Disorders of the Will : Happy New Year?!

On this day when so many of us are glad for the blank sheet of paper, the turn of the calendar, the new year’s fresh start, I continue to wonder about how people change. That, after all, is what people are really after when they seek therapy. Some relationship, some turn of mind, a problem beyond their experience to avoid or help draws them to consider the time apart, the confidential help that therapy provides.

After years of reading, debating, writing and anguishing with others about this human problem, I believe that change requires a combination of pain, hope and resources. Personal pain to want to create difference, hope that will pull us forward even when we continue to fail, and the resources that help us act against habit, behavior, will, environment and even genetics. One of those resources is imagination; another, time; yet another, self control.

It’s that self control that is such a stinker for us all. And to that point, I was reading an online excerpt today on the NY Times book review from a new book I may have to purchase soon. This paragraph really stood out; it’s commenting on why disorders like anorexia or ADHD are such common diagnoses now. We have such a wide-open, tolerant culture, that restraints against human desire are fewer and fewer to find:

Maybe this is one reason disorders of the will are so much more common than they used to be. Anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder, both still relatively rare, are nonetheless much more common today than they were fifty years ago, not to mention the explosive growth of attention deficit disorder and addictions of all kinds. Some of this boom is just more frequent diagnosis, but it also reflects changing circumstances. That it’s now possible to be addicted to cocaine, shopping, or sex is evidence of how far we’ve moved beyond the constraints of budget, custom, and embarrassment. There aren’t many compulsive eaters, video game addicts, or — God knows — anorexics — in sub-Saharan Africa, but in the West men and women can be consumed with almost anything, including not eating, because here you can get or do almost anything. Opportunities for obsession abound. 

          from the new book, “We Have Met the Enemy” by Daniel Akst  (Penguin Press, c. 2011)

So, good luck with those resolutions. One of mine is going to continue to be curious about human will (I think Martin Luther may be right: he wrote that our wills are in bondage….) and what to do about those wills when they stubbornly, dangerously, get us into trouble. Happy New Year!

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