Horatio W. (Horatio Willis) Dresser.

A physician to the soul online

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when informed that health is partly an affair
of the mind, for they have little conception
of the power of the individual over his inner
states. An entire change in point of view is
ordinarily required before one is able to dis-
sociate the self from the environing influences.
But once given a clue, people are astonished
to find the evidence growing on all sides. For
example, let them discover the power of fear,
sometimes called '^the backbone of disease,"
and their eyes will be opened to a series of
mental influences.

The mental influences that relate to health
and disease are, however, merely instances of
a general law, and the power of mental at-
titudes is best seen with reference to life as a
whole. We approach every new experience,
for example, in a certain attitude of expect-
ancy. We meet strangers, supposed enemies,
people of note, inferiors or superiors in an
attitude which stands for all our prejudices
and hates, all our selfishness, or our best
thoughts and tenderest love, as the case may
be. Again, we meet people in an attitude of
adverse criticism, distrust or disparagement,
which quickly communicates itself. On the

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Mental Attitudes 39

other handy we meet people who " rnb us the
wrong way/' whatever they do. If fastidious^
exacting, aristocratic^ they contrive to make
us uncomfortable by their very presence. The
moneyed person who believes he has an entire
right to regulate things in his own way, to
command servants as if they were automata,
is typical of these disagreeable aristocrats.

Again, there are people of a neurotic type
who wear upon us, not merely because of
their nervous ^^ atmosphere/' but because of the
underlying mental attitude, usually one of
self-centredness — ^not to use the stronger word,
selfishness. Then there are vampires, neuro-
logical parasites, who cling like vines and
send out psychophysical tentacles much more
tenacious than a vine. There are imperious,
dominating personalities of power sufficient to
rule an entire household, and whenever they
are present they make their self-important at-
titude aggressively prominent.

A bit more agreeable but no less influential
is the attitude of a person who is out of ac-
cord with the beliefs and ways of a household,
but who, for prudential reasons, maintains
silence. If such a person would express his

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40 A Physician to the Soul

opinions freely, utter his condemnation every
few days and not permit it to aoonmulate
more than a week, the situation would be
tolerable, and occasional changes in the house-
hold would result But unexpressed condem-
nation crystallises into an attitude which
everybody feels, although only the most acute
may know why the silent critic is extremely
disagreeable. The typical fault-finder is a
much more acceptable person than one who
thus husbands his opinions and has no clear-
ing-house for hatred and condemnation. But,
again, a jealous individual who refrains from
giving even an inkling of the suppressed
jealousy is surely as annoying. A sister who
hates, a mother who refuses to forgive, equally
well illustrates the principle.

On the other hand, consider the power of
an optimistic disposition, even if the person
be undemonstrative. One who believes firmly
in another, despite all apparent failures and
idle gossip, is an enormous power for good.
Trust, confidence, although unexpressed, give
tone to our attitudes of approach to people,
and strengthen those with whom we are
habitually related. Idealisation of a person

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Mental Attitudes 41

may not be influential} the man of oharaoter
may refuse to be idolised; but the attitudes
of those who idealise are at least influential
in their own selfhood. To idolise another
may be to begin to rise above self. The oon-
stancy of a person of strong character is a
tremendous incentive. Those who are morally
steadfast are able to offset an entire group of
carping critics and do-nothings. Greatest of
all is an attitude of love.

Again, an attitude may bespeak the dis-
ciplinarian, or the officious person who deems
himself his brother's keeper. Wilfulness ex-
presses itself in an habitual attitude. Doubt
may be thus habitual, also self-distrust.
Some people meet so few individuals in the
world whom they can tolerate that their
whole bearing is affected by their negative
opinions. Pride is another strong incentive.
Some people are never genuine, save to a few
carefully chosen friends. Selective in the
extreme, they assume an artificial demeanour
that is distressing. Others put on a mask for
the occasion, or maintain appearances for so-
cial reasons. The discerning man judges these
people by the real inner attitude, but the ma-

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42 A Physician to the Soul

jority are perplexed or take it as mere matter
of conventionality. Dualities of attitude exist
without limitf and many a person spends half
a lifetime in oonfliot between real and as-
sumed attitudes.

