Neurotic Symptoms: A Refusal to Accept Trade-Offs

Psychoanalysis teaches, correctly enough, that neurotic symptoms are due to unresolved, unconscious conflict. However, it would be more accurate to say that neurotic symptoms are due to the fact that the subject (the so­ called “neurotic”) chooses indecisiveness in the face of conflict: confronted with the necessity of having to choose between two things both of which he wants but only one of which he can have, he refuses to choose, as if hoping that by waiting only a little longer he would be able to have both. In this sense, the neurotic is simply greedy, preferring the pain of his “symptoms” to that of consciously relinquishing something he wants.

-Thomas Szasz, Heresies



Psychiatric Dehumanization

Animalism is the opposite of humanism. It is treating man as though he were an animal. Science, medicine, and especially psychiatry are often guilty of animalizing man. The theory and practice of conventional psychiatry are, at bottom, the expressions of this tendency. Mental illness is a distinctly human affair. But the more we in­sist that it is an “illness”-and the more we prove this by producing “experimental neuroses” in animals and by curing human neuroses by means of drugs and shocks and surgery-the more we bestialize, animalize man. Having reduced him to the level of animal, we expect him to act like one-unconcerned about past failures, misdeeds, and wasted opportunities and heedless of the future; in short, unreflective and “happy” – a veritable anti-Socrates.

– Thomas Szasz, Heresies