Neurotoxic vs. Brain-Boosting: Psychiatric Drugs


Neurotoxic vs. Brain-Boosting: Psychiatric Drugs

by Monica Cassani
August 22, 2012

The other day someone on twitter that my use of the term “toxic” when I referred to psych meds was hyperbolic. They also referred to Ritalin as “brain-boosting,” as opposed to “toxic.” Oy vey.

This person at one point was speaking specifically about Ritalin, the stimulant used to treat hyperactivity in children. I have no problem acknowledging that performance may be enhanced in the short-term on Ritalin in many people…and indeed all psych meds in some particular instances and in different ways can improve performance (or behavior), but that does not mean the brain is being boosted. (and in fact, quite often, with drugs other than Ritalin cognitive performance is often crippled to some degree and sometimes excessively). The word boosted suggests, at least to my mind, that the brain is being healed and improved, but sadly these drugs do not heal. They may change behavior and the way people feel and sometimes people do, no doubt, find that helpful, but no one should imagine that the drugs are healing their brain. It’s actually a sadly common belief based on the bogus idea that these drugs fix a chemical imbalance. Alas, that is simply untrue. See:  Chemical imbalance myth takes a big public fall

I don’t disregard that people find psychotropics helpful and on occasion necessary. That is not what this is about. Life is complicated and mental health issues are caused by many different things. We are not all alike and most people are not offered a choice or alternative to psychotropics. This means that sometimes psychiatric drugs are the only thing people have experienced as helpful. This is not to be taken lightly nor dismissed. People feel strongly about anything that helps them. But in the same vein these “successes” should also not be over-emphasized when most people have not tried other less damaging and/or actually healing methods of care. This overemphasis is what happens in psychiatry. So-called success stories by route of  brain and body damaging drugs are held up for all to see but there has generally never been an attempt to actually get at the cause and really HEAL such people or help them learn to cope in ways that don’t often also sicken the body. And the counterpart to this is that all the damage and tragedy that are also often caused by the drugs are swept under the rug and widely denied.

The fact that many people want to dismiss the harm the drugs cause seems to me to be much more dangerous as those of us who have suffered grave iatrogenic injury know only too well. None of us were told of these risks. And now ill most of us face denial from the medical community and very little or no help in healing.

Below along with much more commentary are brief posts that feature Robert Whitakers’s work highlighting the problems with four different classes of psychiatric medications. You tell me, are they brain-boosting or neurotoxic?

Since this post was inspired when someone said Ritalin, specifically, was brain-boosting, here is a comment, also by Whitaker about the effects of Ritalin in children:

When you research the rise of juvenile bipolar illness in this country, you see that it appears in lockstep with the prescribing of stimulants for ADHD and antidepressants for depression. Prior to the use of those medications, you find that researchers reported that manic-depressive illness, which is what bipolar illness was called at the time, virtually never occurred in prepubertal children. But once psychiatrists started putting “hyperactive” children on Ritalin, they started to see prepubertal children with manic symptoms. Same thing happened when psychiatrists started prescribing antidepressants to children and teenagers. A significant percentage had manic or hypomanic reactions to the antidepressants.

When you add up all this information, you end up documenting a story of how the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in the United States have been destroyed in this way. In fact, I think that the number of children and teenagers that have ended up “bipolar” after being treated with a stimulant or an antidepressant is now well over one million. This is a story of harm done on an unimaginable scale. – Robert Whitaker Counterpunch Interview

And lets not forget that the ingesting of these drugs over the long-term is closely associated with higher incidences of obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, cognitive problems, sexual dysfunction and the list goes on with multitudes of less common but sometimes completely devastating health consequences. Upon withdrawal some significant minority is faced with disabling withdrawal syndromes too.

We’re talking a serious sociological disruption here too. Psych meds mess with emotional bonding, not just sexual functioning, meaning it can affect everyone we love including our children. Furthermore I’ve asked the question in this post “what happens to kids who grow up on these drugs?”

The fact is most of the time we can deal with and support the pains of being human in other much healthier ways and we really must for the health of our bodies, minds and spirits. We must for the bodies, minds, and spirits of the entire human species. These drugs are simply mostly unnecessary. Certainly unnecessary a whole lot more often than they are used. Let’s give hope and options to more people all the time.

The man who triggered this post when he told me I was being hyperbolic when I used the word “toxic” in reference to psychiatric drugs also ended his brief missive with a comment about how drugs save lives and then, “Shame on you.”

I am not ashamed to offer people information and HOPE I never got when I got drugged so that they might be able to make a meaningful choice. I am not ashamed to share what I know about natural ways of healing and thriving so that people might find joy and wellbeing in life in ways that support their body/mind and spirit. It took my getting off psychiatric drugs to really feel joy again and that is in spite of still being gravely ill. I discovered I must be willing to experience the whole spectrum of human emotion (pain and sorrow too) in order to also feel the joy. Psychiatric drugs are indiscriminate at blunting all feelings, good and bad. They were not good for me, nor did they save my life. In fact, I only now, drug-free, feel like I am living my life.

