably to the instincts as the starting-point of understanding. But what is instinct?

We are apt to be a bit hazy on that point, as we are on any fundamental thing with which we intimately live. We reckon on these instinctive tendencies every hour of the day, but as we are not used to labeling them, it may help in the very beginning of our discussion to have a list before our eyes. Here, then, is a list of the fundamental tendencies of the human race and the emotions which drive them to fulfilment.


Instinct Emotion

Nutritive Instinct Hunger Flight Fear Repulsion Disgust Curiosity Wonder Self-assertion Positive Self-feeling (Elation) Self-abasement Negative Self-feeling (Subjection) Gregariousness Emotion unnamed Acquisition Love of Possession Construction Emotion unnamed Pugnacity Anger Reproductive Instinct Emotion unnamed Parental Instinct Tender Emotion

These are the fundamental tendencies or dispositions with which every human being is endowed as he comes into the world. Differing in degree in different individuals, they unite in varying proportions to form various kinds of dispositions, but are in greater or less degree the common property of us all.

There flows through the life of every creature a steady stream of energy. Scientists have not been able to decide on a descriptive term for this all-important life-force. It has been variously called "libido," "vital impulse" or "elan vital," "the spirit of life," "horme," and "creative energy." The chief business of this life-force seems to be the preservation and development of the individual and the preservation and development of the race. In the service of these two needs have grown up these habit-reactions which we call instincts. The first ten of our list belong under the heading of self-preservation and the last two under that of race-preservation. As hunger is the most urgent representative of the self-preservative group, and as reproduction and parental care make up the race-preservative group, some scientists refer all impulses to the two great instincts of nutrition and sex, using these words in the widest sense. However, it will be useful for our purpose to follow McDougall's classification and to examine individually the various tendencies of the two groups.

In Debt to Our Ancestors. An instinct is the result of the experience of the race, laid in brain and nerve-cells ready for use. It is a gift from our ancestors, an inheritance from the education of the age-long line of beings who have gone before. In the struggle for existence, it has been necessary for the members of the race to feed themselves, to run away from danger, to fight, to herd together, to reproduce themselves, to care for their young, and to do various other things which make for the well-being or preservation of the race. The individuals that did these things at the right time survived and passed on to their offspring an inherited tendency to this kind of reaction. McDougall defines an instinct as "an inherited or innate psycho-physical disposition which determines its possessor to perceive or pay attention to objects of a certain class, to experience an emotional excitement of a particular quality upon perceiving such an object, and to act in regard to it in a particular manner, or at least to experience an impulse to such action." This is just what an instinct is,—an inherited disposition to notice, to feel, and to want to act in certain ways in certain situations. It is the something which makes us act when we cannot explain why, the something that goes deeper than reason, and that links us to all other human beings,—those who live to-day and those who have gone before.

It is true that East is East and West is West, but the two do meet in the common foundation of our human nature. The likeness between men and between races is far greater and far more fundamental than the differences can ever be.

Firing Up the Engine. Purpose is writ large across the face of an instinct, and that purpose is always toward action. Whenever a situation arises which demands instantaneous action, the instinct is the means of securing it. Planted within the creature is a tendency which makes it perceive and feel and act in the appropriate way. It will be noticed that there are three distinct parts to the process, corresponding to intellect, emotion, will. The initial intellectual part makes us sensitive to certain situations, makes us recognize an object as meaningful and significant, and waves the flag for the emotion; the emotion fires up the engine, pulls the levers all over the body that release its energy and get it ready for action, and pushes the button that calls into the mind an intense, almost irresistible desire or impulse to act. Once aroused, the emotion and the impulse are not to be changed. In man or beast, in savage or savant, the intense feeling, the marked bodily changes, and the yearning for action are identical and unchangeable. The brakes can be put on and the action suppressed, but in that case the end of the whole process is defeated. Could anything be plainer than that an instinct and its emotion were never intended to be aroused except in situations in which their characteristic action is to be desired? An emotion is the hot part of an instinct and exists solely for securing action. If all signs of the emotion are to be suppressed, all expression denied, why the emotion?

But although the emotion and the impulse, once aroused, are beyond control, there is yet one part of the instinct that is meant to be controlled. The initial or receptive portion, that which notices a situation, recognizes it as significant, and sends in the signal for action, can be trained to discrimination. This is where reason comes in. If the situation calls for flight, fear is in order; if it calls for fight, anger is in order; if it calls for examination, wonder is in order; but if it calls for none of these things, reason should show some discrimination and refuse to call up the emotion.

The Right of Way. There is a law that comes to the aid of reason in this dilemma and that is the "law of the common path."[7] By this is meant that man is capable of but one intense emotion at a time. No one can imagine himself strenuously making love while he is shaken by an agony of fear, or ravenously eating while he is in a passion of rage. The stronger emotion gets the right of way, obtains control of mental and bodily machinery, and leaves no room for opposite states. If the two emotions are not antagonistic, they may blend together to form a compound emotion, but if in the nature of the case such a blending is impossible, the weaker is for the time being forgotten in the intensity of the stronger. "The expulsive power of a new affection" is not merely a happy phrase; it is a fact in every day life. The problem, then, resolves itself into ways of making the desirable emotion the stronger, of learning how to form the habit of giving it the head start and the right of way. In our chapter on "Choosing the Emotions," we shall find that much depends on building up the right kind of sentiments, or the permanent organization of instincts around ideas. However, we must first look more closely at the separate instincts to acquaint ourselves with the purpose and the ways of each, and to discover the nature of the forces with which we have to deal.

