For this essay I have considered an addition question concerning the relationship between the environment and the destructiveness of humans:
Critically consider the relationship between ‘phenomenal dissociation’ and environmental destructiveness.
“Ecopsychologists canonically examine the deleterious psychic ramifications of the
phenomenal split between humans and nature and assert that these splits engender
either unpleasant emotions or neuroses or both” (Worthy, K. 2008, 151).
Environmental destruction at the hands of man has been escalation over many decades (Koger, S. M. And D, Du Nana Winter. 2010). Colonialism, the Industrial Revolution, and global capitalism (Rennen, W. And P. Martens. 2003), has seen trade boarders diminished, wealthy countries looking to utlise resources from third world and emerging countries. Humankind, with the prodigious consumption and ensuring rape of the Earth’s resources has, until relatively recently, thought little and considered less the consequences, the irreparable nature of the damage done in a micro setting, and with long lasting problems at a macro environmental level. With the internet, information at our fingertips, multi-media reports, governments and pressure groups presenting the global environmental crisis, it would be easy to believe that most people would wish to engage in some behavioural change that slows or stops this destruction. The revers seems to be evident. Is this due to collective ambivalence, denial, or a collection of those and other psychological defenses? This essay suggests that by understanding the psychoanalytic unconscious process, phenomenal dissociations, policy makers, environmentalists, and ecopsychologists may be better equipped to expedite the pace of engagement to diminish the ensuing environmental crisis.
I will explore the concept of phenomenal dissociations (PD), “defined as the lack of immediate, sensual engagement with the consequences of everyday action” (Worthy, K. 2008, 148), an empathy black spot, and how they potentially affect human destructiveness of the environment. I will look at why this process is part of people’s everyday experience, then how a better understanding of this unconscious psychoanalytic process could potentially redefine how we might approach reducing destructive behaviours.
A priority in slowing the destruction of the Earth is the need to “re-establish our phenomenal connections with nature,” as a matter of urgency (Worthy, K. 2008, 166). PD removes empathy and connectivity to others and our environment. This information offers researchers ways to generate new, improved models of engaging people in awareness of the psychological blocks they experience, out of awareness, every day. I will explore possible options within the psychoanalytic field that could offer processes to changing destructive human behaviours toward the planet.
I will then critique the potential benefits and limitations that a working knowledge of PD might bring to environmentalist and ecopsychologists in assisting policy makers. With bringing the collective sense of PD out of the unconscious and into conscious awareness, it might be possible to create traction with an empathic reconnection to nature and its value to humankind. The limitations of this process however are inevitable fraught with the very notion that working with unconscious processes will meet with resistance. I briefly offer other possible psychological solutions to the human destruction of the environment.
I will conclude with a summary of PD and environmentally destructive behaviours, and offer possible solutions for further work in this area.
Centuries, and even decades ago, a lack of general awareness might have excused the over consumption and destruction of Earth’s natural resources humans have instigated, but today we have a wide spread of worldwide interactive information processes. The media informs us of activities near to home, and far away simultaneously. Yet they do not seem to connect us to others’ pain and anguish caused by our need to consume. We over harvest the earth for the increased population to the point of desertification in many places. We have chopped down forests of trees there by changing the planetary weather system permanently.
The UN Statistical Commission has a conference in February 2012, “Counting the 7 Billion: The Future of Population and Housing Census” (http://unstats.un.org/unsd/default.htm), dealing with the question of feeding, supplying housing, fresh water, education and healthcare for ever increasing numbers of those dwelling beyond cities and towns. Will they insist that the West diminishes its consumption to assist in supporting the greater number with less than they can subsist on?
The Global Issues website reports that in 2005, “The wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%” (Shah, A. 2005). Worldwide protests on the sharing of wealth are with us daily. Cooperate greed is in the news along side drought, floods, and the most recent maritime disaster with loss of life and potential toxic outfall into the surrounding sea (Hickman, L. 2012).
Waste from consumption in densely populated cities in global north is shipped to other countries in the world, contaminating their environments (Vidal, J. 2004). There are more floods in a greater number of places every year, and parts of Africa remain in drought year after year. Famine and starvation is common place, pictured on the news on our televisions (Tisdal, S. 2012).