Ambition and the nervous tensions that ao-
oompany it also illustrate the power of an
attitude. From the inner centre of ambition
there springy for example, restless desires to
equal others in respeots wherein one laoks the
training or the capacity; inordinate social de-
siresy passions for things, for position, and a
desire to shine intellectually. Sometimes the
nervous strain accompanying these desires is
so intense that it characterises the habitual
facial expression, shows itself in tense lines
and rigid features. This strain, due to the
desire to emulate others, may even prepare the
way for nervous disease.

A part of one's attitude towards life may
express itself through habitual fear concern-
ing the future. Here is a woman, for instance,
who is at the head of a flourishing school which
might at any time be sold for a sum sufficient
to maintain her for the rest of life. But, pos-
sessed of inordinate fear lest the future find

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Mental Attitudes 43

her penniless, she hires thousands of dollars
to invest in an enterprise which she believes
will yield a large profit. But the enterprise
is controlled by a " trust/' and the methods of
the trust would not bear investigation. Thus
questions of conscience arise and the mind
has no peace. Added to this is the restless
anxiety with which the reports of the stock
market are consulted from day to day. In
conflict with all this is a Christian belief that
one ought to trust, never take anxious thought
for the morrow. Furthermore there are social
attitudes that comport neither with this Chris-
tian sentiment nor with the unceasing distrust
over financial matters. The situation is in
fact complicated almost beyond description.

The condemnatory attitude mentioned above
as sufficient to disturb a household is in
some cases characteristic of a person's entire
attitude towards life. There is not only
fault-finding with people near at hand, but
complaint about everything that can be com-
plained of. The complaint begins with the
universe. If this person could have been
present when the world-plan was chosen a
better one could surely have been found. God

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44 A Physician to the Soul

Himself is not quite what He should be. There
is complaint about the weather, about the cli-
mate, the seasons. The day is always too hot
or too oold, too stormy or too something.
When travelling, such a person is annoyed be-
cause the vehicle is not quite comfortable. In
Europe there is odious comparison of the
buildings, the hotels, the railway carriages, and
objection to the continental breakfast, with-
out the coveted chops or other delicacies which
one has at home. Out of sorts with oneself^
one is impatient with everybody else except
those who servilely obey. In friction within,
one is constantly finding new sources of fric-
tion, inasmuch as one always wants something
different. It might be an exaggeration to say
that all these surly-natured reactions are
found in one individual, but everybody knows
people who belong to this type.

On the other hand, the traveller who visits
Europe and other lands, not expecting to find
what is discoverable at home, alert, always
interested} with an eye for humorous situa-
tions, very well typifies the individual who
meets life in an attitude of adjustment rather
than of rebellion. The reflective man adapts

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Mental Attitudes 45

himself to what reasonably appears to be the
law of life, welcoming experience as it oomes,
ready for opportunities, alive to life's joys,
with discernment of the beautiful, with thought
for the meaning of experience. Such a man
maintains an attitude that harmonises with
the movement of events, natural and social,
he is reasonably contented. He moves with
the tide, neither drifting nor struggling
against what cannot be changed. Such a man
can never be wholly disappointed. Knowing
that pure pleasure is seldom possible, he does
not seek it. Discerning the meaning of pain,
he does not rebel against it. His is not blind,
but intelligent optimism. He is an idealist,
but does not expect to reform the world out
of hand.

Now, there are theorists in our day who, re-
flecting on such facts as we have briefly passed
in review, insist that the chief consideration
is man's thought about himself, about life,
about disease or health; hence, that to main-
tain ^' right thoughts" is to possess a sound
world. There are others who, with deeper
insight, point out that a man's habitual attitude
is of more consequence than anything he may

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46 A Physician to the Soul

think; therefore, that hnman eondnoty spring-
ing from human attitudes, is fundamental.
One is unable wholly to agree with either view.
A man's sustained attitude is surely more
consequential than his thoughts, but there is
something deeper than an attitude; namely,
life, the events with respect to which we main-
tain an attitude. It is not primarily a ques-
tion of optimism or pessimism, an attitude of
adjustment or one of rebellion, but of the un-
flinching world-order which neither thought
nor conduct can change.