[Footnote 7: Sherrington: Integrative Action of the Nervous System.]


Hunger. Hunger is the most pressing desire of the egoistic or self-preserving impulse. The yearning for food and the impulse to seek and eat it are aroused organically within the body and are behind much of the activity of every type of life. As the impulse is so familiar, and its promptings are so little subject to psychic control, it seems unnecessary to do more than mention its importance.

Flight and Fear. All through the ages the race has been subject to injury. Species has been pitted against species, individual against individual. He who could fight hardest or run fastest has survived and passed his abilities on to his offspring. Not all could be strongest for fight, and many species have owed their existence to their ability to run and to know when to run. Thus it is that one of the strongest and most universal tendencies is the instinct for flight, and its emotion, fear. "Fear is the representation of injury and is born of the innumerable injuries which have been inflicted in the course of evolution."[8] Some babies are frightened if they are held too loosely, even though they have never known a fall. Some persons have an instinctive fear of cats, a left-over from the time when the race needed to flee from the tiger and others of the cat family. Almost every one, no matter in what state of culture, fears the unknown because the race before him has had to be afraid of that which was not familiar.

[Footnote 8: Crile: Origin and Nature of the Emotions.]

The emotion of fear is well known, but its purpose is not so often recognized. An emotion brings about internal changes, visceral changes they are called, which enable the organism to act on the emotion,—to accomplish its object. There is only so much energy available at a given moment, stored up in the brain cells, ready for use. In such an emergency as flight every ounce of energy is needed. The large muscles used in running must have a great supply of extra energy. The heart and lungs must be speeded up in order to provide oxygen and take care of extra waste products. The special senses of sight and hearing must be sensitized. Digestion and intestinal peristalsis must be stopped in order to save energy. No person could by conscious thought accomplish all these things. How, then, are they brought about?

Internal Laboratories. In the wonderful internal laboratory of the body there are little glands whose business it is to secrete chemicals for just these emergencies. When an object is sighted which arouses fear, the brain cells flash instantaneous messages over the body, among others to the supra-renal glands or adrenals, just over the kidneys, and to the thyroid gland in the neck. Instantly these glands pour forth adrenalin and thyroid secretion into the blood, and the body responds. Blood pressure rises; brain cells speed up; the liver pours forth glycogen, its ready-to-burn fuel; sweat-glands send forth cold perspiration in order to regulate temperature; blood is pumped out from stomach and intestines to the external muscles. As we have seen, the body as a whole can respond to just one stimulus at a time. The response to this stimulus has the right of way. The whole body is integrated, set for this one thing. When fear holds the switchboard no other messages are allowed on the line, and the creature is ready for flight.

But after flight comes concealment with the opposite bodily need, the need for absolute silence. This is why we sometimes get the opposite result. The heart seems to stop beating, the breath ceases, the limbs refuse to move, all because our ancestors needed to hide after they had run, and because we are in a very real way a part of them.

Old-Fashioned Fear. There is one passage from Dr. Crile's book which so admirably sums up these points that it seems worth while to insert it at length.

We fear not in our hearts alone, not in our brains alone, not in our viscera alone—fear influences every organ and tissue. Each organ or tissue is stimulated or inhibited according to its use or hindrance in the physical struggle for existence. By thus concentrating all or most of the nerve force on the nerve-muscular mechanism for defense, a greater physical power is developed. Hence it is that under the stimulus of fear animals are able to perform preternatural feats of strength. For the same reason, the exhaustion following fear will be increased as the powerful stimulus of fear drains the cup of nervous energy even though no visible action may result.... Perhaps the most striking difference between man and animals lies in the greater control which man has gained over his primitive instinctive reactions. As compared with the entire duration of organic evolution, man came down from his arboreal abode and assumed his new role of increased domination over the physical world but a moment ago. And now, though sitting at his desk in command of the complicated machinery of civilization, when he fears a business catastrophe his fear is manifested in the terms of his ancestral physical battle in the struggle for existence. He cannot fear intellectually, he cannot fear dispassionately, he fears with all his organs, and the same organs are stimulated and inhibited as if, instead of its being a battle of credit, or position, or of honor, it were a physical battle with teeth and claws.... Nature has but one means of response to fear, and whatever its cause the phenomena are always the same—always physical.[9]

[Footnote 9: Crile: Origin and Nature of the Emotions, p. 60 ff.]

* * * * *

The moral is as plain as day: Learn to call up fear only when speedy legs are needed, not a cool head or a comfortable digestion. Fear is a costly proceeding, an emergency measure like a fire-alarm, to be used only when the occasion is urgent enough to demand it. How often it is misused and how large a part it plays in nervous symptoms, both mental and physical, will appear more clearly in later chapters.

Repulsion and Disgust. Akin to the instinct of flight is that of repulsion, which impels us, instead of fleeing, to thrust the object away. It leads us to reject from the mouth noxious and disgusting objects and to shrink from slimy, creepy creatures, and has of course been highly useful in protecting the race from poisons and snakes. It still operates in the tendency to put away from us those things, mental or physical, toward which we feel aversion or disgust. Recent psychological discoveries have revealed how largely a neurosis consists in putting away from us—out of consciousness,—whatever we do not wish to recognize, and so it happens that disgust plays an unexpected part in nervous disorders.