As a professional working with people on these meds in social services for many years I also saw how drugs are handed out indiscriminately and the most vulnerable among us are never given a chance to consider healthier options at all. I watched as family dysfunction was routinely ignored as well as any and all childhood or other trauma in general not even considered. I watched as people were heavily medicated while not being told about diet, exercise and meditation and other lifestyle changes that might help mitigate the “need” for drugs. I watched as little or no appropriate psychotherapies were offered.  I watched as these drugs damaged people’s bodies and appropriate possibly life-saving medical tests and bloodwork were not routinely prescribed even while people became obese and sick as a result of being on the drugs. I watched as some of my clients succumbed to early death by diabetes, stroke and kidney failure. Yes. I did. And now I won’t sit around and watch any longer because what I saw was repulsive and sickening and tragic and there are far too many people standing around watching and denying that a nightmare is happening. It’s rather mind-boggling really. We need to wake-up!

I did not respond to this man directly because I’ve learned that my valuable and limited energy is much better placed among those who are willing to hear about and acknowledge those of us who’ve been gravely harmed. My energy is much better placed among those who might, once they hear, pass on the news that will eventually prompt the massive changes we need in the care of vulnerable people of all ages. So that we might offer a greater variety of healing options and that potentially horribly damaging drugs will be used much less frequently and perhaps only in crisis or until a better alternative is found.

And finally I thank the universe for that man who tried to shame me because while it’s clear he was dismissive of  my experience, his comments led to this post, that I might share with the many readers of this blog who want to learn about the dark and yes, neurotoxic, side of psychoactive drugs.

Books that present clinical research that document the toxicity of psychotropic drugs:

●  Drug-Induced Dementia: a perfect crime  — by Grace Jackson MD (see a book review on Beyond Meds here and here)

●  Rethinking Psychiatric Drugs: A Guide for Informed Consent  by Grace Jackson MD(book review on Beyond Meds here)

●  The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment by Joanne Moncrieff (interview with Moncrieff here)

●  Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America – by Robert Whitaker

(Reprinted from Beyond Meds)


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Monica, I am very glad to see your writing here on MIA. We have a long hard road ahead of us, as we are fighting a powerful and well-financed cult.

    I don’t know from your post if the person who made those stupid and dismissive comments was directly benefiting from the drug myths (i.e., a psychiatrist) or if he was just adopting what he perceived as the position of the winning side, but in any case, we are dealing with a cult.

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  2. Thanks for this article, Monica.

    It is indeed a pernicious myth that psychiatric drugs act differently in “sick” brains than in normal brains. The fact is that anyone will develop unusual powers of concentration on methamphetamine and methamphetamine analogs such as Ritalin. That’s why college students take speed to prepare for finals.

    The stimulation from these drugs can easily cause “mania,” as anyone who’s spent some time with a compulsively talking (or cleaning) insomniac person on speed knows.

    Someone who is an enthusiast of methamphetamine, prescribed or otherwise, might call its action “brain-boosting” and become very defensive about his or her dependency.

    You cannot underestimate the influence of cognitive dissonance when it comes to drugs that cause physical or psychological dependency, especially when reinforced by the popular idea that one needs such drugs to compensate for a broken brain.

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  3. I like Dr. Peter Breggin, and what he has to say.

    Many think he comes on “too strong”…

    I prefer to think he “shoots straight”, and that the drugs themselves are “too strong”!

    He has put together a new video series, ‘Simple Truths About Psychiatry’ – as always, he addresses these concerns in an honest and straightforward manner –

    IMO, Breggin is not only the “conscience of psychiatry”, but the “heart of psychiatry” as well.

    Good post.
    Thank you.


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  4. Mint article. Regarding the ‘shame on you’ comment, these people are operating psychologically beyond the boundaries of shame. He is just trying to emotionally blackmail you into shutting up. Maybe he is economically and/or psychologically invested in the perpetuation of these lies.

    So, to distill the essence of that odious character’s comment into a sentence, what he is basically saying is that we all should ignore the existence of this herd of elephants in the room, and deny the demonstrable, inescapable truth of the immense harm done.

    The ‘shame on you’ comment functions rhetorically to try and scare people into conformity. Another one is ‘these ideas are dangerous!’

    By saying that they have saved lives (I’ve known people to have said that they’ve KNOWN thousands of lives to have been saved by these drugs, which is a transparent lie and usually points to the pseudologia of the speaker), a claim for which there is no empirical corroboration whatsoever, they insinuate that you are opposed to the saving of lives.

    I wonder if that weasel has ever experienced neuroleptic malignant syndrome, like I have; I wonder if he has experienced the protracted nightmare of effexor withdrawal, like I have been going through for the past few months? His comments clearly don’t rest on experience, but on ignorance, which allows you to trivialise the effects of these drugs, because without experiential reference, they are just words.

    Some might like to fool themselves that observations of others might help to circumvent this problem, but no amount of observation can give you access to the singular psychological and emotional states associated with these drugs and their toxic effects, even the observation of the experiencer’s face, whose expressivity has been exploited by many a great filmmaker for its ability to communicate the aforementioned states.

    Sadly, there will always be this unbridgeable gulf between those of us who have actually been through these ineffable experiences and those who haven’t.

