Am I normal?
9pm on a Monday night I swear at the TV, because the BBC 2 "Am I Normal?" series comes on led by
clinical psychologist Dr Tanya Byron. And oh that woman's language patterns....
This time the supposedly objective discussion was around attitudes towards religion and the supernatural.
Specifically the fine line between devotion vs. psychiatric disorder. What's the difference between eccentric
and abnormal? Is speaking in tongues a sign of God or a sign of mental illness? What's the difference between a
Priest and a religious zealot?
Byron described a middle aged woman living in seclusion with strict routine and little contact with the outside
world as a manic depressive, then she introduced us to the Nuns. Ah, the contrast frame, often used in sales to
get us to compare two things to make them appear similar, even if they're not.
Then the Sister was asked what's the difference between fulfilling a personal need vs. having a spiritual
calling and I loved her answer - "You know in your heart vs. knowing in your head". That would stump our Tanya then.
To really understand how loaded this programme commentary was, you have to understand how presuppositions work. They are ideas, assumptions or beliefs that are presupposed, i.e. taken for granted and acted upon, or assumed to make the communication make sense.
NLP author L. Michael Hall describes them as "Silent assumptions, unspoken paradigms". NLP creators Bandler &
Grinder said "Presuppositions are particularly insidious as they are not presented openly for consideration".
Presuppose means "suppose first". Suppose (from Latin) means "to put under". They act as the supporting
structure of a given statement, and within them they hold that person's beliefs about their map of reality. They don't appear in the surface structure, they are direct "pillars" coming up from the deep structure. They work covertly, unconsciously and indirectly as we have to accept them to process what we read/heard.
After 8 minutes I noticed the following suggestions.
"Religious belief depends on faith, not proof, and it can never be proved" she said. So what's the point of this
documentary then? "The Priest is asking you to believe you're eating the flesh of Christ". No wonder those wafers taste funny...
"There is a high correlation between schizophrenics and religious believers". Now there's a not-so-subtle inference.
"People undergoing therapy are scared to discuss their religious beliefs in case it gets them labelled as crazy".
That tells us more about the beliefs of the therapists surely? "If you speak to God its prayer. If God speaks back its
"The brain is susceptible to suggestions from within, and without". Yeah, and to careless suggestions from Clinical Psychologists.
"If society talked more about madness, perhaps there would be less mad people"
"The UK is one of the least overt religious countries in the world, therefore we find overt worship odd".
"There's a belief that sudden religious faith equals mental breakdown". Well there is now...
"Maybe this is where I demonstrate my own prejudice". Err, you did that after the credits dear. "Desperate people are drawn to irrational beliefs". So rational people aren't desperate?
"The man who's putting her into trance..." Err, wrong again. "There's no evidence that Spirit Release is safe or effective".
Who mentioned safe? Oh yeah, the psychologist.
Now Tanya has a nasty habit of listening to someone, then feeding it back with her interpretation. She says
"It sounds like you're saying..." or "So that means..." but then ends with something the other person never said.
And I was delighted when 3 of the guests finally called her on it! Well done Dr Alan Sanderson, doing spirit release
therapy and using a technique similar to one I learned in Huna. When Tanya concludes "So all spirits are
parasites then?". "Actually no, that's not what I said" he replied. Finally!
You have to look at the big picture - Dr Byron has a clinical bias, and here she's attempting to scrutinise spiritual and religious phenomenon, which by definition won't pass her tests. It's the conscious mental body trying to comprehend the super conscious spiritual body, trying to describe with words something that's beyond words.
Her conclusion - "Show me the evidence, or stop raising false hopes." So the next time you Coach someone in a
dreadful situation, rather than offer them positive hope [which is often based on nothing tangible] remember to tell them their statistical chances. Jeez!
My conclusion - The religious rallies arouse trance states using rhythmic music, hypnotic lighting, showmanship
and rapid trance inductions. So does Tony Robbins. When you enter a trance state your entire nervous system switches from "sympathetic" adrenaline and stress to "parasympathetic" relaxed and dozy. That's one of the reasons people have so called spiritual experiences, feeling peaceful, cosmic euphoria and connected. This is often thought to be divine. Unfortunately there's very little follow up to see if the miraculous cure actually lasted.
Sometimes the conscious mind needs to go through some kind of ritual to give the unconscious mind permission to
do what it already knows how to. People have different rituals, which they believe in and which work for them.
Believers could be healed, but non-believers couldn't. It's your belief in the ritual that permits the unconscious
mind to affect you. And even non-desperate rational Tanya has rituals... Like her belief in clinical psychology,
which is her religion, and that's good for her.
Jeremy Vine was superb - he said certainty equals ignorance. The surer you are that something is true, the less you actually know. A bit like quantum physics...
This programme was skewed from the start, and anything that disagrees with the presenter's model of the
word becomes dubious, and that's the inherent danger of these programmes - they are inherently biased. If
you don't believe me, just listen to the presuppositions.
The highlight for me was the euphoric young dude after the Christian rally. She asked "What's so good about this experience?" and he simply said: "JC on the hookup". Amen brother.
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