The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Special Snowflake Syndrome

Posted on | December 22, 2013 | 77 Comments

A frightening report from the front lines of the Culture War:

Amy (not her real name) sat in my office and wiped her streaming tears on her sleeve, refusing the scratchy tissues I’d offered. “I’m thinking about just applying for a Ph.D. program after I graduate because I have no idea what I want to do.” Amy had mild depression growing up, and it worsened during freshman year of college when she moved from her parents’ house to her dorm. It became increasingly difficult to balance school, socializing, laundry, and a part-time job. She finally had to dump the part-time job, was still unable to do laundry, and often stayed up until 2 a.m. trying to complete homework because she didn’t know how to manage her time without her parents keeping track of her schedule.
I suggested finding a job after graduation, even if it’s only temporary. She cried harder at this idea. “So, becoming an adult is just really scary for you?” I asked. “Yes,” she sniffled. Amy is 30 years old.
Her case is becoming the norm for twenty- to thirtysomethings I see in my office as a psychotherapist. I’ve had at least 100 college and grad students like Amy crying on my couch because breaching adulthood is too overwhelming.

Key phrase: “Amy had mild depression growing up.”

Re-written: “Amy was diagnosed with mild depression growing up.”

That is to say, Amy was introduced to therapeutic culture at an early age, because she grew up in an affluent society that can afford for its more privileged youth to get thousands of dollars worth of psychiatric treatment to deal with their feelings. Does anyone ever stop to wonder what became of such people before the rise of the psychotherapy industry in the 20th century?

What happens is that people become defined by their diagnoses, so that sometimes you meet someone at a reception who tells you, within the first five minutes of your introduction, that they suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, ADD or whatever.

To digress: Why don’t we ever meet any really interesting nuts? I mean, it might be interesting to meet someone at a cocktail party who says, “Yes, I’ve been diagnosed with sado-masochistic compulsions stemming from an unresolved Electra Complex.”

But old-fashioned Freudian categories are out of fashion, so you never meet anyone who describes themselves as being in the throes of an oral fixation or nymphomania or something like that. Neither, for that matter, does anyone ever describe themselves as a psychopath or a lunatic — “Hi, I’m Phil and I’m certifiably insane” — but instead these people usually confess to suffering from mood disorders which, to the contemporary way of thinking, means that they are sympathetic victims, rather than outright kooks.

Ever since Prozac started making headlines back in the 1990s, I’ve been dubious about the “brain chemistry” approach to treating mood disorders with SSRIs, because of a common-sense skepticism toward the claims of scientific “experts.” Is it really a smart idea to be loading people up on complex chemicals with all kinds of potential long-term effects? I mean, how many people who start on anti-depressants in their teens or 20s ever actually get well?

That is to say, shouldn’t the goal of psychiatric treatment be to get patients to the point where they don’t need treatment any more?

And yet I can’t remember anyone ever saying, “Yes, I was diagnosed with chronic depression, but I took these pills for six months and it went away, so now I don’t need the pills anymore and I’m as cheerful as a songbird all the time.” But I digress . . .

Encouraging kids to think of themselves as suffering from mental illness, e.g., Amy’s “mild depression,” is great for the pill merchants, but I’m not sure it’s really good for the kids. Helplessness is a learned condition, and if you start telling kids that they are helpless victims of their moods and feelings, well, maybe they’ll believe you. And if they are truly helpless . . .

“[T]herapeutic morality encourages a permanent suspension of the moral sense. There is a close connection, in turn, between the erosion of moral responsibility and the waning capacity for self-help . . . between the elimination of culpability and the elimination of competence.”
– Christopher LaschThe Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1979)

Describing the problems he sees with young people, psychotherapist Brooke Donatone writes that “the ability to address hardships is lacking in many members of this generation” who have had too much parental assistance and supervision:

The researchers suggest that intrusive parenting interferes with the development of autonomy and competence. So helicopter parenting leads to increased dependence and decreased ability to complete tasks without parental supervision. . . .
Rates of depression are soaring among millennials in college. A 2012 study by the American College Counseling Association reported a 16 percent increase in mental-health visits since 2000 and a significant increase in crisis response over the past five years.  . . .
If parents are navigating every minor situation for their kids, kids never learn to deal with conflict on their own. . . .
Amy, like many millennials, was groomed to be an academic overachiever, but she became, in reality, an emotional under-achiever. Amy did not have enough coping skills to navigate normal life stressors — how do I get my laundry and my homework done in the same day; how do I tell my roommate not to watch TV without headphones at 3 a.m.? — without her parents’ constant advice or help. . . .