People continue driving their cars to do almost anything, even though we are told that busses, cycling or walking are better for the environment, and our health. We are continually shopping, driven by the next new thing, or some internal fear of running out, we “shop till they drop” (Meijers, M.H.C, and D.A. Staple 2011).
Because of Western demands “expansion and intensification of air traffic, car, truck and sea transport, waste, increased consumption of water and fossil energy” are the ecologically damaging result (Rennen, W. And P. Martens. 2003, 142).
What space is left from housing, growing foods, and production is now increasingly used as landfills sites. Biodiversity is being reduced, seas over fished and polluted, mass production of carbon dioxide causing untold damage to the atmosphere, the polar ice caps melting, all this can be laid at the feet of man’s drives to consume. An over arching problem has emerged that many environmentalist see as crucial to solve, a broken connection, a severed relationship. “One perennial theme links these environmental problems (and that is) to the way that modern individuals conceive of their relationship to nature.” (Frantz. 2005, 427).
Yet, with all this evidence, often first hand, humans are slow to react to what could be seen as self destructive behaviour. We continue to consume and destroy ever decreasing supplies that sustain the human race. Next I will offer psychoanalytic and psychological rationals why we do this.
Phenomenal dissociation’s as described by Kenneth Worthy in his 2008 paper, offered an empirical psychological view that PD “increases (human) destructive tendency and that awareness is not enough to curb (this) destructiveness.” He suggests there are social and material structures in place that distance people from the consequences of their action towards others. Worthy also agrees with environmental theorists, that alienation between nature and humans are the cause of the increase in the global environmental destruction (2008, 148).
If humans are removed from the immediate senses, experience of our everyday actions and the consequences of them, we will lack any obvious responsibility. In the affluent North, the media mediates between our experience and the real world. We can look daily on many parts of the world, near and far with no fear of real contact. Wars, drought, famine, earthquakes, tsunami from far flung places. Anything that might challenge our thoughts, the fact that we might in some way be culpable, is diluted.
As Worthy points out, humans are situated “at the nexus of a series of elongated material and information networks” that remove us, separate us from an empathic connection with “the origins of (our) sustenance.” He also believes that an increasing our “awareness is not enough” to change this process, to change our destructive ways (Worthy, K. 2008, 148).
An every day example of PD might be when we use the toilet. It would perhaps be unusual to be conscious of where the waste goes, the process through drains, treatment and so forth. The amount and the provision of clean water used each time we flush. If we were conscious of the whole process, would our behavior change at all? If this theory is extrapolated across a day, and the population of the Globe, a striking picture emerges. How then can bring into awareness this process for most of humankind?
Perhaps, having acknowledged the presence of PD, other theories and concepts might be drawn on as a way of guiding policy makers on environmentally beneficial behaviour?
Few in the Western world could say that they were not aware of the environmental crisis. Evidence tends to show that people are concerned about the environment, but their behaviour does not match this worry. (Uzzell, D., & N. Rathzel. 2009). The solution is not so evident.
Psychoanalytic ideas of Freud, who in the very early 1900’s introduced his concept of repression of sexual and aggressive drives and the unconscious mind. Roszak, a social critic says that, during the ensuing time “we have learned a troubling lesson” there exist bonds between humans and other life forms on the planet. He coined the phrase, ‘ecological unconscious’ with regard to repressed thoughts and feelings. This includes a repression that has perhaps become a “psychosis” presenting as a lived lie, “believing we have no ethical obligation” to Mother Earth (Roszak, T. 2001, 13-14). With repression, psychosis, PD, and other unconscious processes present, drawing these psychoanalytic defenses into conscious awareness may create a more coherent connectedness between humans and nature. This in turn might slow the destructive behaviours destroying the Earth.
Humans operate within a social construct, the norms created over time of a particular culture, its laws, what is acceptable performance, or the wrath of the law on you if you deviate. Understanding “how our embeddedness in culture makes it very difficult to develop a critical consciousness that would permit us to heed the global warnings of ecological destruction,” gives scope for a psychoanalytical intervention (Hollander, 2008, 2). Offering tools to gain a conscious awareness “a constructive act whereby perceptual hypotheses are matched against information recovered from records,” may engage people more fully in their thoughts and actions (Marcel, A, J. 1983, 238). Delving into the unconscious processes of mankind is fraught with difficulties as it is where the psychological defense mechanisms reside. Here we have all the tools of survival and drives for life. Offering any intervention collectively would need skill and courage.
