Monthly Archives: June 2020

What are Psychological Dysfunctions and Discomforts?

Psychological dysfunction and discomfort are common elements of natural human development.

What are psychological dysfunctions and discomforts and how do they differ? Both are conditions that can result in functional impairment which interferes with or limits one or more major life activities, both are neuroses that impact our emotional wellbeing, and both are correctible through the same basic processes. It’s really a matter of severity. A discomfort is a condition that impacts our quality of life, a dysfunction is a diagnosable condition that impacts our quality of life. The disease model of mental healthcare labels the latter a mental illness or disorder.

To the early civilizations, ‘mental illnesses’ were the domain of supernatural forces and demonic possession. Hippocrates and diagnosticians of the 19th century favored the humours. Lunar influence and sorcery and witchcraft are timeless culprits. In the early 20th century, it was somatogenic.[i] The biological approach argues that “mental disorders are related to the brain’s physical structure and functioning.” [ii] The pharmacological approach promotes it as an imbalance in brain chemistry. The 1st Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was produced in 1952 to address the influx of veteran shell shock (PTSD). It leaned heavily on environmental and biological causes. 

One only needs the American Psychological Association’s [iii] definition of neurosis to comprehend the mental health community’s pathographic focus. The 90-word overview contains the following words: distressing, irrational, obsessive, compulsive, dissociative, depressive, exaggerated, unconscious, conflicts, anxiety, disorders. The 3rd 

The DSM-3 abandoned the word ‘neurosis’ in 1980, but it remains the go-to term in the mental health community. Its etymology is the Greek neuron (nerve) and the modern Latin osis (abnormal condition). Coined by a Scottish physician in 1776, neurosis was then defined as functional derangement arising from disorders of the nervous system. 

Experts define mental illness as a “diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder of sufficient duration to meet diagnostic criteria” that can “result in functional impairment which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.” [iv] This ‘defective’ emphasis has been the overriding psychiatric perspective for over a century. By the 1952 publication of DSM-1, the focus had drifted from pathology (the science of the causes and effects of diseases) to pathography (the breakdown of an individual’s problems, categorizing them to facilitate diagnosis). ‘Pathos’ is the Greek word for ‘suffering’ and the root of pathetic, and ‘graphy’ is its biographic rendering. Pathography is the history of an individual’s suffering, aka, a morbid biography. Pathography focuses “on a deficit, disease model of human behavior,” whereas the wellness model focuses “on positive aspects of human functioning.” [v]

Realistically, most terms for mental illness cannot be eliminated from the culture. Unfortunately, the negative implications of the term and its derivatives promulgate perceptions of incompetence, ineptitude, and undesirability. It is the dominant source of stigma, shame, and self-denigration. In deference to a wellness paradigm, we choose the word ‘disorder’―defined as a correctable inability to function healthily or satisfactorily―over historical terms of pathographic influence.

There are four stages to any illness: susceptibility, onset, gestation, and manifestation. A disorder onsets (client is infected) and manifests (client is affected)―there can be no disagreement about that. Childhood/adolescent exploitation creates the susceptibility to the onset of a disorder, and the holism of the host―mind, body, spirit, and emotions―nurtures it. 

The fact is that simultaneous mutual interaction of all our human system components is required for sustainability-of-life and sustainability of a psychological dysfunction, which is not ‘mental,’ biologic, hygienic, neurochemical, or psychogenic, but all of these things facilitated by all our human system components – mind, body, spirit, and emotions – working in concert. 

There is no legitimate argument against mind-body collaboration in disease and wellness. Emotions are reactive to the mind and body; spirit’s participation merits explanation. First, spirit is not ‘super,’ but it is a natural component of human development. While some suggest spirit as the seat of emotions and character, the three are distinct entities. Spirit forms the definitive or typical elements in the character of a person. Emotions are the expressions of those qualities, responsive to the mind and body.[vi] 

We are all dysfunctional to some extent. Psychological dysfunction and discomfort are common elements of natural human development. Scientific American speculates psychological dysfunction is so common almost everyone will develop at least one diagnosable disorder at some point in their life. Dysfunction and discomfort are, simply, conditions that negatively impact our emotional wellbeing and quality of life and there is nothing abnormal or unusual about them. 

There are at least nine clinical types of depression, five significant forms of anxiety, and four types of obsessive-compulsive disorder; their impacts can be mild, moderate, or severe. Some people adapt quite nicely and get on with their lives. Others incorporate it into their personalities―the cranky boss, clinging partner, temperamental neighbor.