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  5. A good critical review of the world “out there,” Monica. Yet do we need to be equally critical of the world within and the myth of human intelligence? Are we intelligent, only when exploring anything but, our own internal motivation? That ideological *stance* of group think, the reaction beneath our so-called reason? Our postural attitude to the life we see *out there*

    As critics of consensus reality, are we a bit to black and white, in our examination of seemingly obvious motivation, like the urge to blame and shame?

    “And finally I thank the universe for that man who tried to shame me.” Are we not doing the same thing to psychiatrists? Consider this explanation of our difficulty in defining our emotional-intellectual functioning;

    “” Differentiation of Self

    Families and other social groups tremendously affect how people think, feel, and act, but individuals vary in their susceptibility to a “group think” and groups vary in the amount of pressure they exert for conformity. These differences between individuals and between groups reflect differences in people’s levels of differentiation of self. The less developed a person’s “self,” the more impact others have on his functioning and the more he tries to control, actively or passively, the functioning of others. The basic building blocks of a “self” are inborn, but an individual’s family relationships during childhood and adolescence primarily determine how much “self” he develops. Once established, the level of “self” rarely changes unless a person makes a structured and long-term effort to change it.

    People with a poorly differentiated “self” depend so heavily on the acceptance and approval of others that either they quickly adjust what they think, say, and do to please others or they dogmatically proclaim what others should be like and pressure them to conform. Bullies depend on approval and acceptance as much as chameleons, but bullies push others to agree with them rather than their agreeing with others. Disagreement threatens a bully as much as it threatens a chameleon. An extreme rebel is a poorly differentiated person too, but he pretends to be a “self” by routinely opposing the positions of others.

    A person with a well-differentiated “self” recognizes his realistic dependence on others, but he can stay calm and clear headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism, and rejection to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotionality. Thoughtfully acquired principles help guide decision-making about important family and social issues, making him less at the mercy of the feelings of the moment. What he decides and what he says matches what he does. He can act selflessly, but his acting in the best interests of the group is a thoughtful choice, not a response to relationship pressures. Confident in his thinking, he can either support another’s view without being a disciple or reject another view without polarizing the differences. He defines himself without being pushy and deals with pressure to yield without being wishy-washy.

    Every human society has its well-differentiated people, poorly differentiated people, and people at many gradations between these extremes. Consequently, the families and other groups that make up a society differ in the intensity of their emotional interdependence depending on the differentiation levels of their members. The more intense the interdependence, the less the group’s capacity to adapt to potentially stressful events without a marked escalation of chronic anxiety. Everyone is subject to problems in his work and personal life, but less differentiated people and families are vulnerable to periods of heightened chronic anxiety which contributes to their having a disproportionate share of society’s most serious problems.”

    Regards our innate tendency to blame and shame, consider this explanation of our compass of shame;

    ““mental illness stigma, and a compass of shame?

    Mental Illness Stigma is entwined in the compass of shame which binds us all together. Shame is the emotional force which shapes society. Shame is the glue which keeps us together in structures of social order, underpinning social rank and status.
    It can be great fun to watch politicians debate and rationalize this unconscious motivation, in their reactive opposition to each other?

    At the North end of the Compass is “Withdrawal”. It is hiding from others and living in fear of exposure of what we perceive as a defect or weakness. It leads to isolation and gradual absorption into a darker insulated world. It would tend to defeat our human need to belong, for the sake of survival.

    At the East end of the Compass is “Attack Self”.
    With this set of behaviors we diminish ourselves in the presence of others. In a sense it is “heading off at the pass” the fear of rejection. Unlike Withdrawal, we can stay connected, as it is not hard in this competitive world to find a person who wants to feel like a winner by connecting to a loser. In its safety it just worsens the pain and degrades the soul.

    There is a danger in living at the North and East poles. Because the feelings are not processed, they can build up inside and can lead to explosions or extreme violence (a notable example was the story of the murderous teens in the shootings at Columbine).

    At the South end is the opposite of “Withdrawal”, what Dr. Nathanson calls “Avoidance”.
    The goal of this strategy is to hide the feelings of shame entirely from consciousness, if possible. The use of alcohol and other illicit drugs leading to addiction is a way of avoiding the feelings. It is said that shame is dissolved in alcohol, melted by narcotics and boiled by cocaine and amphetamines.

    Another strategy used at this pole of Avoidance is to call attention to oneself in ways meant to distract others by “showing off” or being an exhibitionist. It is also at the core of a theory about the development of Narcissistic Personality Disorders, whose self aggrandizement is seen as an avoidance of shame to the point of complete unawareness. Like the East pole, people remain connected with others, although in a way that is devoid of true intimacy (i.e. the sharing of vulnerabilities). It creates a hollow, false sense of self and, like the addiction strategy, seems never to be enough to satisfy the underlying need.

    At the West end is the “Attack Others” pole. Simply put, this strategy refers to the bully who metes out their own inner sense of shame on another. It is these people who prey on the vulnerable, leading to damage that scares people, often for the rest of their lives. Even the most stringent of rules to contain their behaviors does not solve the problem that promotes these actions. Until the matters of shame are addressed, these people remain a risk to those in their sights.”

