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HUMAN SUFFERING AND SOCIAL CONDITIONING

Over the decades, as a humanist psychotherapist, I have come to the gradual realization that family, social and cultural conditioning play a significant role in the causation of human suffering. Based on my clinical observations and social experiences, I have developed a theory of human personality that helps me not only in my clinical practice, but also guides me in understanding the dynamics of social suffering. Based on this theory we can find ways to reduce human suffering, raise social consciousness and improve quality of life so that we can strive to become fully human, individually and collectively, and help humanity grow to the next stage of cultural evolution.

According to this theory human personality has three parts:

Natural Self, Conditioned Self and Creative Self. All children are born with a Natural Self, which is the sum total of their instinctual desires, emotional temperament and creative potential. It is like the seed of the plant that has all the raw material to grow and become a fully grown tree to bear fruits.

The way plants need fresh air, sunshine and water, human children need nurturing, discipline and love in order to grow. As the Natural Self of the child grows a part of it is affected by the family, community and cultural conditioning and develops into the Conditioned Self. The other part manifests the creative dimension of the personality and grows into Creative Self, reflecting the unique aspects of the personality. Healthy human beings have a fine balance between their Conditioned Self and Creative Self. Such a healthy balance leads to inner peace and social harmony. People who are in touch with their own Creative Self respect other people’s Creative Self and develop harmonious relationships.

        One of the mysterious parts of human personality is the development of I, the self awareness. Animals know, while humans know that they know. Animals are aware while humans are self-aware because of the development of I. As children grow older their sense of I matures and they develop consciousness of self and others, personal and social consciousness. In children the I is not well developed. That is why it is at the mercy of parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and teachers and vulnerable to the effects of language and culture. Children develop healthy self esteem and self worth if they grow up in nurturing and loving families and poor self esteem if they are brought up in critical families. When children mature and their sense of I grows, they learn to think logically and rationally as teenagers and can critically review the values of their families, communities and culture. The more human beings reach maturity and adulthood, the more they can make independent choices and create a healthy, happy and peaceful lifestyle for themselves and their dear ones. Some people become independent on their own, while others, who suffer emotionally, need professional help.

        Many patients that I see in my clinical practice experience a tension between their Creative Self and Conditioned Self and suffer from a wide variety of emotional and relationship problems ranging from anxiety to depression, from sadness to jealousy, or from panic disorder to paranoia. Usually their Creative Self feels suffocated by their Conditioned Self.  During therapy I help them recognize different aspects of their personality and help them change their attitudes so that they can find a healthy balance between their Creative Self and Conditioned Self. For some, it is easier than others. Some have to be in therapy for a long time and do a lot of introspection to develop their strong will power to change their life-long patterns.

        For my patients to recognize their Conditioned Self, I ask them to recognize all those activities that they think

they should do

they must do

and

they have to do

as such activities are the hallmark of Conditioned Self. On the other hand all those activities that they feel

they like to do

they want to do

and

they love to do

are reflections of the Creative Self.

        People who grow up in traditional, religious and conservative families, communities and cultures have a tendency to develop Conditioned Self far more than their Creative Self and feel anxious and guilty when they do what they love to do. To develop their Creative Self I encourage them to spend one to two hours every day doing things that they love to do. It usually starts as a hobby, then develops into a passion and then into a dream and eventually they are able to make their dream a reality. By nurturing their Creative Self they develop a healthy balance between their Creative and Conditioned Self.

        Over the years I have met many women who felt depressed. They had such a well developed Conditioned Self that they did most of their activities out of obligation to their parents, husband and children. Such activities drained all their energies and when they had empty emotional tanks they became sad and depressed. I share with them that when people fly, the air hostesses advise mothers that, in case of emergency, they have to put the mask on their face first, before they put it on the child’s face, otherwise they will faint and will be in no position to help the child. I stress upon mothers, and all the care-givers, that, they need to look after their own needs before they help others, so that there is a healthy balance between their Conditioned and the Creative Self.

        People with an over developed Conditioned Self, also have a tendency to judge others and get into interpersonal conflicts.  They have absorbed the biases and prejudices of their families, communities and cultures and when they criticize others they develop interpersonal conflicts. Keeping the principles of Transactional Analysis in mind we can see that people with a well developed Conditioned Self tend to act as Parents in their relationships and others feel as if they are treated like children. I share with them that they have developed a should personality that makes them and other people uncomfortable. It is amazing how their relationships improve when they stop using the word should in their interpersonal communication. On the other hand, people with a well developed Creative Self have better relationships as they find it easier to accept rather than judge people and can develop a child/child playful relationships or adult/adult responsible relationships.

        People with an over developed Conditioned Self also have a tendency to be prejudiced against other groups based on their conditioning. Some examples include:

Racial Conditioning -- Whites prejudiced against Blacks or vice versa

Class Conditioning -- Rich prejudiced against poor

Gender Conditioning -- Men prejudiced against women

Sexual Orientation Conditioning -- Heterosexuals prejudiced against homosexuals

Religious Conditioning -- People following one religion prejudiced against people following other sects and religions

National Conditioning -- People of the first world prejudiced against the people of the third world.

Illness Conditioning -- Healthy people prejudiced against people with physical deformity or mental illness.

I have met many people who were conditioned by the ideologies of their families, communities and cultures whether it was Communism or Capitalism, Religious Fundamentalism or Nationalism and had the tribal mentality of us/them.

Such biases and prejudices produced by social conditioning not only lead to marital and family problems but can also create violent exchanges between followers of different religious organizations and political institutions in different communities and if those conflicts escalate, they can even lead to political and  religious wars and thousands of innocent people can lose their lives.

        As people get intellectually, emotionally and socially liberated and unlearn their social and cultural conditioning they find a healthier balance between their Creative Self and Conditioned Self. They develop multi-cultural personalities and can comfortable get along with people from diverse backgrounds. They gradually become part of creating peaceful families, communities and cultures.

        When the heads of families liberate themselves and overcome their social conditioning, they pave the way for interfaith and inter-cultural marriages and when the heads of political organizations, religious institutions and independent nations overcome their inter-generational prejudices, they sign the peace treaties and shake hands with former enemies liberating their communities and countries. They demonstrate that their enemies are their distant cousins and members of the same human family.

        As human beings evolve, more and more enlightened people all over the world are becoming aware that we need to teach our children and grandchildren how to develop critical thinking, challenge traditions, and learn to resolve their emotional conflicts peacefully. We hope that when they grow up they would be able to resolve their political conflicts with ballots rather than bullets.

        As a psychotherapist I am quite aware that to change one’s attitudes absorbed by social and cultural conditioning is one of the hardest things to do in life but we have no other choice but to consider it seriously if we want to create peaceful lifestyles. We are fortunate that in every community and culture there are poets and philosophers, painters and playwrights, psychologists and psychotherapists, reformers and revolutionaries who challenge social conditioning and inspire others to develop their Creative Self so that they can liberate themselves and become fully human individually and collectively. Becoming aware of the dynamics of social conditioning and its relationship to human suffering is very crucial for our personal and communal progress and our growth as a species to the next stage of human evolution.