Research shows that the onset of dysfunction happens, ostensibly, to adolescents or younger who have experienced detachment, exploitation, and or neglect. Childhood/adolescent susceptibility to all disorders is plausible because, statistically, 89% of onset happens during adolescence.[vii] However, because symptoms can remain dormant until they manifest in the adult, statistics are indeterminate. This paper posits that childhood/adolescent-onset or susceptibility to onset is total. Claims or ‘evidence’ that onsets occur later in life do not impact the argument that susceptibility to onset originates during childhood/adolescence. 

Anything that interferes with a child’s social development is detrimental to adolescent and adult emotional health. Childhood/adolescent exploitation or abuse is a generic term to describe a broad spectrum of experiences that interfere with their optimal physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development.[viii] Any number of situations or events can trigger the susceptibility to onset; it could be hereditary, environmental, or some traumatic experience.[ix] Inheritability is rare and susceptible to other factors, and traumatic experience is environmental.

The cumulative evidence that childhood and adolescent occasions and events are the primary causal factor in lifetime emotional instability has been well-established. This exploitation interferes with the optimal physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development of the child. Most importantly, it affects our self-esteem, which administrates all our positive self-qualities (self-respect, -reliance, -compassion, -worth, and so on). These are the intangible qualities that make up our character, our goodness, our spirit. Our self-esteem is reactive to―and, in turn, impacts―our body, mind, and emotions. They all work together in concert. If one is affected, all are affected. 

Despite the implication of intentionality in the words’ abuse.’ and ‘exploitation,’ much can be perceptual. A toddler who senses abandonment when a parent is preoccupied could develop emotional issues[x] Onset or susceptibility to onset should never be considered the child/adolescent’s fault and may be no one’s fault.

Undoubtedly, this sociological model conflicts with moral models that claim, “mental illness is onset controllable, and persons with mental illness are to blame for their symptoms,” [xi] or that mental illness is God’s punishment for sin or amoral behavior. Again, it is crucial to recognize we are not responsible for our disorder. Quite possibly, no one is at fault. Playing the blame game only distracts from the solution: What are we going to do about it?


[i] Bertolote, J. (2008). The roots of the concept of mental health. World Psychiatry, 7(2): 113-116 (2008). doi:10.1002/j.2051-5545.2008.tb00172.x; Farreras, I. G. (2020). History of mental illness. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers.

[ii] McLeod, S. (2018). The Medical Model. (Online.) Simply Psychology.

[iii] APA. (2020). Neurosis. (Online definition.) Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.  Accessed 05 April 2020.

[iv] Salzer, M. S., Brusilovskiy, E., & Townley, G. (2018). National Estimates of Recovery-Remission from Serious Mental Illness. Psychiatric Services, 69(5) 523-528 (2018).; SAMSHA. (2017).  2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  (Rockville, MD: SAMHSA. mental%20illness%20(SMI)%20is,or%20more%20major%20life%20activities.

[v] Mayer, C.-H., & May, M. (2019). The Positive Psychology Movement. PP1.0 and PP2.0. In C-H Mayer and Z. Kőváry (Eds.), New Trends in Psychobiography (pp. 155-172). Springer Nature Switzerland.

[vi] Mullen, R.F. (2018). ‘Mental’ Disorders. 

[vii] Baron, M., Gruen, R., Asnis, l., Kane, J. (1983). Age-of-onset in schizophrenia and schizotypal disorders.Clinical and genetic implications. Neuropsychobiology,10(4):199-204 (1983). doi:10.1159/000118011; Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin,  R., Merikangas,  K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry62(6):593–602 (2005). doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593; Jones, P. (2013). Adult mental health disorders and their age at onset. British Journal of Psychiatry, 202(S54), S5-S10. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.112.119164

[viii] Steele, B.F. (1995). The Psychology of Child Abuse. Family Advocate, 17 (3). Washington, DC: American Bar Association.

[ix] Mayoclinic. (2019). Mental Illness. (Online.) Mayo Clinic.; NIH. (2019).Child and Adolescent Mental Health. (Online.) National Institute of Health.

[x] Lancer, D. (2019). What is Self-Esteem? (Online.) PsychCentral.  Accessed 19 November 2019.

[xi] Corrigan, P. (2006). Mental Health Stigma as Social Attribution: Implications for Research Methods and Attitude Change. Clinical Psychology Science and Practice, 7(1), 48-67 (2006). Doi:10.1093/clipsy.7.1.48.

Why One-Size-Fits-All Approaches Fail

Recovery programs must reflect our unique and individual personalities.

Personal recovery is an individual process. Just as there is no one right way to do or experience recovery, so also what helps us at one time in our life may not help us at another. Recovery programs must learn to appreciate the individuality of their subjects. The insularity of cognitive-behavioral therapy, positive psychology, and other approaches cannot address the dynamic complexities of our personality.

It is arrogant of recovery programs to lump us into a single niche. Stereotyping is what people do when they are not interested in getting to know the individual. Judging by public opinion, a person with a Malfunction would be stereotyped as an unpredictable, potentially violent, and undesirable individual―a claim supported by the stigma triad of ignorance, prejudice, and discrimination. We are unique individuals with unique personalities who happen to be impacted by a disorder. 

Your program of recovery should be one specifically designed for your unique needs.

Programs that boast of a specialized combination of other programs are also ineffectual unless they adapt their approach to fit the individual. Recovery programs complain that it is unproductive, time-consuming, and challenging. If that is the case, they have no business working with people who seek their advice. 

Let us use the example of cognitive-behavioral therapy. It is the most highly utilized program of recovery in the world. It is usually the first question asked at a counseling session. Are you familiar with cognitive behavioral therapy? Almost 90 percent of the approaches empirically supported by the American Psychological Association involve cognitive-behavioral treatments. Six years minimum of specialized education, and that is their opening gambit? Would you be comfortable with a general practitioner who only treats clients for the mumps?

There are at least 65 psychology programs and types of therapy. A program is never static but develops through client trust, cultural assimilation, and therapeutic innovation. Our cultural environment, heritage, background, and associations reflect our wants, choices, and aspirations. If they are not given consideration, then we are not valued.

We are better served by an integration of multiple traditional and non-traditional approaches, including those defined as new (third) wave (generation) therapies, developed through client trust, cultural assimilation, and therapeutic innovation. Do not settle for someone else’s recovery program; demand one specifically designed for your unique needs.

Restructuring Our Neural Network

When we restructure our neural pathways, there is a correlated change in our behavior and perspective.

Science confirms our neural pathways are constantly realigning. Our disorder has been feeding our brain irrational thoughts and concepts since its onset. What is irrational? Irrational is anything detrimental to our emotional wellbeing and quality of life. Simply put, it is irrational to hurt yourself.

Our brain cannot differentiate between rational and irrational. It does not think; it provides the means for us to think. Our brain is an organic reciprocator. Its job is to provide the chemical and electrical neurotransmitters and hormones that maintain our heartbeat, nervous system, and blood–flow. They tell us when to breathe. They stimulate thirst, control our weight and digestion. They establish and affect our behavior, moods, memories, and so on. 

Hundreds-of-billions of nerve cells (neurons) arranged in pathways or networks make up our brains. Inside each of these neurons, there is electrical activity. Every stimulus we experience causes its receptive neuron to fire, transmitting a message from neuron to neuron until it generates a reaction. A stimulus occurs at every experience―a muscle movement, a decision, a memory, emotion, reaction, noise, the prick of a needle, a twitch―every part of our living being. Because of our disorder, we have structured our brain around unhealthy feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Our brain sustains this irrationality by naturally releasing pleasurable chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine). It does not know any better; it just works off our input. 

Neural restructuring is our brain’s capacity to change with learn­ing; functions performed by our neurotransmitters are learning functions. This process is called Hebbian learning, and this is important. Our brain learns at an incredibly accelerated rate, and what has been learned can be unlearned. A conscious input of healthy thought patterns reverses the trend. As our brain reciprocates our positive activities, our neural network restructures itself accordingly. We unlearn our unhealthy beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy ones. Over time, through deliberate repetition, healthy, rational thoughts and behaviors become habitual and spontaneous. 

An essential element in subverting our disorder is the deliberate restructuring of our neural network.

Neural restructuring is science, not hyperbole. The power of our words, thoughts, and actions is life-altering. We all can change the direction of our lives through Hebbian relearning, but the restructuring does not happen overnight, which is it must begin on day one of our commitment to recovery. 

How Did It Happen?

Healthy human development requires satisfying fundamental human needs.

The cumulative evidence that childhood and adolescent exploitation is a primary causal factor in lifetime emotional instability has been well-established. This is likely the cause of our disorder. Detachment, exploitation, and abandonment in our formative years can manifest in chronic depression, and feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and unworthiness. We may be prone to repetitive patterns of shallow relationships. We may have difficulty trusting others;  we may be afraid of intimacy and commitment.  Add to these, debilitating anxiety, codependence, feelings of insecurity, isolation, and the loss of control over life.

In Maslow’s hierarchy theory, the orderly flow of social and emotional development requires satisfying specific fundamental human needs. The adolescent experiencing detachment, exploitation, or neglect, is disenabled from fulfilling his or her physiological and safety needs and the need to belong and experience love.

Maslow’s hierarchy illustrates how childhood abuse can impact natural human development

Child psychologist B.F. Steele maintains “abuse” includes events that interfere with the optimal physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development of the child. The term is subdivided into physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and various forms of neglect, all of which can occur alone or in combination. Maslow’s hierarchy is not a purely linear exercise, and it is not absolute that one level of needs must be satisfied to get to the next level. The list of individuals who have been deprived of fundamental needs yet achieved greatness is long and inspirational. But disruptions in our natural human development makes it more difficult. We did not make it happen; it happened to us as a child/adolescent. It is not our fault, but it is our responsibility to do something about it. 

Overcoming Our Resistance

Resistance is the deliberate or unconscious attempt to prevent something from happening.

Our resistance is the first hurdle to recovery, and it is a formidable one. Resistance comes in many forms, and it has multiple attributions. We are usually unaware of it or refuse to admit it. There are seven legitimate causes of our resistance that need to be recognized and overcome. 

CHANGE. We are hard-wired to dislike change. Our bodies and brains are structured to resist anything that disrupts our equilibrium. Our body monitors our metabolism, temperature, weight, and other survival functions to balance and perform properly. A new diet or exercise regimen, for example, produces physiological changes in our heart rate, metabolism, and respiration, which impact these functions. Inertia senses these changes and resists them by making it difficult for us to maintain them. Our brain’s basal ganglia resists any change in our patterns of behavior. Therefore, habits like smoking or gambling are hard to break, and new undertakings challenging to maintain.

PERSONAL BAGGAGE: The various disorders affect us differently, and our personalities are unique; while there are similarities, no two situations are identical. A person with anxiety may be uncomfortable contributing to the classroom, while those with issues of self-esteem have difficulty establishing healthy relationships. Many of us make self-destructive decisions like substance abuse or emotional blackmail to feel viable or to numb us to the pain of our inadequacy. We may feel angry, incompetent, resentful, or worthless. This personal baggage makes commitment difficult; we have beaten ourselves so often we resist anything new, especially something of personal benefit. 

PUBLIC OPINION. Public aversion to mental illness is hard-wired. What is perceived as repugnant or weak in mind or body has suffered since the dawning of man. Having a disorder is not a sign of weakness or strength. It is an intrinsic part of nature. Much of society views it differently because they see our disorder in themselves, and it frightens them. That fear is reinforced by prejudice, ignorance, and discrimination. One would hope that negative public opinion would evolve, but studies indicate it has fluctuated since World War II but remains steadfast. 

MEDIA REPRESENTATION. TV, books, and films exaggerate dysfunction, stereotyping us as annoying, dramatic, and peculiar. More extreme portrayals suggest we are unpredictable and dangerous. A 2011 comparative study revealed that nearly half of U.S. stories on mental illness explicitly mention or allude to violence. Half of the disordered surveyed by Mind, a London organization, focused on improving mental healthcare standards, said media coverage had a negative effect on their mental health. The media is powerful. Studies show homicide rates go up after televised heavyweight fights, and suicide rates increase after on-screen portrayals. Television content leads to an inflated estimate of adultery and crime rates and negative self-appraisal. 

VISIBILITY is the public display of behaviors associated with disorders. Not only is the public uneasy or repulsed by such behaviors, but we also are conscious of being watched, whether it is real or imagined, and often surrender to the GAZE―what psychoanalyst Lacan defines as the anxious state of mind that comes with scrutiny and unwanted attention.

UNDESIRABILITY.  Distancing is the public’s psychological expression of aversion and contempt for the behaviors associated with our disorder. Social distance varies by diagnosis. In a 2000 study, 38–47% of respondents supported a desire for social distancing from individuals with depression. The range was most significant for those with drug abuse disorders, followed by alcohol abuse, and depression. Distancing reflects the feelings a prejudiced group has towards another group; it is the affirmation of undesirability. In stigma research, the extent of social distance loosely corresponds to the level of discriminatory behavior. E

DIAGNOSIS. Diagnosis drives mental health stereotypes. Which disorder is the most repulsive, and which poses the most threat? People are concerned about the severity of our disorder, whether it is contagious, or whether our behaviors caused the disorder. Will the symptoms worsen? Is our disorder punishment for our sins, implying the more dangerous the symptoms, the worse the offense. Do not believe everything you read on the internet, chose your friends wisely, and take what your relatives have to say with a grain of salt.

Resistance v. Repression

RESISTANCE is our deliberate or unconscious attempt to prevent something from happening for any reason whatsoever. REPRESSION is a defense mechanism that prevents certain events, feelings, thoughts, and desires that our conscious mind refuses to accept from entering it. It is more of that stuff that clogs our brain and impacts our thoughts and behaviors, but we cannot address it because we don’t know it’s there. We have compartmentalized it and misplaced the key.