The human sciences have provided a discourse of normal vs abnormal to discuss our inner worlds.
This discourse has created a pathological approach to subjectivity by influencing us towards a medicalised view of the human condition. It proclaims that at the root of human suffering are psychological problems that are treatable, either by therapy, medication or self-help techniques. The belief that there is an objective measure of “normal” that we should all be achieving fundamentally encapsulates what it means to be a human in the 21st century. There is very little space outside of this normal/abnormal dichotomy for a human trait or behaviour that isn’t ubiquitous.
We are able to discuss emotions and thoughts with an ease not afforded to older generations. Campaigns to reduce mental health stigma have had a significant impact on how we discuss subjectivity. Our new-found ability to talk about suffering is a positive change, unfortunately this change coincides with pathologising language. The influence of this medicalised discourse can be seen in our use of words like ‘crazy’,’unhinged’ and ‘mental health’, it seems to suppress the subtle nuances of trying to put into words what it is to be human and replaces it with the term “it’s a severe mental illness”.
We can talk about personal growth and empowerment, about being inspired and fulfilled. There is a belief that we could all undertake some sort of journey to achieve the ultimate goal of normality. A normality where worry and anxiety don’t really exist, a normality where we are able to work and enjoy, within a vacuum, fitting in and being self-reliant. We seek masters to tell us what to do and how to do it. Treatments and techniques to rid us of our problems.
What about an alternative?
One of the things that appeals about Lacanian diagnostics is the complete absence of a ‘normal’ clinical structure, there is no position of ‘mental health’. With Lacan you are either psychotic, neurotic or perverse. Any ideas of cohesive, sane, rational people are phantasms, as all subjects are split subjects. We lack. Contrary to most ego-centric ideas there is no solid self to be found underlying everything and ‘running the show’, if we just keep looking, we won’t find it. We are alienated by language, within inter-subjectivity we can have beliefs about ourselves, a conscious ego, but that is not a cohesive subject, it is not a Cartesian subject.
“When we choose thought we lose being” Tony Myers
Therapy culture can attempt to try to strengthen the ego, as if an ego free of lack is a normal and healthy one. We can seek masters that can empower us towards completeness and the ‘rational standard’. We can judge ourselves for our ‘psychological problems’ and weirdness. Or we can accept that we lack and that normality does not exist. There are very few places that can allow us to explore this and act as a vehicle towards that acceptance, but paradoxically certain types of therapy can be one of those places. Just don’t expect to find a master that does not lack