Ethics, Philosophy, Spiritual Life

Neurotic worldviews and their cure

An Anxious Worldview

In Alfred Adler‘s essay, The Neurotic’s Picture of the World: A Case Study, he describes the pampered lifestyle of the neurotic:

Extreme discouragement, continuing doubt, hypersensitivity, impatience, exaggerated emotion, and phenomena of retreat, and physical and psychic disturbances showing the signs of weakness and need for support are always evidence that a neurotic patient has not yet abandoned his early-acquired pampered life style. These show that a patient endowed with a comparatively small degree of activity, and not possessing sufficient social interest, has pictured to himself a world in which he is entitled to be first in everything.

Later, when such a favorable situation does not obtain for him, he is not prepared to render any response other than a more or less spiteful accusation of other people, of life, of his parents. This limitation of his activity to a small circle results in his leaving important questions unanswered, and when he is brought face to face with a problem which he is not prepared to cope with, he suffers a shock and responds with a shock reaction. (Superiority and Social Interest 98)

The Neurotic in Scripture

Adler describes the man who won’t accept reality because he has a worldview in which he is secretly the best, the secret king. Sadly, he is unaware that this reality is purely imagined. When contrary evidence arises, he blames everybody but himself. While this constellation of traits can be associated with personality, it can also arise from poor habits of thought and action.  It reminds me of Cain‘s approach to life in Genesis 4, the disciples wanting Jesus to put them in charge, the various potential disciples who would only follow Jesus if Jesus did things their way, or Nabal when he discovered that his wife protected him from David. When we want the world to bend to our will without accepting it first as it is, then it will break us. Not only so, but if we want excellence without effort, we will be frustrated at every turn.

The Neurotic Today

In modern life, political pundits or protesters who cannot emotionally cope with evidence against their ideas (even if they’re right despite that evidence!) seem to fit this type. It’s similar to the student who resents the need for effort to achieve excellence, the parent who resents their children for being imperfect, and so-on. I suspect that the hyper-reality of the internet exacerbates this personality type and develops it in those who otherwise would not experience these negative traits. Dallas Willard once defined reality as, “What you run into when you’re wrong.” The secret king won’t change his mind when this happens, but doubles down. It’s a sad way to live, but it’s a temptation most of us face.

How to stop resenting the world

Those who resent the world do so because its truth doesn’t align with their beliefs about how it ought to function. The tendency is to act on the basis of how we wish the world was before we see what it actually is. Like Abel in Genesis 4, we have to accept that there is chaos, understand fully what that chaos is, and then use it to our advantage to create order (there are weeds…sheep eat weeds!).

According to Proverbs, wisdom is acquired by being exposed to the truth of the world, accepting that truth, and then acting:

  1. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
    (Proverbs 15:2 ESV)
  2. The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. (Proverbs 15:14 ESV)

The wise seeks to understand the world, the fool needs falsehood. Adler, I think, helps us understand why? The fool feeds on folly to maintain his self-image. To overcome this state of being, you must seek and speak the truth as far as you understand it and be open to criticism every single time.



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