Curiosity and Wonder. Fortunately for the race, it has not had to wait until different features of the environment prove to be helpful or harmful. There is an instinct which urges forward to exploration and discovery and which enables the creature not only to adapt itself to the environment but to learn how to adapt the environment to itself. This is the instinct of curiosity. It is the impulse back of all advance in science, religion, and intellectual achievement of every kind, and is sometimes called "intellectual feeling."

Self-Assertion. It goes almost without saying that one of the strongest and most important impulses of mankind is the instinct of self-assertion; it often gets us into trouble, but it is also behind every effort toward developed character. At its lowest level self-assertion manifests itself in the strutting of the peacock, the prancing of the horse, and the "See how big I am," of the small boy. At its highest level, when combined with self-consciousness and the moral sentiments acquired from society and developed into the self-regarding sentiment, it is responsible for most of our ideas of right, our conception of what is and what is not compatible with our self-respect.

Self-Abasement. Self-assertion is aroused primarily by the presence of others and especially of those to whom we feel in any way superior, but when the presence of others makes us feel small, when we want to hide or keep in the background, we are being moved by the opposite instinct of self-abasement and negative self-feeling. It may be either the real or the fancied superiority of the spectators that arouses this feeling,—their wisdom or strength, beauty or good clothes. Sometimes, as in stage-fright, it is their numerical superiority. Bashfulness is the struggle between the two self-instincts, assertion and abasement. Our impulse for self-display urges us on to make a good impression, while our feeling of inferiority impels us to get away unnoticed. Hence the struggle and the painful emotion.

Gregariousness. Man has been called a gregarious animal. That is, like the animals, he likes to run with his kind, and feels a pronounced aversion to prolonged isolation. It is this "herd-instinct," too, which makes man so extremely sensitive to the opinions of the society in which he lives. Because of this impulse to go with the crowd, ideas received through education are accepted as imperative and are backed up by all the force of the instinct of self-regard. When the teachings of society happen to run counter to the laws of our being, the possibilities of conflict are indeed great.[10]

[Footnote 10: For a thorough discussion of the importance of this instinct, see Trotter's Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War.]

Acquisition. Another fundamental disposition in both animals and men is the instinct for possession, the instinct whose function it is to provide for future needs. Squirrels and birds lay up nuts for the winter; the dog hides his bone where only he can find it. Children love to have things for their "very own," and almost invariably go through the hoarding stage in which stamps or samples or bits of string are hoarded for the sake of possession, quite apart from their usefulness or value. Much of the training of children consists in learning what is "mine" and what is "thine," and respect for the property of others can develop only out of a sense of one's own property rights.

Construction. There is an innate satisfaction in making something,—from a doll-dress to a poem,—and this satisfaction rests on the impulse to construct, to fashion something with our own hands or our own brain. The emotion accompanying this instinct is too indefinite to have a name but it is nevertheless a real one and plays a large part in the sense of power which results from the satisfaction of good work well done. Later it will be seen how closely related is this impulse to the creative instinct of reproduction and how useful it can be in drawing off the surplus energy of that much denied instinct.

Pugnacity and Anger. What is it that makes us angry? A little thought will convince us that the thing which arouses our fury is not the sight of any special object, but the blocking of any one of the other instincts. Watch any animal at bay when its chance for flight has gone. The timidest one will turn and fight with every sign of fury. Watch a mother when her young are threatened,—bear, or cat or lion or human. Fear has no place then. It is entirely displaced by anger over the balking of the maternal instinct of protection. Strictly speaking, pugnacity belongs among the instincts neither of self-preservation nor of race-preservation, but is a special device for reinforcing both groups.

As fear supplies the energy for running, so anger fits us for fight,—and for nothing but fight. The mechanism is almost identical with that of fear. Brain and liver, adrenals and thyroid are the means, but the emotion presses the button and releases the energy, stopping all digestion and energizing all combat-muscles. The blood is flooded with fuel and with substances which, if not used, are harmful to the body. We were never meant to be angry without fighting. The habit of self-control has its distinct advantages, but it is hard on the body, which was patterned before self-control came into fashion. The wise man, once he is aroused, lets off steam at the woodpile or on a long, vigorous walk. He probably does not say to himself that he is a motor animal integrated for fight and that he must get rid of glycogen and adrenalin and thyroid secretion. He only knows that he feels better "on the move."

The wiser man does not let himself get angry in the first place unless the situation calls for fight. However, the fight need not be a hand-to-hand combat with one's fellow man. William James has pointed out that there is a "moral equivalent for war," and that the energy of this instinct may be used to reinforce other impulses and help overcome obstacles of all sorts. A good deal of the business man's zest, the engineer's determination, and the reformer's zeal spring from the fight-instinct used in the right way. As James, Cannon, and others have pointed out, the way to end war may be to employ man's instinct of pugnacity in fighting the universal enemies of the race—fire, flood, famine, disease, and the various social evils—rather than let it spend its force in war between nations. Even our sports may be offshoots of the fight-instinct, for McDougall holds that the play-tendency has its root in the instinct of rivalry, a modified form of pugnacity. Evidently fighting-blood is a useful inheritance, even to-day, and rightly directed is a necessary part of a complete and forceful personality.

