What is psychology about?
Psychology is about knowing yourself. Knowing yourself is the first step towards feeling at ease with yourself. This is because what you don’t know scares you, whilst what you do know doesn’t.
Having this knowledge about yourself will make you feel free. Until you know yourself, you risk finding someone who claims that they know you better than you do. They will want you to obey them, because they know you and thus understand what you should and shouldn’t do.
You could come to obey them completely because you don’t know yourself very well and are thus insecure. Those who say that they know you actually don’t know you at all. They only want to have power over you, and their interest in power is a purely selfish one. Their interest in your happiness is false, hypocritical, or based on misconceptions of happiness.
What psychology is not about
Psychology, including psychology for teenagers, is not about:
- judging oneself
- correcting oneself
- lying to oneself
- improving oneself
Knowledge is acquired by learning, and learning is an art
I said that psychology is about knowing yourself. With some form of psychological study you can acquire a certain amount of knowledge about yourself. Knowledge is acquired through learning. You are learning about yourself.
Learning is an art; like singing or painting. Any art form has four fundamental requirements, which are: interest, concentration, time, practice.
Any art form requires a spontaneous, genuine and free interest. Let’s take the art of playing piano, for example. To force a child learn this art form if they aren’t genuinely, spontaneously and freely interested in it, is an insult to all famous pianists, and indeed to the art form itself.
To learn anything requires concentration. It’s hard to play piano if you are watching TV at the same time. It’s also important that this concentration isn’t forced, but rather done willingly.
Any sort of knowledge requires time for its acquisition. Freedom and genuine motivation work marvels in supporting this.
Any art form requires practice, sometimes years of it, sometimes less.
The art of learning psychology for teenagers is no exception. It has these same four requirements if it is to be fully understood.
How to read a psychological book
Before introducing my favourite psychology books, I want to give some suggestions about how to read them.
First of all, don’t search for behaviour advice in a psychological book. It can happen that the author of the book you are reading makes an example or tells a story and you deduce a suggestion about what you should and shouldn’t do. It’s an automatic response in a culture obsessed with control. I have made similar mistakes many times.
The best psychologists are like midwives. They help you to give birth to your own individual truth.
They don’t tell you anything about:
- who you are
- how your mind works
- what you should do
They are similar to the philosophers of ancient Greece who helped their disciples to extract their individual truths from within their own minds.
Now, let me begin this journey through psychology for teenagers with my favoured psychologist, Erich Fromm.
(Get your own copy of On disobedience with free delivery worldwide here)
Disobedience is essential for the survival of humanity. When the destructive forces of an authoritarian power suppress the spontaneous and constructive nature of humankind, disobedience is essential in order to give a renewed impetus to an authentically human existence. Authoritarian power destroys the faith we need to have in ourselves in order to live our lives in an effective way.
If you think that authoritarian power is a thing of the past, think again. Modern man is enslaved by the invisible power of conformity.
Man for himself
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Fromm explains his vision of a “productive” man. He tells us why and how we should direct our efforts towards making humanity embrace their constructive powers, and warns us against the destructive notion of “productivity”, which is purely based on selfishness and greed.
He describes four types of destructive orientations, which are very common in our society.
It’s the dumb consumer who swallows down products thrust in their direction by hypnotic advertisements. To them, everything is to be received and nothing given. They lack initiative, and any sense of truly original thinking. They swallow ideas all too freely, with a complete lack of trust in any of their own efforts.
They get what they want by force or deceit. They don’t produce ideas, they steal them. As with the receptives, they depend on others, and destroy rather than create.
The hoarders are destructive also, through their obsession with possessions, both of people and of things. Their main characteristic is a sense of living in constant fear of losing what they possess. They relate with people and things only as possessions, and not with any real depth or understanding.
The marketing oriented person
The marketing orientated people consider themselves as objects, which they can sell at the best price on the market. Their main concern is not to give meaning to their life, but rather to keep saleability. They suffer from a high degree of insecurity because the market deciding their price is volatile, and thus they have little control over their happiness.
Fear of freedom
(Get your own copy of Fear of freedom with free delivery worldwide here)
Why do people fear freedom? We are creatures of infinite possibilities, but our education utterly fails to inspire us to see our true potential.
Unfortunately our education is in the hands of irrational powers, which are against the evolution of our creativity.
Fromm describes three ways in which our longing for freedom can degenerate into a destructive attitude, based on the lack of faith we have in our potential to make the most of our liberty.
This kind of attitude sees a fear of freedom degenerate into a desire for order. They will happily submit to any authority that gives them an illusion of order, as if this could in some way eliminate the intrinsic unpredictability of life. They often indulge in sadistic and masochistic behaviours.
Like the authoritarian, the destructive can’t stand freedom. It makes them anxious. A classic and unhappy example of destructive is the very jealous person who kills their partner. This latter wanted some freedom, but the destructive can’t allow this. Since in this case the destructive can’t control their partner, they kill them.