    As I’ve mentioned on another thread today, we all find it easy to sight poor behavior in others without trying to understand it? Can we face the mirror, the cave within, and be so enthusiastically critical in our thinking?

    Can we come to a *realization* that the SYSTEM, is actually an internal system of survival needs, projected onto the world “out there?”

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  6. Toxic Drugs or Toxic Shame? – The Parental Nature of Society?

    Murray Bowen tells us that society operates just like a family? John Bradshaw in his brilliant “Healing the Shame that Binds You,” explains how shame is used to shape the family & society, by its ability to suppress and even crush, the natural energies of interest & excitement, of curiosity and wonder?

    It begins around 18 months of age, as parental adoration and encouragement turn to admonishment and the restriction of innate affect/emotion? Shame has been long recognized as the *binding* emotion which allows society to function in an orderly hierarchical fashion of perceived rank & status.

    This is perhaps the unconscious motivation in our drive for *diagnosis,* the ranking of another as inferior, or as described by Donald Nathanson, the Pride/Shame axis of all human relationships?

    Can the good Doctor in his need for the pride of deference, as Michael Cornwall points out, be sure that a motivation of good intention, is not driven by an unconscious need, in this Pride/Shame axis of human relationship? Is our current debate here on MIA inhibited by our *objective* analysis, with a lack of awareness, or discussion about *unconscious* motivation? Please consider the effects of Toxic Shame and its shaping of Western Society?

    “My Name Is Toxic Shame

    I was there at your conception
    In the epinephrine of your mother’s shame
    You felt me in the fluid of your mother’s womb
    I came upon you before you could speak
    Before you understood
    Before you had any way of knowing
    I came upon you when you were learning to walk
    When you were unprotected and exposed
    When you were vulnerable and needy
    Before you had any boundaries

    I came upon you when you were magical
    Before you could know I was there
    I severed your soul
    I pierced you to the core
    I brought you feelings of being flawed and defective
    I brought you feelings of distrust, ugliness, stupidity, doubt
    worthlessness, inferiority, and unworthiness
    I made you feel different
    I told you there was something wrong with you
    I soiled your Godlikeness

    I existed before conscience
    Before guilt
    Before morality
    I am the master emotion
    I am the internal voice that whispers words of condemnation
    I am the internal shudder that courses through you without any
    mental preparation

    I live in secrecy
    In the deep moist banks of darkness
    depression and despair
    Always I sneak up on you I catch you off guard I come through
    the back door
    Uninvited unwanted
    The first to arrive
    I was there at the beginning of time
    With Father Adam, Mother Eve
    Brother Cain
    I was at the Tower of Babel the Slaughter of the Innocents

    I come from “shameless” caretakers, abandonment, ridicule,
    abuse, neglect – perfectionistic systems
    I am empowered by the shocking intensity of a parent’s rage
    The cruel remarks of siblings
    The jeering humiliation of other children
    The awkward reflection in the mirrors
    The touch that feels icky and frightening
    The slap, the pinch, the jerk that ruptures trust
    I am intensified by
    A racist, sexist culture
    The righteous condemnation of religious bigots
    The fears and pressures of schooling
    The hypocrisy of politicians
    The multigenerational shame of dysfunctional
    family systems

    I can transform a woman person, a Jewish person, a black
    person, a gay person, an oriental person, a precious child into
    A bitch, a kike, a nigger, a bull dyke, a faggot, a chink, a selfish
    little bastard
    I bring pain that is chronic
    A pain that will not go away
    I am the hunter that stalks you night and day
    Every day everywhere
    I have no boundaries
    You try to hide from me
    But you cannot
    Because I live inside of you
    I make you feel hopeless
    Like there is no way out

    My pain is so unbearable that you must pass me on to others
    through control, perfectionism, contempt, criticism, blame,
    envy, judgment, power, and rage
    My pain is so intense
    You must cover me up with addictions, rigid roles, reenactment,
    and unconscious ego defenses.
    My pain is so intense
    That you must numb out and no longer feel me.
    I convinced you that I am gone – that I do not exist –
    you experience absence and emptiness.

    I am the core of co-dependency
    I am spiritual bankruptcy
    The logic of absurdity
    The repetition compulsion
    I am crime, violence, incest, rape
    I am the voracious hole that fuels all addictions
    I am instability and lust
    I am Ahaverus the Wandering Jew, Wagner’s Flying Dutchman,
    Dostoyevski’s underground man, Kierkegaard’s seducer,
    Goethe’s Faust
    I twist who you are into what you do and have
    I murder your soul and you pass me on for generations
    MY NAME IS TOXIC SHAME” _Leo Booth/John Bradshaw.

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  7. David,

    You are fond of offering passages from theorists; and, many times, I’ve found those passages pertain *well* to matters immediately at hand.

    But, occasionally (like now), I find them out of place – and worse, exceedingly self-righteous, preachy.

    Therefore, I offer…

    (Via Yahoo Answers)

    “Here, according to, is the definition of vanity: ‘excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.; character or quality of being vain; conceit: Failure to be elected was a great blow to his vanity.’

    “A person who truly loves himself will love others, and will be humble around others. A vain person, on the other hand, will usually be boastful, arrogant. The keyword there is ‘excessive.’ All of us have a certain amount of pride in our abilities; the vain person’s pride is ‘excessive.’