Why is this happening? I blame the American micro-family, the two-income suburban household with one or two children. The parents are college-educated and expect — no, demand — that their children follow in their footsteps, without regard to the child’s own aptitudes or interests. This kind of high-pressure parenting is basically impossible with larger families, and the child with multiple siblings must necessarily rely more on his own resources.

High-achieving professionals quite naturally expect that their children should be able to replicate their success, but investing such hopes in just one or two kids puts unrealistic pressures on them, and fails to consider the problem of deviation to the norm.

The more exceptional a parent’s success, the less likely that their children will be able to match or exceed it. If you’re a Harvard-educated neurobiologist, the temptation to treat your child as a hothouse flower in an effort to make the child an even more exceptional achiever is likely to yield disappointment, simply because most kids — even those who inherit tremendous potential and who are provided with every advantage — aren’t exceptional.

Who are Amy’s parents? I’ll bet they’re well-educated, successful and affluent and are horribly disappointed in her. She’s 30 years old and says she has “no idea” what she wants to do, but I’ve got news for her: You’re already doing it, Amy. It’s called “failure.”

Lot of that going around lately.



77 Responses to “Special Snowflake Syndrome”

  1. Stogie Chomper
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

    Every capitalist wants to solve problems to earn money, and that’s a good thing. If medication can suppress alcoholism, there may be fewer drunk driving deaths and ruined lives.

  2. Stogie Chomper
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 2:23 pm


  3. Stogie Chomper
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

    Just like those other evil doctors who offer vaccinations. Scandalous!

  4. DaveO
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

    The germanic Goths ran into similar Special Snowflakes when they redistributed Rome’s wealth and fundamentally changed Rome. Different dates, same snowflakes.

  5. Stogie Chomper
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

    I agree, ChubbyBubba. People have a tendency to think that their personal impressions, biases and predilections are the laws of nature, applicable to everyone. If you differ from them, there is something wrong with you. “I’m not depressed, so why should you be?”

    This widespread attack on psychiatry and anti-depressants is characteristic of the wacky right, like the folks at World Net Daily. There are even some who attack vaccinations and inoculations — like flu shots! Perhaps they prefer magical talismans to ward off evil spirits.

    Those of you who ever get migraines should just think your way out of it — after all, aspirin doesn’t permanently cure the condition, just relieves the symptoms.

  6. Stogie Chomper
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

    So you’re omniscient, hey Art? You can read the minds of every doctor and medical professional? And an expert in brain chemistry? Maybe you could share your advanced medical degrees with the rest of us.

  7. Stogie Chomper
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

    Well said, Sarah. At last, some common sense.

  8. Stogie Chomper
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

    You can’t even spell “psychology,” and now you are one.

  9. Stogie Chomper
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

    Common sense! Thanks Mm

  10. jakee308
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

    It’s more than just the pill merchants. It’s the therapist and their office staff, the social worker, the guidance counselor at school, the Nurse at school to hand out meds (remember when the nurse was there to give you an aspirin and a band aid? Now you can’t get either but you can get your prescribed doses of psycho active drugs that let you cruise through the day), the special buses for those of lesser capacity and of course a household that revolves around Amy’s “Difficulties”.

    And as you point out, when they finally can’t be cosseted any longer due to age, dead parents or violent episodes it’s the taxpayer that foots the bill but not for an institutional setting that would be more economical but for walk ins (and walk aways) and the haphazard lack of accountability that we have today.

    Freeing the crazies from the hospitals was supposed to have been a triumph of liberalism and look what’s really happened.

    Why do we continue to listen to losers?

