“thus the most accessible aspects of the self-system in many late adolescents show superficially incomprehensible falsifications in the person’s view of himself that he is not apt to learn very much in this field unless somebody goes to a great deal of trouble to put him through educative experience. And this kind of experience is fraught with relatively severe anxiety which-as I hope you will grasp by now-people put with only when they can’t help themselves. When the imperative necessity for change is recognized through psychiatric or other experience, then most people are able to withstand some anxiety, though I suppose this varies on the basis of individual past experience. To say that a person is able to stand some anxiety us another way of saying that he is able to observe previously ignored and interpreted experience in such fashion that his formulation of himself and of living can change in a favorable direction. One might suppose then, that anybody who has had considerable anxiety ought to have made wonderful progress. But he joker to that is that overwhelming conviction of necessity is, in other than special circumstances, utterly lacking in people who suffer a great deal of anxiety. In fact they expect to go on indefinitely as they are, and when you attempt to show them what might be done about it, they get still more anxious and know that you are bad medicine and will avoid you.”
I first came across this passage from Harry Stack Sullivan’s Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry in the summer of 1974. I was 19. After a disastrous spring I headed out to Nevada to work on a ranch in the Carson Valley with my college roommate. Lots of sagebrush in a raw and beautiful semi arid landscape th
at is still close to my
heart. I dug ditch, fixed fence, pushed cows on roundup and became familiar
with the terrifying, comforting feel of a 12 gauge shotgun in my hands. On the
weekends we went to the family cabin on the shores of Lake Tahoe, hung out with
the fabulous Porter Brothers and longed to be older.
That Sullivan’s dictum is difficult to accept does not make it any less true. There is not enough praise for those in our lives who have found the raw guts and resilience to defy it .
BTW I would say his analysis applies equally well to nations as adolescents.