The experience which the natural man meets
unreflectively, the pessimist in an attitude of
rebelliouj and the optimist with joyful adap-
tation, is practically the same for all. It is
a fundamental fallacy of certain prevalent
doctrines that emphasis is put upon the indi-
vidual instead of upon the universal. That
the individual counts, is not to be denied.
That life alters, for us, for the moment, with
our thought, is indeed true. That it is coloured,
for us, by the spirit with which we habitually
approach it is still more true. But the great
fact is life.

The inference tb be drawn, therefore, from

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Mental Attitudes 47

the foregoing facts is not that man has the
whole matter in mental control, but that since
his attitude is a factor, and since it springs
from himself, he is able within limits to modify
his world. It is not my purpose, then, to
trace the relationship between suggestion and
disease^ or undertake to explain the influence
of mental attitudes upon health, but to pass
on to something more important. That is to
say, there is what may be called the souVs
attitude toward life, the fundamental response
a man customarily makes to experience. This
is not the attitude of prejudice, dislike, social
masquerade, or adaptation; but the underly-
ing or central attitude which governs his
reaction to life, whatever his lips may profess
and however insincere or perverse he may be.
It is sometimes said of people, for example,
that their attitude "is all wrong''; that is,
they have not yet come to consciousness con-
cerning the conditions and laws of life, they
are still asserting their own way as opposed
to the way of the universe. To the onlooker
it is plain that a person's entire experience,
so far as it is voluntary, arises from this atti-
tude of self-assertion or rebellion, and that if

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48 A Physician to the Soul

the attitude were changed any number of de-
sirable Gonsequences would follow. The typi-
cal case mentioned above of a person with
inordinate ambition, whose attitude of stress
and strain brings trouble without limit, is a
case in point Instead of deriving his ambi-
tion from life, such a man is vainly trying to
coerce life into wilfully selected channels.
The result is endless struggle and suflFering.
There is no resource in such a case, save to re-
form the attitude fundamentally.

Here is a young woman, for example, who is
bound to a selfish mother, less intelligent than
herself, whom she vainly tries to please. The
more she does for her mother the more is ex-
pected and the less her efforts are appreciated.
Opportunities to change her occupation or to
travel have come to her which she has been
obliged to decline because her mother refused
to change her abode. She has repeatedly over-
worked, become nervously prostrated, and
been compelled to go to a sanitarium or hospi-
tal. Health partially regained, she has re-
turned to go through the same round again,
not a whit wiser, mystified by her repeated
illnesses, unable to get light from specialists

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Mental Attitudes 49

in nervous diseases. And so the same state of
affairs has continued for years, and will con-
tinne until this woman looks the situation
fairly and squarely in the faoe> and discovers
the part played in it by her own attitude.

This person lives far too much in her emo-
tionSy passing from one emotion to another
without thought. For one whose life has been
uncommonly rich she has learned surprisingly
little. This is partly because of her emotions,
but largely because she has pushed the truth
from her. She believes, for example, that be-
cause of this sacrifice for her mother, whom
she adores, she is extremely unselfish, hence
she seeks the cause of her misery outside of
herself. But commingled with her self-denial
there is a form of selfishness almost as ex-
treme as her mother's. She is, in fact, as one
has said of her, a spoiled child. Accustomed
to being entertained, a flirt, ever ready for
a care-free good time, if people do not show
her the attention she thinks she deserves, con-
demnation fills her heart, and she makes her-
self miserable — ^thinking of herself. She is
constantly exacting from people that which
they are too much occupied to give. It never

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so A Physician to the Soul

seems to occur to her that her friends are
busy^ and that the fault may not lie with them,
so occupied is she with herself. She forgets
that there are people in the world who have
something more important on hand than to
entertain her.