The benefits of understanding and engaging with the theory of phenomenal dissociations is, with further research, it would give policy makers for environmental reform a more coherent tool from which to expedite change. Worthy (2008) expresses hope that by understanding differing roles and depths of PD, new methods of communication could be developed to better connect people to the real world.
The positive to be taken from a better knowledge of PD is that some the drivers involved in creating the divide between people and places are organizations and structures. Governmental and environmental organizations might need to reform how they engage with the people in response to environmental destruction. Create individual responsibility without rescinding their own (Worthy. 2008).
The disadvantage of working with the model of PD is that the knowledge base is presently limited. Changing the dissociation into consciousness, making daily life a much fuller experience could cause cognitive overload. The “suffer from a cognitive overload…leaves little capacity for other aspects of (any) task” (Sweller, J. 1988, 276). Humans can only hold a certain amount of salient information about the present and the next moment. A change process requires a willingness and motivation. People would need to sign up collectively, perhaps have champions who lead, inspire, grow a movement from grass-roots up. There is going to be a lengthy time scale within this process which, as the environmental crisis escalates, will not improve the situation speedily.
PD offers an insight into a collective unconscious disconnection that might be hard to overcome, or be present to with limited cognitive capacity. There are different psychological processes that could be better engaged with, such as defense mechanisms, denial or splitting that are also common place human psychodynamic processes. Freudian psychoanalysis conceptualised a self divided, considering humans to be never fully integrated, “always, to some extent or other, under siege…burdened by various forms of self-deception” or in denial. This explains a deep rooted psychological mechanism used to avoid unbearable loss, or “a painful reality resulting from intrapsychic conflict.” Denial and splitting can be extended from the individual to “a larger social context.” Denial is an adaptation to avoid the intolerable, “as a group phenomenon” it causes a separation, communities become spectators in the downfall of others, unable, or unwilling to help. “This is especially problematic because we live in an era when humanity has the capacity to destroy all life and, therefore, in a uniquely terrifying way, the possibility of symbolic survival” (Hollander. 2008, 3). Engaging collectively in our political rights, without denial about our actions, will help the environment.
To conclude, there are a great number people concerned with the earths destruction at the hands of humankind, and some feel that by better understand psychoanalytic models of why our actions do not match our thoughts, we will be better armed to change this process. I have explored a disconnection from others and our actions via the PD theory. “Psychoanalytical approaches to environmentally destructive behaviours can be helpful, different dimensions to the issues can be explored, but it needs to be remembered that “no one approach will be enough in the face of the immense task at hand” (Dodds, J. 2011, 6).
I touched on the defenses, denial, splitting, and a culturally determined blindness that can reinforce destructive behaviour. I looked at how important connectedness to others and nature is to the well-being of the planet. The concept PD offers the possibility of understanding the “contradiction between high levels of environmental concern or awareness and continuing high levels of global environmental degradation” (Worthy. 2008, 153). The newspapers of constantly telling us that we create too big a carbon footprint living as we do, but the behaviour is unlikely to change greatly until people feel, really experience being part of a community, part of society. “If…society is organised in such a manner that forces them into competitive and egoistic behaviours, they are equally unlikely to experience their local and personal actions or…local government as part and parcel of wider events, as impacting on other areas of the world” (Rathzela, N and D. Uzzell 2009, 333).
A psychoanalytic view and an ecotherapeutic enquiry do not “represent a cure for the woes of industrial civilization, nor can they be judged by expectations more appropriate to a body of knowledge and practice examined by many years of research” (Chalquist, C. 2009, 64). There are, however, great possibilities in engaging with people in this manner. Big warning signs have so far failed to stop the destructive behaviours across the globe. A different approach is needed.
“Psychoanalysis might contribute…to the emergence of individuals who recognize
themselves as political subjects able to engage in the remediation of human destructiveness manifest in the growing ecological crisis.” (Hollander. 2009, 10).
Our Question: ‘Is Rural Life Better Than Urban?’