The automaton also seeks to escape freedom. They do this through a strict conforming to society. They don’t want to have independent thoughts, this would make them anxious, rather they want to feel, behave and think with the masses.
Each of these three attitudes impact massively on our dignity as human beings, and limit the level of respect given towards the fundamental freedom and self-belief we all require.
The Sane Society
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My copy of this book is completely covered in pen marks and highlighted sections. In ‘The Sane Society’, Fromm makes the best investigation into the insanity of modern society that I have ever come across. His ideas have been strongly rejected by those who have a selfish interest in keeping the status quo, but this is largely because of the starkness of truth that it presents.
Now I will discuss three specific topics covered in the text.
Do you remember the legend of King Midas, who transformed into gold everything that his hands touched? Similarly, modern culture transforms into economic values and abstract objects everything it touches. People, relationships, and many other things are now seen as having more or less economic value, or as abstract objects, which are there to be manipulated en masse.
In particular, human beings are now considered as abstract objects to manipulate, rather than as living breathing things. We are dealt with using a one-size-fits-all set of rules, similar to objects on a factory conveyor belt.
Alienation also means that we are manipulated to fit our work into the overall production line, in order to produce some kind of final product or service. Our understanding of the product we are working towards is, however, limited, and thus we have no real understanding of the use or meaning of our work. One more problem is that we have almost no say in how our work or the work of others should be performed.
Is life worth living?
The sickness of our modern culture leads us to question whether life is even worth living or not, as it is an enterprise, and should thus show profit. People commit suicide because they think their life isn’t worth living as if it was supposed to give them some kind of return. Our sick culture wants to give an economic value to everything, and it’s doing the same with our own lives.
Actually, to ask yourself if your life is worth living is fundamentally nonsensical.
Craving for acceptance
Modern man seems to be very concerned with being accepted. Since he has been transformed into an economic and abstract thing, little is left of his humanity. He seeks identity in some sort of conformity.
You can hear a lot of people around you saying that they are workers, entrepreneurs, managers, believers in something, consumers, members of a community, and so on. Everyone seems unable to live without a label on their forehead. Some people still say: “I am me, I am more than a simple label!” But they are looked upon with suspicion.
This craving for acceptance is stronger now than it was in the past, and it’s a source of great anxiety and worry. Any deviation from the perceived norm of whichever group we seek acceptance from can be alienating, and leave us feeling lost.
Personally, if I’m not accepted by a group I am supposed to be accepted by, I celebrate. It means that something is left remaining of my humanity.
I couldn’t end my journey through psychology for teenagers without talking about one of my most loved heroes, A.S. Neill.
He is the founder of Summerhill School, the school which teaches happiness.
(Get your own copy of Summerhill with free delivery worldwide here)
In this book, A.S. Neill describes his experiment in abolishing fear from education. His experiment is the demonstration that freedom and absence of fear works, and that an education based on respect of mankind and its potential is possible.
Summerhill shows that the idea that mankind is bad and that only fear can prevent us from doing bad things is completely unfounded.
The opposite is true. It’s exactly the fear, which is used to educate us, that makes some of our children perceivably bad.
Let’s listen to Neill’s own words:
“To introduce fear into a child’s life is the worst of all crimes.”
“I believe that to impose anything by authority is wrong. The child should not do anything until he comes to the opinion – his own opinion – that it should be done. The curse of humanity is the external compulsion, whether it comes from the Pope or the state or the teacher or the parent. It is all fascism.”
“Free children are not easily influenced; the absence of fear accounts for this phenomenon. Indeed, the absence of fear is the finest thing that can happen to a child.”
“Every child has a god in him. Our attempts to mould the child will turn the god into a devil. Children come to my school, little devils, hating the world, destructive, unmannerly, lying, thieving, bad tempered. In six months they are happy, healthy children who do no evil. And I am no genius, I am merely a man who refuses to guide the steps of children. I let them form their own values and the values are invariably good and social. The religion that makes people good makes people bad, but the religion known as freedom makes all people good, for it destroys the conflict that makes people devils.”
Erich Fromm has a great opinion of Neill.
“He [A. S. Neill] is an experimenter and an observer, not a dogmatist who has an egotistic stake in what he is doing. He mixes education with therapy, but for him therapy is not a separate matter to solve some special “problems,” but simply the process of demonstrating to the child that life is there to be grasped, and not to run away from.” (Erich Fromm in Foreword to A. S. Neill: Summerhill – A Radical Approach to Child Rearing)
There could be much more to say about psychology for teenagers. The most important thing to say, however, is: “Trust your intuition!” Do it before the insincerity of the adult world captures you!
Where to go now?
- Back to the home page, Depression teens: a scary problem with an easy solution.
- From Psychology for teenagers to Teenagers and depression: how to talk with a depressed teenager. What to say or not say to a depressed teenager. Why it’s important to suspend judgment. How not to make the problem worse. How to convince a depressed teenager to follow the prescribed treatment.