This, then, completes the list of self-preservative instincts, those which are commonly called egoistic and which have been given us for the maintenance of our own individual personal lives. But our endowment includes another set of impulses which are no less important and which must be reckoned with if human conduct is to be understood.


In which we learn more about ourselves



Looking beyond Ourselves. We sometimes speak of self-preservation as though it were the only law of life, while as a matter of fact it is but half the story. Nature has seen to it that there shall be planted in every living creature an innate urge toward the larger life of the race. Although the creature may never give a conscious thought to the welfare of the race, he still bears within himself a set of instincts which have as their end and aim, not the individual at all, but society as a whole, and the life of generations that are to come. He is bigger than he knows. Although he may have no notion why he feels and acts as he does, and although he may pervert the purpose for his own selfish end, he is continually being moved by the mighty impulse of the race-life, an impulse which often outrivals the desire I or his own personal existence. The craving to reproduce ourselves and the craving to cherish and protect our young are among the most dynamic forces in life. The two desires are so closely bound together that they are often spoken of as one under the name of the sex-instinct, or the family instincts. Let us look first at that part of the yearning which urges toward perpetuating our own life in offspring.

Watching Nature Work. It is wonderful, indeed, to watch Nature in the long process of Evolution, as she adapts her methods to the growing complexity of the organism. With a variety and ingenuity of means, but always with the same steady purpose, she works from the lowest levels,—where there is no true reproduction, only multiplication by division,—on through the beginning of reproduction proper, where a single parent produces the offspring; then on to the level where it takes two parents of different structure to produce a new organism, and sex-life begins. At first Nature does not even demand that father and mother shall come near each other. In the water, the female of this type lays an egg, and the male, guided by his instinct, swims to it and deposits his fertilizing fluid. In plant life, bird and bee, attracted by wonderfully planned perfumes and color and honey, are called in to carry the pollen from male to female cell.

But it is when we come to the highest level that we find even more subtle ways planned to accomplish the desired end. Here we enter the realm of individual initiative, for it is not now enough to leave to external forces the joining of the two life-elements. In order to make a new individual, father and mother must be drawn together, and so there enters into the situation a personal relationship with all that that implies. Because Nature has had to provide ways of drawing individuals to one another, she has put into the higher types of life the power of mutual attraction,—a power which in man, the highest of all types, is responsible for many outgrowths that seem far removed from the original purpose.

The Love-Motif. On the one hand, there is the persistent desire to be attractive, which manifests itself in the subtlest ways. How many of the yearnings and activities of human life have their roots in this ancient and honorable desire! The love of pretty clothes,—however it may seem to be motivated and however it may be complicated by other motives,-draws its energy, fundamentally, from the same need that provides the gay plumage and limpid song of the bird or the painted wings of the butterfly.

On the other hand, there is the capability of being attracted, with all the personal relationships which spring from the power of admiring and loving another person. The interest in others does not expend its whole force on its primary objects,—mate and children. It flows out into all human relationships, developing all the possibilities of loving which mean so much in human life; the love of man for man and woman for woman, as well as mutual love of man and woman. A force like this, once planted, especially in the higher types of life, does not spend all its energies in its main trunk. It sends out branches in many directions, bearing by-products which are rich in value for all of life.

Many of our richest relationships, our best impulses, and our most firmly fixed social habits spring from the family instincts of reproduction and parental care. The social life of our young people, so well calculated to bring young men and women together; all the beauty of family life and, as we shall later see, all the broader benevolent activities for society in general, are energized by the same love-instincts which form so large a part of human nature.


A Four-Grade School. It is impossible to watch the growth of the love-life of a human being, to trace its development from babyhood up to its culmination in mating and parenthood, without a sense of wonder at the steady purpose behind it all. We used to believe that the love for the young girl that suddenly blooms forth in the callow youth was an entirely new affair, something suddenly planted in him as he developed into manhood; but now we know, thanks to the uncovering of human nature by the painstaking investigations of the psycho-analytic school of psychologists, that the seeds of the love-life are planted, not in puberty, but with the beginning of life itself. Looked at in one way, all infancy and childhood are a preparation, a training of the love-instinct which is to be ready at the proper time to find its mate and play its part in the perpetuation of the race. Nature begins early. As she plants in the tiny baby all the organs that shall be needed during its lifetime, so she plants the rudiments of all the impulses and tendencies that shall later be developed into the full-grown instincts. There have been found to be four periods in the love-life of the growing child, three of them preparatory steps leading up to maturity; periods in which the main current of love is directed respectively toward self, parents, comrades, and finally toward lover or mate.

Like Narcissus. In the first stage, the baby's interest is in his own body. He is getting acquainted with himself, and he soon finds that his body contains possibilities of pleasurable sensations which may be repeated by the proper stimulation. Besides the hunger-satisfaction that it brings, the act of sucking is pleasurable in itself, and so the baby begins to suck his thumb or his quilts or his rattle. Later, this impulse to stimulate the nerves about the mouth finds its satisfaction in kissing, and still later it plays a definite part in the wooing process; but at first the child is self-sufficient and finds his pleasure entirely within himself. Other regions of the body yield similar pleasure. We often find a tiny child rubbing his genital organs or his thighs or taking exaggerated pleasure in riding on someone's foot in order to stimulate these nerves, which he has discovered at first merely by chance. When he begins to run around, he loves to exhibit his own body, to go about naked. None of this is naughtiness or perversion; it is only Nature's preparation of trends that she will later need to use. The child is normally and naturally in love with himself.[11] But he must not linger too long in this stage. None of the channels which his life-force is cutting must be dug too deep, else in later life they will offer lines of least resistance which may, on occasion, invite illness or perversion.

