Addiction in Society

Addiction—the thematic malady for our society—entails every type of psychological and societal problem

What I Learn About Psychology on the Street

Psychotics seek validation; parents are inside their kids' heads

I always listen to schizophrenics' stories; I can't help myself.

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Once my wife and I were caught in a long holdover at the airport in Honolulu. I suggested we take a bus to Waikiki (no cab for me). It was a long ride, and the bus was packed. Several rows ahead of us, right behind the driver and facing away from the window, a delusional man never stopped talking.

As the ride progressed, he faced and spoke directly to me. When we exited the bus, my wife sputtered, "You had to listen to him!"

But I never once looked at the man. He divined that I was paying attention to him through picking up on subtle cues I gave out.

Lesson: Psychotic people are tuned into their environments. They detect the rewards they are most concerned about, like all of us—their being valued and attended to.

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I went to the bagel store in Morristown and sat at the counter most mornings. A man there spoke a whole lot of bull about his prominent friends and prestigious engagements. But he wasn't psychotic. He spoke in whole sentences and presented a reasonable demeanor—polite people listened to him and (I asked them) believed him.

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Then, one day, I came in and the same man was babbling incoherently. As I listened, the content resembled his former self-promotions, only now they made no sense and had no relation to reality. I was to witness his switching back and forth several times.

Lesson: Psychotic and non-psychotic people are both concerned to gain esteem and appreciation, but they do it in more or less socially acceptable ways. Psychotic people jump for this approval in ways that bypass normal human discourse and fail at this goal, which alienates them further from reality.

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The other day, I sat outside a French bakery in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I was on a bench with two homeless people. I knew originally the woman was homeless because she smiled at me unguardedly. Then the man joined us. He never stopped talking, never listening to anyone else (at one point the woman tried to speak, but he talked over her, and she left). He spoke to random passers by, complimenting their children so that they responded to him. But then he instantly switched to talking about his three adult children, their ages, their names, their success in inappropriate ways so that people turned away from him. He wasn't psychotic, but like psychotic people, he sought social approval in ways that instantly forbad ordinary social communication.

Lesson: See above.

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Okay, that last story didn't add much. But as soon as the two homeless people left (I honestly hadn't realized there were homeless people in Park Slope before then, after living here for two-and-a-half years), a woman pushed her stroller next to me and sat down. Her son, who was perhaps three, toddled out of the stroller and began running around. The woman, like the homeless man whose seat she had taken, never once stopped talking. "Be careful when you run! (After he fell), Are you hurt? Just get up and see. You see you shouldn't run so fast. Are you going to run like that when daddy takes you to the Y?" Here she waits for an answer, not forthcoming. "When you go to the Y are you going to run like that for daddy?" She repeats several times. Her son runs off again, and she begins again, "Don't go so near the street--it's not safe.  Don't go too far from me--you're too far." She was tireless.

Lesson: Not only psychotic people talk nonstop to no purpose. But the child's life was lived with this constant chatter; he would never know a world without this sound until he went to some kind of school. How did it affect his consciousness? How would he compensate for its absence? How common is this version of modern parenting? How does that affect this cohort of privileged children (it DOES make them more verbal and increase their vocabularies and articulateness).  I don't think this boy will become psychotic. I do think he will develop a view of the world centered around this voice in his mind.

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Stanton Peele has been at the cutting edge of addiction theory and practice since writing, with Archie Brodsky, Love and Addiction in 1975. He has developed the on-line Life Process Program for addiction.  His new book (written with Ilse Thompson) is Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict with The PERFECT Program.

 

Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, is the author of Recover! He has been a pioneer in the addiction field since publication of Love and Addiction in 1975.

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