    “The meaning of ‘all is vanity’ is that the natural tendency of man is vanity; the wise person eschews it for humility, quiet confidence.”

    I care to avoid labeling anyone even “a vain person” (largely, for fear of having myself labeled as such; that is how vain I am); and, I crave wisdom yet wonder, honestly: How wise can we become? And how consistently wise?

    After all, though it is centuries after his time, I resonate in accord, with Michel de Montaigne, as he states (in his essay, “Of the Vanity of Words”), “The corruption of the age is produced by the individual contribution of each one of us; some contribute treachery, others injustice, irreligion, tyranny, avarice, cruelty, in accordance with their greater power; the weaker ones bring stupidity, vanity, passivity, and I am one of them.”

    I relate to those words; for, in truth, I am one of those weaker ones, too.

    Thus, David, the passages you offered here might seem perfectly enlightening and apropos in other circumstances – yet, here, overdone and ‘holier-than-thou.’

    But, maybe this is me feeling holier-than-thou?!?

    So, for both of us – in conclusion…

    According to Nietzsche, “Whoever denies that he possesses vanity generally possesses it in so brutal a form that he instinctively shuts his eyes in its presence, so as not to have to look down upon himself.”

    (Note: vanity leads me to do almost anything to avoid being viewed ‘brutally vain’ – which is why, in offering you this well-intentioned, unsolicited, erudite, mini-lecture after you offered the above guest-blogger yours, I’ve presented not one nor two, but *three* mentions of my own vanity!)



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    • Dear J, are you trying to Shame me, in a belief that I was being disrespectful to this post?

      What I’m trying to tease out is the nature of denied human functioning, in the anxiety of the lived moment and its emotional projection, which revolves around an instinctive Pride/Shame axis?

      As readers scan my comments here, seeking an emotional resource to fuel a sense of pride, please try to “feel” your “impulse” to anger, at my words, and sense a “postural” attitude, which fuels all our “ideologies?” built on this Pride/Shame axis of behavioral function in the anxiety of the lived moment?

      There is a consensus myth about human intelligence and our so-called insight. We generally have precious little insight into our own “in the moment” behaviors, and we all seem to resist such insight furiously, from the top to the bottom of our “instinct” driven blaming & shaming hierarchies of a structured society.

      The Pride/Shame axis of human relationships? This is the emotional equivalent of a harsh reality which our “should be” fantasies avoid like the plague. The reality of life eats life survival, and of coarse we pretend that human “rage,” has nothing to do with this core truth about life?

      IMO, Nothing will change in human societies until we “get real” about our behaviors and what drives them, nothing will change until we come to the realization of our being, as an evolved human-animal? It is this reality of “evolution,” which we avoid a conscious awareness of?

      I agree with David Oaks statement that we will have to be better than the system we are trying to change, if we are to be successful.

      Ted reminds us that we are involved in a human rights movement, to which I agree, although I suggest we should re-frame the view to a “human meaning” movement, because its this aspect of the mental illness experience, which so scares the pants of consensus normality.

      We are all on the same side here, and I suggest we could find more a productive approach to “the system,” out there, if we follow Socrates advise about an “un-examined life?”

      What is unique, in the mental illness experience, is its challenge to the existential nature of being human. This is why I ask that we honestly and openly examine our own behavior here, rather than keep an instinctive focus on whats wrong with the world “out there.”

      In defense of my call to “feel” this postural attitude of our “us vs them” ideologies, I offer this explanation from Silvan Tomkins.

      “Ideology and Affect/Emotion:

      Now let me introduce the concepts of ideo-affective postures, ideological postures and ideo-affective resonance. (1) By ideo-affective postures I mean any loosely organized set of feelings and ideas about feelings. (2) By ideological postures I refer to any “highly organized” and articulate set of ideas about anything. A generally tolerant or permissive attitude would be an instance of an ideo-affective posture, whereas a progressive or democratic political position would be an example of an ideological posture.

      (3) By ideo-affective resonance we mean the engagement of the loosely organized beliefs and feelings by ideology, when the ideo-affective postures are sufficiently similar to the ideological posture, so that they reinforce and strengthen each other.

      Ideo-affective resonance to ideology is a love affair of a loosely organized set of feelings and ideas about feelings with a highly organized and articulate set of ideas about anything. As in the case of a love affair the fit need not be perfect, so long as there is sufficient similarity between what the individual thinks and feels is desirable, to set the vibrations between the two entities into sympathetic resonance.”

      Excerpts from “Exploring Affect,” (1995) by Sylvan Tomkins.

      I believe the MY NAME IS TOXIC SHAME poem by Leo Booth/John Bradshaw, is a very telling indictment of us all, in our denial of actual human functioning, beneath our “idealized” sense of self. Its a very powerful summation of how the so-called SYSTEM “out there,” is projected from within?

      Warm regards,

      David Bates.

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      • 🙂

        ///…I agree with David Oaks statement that we will have to be better than the system we are trying to change, if we are to be successful.

        Ted reminds us that we are involved in a human rights movement, to which I agree, although I suggest we should re-frame the view to a “human meaning” movement, because it’s this aspect of the mental illness experience, which so scares the pants of consensus normality.