[Footnote 11: This is the stage which is technically known as auto-eroticism or self-love.]

In Love with His Family. Presently Nature pries the child loose from love of himself and directs part of his interests to people outside himself. Before he is a year old, part of his love is turned to others. In this stage it is natural that at first his affection should center on those who make up his home circle,—his parents and other members of the household. Even in this early choice we see a foreshadowing of his future need. The normal little boy is especially fond of his mother, and the normal little girl of her father. Not all the love goes to the parent of the opposite sex, but if the child be normal, a noticeably larger part finds its way in that direction. Observing parents can often see unmistakable signs of jealousy: toward the parent of the same sex, or the brother or sister of the same sex. The little boy who sleeps with his mother while his father is away, or who on these occasions gets all the attention and all the petting he craves, is naturally eager to perpetuate this state of affairs. Many a small boy has been heard to say that he wished his father would go away and stay all the time,—to the horror of the parents who do not understand. All this is natural enough, but it is not to be encouraged. The pattern of the father or the mother must not be stamped too deep in the impressionable child-mind. Too little love and sympathy are bad, leading to repression and a morbid turning in of the love-force; but too much petting, too many caresses are just as bad. Sentimental self-indulgence on the part of the parents has been repeatedly proved to be the cause of many a later illness for the child. As the right kind of family love and comradeship, the kind that leads to freedom and self-dependence, is among the highest forces in life, so the wrong kind is among the worst. Parents and their substitutes—nurses, sisters, and brothers—are but temporary stopping-places for the growing love, stepping-stones to later attachments which are biologically more necessary. The small boy who lets himself be coddled and petted too long by his adoring relatives, who does not shake off their caresses and run away to the other boys, is doomed to failure, and, as we shall later see, probably to illness.[12]

[Footnote 12: One of the best discussions of this theme is found in the chapter "The Only or Favorite Child," by A.A. Brill, in Psychoanalysis.]

In the later infantile period, the child, besides wanting to exhibit his own body, shows marked interest in looking at the bodies of others, and marked curiosity on sex-questions in general. He particularly wants to know "where babies come from." If his questions are unfortunately met by embarrassment or laughing evasion, or by obvious lying about the stork or the doctor or the angels, his curiosity is only whetted, and he comes to the very natural conclusion that all matters of sex are sinful, disgusting, and indecent, and to be investigated only on the sly. This conception cannot be brought into harmony with the unconscious mental processes arising from his race-instincts nor with his instinctive sense that "whatever is is right." The resulting conflict in some four-year-old children is surprisingly intense. Astonished indeed would many parents be if they knew what was going on inside the heads of their "innocent" little children; not "bad" things, but pathetic things which a little candor would have avoided.

Alongside the rudimentary impulses of showing and looking, there is developed another set of trends which Nature needs to use later on, the so-called sadistic and masochistic impulses, the desire to dominate and master and even to inflict pain, and its opposite impulse which takes pleasure in yielding and submitting to mastery. These traits, harking back to the time when the male needed to capture by force, are of course much more evident in adolescence and especially in love-making, but have their beginning in childhood, as many a mother of cruel children knows to her sorrow. In adolescence, when sex-differentiation is much more marked, the dominating impulse is stronger in the boy and the yielding impulse in the girl; but in little children the differentiation has not yet begun.

Gang and Chum. At about four or five years the child leaves the infantile stage of development, with its self-love and its intense devotion to parents and their substitutes. He begins to be especially interested in playmates of his own sex, to care more for the opinions of the gang—or if it be a little girl, of the chum—than for those of the parents. The life-force is leading him on to the next step in his education, freeing him little by little from a too-hampering attachment to his family. This does not mean that he does not love his father and mother. It means only that some of his love is being turned toward the rest of the world, that he may be an independent, socially useful man.

This period between infancy and puberty is known as the latency period. All interest in sex disappears, repressed by the spontaneously developing sense of shame and modesty and by the impact of education and social disapproval. The child forgets that he was ever curious on sex-matters and lets his curiosity turn into other, more acceptable channels.

The Mating-Time. We are familiar with the changes that take place at puberty. We laugh at the girl who, throwing off her tom-boy ways, suddenly wants her skirts let down and her hair done up. We laugh at the boy who suddenly leaves off being a rowdy, and turns into a would-be dandy. We scold because this same boy and girl who have always been so "sweet and tractable" become, almost overnight, surly and cantankerous, restive under authority and impatient of family restraint. We should neither laugh nor scold, if we understood. Nature is succeeding in her purpose. She has led the young life on from self to parents, from parents to gang or chum, and now she is trying to lead it away from all its earlier attachments, to set it free for its final adventure in loving. The process is painful, so painful that it sometimes fails of accomplishment. In any case, the strain is tremendous, needing all the wisdom and understanding which the family has to offer. It is no easy task for any person to free himself from the sense of dependence and protection, and the shielding love that have always been his; to weigh anchors that are holding him to the past and to start out on the voyage alone.