It is not primarily a question of the mother^
as sorely as she, too, needs to come to judg-
ment, but of her own attitude. In her present
attitude there is very little that can be done
for her by physician, pastor, or friend; that
is, not until she frankly meets the situation.
When she has suflFered enough, spent weeks
enough in the hospital, and become pro-
foundly dissatisfied, she will begin to discover
that her attitude is fundamentally wrong, then
begin radically to change it. She, too, has
her ideals, a better side only partly expressed,
and she will be a nobler woman some day.
But at present she believes that if every one
would do precisely as she wished she would be
perfectly happy. She will be unable to ex-
press her happier, better self, however, until
her mind is freed from numerous misconcep-
tions. One craves for her, not what she
wants, but what she needs.

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Mental Attitudes 51

Now in snoh a case it is plain that no pallia-
tive will suffice^ but plain speaking, the word
that strikes straight home, a gentle word but
withal pointed. For no one can change an-
other's attitude. It is a question, first of
knowledge, then of will. The person who
clearly sees is likely to act. The diflacully is
to make a person see. It is the task of the
physician to the soul to learn the central situ-
ation in such a case, lay bare the attitude
unstintedly, then break the news wisely but
with great conviction. It is the truth that
sets men free from their benumbing and ob-
structive attitudes, the truth, not a pleasant
theory or compromising dogma. No half-way
measures will suffice. And every genuinely
earnest person is ready for the truth. More-
over, many of us very well know the truth
about ourselves, and what we need is some
one who will help us to make the first start
towards living by it.

A change of attitude is not a mere change of
thought, then, not the substitution of another
series of moods, but a radical change in con-
duct. For the deep-seated attitude is prima-
rily a centre of reaction, it shows how a man

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52 A Physician to the Soul

takes life. To change a central attitude is to
turn in another direction, discover a new out-
let for one's forces. Thus the selfish person,
for example, begins to be outgoing instead of
intaking. To make such a change is to make
decided improvement in character. Hence it
is plain that the central attitude does not re-
late to a person's health alone but to the whole
of life.

It is no less clear that to help a person, the
physician to the soul must approach in an atti-
tude of tender sympathy, ready appreciation,
outgoing friendliness. For attitude responds to
attitude. To approach in an attitude of con-
demnation is to be met coldly. To indulge in
merely intellectual analysis in a critical spirit
is to call out a corresponding reaction. One
must approach as a friend, letting soul speak
to soul. When the person in need discovers
this ready appreciation there will be a frank
response, first in regard to relatively objective
states, but eventually with respect to the
heart-attitude. Then the recipient of these
confidences must point out that there is an
important difference between persons, atti-
tudes, and beliefs. One proposes to be as

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Mental Attitudes S3

sympathetic as ever, so far as persons are
conoernedy but unsparing in the analysis of
beliefs and the exposure of mental attitudes.
Hence there should be no confusion between
the fallacies thus relentlessly exposed and the
person who for the time believes them.

The friend to the soul who thus begins by
adopting the best attitude will set an example
which will go far towards accomplishing the
desired end. One must see for another eyen
better than he sees for himself in his ideal mo-
ments. One should be able not only to call
forth the soul, but reveal clues to a construc-
tive philosophic faith which shall take the
place, for example, of beliefs in which the
emphasis is placed upon self-aflfcmation; One
may thus point the way from doubt to faith.
Whatever the besetting irrationality, one can
find some truth in it, and on this common
ground erect a stable structure. Thus, with-
out being unduly influential, one may lead
almost insensibly from the narrowing mental
attitude out into the large world of philoso-
phic reason.

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There are various conditions which give
rise to imprisoning self-consciousness. Some
are purely pathological^ some temperamental,
while others are intimately connected with
moral problems. Generally speaking, the un-
pleasantly self-conscious person is subjective,
or introspective, in type. Hence there is
keener awareness of nervous sensations. With
this exquisite consciousness of sensation there
is coupled a general sensitivity which easily
leads to the exaggeration of feelings of pleas-
ure and pain. There is not necessarily a
greater capacity for enjoyment, although the
sense of pleasure may be more delicate. But
in case of pain this extreme sensitivity readily
leads to morbid emphasis of sensation or of
neurotic conditions, when there is in reality
nothing to fear* This sensitivity, in turn, im-
plies a typical mental attitude towards life.


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Besetting Self-Consciousness 55

When the cause is pathologic, it is well to
learn this fact as soon as possible, and to set
out in qnest fop health; hence to avoid at-
tributing to the character, or to the mind, that
whioh pertains essentially to the body. Morbid
self-consciousness is sure to have its physi-
ological accompaniment, if indeed it do not
spring primarily from a bodily condition.
There may, for example, be exaggerated con-
sciousness of sexual emotion, and numerous
concomitant mental states, all of which would
disappear if the sexual life were better under-
stood. Many a conscientious individual has in-
dulged in the most emphatic self-condemnation,
as if the character were utterly vile, when
the entire trouble was of physical origin.

Allowances must, therefore, be made for the
fact that in sensitively organised individuals
there is painfully intimate awareness of sensa-
tion. Hence it may be put down as a rule
that such people should not judge by symp-
toms. In individuals of this type there is
need, as it were, of more room. The brain is
like an exceedingly narrow prison. As a re-
sult there is consciousness of many bodily
functions which the normal person should

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56 A Physician to the Soul

know nothing about A subjective or intro-
spective person is not, however, necessarily
abnormal. Mere objectivity is not the ideal,
although self-conscious j)ersons should seek
every opportunity to be with objective people,
those who scarcely know that they possess
nerves. But the subjective person is apt to
be a victim of confined power, and the re-
source is to work with the hands, or to take
up some form of work for others which shall
bring objective self-expression.

Oftentimes the pains of self-consciousness
are birth-pangs. Instead of disparaging the
self, such a person should consider what will
bring creative freedom. Now, coupled with
imprisoning self-consciousness there is usually
an uncommon shyness, a strange shrinking
from people, a lack of confidence. It would
be absurd to say, Let yourself out. The poor,
imprisoned souls are eager enough to attain
self-abandonment, but do not know how. One
difllculty is that they consider every move so
carefully that they never enter into any ac-
tivity with zeal. The resource in such a case
is to cultivate the opposite extreme, on oc-
casion. That is, do something foolish, some-

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Besetting Self-Consciousness 57

thing impulsiye, indulge in play, in almost
riotous exuberation. Such freedom onoe at-
tained, it is of course possible to select some
of the tendencies which have been brought
into exercise and reject others.

It is obvious that a certain form of selfish-
ness accompanies this exaggerated awareness
of subjective conditions. It is not well, how-
ever, to dwell upon this; for the chances are
that the self-conscious person is already too
well aware of it. It is of little avail to tell
such a person that the self is taken too seri-
ously. On the other hand, it is no less unwise
to admonish those who are introspective to
inhibit all self-analysis. The resource is not
less thought, but more. A man cannot take
himself too seriously if, instead of burying
his consciousness in his own sentiments, he
brings them into the light and relates them
with other men's thoughts. If the victim of
such seriousness so far underestimates himself
as to be unable to share his views, he should
find those who know less than himself and
gain confidence by teaching them. Or, he
should seek a friend who holds different views
and submit his own to controversy.

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$8 A Physician to the Soul

It is easy, then, to say that the shy individ-
ual is thinking too much of himself, instead
of his neighbours, his brothers or sisters, with
whom he is unsooiable. Do not stop with this
judgment, but break in on the reserve of that
same shy person and meet him three-quarters
of the way. Or, if it be oneself, one should

^ arise forthwith and set about doing something
for a person in need. If undue self-consoious-
ness implies selfishness, the resource is love.

* One must love somebody, or at least some ani-
mal. There is love confined, and love confined
must be expressed in behalf of some adequate

The great resource is an absorbing occupa-
tion. If it be not yet plain what one should

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Online LibraryHoratio W. (Horatio Willis) DresserA physician to the soul → online text (page 3 of 9)