        We are all on the same side here, and I suggest we could find more a productive approach to “the system,” out there, if we follow Socrates advice about an “un-examined life?”

        What is unique, in the mental illness experience, is its challenge to the existential nature of being human. This is why I ask that we honestly and openly examine our own behavior here, rather than keep an instinctive focus on what’s wrong with the world “out there.”

        In defense of my call to “feel” this postural attitude of our “us vs them” ideologies, I offer this explanation from Silvan Tomkins…///


        No, I certainly was not trying to shame you; on the contrary, I was doing everything possible to avoid shaming you – e.g., pointing out, that I know: I, myself, am *not* at all above being vain, excessively prideful, etc..

        And, again, here, doing all that I can to avoid shaming you, by this point, emphatically, I’ll tell you: this part of your message (directly above) is highly meaningful – but for your use of the term, “mental illness.”

        Expanding on that point…

        David, you seem so fully bent on presenting yourself, as one who has supposedly ongoing, first-hand experience, of a standard psychiatric diagnosis of a supposed “disorder” that’s widely considered “serious mental illness” – as though this makes you an ‘authority’ in the realm of what you call, “mental illness experience”; this is your arrogance, I feel – and your immense folly; for, I believe it feeds your tendency to lose your ‘humble’ center, and it diminishes the complete good of a human rights movement, of which you are a ‘representative’ (here, online) – a movement that’s dedicated to restoring full dignity to those who have been officially deemed and ‘treated’ as “mentally ill” against their wishes.

        Here and now, I, too, am a ‘representative’ of this movement, doing my best to simply accept that some people (such as yourself, currently) enjoy thinking of themselves as “mentally ill”; but, I’ll not resist pointing out, that “mental illness” is – to my way of thinking – at best, an incredibly nebulous concept; at worst, it reflects a vast array of utterly *subjective* judgments aimed at *marginalizing* persons who are *seemingly* thinking and behaving in ways ‘out-of-line’ with culturally accepted ‘norms’; and, perhaps, most troubling: in the minds of most people, “mental illness” *implies* underlying, neurological/physical ills – despite the fact that no evidence of such ever needs be proved, in the course of presenting a “diagnosis” of such.

        Thus, this term, “mental illness,” has long been employed to ‘justify’ stripping non-conforming individuals of their right to self-determination, without due process of law. So, its employment leads to countless, repeated, egregious abuses of ‘non-conforming’ individuals’ rights, to the loss of their human sovereignty, as adults – and, worst of all, to *much* physical and emotional abuse of children (more or less unintended), as well – all meted out by mainstream clinical psychiatrists and those supporting their work.

        Because it (‘mental illness’) is, indeed, the single most *shaming* concept I’ve ever encountered, and because it was (decades ago) used to ostensibly ‘justify’ much outrageous “medical” treatment of myself, I find myself struggling to take you seriously, when you write simultaneously of “Shame” as being ‘bad’ and “mental illness experience” as being, perhaps, the very basis of your knowledge, of human transcendence; your elevation of “mental illness experience” suggests to me, that it (‘mental illness’) is not only a central concept in your belief system, but it is a concept literally integral to your sense of identity.

        Why place any kind of “illness” at the center of your self-concept? I cannot understand why *anyone* would deliberately make such a mission part and parcel of his/her ultimate calling, such as you seem, now, to make it yours.

        Perhaps, that’s not what you’re doing? Perhaps, I misread you? Yet, you are now attached to ‘medical’ terminology, in describing your experiences – even as you seemingly have no desire for the medical ‘help’ of psychiatry; and, I find this juxtaposition of realities incomprehensible.

        So, David, I applaud you, your determination to eschew the medical route – even as you seemingly court disaster by continuing to believe in “mental illness” and your particular so-called “diagnosis.”

        Such attachments to the language of the oppressor seems, to me, potentially self-deluding and ultimately masochistic; and, by reading your writing – which, throughout this website, now includes *much*/excessive/highly-repetitive deference to long, cut-and-paste passages, by various theorists – I feel you are doing yourself harm, socially. I.e., it’s my feeling, that you must be alienating yourself somewhat from others.

        Of course, I could be wrong about that; and, only you can ultimately know the truth of how much you lose or gain by viewing your experiences through the lens of this vague “mental illness” concept; but, in any case, with respect to the matter of “mental illness” being – at best – an incredibly nebulous term which tends to *imply* unproven physical disease, I wonder:

        Might you have an alternate word (or, set of words) which you can substitute, in that passage of yours, which I’ve highlighted, above? thus, making your point/s (above) more fully clear?



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        • P.S. – David, I am anticipating an objection you may have have to something I’ve just said.

          In my referring to “language of the oppressor,” I’ll point out, here and now, that: much as I do see ways in which, years ago, I operated in accord with psychiatric oppressors, nonetheless, my journey into the realm of ‘accepting’ their abuse *began* only *after* I’d yelled, “NO!!!” to the psych-techs who’d come to shoot me up with their so-called “tranquilizing” drug.

          Before they’d drawn their needle, I’d been tied down – to be transported from an Emergency Room, to a nearby “hospital” (so-called); I’d been tied down; and, yet, I was perfectly calm – until I saw the hypodermic needle.

          The effects of that chemical imposition were actually far *worse* than I could have anticipated; that drugging led to me *rapidly* into a deeply tortured state-of-being, which would be perceived, by professional observers, as supposedly warranting more ‘treatment’ of that same kind – and then various combinations of even *more* torturous drugs – and *more* extreme forms of restraint, seclusion, etc..

          All of that was preceded by my very firm, “NO!!!” …much like a woman might yell, “NO!!!” to her would be rapist.

          From that point of view, it is perfectly clear to me – this many years late – that: I was, indeed, then, momentarily, being *overwhelmed* by oppressors beyond my control – oppressors who were, in fact, taking their orders from a psychiatrist.

          Perhaps, at times, later, they were behaving in ways that the psychiatrist would not have approved, had he been present. (I am cognizant of that fact; so, it is not psychiatrist alone who abused me.) But, in any event, I was thereafter – in my first day of ‘treatment’ – again, tied down and shot up with drugs, despite being *perfectly* calm and non-confrontational beforehand.

          I think it is reasonable to say: The Psychiatric System was then my oppressor.

          Its adherents were oppressing me.

          Though they may have been simply following the orders of their superior/s, no amount of self-reflection, in all these years since, has led me to believe that I was responsible for their abuses.

          As I had never before experienced such abuse, those were eye-opening experiences…

          And, my overall experiences with psychiatry (three and a half years as so-called “patient”) were formative; they led me to realize, that: yes, we may become our own worst oppressors, but sometimes others oppress us, despite our best efforts to avoid having that happen.

          When we define ourselves and/or our way-of-functioning with particularly oppressive terms, like those that are typically useful to habitually ‘controlling’ authority figures (e.g., if we define ourselves as “mentally ill”), then we are making ourselves more vulnerable to their abuses – except, perhaps, in those instances when they may have us physically captivated; i.e., when they are wielding their power over us directly, and we cannot escape, and they are demanding our obedience, then it may be best to, at least, *appear* as though we’re accepting the labels they’ve put upon us… (Otherwise, I’ll not recommend to anyone, that s/he should accept a supposed “diagnosis” of so-called “mental illness,” under any circumstance.)

          These are lessons learned from my experiences with psychiatry.

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          • Dear Jonah:))

            You seem determined to get “hung up” on the definition of metaphors/words, finding it difficult to read between the lines of what I’m struggling to articulate? (note, my emotional projection onto you)

            If you read any of my over 80 articles on you will see that I do not believe in mental illness, or any of the metaphor/labels of medical diagnosis.

            Hence my posting of the toxic shame poem & my suggestion that an unconscious motivation lies beneath our “intellectual” tendency to *diagnose* other people.

            I believe that mental anguish states and so-called symptoms are caused by trauma induced, hardwired physiological reactions, which are expressions of our survival instincts.

            “So, David, I applaud you, your determination to eschew the medical route – even as you seemingly court disaster by continuing to believe in “mental illness” and your particular so-called “diagnosis.””

            IMO. This is your emotional projection onto me, Jonah, and what I’m trying to tease out, in my call for people to examine their reactive stance, either for or against any kind of ideology?

            If you have read my comments here on MIA, you might wonder why I continually lament an “us vs them,” reactive attitude, which simply maintains the status-qua, of a Pride/Shame axis in our Social Politics?

            IMO. Its vitally important for a community which has the actual experience of altered states of mind, to begin to question what this divine madness is? I believe that such a question is best answered by those of us with lived experience, in conjunction with cutting edge science, which is not tainted by commercial interests?

            In my 32 year experience of classic manic-depression, the observable behavior does fit into the descriptive diagnosis used to describe what psychiatrists call bipolar type 1 disorder.

            I do not agree with the label, or the “intellectual” assumption that its caused by a disease process. My early adult onset of mania was caused by a need to let go of a trauma conditioned nervous system reaction called “tonic immobility,” which in pure evolutionary terms, is part of our evolved freeze/flight/fight/fright, hard wired reactions to life’s experience.

            “In defense of my call to “feel” the postural attitude of our reactive ideologies, I offer this explanation from Silvan Tomkins.

            “Ideology and Affect/Emotion:

            Now let me introduce the concepts of ideo-affective postures, ideological postures and ideo-affective resonance. (1) By ideo-affective postures I mean any loosely organized set of feelings and ideas about feelings. (2) By ideological postures I refer to any “highly organized” and articulate set of ideas about anything. A generally tolerant or permissive attitude would be an instance of an ideo-affective posture, whereas a progressive or democratic political position would be an example of an ideological posture.

            (3) By ideo-affective resonance we mean the engagement of the loosely organized beliefs and feelings by ideology, when the ideo-affective postures are sufficiently similar to the ideological posture, so that they reinforce and strengthen each other.

            Ideo-affective resonance to ideology is a love affair of a loosely organized set of feelings and ideas about feelings with a highly organized and articulate set of ideas about anything. As in the case of a love affair the fit need not be perfect, so long as there is sufficient similarity between what the individual thinks and feels is desirable, to set the vibrations between the two entities into sympathetic resonance.”

