Recent Blog Posts

Blog Post Archives

Subscribe to Blog via Email (Version 1: Wordpress)

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog via Wordpress and receive notifications of new posts by email. You will receive emails every time—and as soon as—a new post is made.

Subscribe to Blog via Email (Version 2: Feedburner)

Use this link to subscribe to this blog via Feedburner and receive notifications of new posts by email:

You will receive just one email at the end of the day (around 11:00 PM Eastern Time) summarizing all the posts made during the day.

You may also use the “By Email” link in the upper right hand corner of the page.

‘Pull Yourself Together’ School of Psychiatry

It has been just over six months since my mother passed away peacefully, at home just a short while shy of her 97th birthday. She had suffered a stroke three weeks before her death and her doctors had declared her unresponsive. But she left my sisters and I in no doubt that she could hear us reading her favorite prayers and poetry by frowning mildly at every mispronunciation.

Mother was one of the calmest people I have ever known—a marked contrast with our mercurial father. She rarely raised her voice and usually expressed her disapproval with a mild frown and a gentle suggestion that there were ways in which things could be improved.

The dynamics of her relationship with father were a constant source of fascination to us children. Dad would arrive home is a state of high dudgeon over the folly of politicians or the gross incompetence of the average English businessman. “What do you say to that, Doris?” he would ask at the end of a prolonged rant. “Quite so, dear,” she would reply. “We’re having fish for dinner.”

Mother, however, was by no means passive. Crass stupidity or a refusal listen to reason always incurred her wrath. “Sometimes,” she would say, “You really give me the pip!” The only time I ever saw her threaten violence was when father once uttered a particularly coarse expletive. “Robert,” said mother severely, “If you say that word again I shall come over there and poke you with my finger.”

“Sorry, Doris,” said father, utterly cowed.

Father was an exceedingly social person who reveled in parties, dances, and political gatherings. Mother was not so keen on such affairs. She much preferred solitary pursuits such as listening to music and reading.

Her passions were poetry and crossword puzzles. Indeed, going through her effects after her death, we found the very first present father gave her when they were courting: a finely bound book of contemporary verse.

Poetry, of course, had to be read aloud. In her view habitual silent reading and the television set had almost destroyed the average person’s ability to appreciate both poetry and fine prose. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 19th Century, she claimed, that silent reading became commonplace and the spoken word had been on the decline ever since.

If she felt strongly about poetry, she was positively fanatical about crossword puzzles. As a child, I could gauge what sort of day it would be by the speed by which she did The Times crossword. If it was completed in 20 minutes or less life would be good. If it took appreciably longer the only sensible recourse was to flee.

Mother’s aura of calm did not mean she did not have strong opinions. She believed, for instance, children should have names that would not embarrass them. She heartily detested her own Christian names—Doris Winifred—and forbade the entire family to name children after her.

Fortunately for my grandfather, she didn’t time for grudge bearing. He was responsible for saddling her with the despised “Doris” and “Winifred.” Grandmother and Grandfather had decided before her birth that she should be called “Julia Ann.” The mistake was to send grandfather off to register her birth on a market day.

He, naturally enough, devoted some time to examining the livestock. Thus it was near closing time when he arrived at the Registry Office. It was then to his chagrin he discovered he was not a natural multi–tasker—for he had quite forgotten the names he and grandmother had chosen. Rather than go home and confess, he blurted out the first names that came into his head. Why they should have been “Doris” and “Winifred” remains a complete mystery.

Mother, however, did not hold his absentmindedness against him. She bore the burden of her names with such good grace that we only learned of her dislike of them when she issued her diktat against them when her grandchildren came along.

But, then, mother never let us dwell on the wrongs that had been done us or nurse our grievances. Nothing, she said, was more crippling than a sense of self–pity. In her opinion, encouraging victims to embrace a sense of victimhood served only to victimize them all over again.

Nor did she have any time for the now fashionable notion that making another person feel “guilty” is the greatest crime a human being can commit. She belonged to what she called “The Pull Yourself Together School of Psychiatry.” She espoused a straightforward and uncomplicated philosophy: Transgressors admitted their guilt, took their punishment without whining or bleating, and all was forgotten.

She had no time for any notion that the primary purpose of psychiatry is to eradicate all feelings of guilt or that behavior traditionally regarded abhorrent—even criminal—can be excused on the grounds that its practitioners “can’t help it.”

Mom was well aware of the difference between reasonable feelings of guilt—about things done and left undone, for which we are personally responsible—and irrational guilt. But while folks suffering from irrational guilt needed help, most folks, she argued, felt guilty for very good reason.

Feeling guilty, she claimed, was entirely healthy. It is what repentance is all about. Without repentance, there can be no true freedom from guilt because repentance is the prerequisite for the only lasting forgiveness—God’s forgiveness. GPH✠

Comments are closed.