At this time of change, the chemistry of the body plays an important part in the development of the mental traits; all half-developed tendencies are given power through the maturing of the sex-glands, which bind them into an organization ready for their ultimate purpose. The current is now turned on, and the machinery, which has been furnished from the beginning, is ready for its task. After a few false starts in the shape of "puppy love," the mature instinct, if it be successful, seeks until from among the crowd it finds its mate. It has graduated from the training-school and is ready for life.


When Nature's Plans Fall Through. We have been describing the normal course of affairs. We know that all too often the normal is not achieved. Inner forces or outer circumstances too often conspire to keep the young man or the young woman from the culmination toward which everything has been moving. If the life-force cannot liberate itself from the old family grooves to forge ahead into new channels, or if economic demands or other conditions make postponement necessary, then marriage is not possible. All the glandular secretions and internal stimuli have been urging on to the final consummation, developing physical and emotional life for an end that does not come; or if it does come, is not sufficient to satisfy the demands of the age-old instinct which for millions of years knew no restraint. In any case, man finds himself, and woman herself, face to face with a pressing problem, none the less pressing because it is in most cases entirely unrecognized.

Blundering Instincts. The older a person is, the more fixed are his habits. Now, an instinct is a race-habit and represents the crystallized reactions of a past that is old. Whatever has been done over and over again, millions of times, naturally becomes fixed, automatic, tending to conserve itself in its old ways, to resist any change and to act as it has always acted. This conserves energy and works well so long as conditions remain the same. But if for any reason there comes a change, things are likely to go wrong. By just so far as things are different, an automatic habit becomes a handicap instead of a help.

This having to act under changed conditions is exactly the trouble with the reproductive instinct. Under civilization, conditions have changed but the instinct has not. It is trying to act as it always has acted, but civilized man wills otherwise. The change that has come is not in the physical, external environment, but in man himself and in the social environment which he has created. There is in man an onward urge toward new and better things. Side by side with the desire to live as he always has lived, there is a desire to make new adaptations which are for the advancement of the whole race-life. Besides the natural wish to take his desires as he finds them, there is also the wish to modify them and use them for higher and more socially useful ends.

As the race has found through long experience that monogamy is to be preferred to promiscuous mating; that the highest interests of life are fostered by loyalty to the institution of the family; that the careful rearing of several children rather than the mere production of many is in the long run to be desired; and that a single standard of morality is practicable; so society has established for its members a standard which is in direct opposition to the immeasurable urge of the past. To make matters worse, there have at the same time grown up in many communities a standard of living and an economic competition which still further limit the size of the family and the satisfaction of the reproductive impulse.

The Perpetual Feud. There thus arises the strategic struggle between that which the race has found good in the past and that which the race finds good in the present. As the older race-experience is laid in they body and built into the very fiber of the individual, inherited as an innate impulse, it has become an integral part of himself, an individual need rather than a social one. On the other hand, man has, as another innate part of his being, the desire to go with the herd, to conform to the standards of his fellows, to be what he has learned society wants him to be. Hence the struggle, insistent, ever more pressing, between two sets of desires within the man himself; the feud between the past and the present, between the natural and the social, between the selfish and the ideal. On one side, there is the demand for instinctive satisfaction; on the other, for moral control; on one side the demand for pleasure; on the other, the demands of reality.[13]

[Footnote 13: "All the burdens of men or society are caused by the inadequacies in the association of primal animal emotions with those mental powers which have been so rapidly developed in man-kind."—Shaler quoted by Hinkle: Introduction to Jung's Psychology of the Unconscious.]

Two factors intensify the conflict. In the first place, the older habits have the head start. Compared with the almost limitless extent of our past history, our desire for the control of the instincts is very new indeed. It requires the long look and the right perspective to understand how very lately we have entered into our new conditions and how old a habit we are trying to break. In the second place, the larger part of the stimulus comes from within the body itself. When studying the other instincts, we saw that the best way to control was to refuse to stimulate when the situation was not suitable for discharge. But with the organically aroused sex-instinct there is no such power of choice. We may fan the flame by the thoughts we think or the environment we seek, or we may smother the flame until it is out of sight, but we cannot extinguish it by any act of ours. The issue has always been too important to be left to the individual. The stimulation comes, primarily, not by way of the mind but by way of the body. With this instinct we cannot "stop before we begin," because Nature has taken the matter out of our hands and begins for us.


With the competing forces so strong and the issues so great, it is not to be wondered at that society has had to build up a massive bulwark of public opinion, to establish regulations and fix penalties that are more stringent than those imposed in any other direction. Nor is it remarkable that in its effort to protect itself, society has sometimes made mistakes.

These blunders seem to lie in two directions. Assuming that it is nearly impossible for the male to control his instincts, and that, after all, it does not matter so much whether he does or not, society has blinked at license in men, and thus has fostered a demoralizing, anti-social double standard which has broken up countless homes, has been responsible for the spread of venereal diseases, and has been among the greatest curses of modern civilization. At the same time society, in its efforts to maintain its standards for woman, has taught its children, especially its girls, that anything savoring of the word "sexual" is sinful, disgusting, and impure. To be sure, very many women have modified their childish views, but an astonishingly large number conserve, even in maturity, their warped ideas about the whole subject of sex. Many a mature woman secretly believes that she, at least, is not guilty of harboring anything so "vulgar" as a reproductive instinct, not realizing that if this were so, she would be, in very truth, a freak of nature.

