Worldview, Perception, & Behavior

“We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Anais Nin

“… whether one realizes it or not, everyone possesses a worldview. Our worldview tells us more about ourselves than any other part of our personal history and influences how patients present to us and how we respond as clinicians.

Freud accurately observed many of the unconscious determinants of the faith of some of his neurotic patients and their tendency to displace childhood feelings from parental figures onto their concept of God. But his own bias against the spiritual worldview led him to draw several erroneous conclusions.

Because Freud saw the element of wish fulfillment in the concept of God, he concluded that ‘God is psychologically nothing other than an exalted Father’. However, wishing for something has no real bearing on whether it exists. For example, the fact that most discoveries in medicine were wished for long before they were discovered does not make them less real.

Second, Freud, for his own reasons, failed to observe what he himself called ‘the deeper qualities’ of faith, faith that was not neurotically determined, faith that Pfister, Freud’s longtime friend, referred to as healthy and nonpathological. Freud insisted on exploring only what he called ‘the common man’s religion,’ a distortion of biblical faith, and he explored this phenomenon only in neurotic patients.

Third, he generalized from the beliefs of these few neurotic believers to all religious faiths – even though he knew people such as Pfister, whom he admired immensely and whose faith he did not consider neurotic.

Fourth, Freud’s conclusion that all men wished for an omnipotent father contradicted what he considered the most important of his scientific discoveries. He failed to realize – or else ignored – that the negative part of ambivalent oepidal feelings may lead to neurotic antireligious convictions. Knowledge of the Oepidus complex leads one to expect that the unconscious wish for the all-powerful father not exist would be as strong, if not stronger than the wish that he did exist. Clinical evidence bears out this expectation in that the unbelief of some patients appears to be based on a strong unconscious (sometimes conscious) wish that God not exist.

These examples illustrate how a clinician’s worldview can lead to selective inattention and influence what he or she perceives and how he or she interprets what is perceived.”

Armand M. Nicholi Jr. MD

Josephson AM, Peteet JR, eds. “Handbook of Spirituality and Worldview in Clinical Practice.” American Psychiatric Publishing Inc, Washington, DC, 2004.

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