According to eco-psychological theory, living in rural areas with a connectedness to nature (Mayer, F, S. et. al. 2009), creates better mental health: However it is much more complex than that.
The focus of our presentation was the value of connectedness to nature.’
We believe that because people who are said to be ‘immersed in nature,’ (Mayer, F, S. et. al. 2009) living in rural areas, will have better mental health.
We first offered an over view of mental health, both from living a rural or an urban life:
There is research evidence that shows higher rates of depression and suicide in urban areas compared with significantly lower rates of newly diagnosed and existing mental illness in rural areas (Garety, P. A. et. al. 2006). Conversely, the existence of some illnesses may go unreported, or be denied due to cultural and geographical factors (Brooks, 2006). This opposing evidence is explored below.
We then focused on three factors:
Ecopsychology and connectedness to nature:
Ecopsychology presents us with a narrative that health and wellbeing would be enhanced by reconnecting with nature. Jordon (2009, 28) suggests that, “The links between nature and its positive effects on mental health can be traced back to the early part of the last century.” The benefits, however, are conflicting, as suicide, isolation issues, and a reluctance to ask for help is present in farming communities in the UK (Malmberg, Simkin, and Hawton. 1999).
We next looked at the development of human civilization and the increase in living communally. The surrounding land was important to the process of daily life, the home engendered safety for families. We explored why people choose to live where they do from a psychology and behavioural geography approach (Norton, W. 2001). Today, quality of housing is understood to be of importance for mental wellbeing, and poor housing can contribute to mental ill health (Johnson, R. et. al., 2006).
3. Children’s mental health and wellbeing:
Finally, we considered the ongoing debate whether children’s mental health is affected by the type of environment in which they live. Focusing on childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), research offers evidence to show that rural settings and ‘green activities’ can improve symptoms of ADHD (Faber, Taylor and Kuo, 2009). An urban setting, such as school playground, allows opportunity for attention restoration (van den Berg, A.E. and C.G. van den Berg. 2010, 438). There seems to be no single answer to the debate.
We found few UK based reports on those living in rural areas and people with mental health problems.
Not enough research on the effects of urban environments on children’s mental health.
Evidence shows that there are negative as well as positive aspects of living in either a rural or urban setting (Kelly, G. and K. Hosking. 2008).
The environment is an important factor in our mental health and well being however it is not the only aspect, and others need to be taken into account.
British Journal of Psychiatry. January 04, 2006. ‘Is living in town or country better for your mental health? Differences found in rates of mental illnesses between rural and urban areas.’ [Online] Available from: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/press/pressreleasearchive/pr750.aspx. [3rd January 2012]
Brook, R. 2006. Rural/non-rural differences in rates of common mental disorders in Britain (Weich et al.) The British Journal of Psychiatry 188: 51-57
Chalquist, C. 2009. ‘A Look at the Ecotherapy Research Evidence.’ Ecopsychology 1 (1): 1-11
Dodds, J. 2011. Psychoanalysis And Ecology At The Edge Of Chaos. Hove, Routledge.
Faber Taylor, A. and F. E. Kuo (2009) ‘Children with attention deficits concentrate better after a walk in the park’. Journal of Attention Disorders 12: 402-409
Frantz, C. Et. al. 2005.There is no ‘‘I’’ in nature: The influence of self-awareness on connectedness to nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology 25: 427–436
Frasera, C. et al. 2005. Changing places: the impact of rural restructuring on mental health in Australia.
Health & Place 11: 157–171
Garety, P. A. et. al. 2006. Specialised care for early psychosis: symptoms, social functioning and patient satisfaction : Randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Psychiatry 188 (1): 37-45.
Henderson, C. 2005. Neighbourhood characteristics, individual level socioeconomic factors, and depressive symptoms in young adults: the CARDIA study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 59: 322–328.
Herbert W. Schroeder, H. W. 2007. Place experience, gestalt, and the human–nature relationship. Journal of Environmental Psychology 27: 293–309
Hickman, L. 2012. What impact will the Costa Concordia disaster have on the environment? [Online] Available from:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/jan/17/costa-concordia-environmental-impact?intcmp=239 [18th Jan 2012]
Hollander, N. C. 2009. When Not Knowing Allies with Destructiveness: Global Warning and Psychoanalytic Ethical Non-neutrality. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 6 (1): 1–11.