Of course, woman is by nature as fully endowed with sex instincts as is man. Kipling portrays the female of the species as "deadlier than the male" in that the very framework of her constitution outlines the one issue for which it was launched,—stanch against any attack which might endanger the carrying on of life. Feeling the force of this instinctive urge, she braces herself against precipitancy in response by what seems almost a negation.

Just as we lean well in when riding around a corner, in order to keep ourselves from falling out, so by an "over-compensation" for what is unconsciously felt to be danger woman increases her feeling of safety by setting up a taboo on the whole subject of sex. It is time that we freed our minds from the artificial and perverted attitude toward this dominant impulse; time to rescue the word "sex" from its implications of grossness and sensuousness, and to recognize the instinct in its true light as one of the necessary and holy forces of life, a force capable of causing great damage, but also holding infinite possibilities for good if wisely directed.

Society only gets its members into trouble when, even by implication, it attempts to deny its natural make-up, and allows little children to grow up with the false idea that one of their strongest impulses is to be shunned by them as a thing of shame. We cannot dam back the flood by building a bulwark of untruth, and then expect the bulwark to hold.

Adaptable Energy. We neither have to give in to our over-insistent desires nor to deny that they exist. Man has a power of adaptation. Just when we seem to run up against a dead wall, to face an irreconcilable conflict, we find a wonderful power of indirect expression that affords satisfaction to all the innate forces without doing violence to the ethical standards which have proved so necessary for the development of character.

Hunger, which, like the reproductive instinct, is stimulated by the changing chemistry of the body, can be satisfied only by achieving its primary purpose, the taking of material food; but the creative impulse to reproduce oneself possesses a unique ability to spiritualize itself and expend its energy in other lines of creative endeavor. There seems to be some sort of close connection between the especially intense energy of the reproductive instinct and the modes of expression of the instinct for construction; a connection which makes possible the utilization of threatening destructive energy by directing it toward socially valuable work. Just as we harness the mountain stream and use its wild force to light our cities, or catch the lightning to run our trolley cars, so we find man and woman—under the right conditions—easily and naturally switching over the power of their surplus sex-energy to ends which seem at first only slightly related to its original aim, but which resemble it in that they too are self-expressive and creative. If a person is able to express himself in some real way, to give himself to socially needed work; if he can reproduce himself intellectually and spiritually in artistic production, in invention, in literature, in social betterment, he is drawing on an age-old reservoir of creative energy, and by so doing is relieving himself of inner tension which would otherwise seek less beneficent ways of expression.

The world knew all this intuitively for a long time before it knew it theoretically. The novelists, who are unconsciously among the best psychologists, have thoroughly worked the vein. The average man knows it. "He was disappointed in love," we say, "and we thought he would go to pieces, but now he has found himself in his work"; or, "She will go mad if she doesn't find some one who needs her." It is only lately that science has caught up with intuition, but now the physicians and psychologists who have had the most intimate and first-hand acquaintance with the human heart are recognizing, to a man, this unique power of the love-instinct and its possibilities for creative work of every sort.[14]

[Footnote 14: Among those who have shown this connection between the love-force and creative work are Freud, Jung, Jelliffe, White, Brill, Jones, Wright, Frink, and the late Dr. Putnam of Harvard University, who writes: "Freud has never asserted it as his opinion and it certainly is not mine, that this is the only root from which artistic expression springs. On the other hand, it is probable that all artistic productions are partly referable to this source. A close examination of many of them would enable any one to justify the opinion that it is a source largely drawn upon."—Human Motives. p. 87.]

Higher Levels. Freud has called this spiritualization of natural forces by a term borrowed from chemistry. As a solid is "sublimated" when transformed into a gas, so a primal impulse is said to be "sublimated" when it is diverted from its original object and made to serve other ends. By this power of sublimation the little exhibitionist, who loved to show himself, may become an actor; the "cruel" boy who loved to dissect animals may become a surgeon; the sexually curious child may turn his curiosity to other things and become a scholar; the "born mother," if denied children of her own or having finished with their upbringing, may take to herself the children of the city, working for better laws and better care for needy little ones; the man or woman whose sex-instinct is too strong to find expression in legitimate, direct ways, may find it a valuable resource, an increment of energy for creative work, along whatever line his talent may lie.

There is no more marvelous provision in all life than this power of sublimation of one form of energy into another, a provision shadowing forth almost limitless possibilities for higher adaptations and for growth in character. As we think of the distance we have already traveled and the endless possibilities of ever higher excursions of the life-force, we feel like echoing Paul's words: "He who began a good work in you will perfect it unto the end." The history of the past holds great promise for the future.

When Sublimation Fails. But in the meantime we cannot congratulate ourselves too heartily. Sublimation too often fails. There are too many nervous wrecks by the way, too many weak indulgers of original desires, too many repressed, starved lives with no outlet for their misunderstood yearnings; and, as we shall see, too many people who, in spite of a big lifework, fail to find satisfaction because of unnecessary handicaps carried over from their childhood days. "Society's great task is, therefore, the understanding of the life-force, its manifold efforts at expression and the way of attaining this, and to provide as free and expansive ways as possible for the creative energy which is to work marvelous things for the future."

