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.
to this theory human personality has three parts:
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.
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
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
activities are the hallmark of Conditioned Self. On the other hand all those
activities that they feel
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
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
Conditioning -- Whites prejudiced against Blacks or vice versa
Conditioning -- Rich prejudiced against poor
Conditioning -- Men prejudiced against women
Orientation Conditioning -- Heterosexuals prejudiced against homosexuals
Conditioning -- People following one religion prejudiced against people
following other sects and religions
Conditioning -- People of the first world prejudiced against the people of the
Conditioning -- Healthy people prejudiced against people with physical deformity
or mental illness.
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.
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.