            Excerpts from “Exploring Affect,” (1995) by Sylvan Tomkins.

            I suggest we *rationalize* our core affect/emotions which stimulate our “in the moment” behaviors, with a pretense that such internal motivation does not exist?

            Its not the world *out there* which generates our human reality, its the world within, which is so misunderstood and avoided. The reason I posted the Pride/Shame axis of behavior, is because its a direction expression of the autonomic nervous system within.”

            What I’m interested in, is differentiating my emotional-intellectual functioning, as described by Murray Bowen, in his notion of “fusion.” Please consider how much of our “stance” towards each other, is generated by this issue of emotionally charged subjective experience, projected onto the world “out there.”

            “At the fusion end of the spectrum, the intellect is so flooded by emotionality that the total life coarse is determined by the emotional process and by what “feels right,” rather than by beliefs or opinions. The intellect exists as an appendage of the feeling system. It may function reasonably well in mathematics or physics, or in impersonal areas, but on personal subjects its functioning is controlled by the emotions.

            The emotional system is hypothesized to be part of the instinctual forces that govern automatic functions. The human is adept at explanations to emphasize that he is different from lower forms of life, and at denying his relationship with nature. The emotional system operates with predicable, knowable stimuli that govern the instinctual behavior in all forms of life. The more life is governed by the emotional system, the more it follows the coarse of all instinctual behavior, in spite of intellectualized explanations to the contrary.” _Murray Bowen.

            This is why I urge people to read comments and notice how we all tend to take from others comments, what we need to justify our current postural attitude, and leave the rest? I respectfully suggest that once we begin to take note of this innate tendency, we can talk about actual behavioral function, rather than in language of an idealized, “should be,” reality?

            I do believe that we operate with far more unconscious and instinctive motivation, than we care to admit to, in our idealized social politics. The way we “scan,” pages of writing like this, finding it difficult to pause and feel the internal stimulation, of a hunt for personal emotional resources?

            In defense of my suggestion that our “ideology” is an expression of our “postural attitude” to life, I offer this telling research into emotion & mood?

            “Working at Columbia University in the 1940s and 50s, Nina Bull conducted remarkable research in the experiential tradition of William James. In her studies subjects were induced into a light hypnotic trance, and various emotions were suggested in this state. These included disgust, fear, anger, depression, joy and triumph. Bull discovered that the emotion of anger involves a fundamental split. There was, on the one hand, a primary compulsion to attack, as observed in tensing of the back, arms and fists (as if preparing to hit). However, there was also a strong secondary component of tensing the jaw, forearm and hand. This was self-reported by the subjects, and observed by the experimenters, as a way of controlling and inhibiting the primary impulse to strike. (p, 332)

            In addition, these experimenters explored the bodily aspects of sadness and depression. Depression was characterized, in the subjects consciousness, as a chronically interrupted drive. It was as though there was something they wanted but were unable to attain. These states of depression were frequently associated with a sense of “tired heaviness,” dizziness, headache and an inability to think clearly. The researchers observed a weakened impulse to cry (as though it were stifled), along with a collapsed posture, conveying defeat and apparent lethargy.

            When Bull studied the patterns of elation, triumph and joy, she observed that these positive affects, did not have an inhibitory component; they were experienced as pure action. Subjects feeling joy reported an expanded sensation in their chests, which they experienced as buoyant, and which was associated with free deep breathing. The observation of postural changes included a lifting of the head and an extension of the spine. These closely meshed behaviors and sensations facilitated the freer breathing.

            Understanding the contradictory basis of the negative emotions, and their structural contrast to the positive ones, is revealing in the quest for wholeness. All the negative emotions studied were comprised of two “conflicting impulses,” one propelling action and the other inhibiting (thwarting) that action. (p, 333)

            In addition, when a subject was “locked” into joy by hypnotic suggestion, a contrasting mood (eg, depression, anger or sadness) could not be produced unless the joy “posture” was first released. The opposite was also true; when sadness or depression was suggested, it was not possible to feel joy unless that postural set was fist changed. (p, 334)

            A direct and effective way of changing one’s functional competency and mood is through altering one’s postural set and thence changing pro-prioceptive and kinesthetic feedback to the brain. Hence, the awareness of bodily sensations is critical in changing functional and emotional states. (p, 337)”

            Excerpts from “In an Unspoken Voice” by Peter Levine, PhD.

            For those reader’s interested in considering a view of actual human functioning, in the terrible circumstance of this inherent denial, of our evolved human nature, this comment is particularly pertinent

            We can continue to give evidence of our particular ideological stance, or we can openly discuss the reality of actual human functioning, in the anxiety of the lived moment?

            These are lessons learned from my experiences with life?

            Warm regards,


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          • Jonah

            I have had great respect for your contributions to this blog. Your current patience and tenacity in trying to understand and struggle with David only deepens my respect.

            Your descriptions of your experience with psychiatry and the lessons learned are extremely powerful and educational.

            As someone who is a non survivor and a major critic of Biological Psychiatry while still working in community mental health, my hatred for this system and my desire to work even harder to see it totally dismantled grows ever stronger by hearing more about your personal experiences and your overall conclusions drawn from that experience. Thank you.


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