If "the understanding of the life force" is to be available for use, it must be the property of the average man and woman, the fathers and mothers of our children, the teachers and physicians who act as their advisers and friends.[15] This chapter is intended to do its bit toward such a general understanding.

[Footnote 15: "Appropriate educational processes might perhaps guide this enormous impulsive energy toward the maintenance instead of the destruction of marriage and the family. But up to the present time, education with respect to this moral issue has commonly lacked any such constructive method. The social standard and the individual impulse have simply collided, and the individual has been left to resolve the conflict, for the most part by his own resources."—G.A. Coe: Psychology of Religion, p. 150.]


Until They Can Fly. Only half of Nature's need is met by the reproductive instinct. Her carefulness in this direction would be largely wasted without that other impulse which she has planted, the impulse to protect the new lives until they are old enough to fend for themselves. The higher the type of life and the greater the future demands, the longer is the period of preparation and consequent period of parental care. This fact, coupled with man's power for lasting relationships through the organization of permanent sentiments, has made the, bond between parent and child an enduring one. Needless to say, this relationship is among the most beautiful on earth, the source of an incalculable amount of joy and gain. However, as we have already suggested, there lurks here, as in every beneficent force, a danger. If parents forget what they are for, and try to foster a more than ordinary tie, they make themselves a menace to those whom they most love. Any exaggeration is abnormal. If the childhood bond is over-strong, or the childhood dependence too long cultivated, then the relationship has overstepped its purpose, and, as we shall later see, has laid the foundation for a future neurosis.

Mothering the World. Probably no instinct has so many ways of indirect expression as this mothering impulse of protection. Aroused by the cry of a child in distress, or by the thought of the weakness, or need, or ill-treatment of any defenseless creature, this mother-father impulse is at the root of altruism, gratitude, love, pity, benevolence, and all unselfish actions.

There is still a great difference of opinion as to how man's spiritual nature came into being; still discussion as to whether it developed out of crude beginnings as the rest of his physical and mental endowment has developed, or whether it was added from the outside as something entirely new. Be that as it may, the fact remains that man has as an innate part of his being an altruistic tendency, an unselfish care for the welfare of others, a relationship to society as a whole,—a relationship which is the only foundation of health and happiness and which brings sure disaster if ignored. The egoistic tendencies are only a part of human nature. Part of us is naturally socially minded, unselfish, spiritual, capable of responding to the call to lose our lives in order that others may find theirs.


Civilized man as he is to-day is a product of the past and can be understood only as that past is understood. The conflicts with which he is confronted are the direct outcome of the evolutional history of the race and of its attempt to adapt its primitive instincts to present-day ideals.

Character is what we do with our instincts. According to Freud, all of a man's traits are the result of his unchanged original impulses, or of his reactions against those impulses, or of his sublimation of them. In other words, there are three things we may do with our instincts. We may follow our primal desires, we may deny their existence, or we may use them for ends which are in harmony with our lives as we want them to be. As the first course leads to degeneracy, the second to nervous illness, and the third to happy usefulness, it is obviously important to learn the way of sublimation. Sometimes this is accomplished unconsciously by the life-force, but sometimes sublimation fails, and is reestablished only when the conscious mind gains an understanding of the great forces of life. This method of reeducation of the personality as a means of treatment in nervousness is called psycho-therapy.

Religion's Contribution. If it be asked why, amid all this discussion of instincts and motives we have made no mention of that great energizer religion, we answer that we have by no means forgotten it, but that we have been dealing solely with those primary tendencies out of which all of the compound emotions are made. Man has been described as instinctively and incurably religious, but there seems no doubt that religion is a compound reaction, made up of love,—sympathetic response to the parental love of God,—fear, negative self-feeling, and positive self-feeling in the shape of aspiration for the desired ideal of character; all woven into several compound emotions such as awe, gratitude, and reverence.

It goes almost without saying that religion, if it be vital, is one of the greatest sources of moral energy and spiritual dynamic, and that it is and always has been one of the greatest aids to sublimation that man has found. A force like the Christian religion, which sets the highest ideal of character and makes man want to live up to it, and which at the same time says, "You can. Here is strength to help you"; which unifies life and fills it with purpose; which furnishes the highest love-object and turns the thought outward to the good of mankind—such a force could hardly fail to be a dynamic factor in the effort toward sublimation. This book, however, deals primarily with those cases for which religion has had, to call science to her aid in order to find the cause of failure, to flood the whole subject with light, and to help cut the cords which, binding us to the past, make it impossible to utilize the great resources that are at hand for all the children of men.

Where We Keep Our Instincts. It must have been impossible to read through these two chapters on instinct without feeling that, after all, we are not very well acquainted with ourselves. The more we look into human nature, the more evident it becomes that there is much in each one of us of which we are only dimly aware. It is now time for us to look a little deeper,—to find where we keep these instinctive tendencies with which it is possible to live so intimately without even suspecting their existence. We shall find that they occupy a realm of their own, and that this realm, while quite out of sight, is yet open to exploration.


In which we look below the surface and discover a veritable wonderland



Hidden Strings. A collie dog lies on the hearthrug. A small boy with mischievous intent ties a fine thread to a bone, hides himself behind a chair, and pulls the bone slowly across the floor. The dog is thrown into a fit of terror because he does not know about the hidden string.

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse