How Neurotic are Americans? Part I

How Neurotic are Americans? Part I

“The cry of the neurotic is ‘woe unto you if you are not perfect’.”

This is a quote from famed Neo Freudian Karen Horney. [pronounced horneye, BTW] Today we have a phenomenon called political correctness, progressing into ‘wokeness’. It has been referred to by contemporary psychologists as a collective mental derangement, a phenomenon neurotic in nature pertaining to social and political thought that shouts at us – ‘WOE UNTO YOU IF YOU ARE NOT PERFECT’. You have to be like us; you have to think like us. We are correct. We know better.

When assessing personality, neuroticism is one category of personality traits that people carry with them to varying degrees. There are other positive/healthy traits of personality of course such as being open to experience, introverted, extroverted, conscientious, or agreeable. In this focus on the negative, we recognize neuroticism as a person’s propensity toward anxiety and worry, depression and self doubt, shame and guilt, deviance and envy. Neurotics generally experience a lot of stress, irritability and hostility. This series of negative, uncomfortable emotions permeates America and Americans tend to choose control as a personal solution to this angst. You must think/be like us. Kind of like ‘body snatchers’ from the movie ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’. But let’s be clear. Neurosis is common, and in being a common trait among us, it is then normal in a sense.

All of us exhibit neurotic traits to a certain degree. Psychosis, on the other hand, is not common, it is not normal, and psychotics cannot cope in this world. They are removed from reality. Family and friends were chatting one evening around the dinner table about the popular 1990s TV sit-com ‘Seinfeld’. Who was your favorite character? Who did you like most? Unanimously, the answer was Kramer. “Of course,” I said. “Everyone likes Kramer. He’s good natured but nuts, non threatening.” Our dinner guests each had their own problems with Elaine, Jerry, George, Newman. I continued. “Of course, you don’t like them. They are us – the neurotic, self serving urban culture of America, regardless of city. It doesn’t have to be Manhattan, yet they are us.”

”Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Anxiety and Worry

So how did Dr. Horney of the 1930s paint westerners; that is, citizens of our western culture? Ours is an anxiety ridden culture, yet so often people don’t recognize it. They may deny its existence or cover it up. The cell phone culture, texting, gossiping, the computer life, are all elements of anxiety without recognizing it. Granted these elements of culture [computers and texting] did not exist in the 1930s, but anxiety did. It is just worse. Today they may more likely hide it in alcohol or drugs or a myriad of other distractions to relieve the discomfort. This may include excesssive involvement in non essential activities: eg. sports, entertainment, gossip, sex, finances, money and career – our other gods. One other thing is that neurotics seek affection to protect themselves from anxiety or in contrast may even be submissiveness toward others to help maintain an internal secure balance. This is referred to as a healthy homeostasis by psychologists. People will self regulate through various defense mechanisms in order to keep that balance. Then there is the quest for power over others, manipulative types looking to protect themselves. Finally they may withdraw and not contend with the world or cope with it one way or another. How’s that? – watch an exorbitant amount of TV, hang on Facebook or X, eat a midnight snack, order that extra Margarita, reclusively and overly love their stamp collection or whatever distractive hobby.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

Depression and Self Doubt

Dr. Horney proclaims that it is our competitive culture that takes its toll on people, calling it the center of our neurotic conflicts. Competition in business, sports, career and professional ambition all foster comparative perceptions of each other. This excessive quest for power, prestige and possessions especially in our society is the focus of our competition. Did we match up with our foe, our neighbor, our cousin, our brother? It becomes a matter of winning or not winning, victory or failure. This is why the sports industry is our cultural focus. The outcome is a collective envy, resentment and hostility. The cultural landscape of winners and losers breeds feelings of inferiority and personal insignificance as common psychological disorders. People develop attitudes towards failure and success. Today we find a common approach to dress, or should I say dressing down. Brought down to a common level to supposedly counteract the ravages of competition, it is chic to have holes in our jeans, baggy pants and even worn below our butts. The well dressed of yesteryear is frowned upon, the sign of success. Witness a major league baseball game of the 1950s and we’ll see all the attendants dressed in suits and sporting hats. Strange behavior today. Our individualist, competitive culture generates rivalry, hostility and fear between groups occupations and persons. It all effects our self esteem. Low self esteem, our rampant negative self evaluation, often coming about through both our social comparisons and comparing ourselves to our personal failures. We even compete with ourselves. We all fall short of the glory of God – the coulda, woulda, shoulda in our lives and even our shouldn’t haves. Or in other words, our regrets that too often return to our minds. We are sorry for what we have done, what we have failed to do and what we should have done better. And so our self confidence wanes, we build up negative self talk and we look for security due to our fear of failure. Dr. Horney points out the emotional distress, anxieties, substance abuse and even depression stemming from all our competitive striving. People will avoid it all, withdraw, seek the support of drugs or alcohol. Violence and abusive behavior spreads, anger and even suicide. It all is increasing as our culture deteriorates.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, …” (Psalm 91:1-16)

Part II will discuss shame and guilt, deviance and envy.

Source: Baglino, Michael J. 2023. From Gramsci to Freud: 7 Anti-Christian Philosophers Who Ruined America. New York: LT Publishing.

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Written by
Michael Baglino