  11. Art Deco
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

    No, I’m not omniscient. I have family members on both sides of those transactions, common sense, and some hard knocks. Feel free to take that with as large a hunk of rock salt as you care to; my opinions are free of charge and you get what you pay for.

  12. Art Deco
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

    It may be characteristic of the wacky right. It is also characteristic of people without a dog in it who have seen the inside of the skunkworks.

    Please recall that terms like ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ are metaphoric and incorporate normative judgments. The mental health trade is parasitic on reason exercised outside itself.

  13. Art Deco
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

    I think a great many of the Roman patriciate still occupied their positions during the Ostrogothic period. Presumably Germans largely replaced the Gallo-Roman gentry, not necessarily the other classes. Then again, these areas had seen secular demographic decline and attempt to keep people on the land through legal coercion since the time of Diocletian, so perhaps there was a great deal of uncultivated land to make estates for the German warrior class without displacing many people.

  14. Art Deco
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 3:35 pm

    “Depression” is real in the sense it is something you experience. That does not render it a ‘disease’ except in a metaphoric sense. Seeing it as so is foundational to awarding disability benefits for mood disorders, which is throwing rubbing alcohol on an open flame.

  15. Adjoran
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

    “Amy” may not be able to manage a part time job, doing her homework, or even her laundry, but I bet her shrink bills that she managed to drag her dysfunctional butt to the polls to vote for Obama twice.

  16. Art Deco
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

    Unmarried, female, lesbian, millennial, and not manifesting much critical engagement with the world around her. Yep.

  17. Art Deco
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

    If you saw the movie About Schmidt, you noticed the title character ruefully looking at all the ‘participant’ ribbons his son-in-law-to-be had been given, which he displayed in his bedroom. The actor who played the daughter’s fiancee is Dermot Mulroney, who was born in 1963 and was an approximate contemporary to his character.

    The ‘Trophy-for-Showing-Up’ subculture has been around for a while. I was given such a trophy in 1978. (I cannot remember when I tossed it in the trash).

  18. Art Deco
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

    What is meant by “Upper Lower Class”? Double-wides?

  19. K-Bob
    December 22nd, 2013 @ 10:45 pm

    I don’t get it.

    I come here for the therapeutic mental bath that this smart, self-help blog represents, and today I’m treated to this infighting within the therapeutic community?

    It might take two ear candles and a whole aromatherapy session just to restore my balance. Why can’t we all just get along?

  20. Joe Dokes
    December 23rd, 2013 @ 7:05 am

    It means we straddled the line between Lower and Middle class, tending toward the lower end of that range.

  21. Alessandra
    December 23rd, 2013 @ 8:45 am

    Don’t forget the crystals…

  22. Alessandra
    December 23rd, 2013 @ 8:53 am

    JEWISH BUDDHISM is the Answer

    Salvation is at your fingertips, but only with Jewish Buddhism. Here are its 14 golden principles:

    1. Let your mind be as a floating cloud. Let your stillness be as the wooded glen. And sit up straight. You’ll never meet the Buddha with such round

    2. There is no escaping karma. In a previous life, you never called, you never wrote, you never visited. And whose fault was that?

    3. Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is another story.

    4. To practice Zen and the art of Jewish motorcycle maintenance, do the following: get rid of the motorcycle. What were you thinking?


    (I was very happy that someone found their way to my blog and viewed this, since it had been buried for years in the archives… just as good as when I first saw it)

  23. Special Snowflake Syndrome : The Other McCain | Dead Citizen's Rights Society
    December 23rd, 2013 @ 9:31 am

    […] Special Snowflake Syndrome : The Other McCain. […]

  24. Oh Good: An Extra Day to Get Your ObamaCare | Regular Right Guy
    December 23rd, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

    […] Special Snowflake Syndrome […]

  25. K-Bob
    December 23rd, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

    Do I get to use finger cymbals?

  26. » Drug us, for we are weak
    December 24th, 2013 @ 7:56 am

    […] Robert Stacy McCain has his doubts about everyday selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors: […]

  27. FMJRA 2.0: 2013 Finale : The Other McCain
    December 29th, 2013 @ 7:01 am

    […] Special Snowflake Syndrome […]