Golgotha, by Vilmos Aba-Novák (1894–1941)

“In order to approach the psychology of pathology afresh, I am introducing the term, pathologizing to mean the psyche’s autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective” (Hillman 57).

I would like to delve into the matter of how we can “experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective.” When one is afflicted with pathological experiences, it is, of course, not pleasant. It is no simple matter to extricate oneself from it. As I read Hillman, however, the way is not out of, but through.

Suffering is intrinsic to the human experience. The Western medical model portrays psychopathology as something to be excised, like a tumor that must be surgically removed. This is absolutely contrary to the way of the Soul. Carl Jung once said,

The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus, but the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room (Jung, 37).

 One of my pet peeves is how so-called “depression” is treated in our culture. First of all, what is the origin of the word, “depression,” as it is used in current psychological parlance? “Depression” came to be used extensively in the nineteenth century to describe what had previously been called melancholia. Melancholia connotes sadness or gloominess. It literally means “black bile.” In Hippocrates’ Theory of the Four Humours, too much black bile was thought to be the cause of melancholia. The idea of depression is a totally different concept. Something is being pressed down upon and this is the source of the sadness and gloominess. But what is being depressed? It seems as if the human personality is being depressed, thus the recipient of this pressure is the ego, since this is the only aspect of the Soul that the typical Westerner is familiar with. It is anathema in the West to have a trodden down ego, since this is the agent of staunch independence and individualism, the hallmarks of Western culture.

Depressione, by Aurora Mazzoldi

The ego is said to be, at times, over-inflated. This is the opposite of a depressed ego. An over-inflated ego thinks it is the center of the universe. In extreme over-inflation, it can become possessed by a messiah complex. If this is correct, then the best of the West, the movers and shakers, the leaders of Western culture should have over-inflated egos to excel in this culture. We see this everyday in the news, in the lives of politicians, businessmen, scientists, and many others. There are a rare few that succeed without the benefit of over-inflation, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

Western science’s answer to depression is to provide, what else, anti-depressants. Following our line of thinking, it would seem that the goal of administering an anti-depressant to a melancholiac would be to re-inflate the Ego. But, does an over-inflated ego bring happiness?

Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper Collins, 1975.

Jung, C.G.(1929). Commentary On The Secret Of The Golden Flower. In Alchemical Studies. In The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Vol. 13. Princeton: Bollingen.

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One thought on “Pathologizing

  1. Depression is I think when we can't detach with a particular thought and gradually sinks deep into it..

    Neither depression nor elevation, not happiness nor sorrow but a sort of indifference and accept that the things will take its own course..who can interfere? just a mere spectator..

    I like the “over inflated ego” concept.

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