Johnson, R. et al, 2006. Housing and community care. Mental Health Today. November 25-28
Jordon, M. 2009. Back to nature. Therapy Today April 20 (3): 28-30
Kaplan, S. (1995) ‘The restorative benefits of nature’: Towards an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology 15: 169-182
Kelly, G. and K. Hosking 2008. Nonpermanent Residents, Place Attachment, and “Sea Change” Communities. Environment and Behavior 40. (4). 575-594
MacIntyre, S. et al. 1993. Area, Class and Health: Should we be Focusing on Places or People? Journal of Social Policy 22 (2): 213-234
Maller, C. et al. 2005. Healthy nature healthy people: ‘contact with nature’ as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations. Health Promotion International 21 (1): 45-54
Malmberg, A., S. Simkin, and K. Hawton. 1999. Suicide in farmers. The British Journal of Psychiatry 175 (2): 103-105.
Malone, A. 2008. The GM genocide: Thousands of Indian farmers are committing suicide after using genetically modified crops. [Online] Available from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1082559/The-GM-genocide-Thousands-Indian-farmers-committing-suicide-using-genetically-modified-crops.html [10th December 2011]
Marcel, A, J. 1983. Conscious and Unconscious Perception: An Approach to the Relations between Phenomenal Experience and Perceptual Processes. Cognitive Psychology 15 (2): 238 – 300
Mayer, F, S. et al. 2009.Why Is Nature Beneficial? The Role of Connectedness to Nature. Environment and Behavior. 41 (5): 607-643.
Meijers, M.H.C, and D.A. Staple 2011. Me tomorrow, the others later: How perspective fit increases sustainable behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology 31: 14-20
Mind week report, May 2007. Executive summary. Ecotherapy: The green agenda for mental health [Online] Available from: http://www.mind.org.uk/mindweek [3rd January 2012]
National Institute of Mental Health (2007) Global use of ADHD medications rises dramatically. [Online] Available from: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/science-news/2007/global-use-of-adhd-medications-rises-dramatically.shtml [3rd Dec 2011]
Norton, W. 1997. Human geography and behavior analysis: An application of behavior analysis to the evolution of human landscapes. Psychological Record 47 (3): 1-16
Oskamp, S. 2000. Psychological Contributions to Achieving an Ecologically Sustainable Future for Humanity. Journal of Social Issues 56 (3): 373–390
Qin, P. 2005. Suicide risk in relation to level of urbanicity— a population-based linkage study.
International Journal of Epidemiology 34 (4). 846-852.
Rennen, W. And P. Martens. 2003.The Globalisation Timeline. Integrated Assessment 4 (3):137–144
Roszak, T. 2001. The Voice Of The Earth. An Exploration of Ecopsychology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Phanes Press Inc.
Roszak, T. 1995. The Greening of Psychology: Exploring the Ecological Unconscious. The Gestalt Journal 18 (1) 1-28.
Samhsa. 2010. Results from the 2010National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. [Online] Available from: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2k10NSDUH/2k10Results.htm [10th January 2011]
Shah, A. 2005. Consumption and Consumerism. Global Issues. [Online] Available from: (http://www.globalissues.org/issue/235/consumption-and-consumerism) [12th Jan 2012]
Stafford, M. and M. Marmot 2003. Neighbourhood deprivation and health: does it affect us all equally?
International Journal of Epidemiology 32: 357–366
Sweller, J. 1988. Cognitive Load During ProblemSolving: Effects on Learning. Cognitive Science. 12 (2): 257-285
Tisdal, S. 2012. East Africa’s drought: the avoidable disaster. The Guardian [Online]. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/18/east-africa-drought-disaster-report [18th Jan 2012]
Uzzell, D., & N. Rathzel. 2009. Changing relations in global environmental change .Global Environmental Change 19: 326–335
Van den Berg, A. E. and C. G. van den Berg (2011) ‘A comparison of children with ADHD in a natural and built setting’ in Child’. Care, Health and Development 37 (3): 430-439
Vidal, J. The UK’s new rubbish dump: China Tomorrow The hi-tech plague that is hurting Africa. [Online] Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2004/sep/20/environment.china [10th Jan 2012]