On Being Human
by Ginger Ross Breggin
From our earliest recorded history, human beings have been considering what it is that makes us human. The musings and essays, poetry, literature, philosophy, sacred religious documents, science texts—indeed, much of what has been written throughout the ages—touches, examines, or defines the subject of being human. So what is it that makes us human? As my husband, Dr. Peter Breggin, has often emphasized, being human or expressing our humanity depends on our highly developed brain and its frontal lobes. No other species has been endowed with this natural gift, offering us the possibility of our rational intelligence, our spectrum of emotion and feeling that is vital to our integration as members of a society, and our astonishing creativity that has allowed us to develop farming, architecture, engineering, the arts and sciences, space exploration and today’s extraordinary communication tools. The brain is like the infrastructure of our identities or souls; the personal, social and physical intricacies of human life become a matrix that ultimately makes us human, enabling us to develop languages, to create societies and cultures, and ultimately to communicate with and to value each other as inhabitants of our shared world. To contemplate being human is to get a glimmer of the marvel of being human, to merely begin to glimpse the incredible complexity and individuality that each of us possesses and develops over the course of our individual lives. From the mystery and sublime simplicity of prehistoric drawings and human hand prints in far flung regions of the world, to the marvel and miracle of a newborn human infant, innocent, touchingly sweet and completely helpless—being human is an experience at once complex, unique to each person and yet shared by us all over the course of all time.
Now, consider that in just the past 25 years we have been taught that an increasing range of human emotional response is unwanted, unacceptable and fit to be labeled a disease process. Set aside for a moment the most frightening, out of control emotional states—those of psychosis. Consider the spectrums of depression, anxiety, emotional withdrawal, fear, anger, grief, boredom, and distraction. There is an individual human story unfolding in each of these emotional states. And the gift of our human rationality, our intelligence, and especially our ability to connect with other human beings offers a bridge that can enable the affected individual to return to a more stable, creative and satisfying emotional equilibrium. Instead these complex and highly individual responses are stereotyped into a few psychiatric diagnostic categories, vastly oversimplifying and dismissing the individual experience.
Drugs that are psychoactive—that affect the brain and mind—are then prescribed. These psychiatric drugs are in fact neurotoxins that blunt the brain as a whole, and especially the frontal lobes, compromising our ability to use the greatest of our human tools to sort through, survive and triumph over emotional crisis or trauma. While blunting our emotions and intellect, these drugs bring with them a large array of disturbing and potentially crippling or deadly side effects. The individual thus experiences further emotional states that are diagnosed as further manifestations of ‘mental illness,’ leading to the prescription of larger quantities and increasing kinds of psychiatric drugs. This vicious cycle has become so bad that children in psychiatric treatment are often on three or more drugs. Veterans coming home from war are on as many as six or more psychoactive drugs. Pregnant women are increasingly maintain on psychiatric drugs toxic to the development of their unborn child. Over the past thirty years, the increasing wave of psychiatric drugs has become a tsunami, threatening to engulf our humanness. The psychiatric drugs attack and permanently damage that aspect of ourselves that makes us most human—our marvelous human brain that expresses our individual uniqueness. That brain—with its capacity to bring reason and love to bear upon our needs, fears and emotional turmoil—must remain unencumbered by toxic substances in order to provide the maximum opportunity for recovery and growth. We hear from those who have suffered and fear they will never recover from years of exposure to psychiatric drugs. We hear from those parents whose children were lost to psychiatric drugs. We hear, again and again, “I just want my life back.” It is high time to reclaim our humanness—to embrace our vast, complex and varied human emotions and non-brain damaging, human centered approaches to the painful aspects of being human. Even the most despairing and emotionally disturbed among us, often teens or young adults who experience a break with reality and become psychotic, have a better chance of recovery with the potential to become their very best selves without these dreadful, lobotomizing chemical agents. Studies have shown human-centered, empathic, work with someone who has had a psychotic break helps that individual more permanently and without the early mortality and multiple disease processes that inevitably follow years or decades of exposure to the so-called antipsychotic drugs.
Those individuals suffering from extreme emotional states need to be allowed and helped to fully rejoin the human family. We need to return to our human roots, reach out to each other, embrace empathic therapies and reject psychiatric approaches to human distress that impair and disable the very core of what physically makes us most human—our human brain—with its capacity to express our human spirit.
Copyright 2010-2012 Peter R. Breggin, MD
Dr. Peter Breggin's
Center for the Study of Empathic
Therapy, Education & Living
Bring Out the Best In Yourself!
Warning! Most psychiatric drugs can cause withdrawal reactions, sometimes including life-threatening emotional and physical withdrawal problems. In short, it is not only dangerous to start taking psychiatric drugs, it can also be dangerous to stop them. Withdrawal from psychiatric drugs should be done carefully under experienced clinical supervision. Methods for safely withdrawing from psychiatric drugs are discussed in Dr. Breggin's new book, Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal: A Guide for Prescribers, Therapists, Patients, and Their Families.