Know Thyself — Language and Control


We may be sure that very few of our actions will terminate at the point of conscious desire. Most of them will not reach that point at all. The role of awareness or of naming lies in beginning the action, it does not guarantee the outcome. But that this use of words in guiding conduct is an aid to adjustment there can be no doubt. Many parents have noticed that children enter a period of better adjustment when they begin to acquire words for what they want. Before this they are compelled to cry for it if it is not within their reach. The adult who has an inadequate use of language and who is not able to name his wants is at a great disadvantage. This condition is not rare. It is a characteristic of many hysterics. Their desires are so divorced from recognition and description that they are forced to much indirection. Unnamed desires cannot be controlled. The person who have been brought to desire strongly what is disapproved of by his fellows may have learned to repress the description of his desire. He is no longer aware of it. But it may still disrupt his behavior.

In such a case a mother developed an intense jealousy of her adopted son who was a favorite with the father. She subjected him to countless annoyances and much punishment. That this was motivated by jealousy she did not recognize. It was her belief that she was doing her best to correct his manners and morals in order that he might be happy. …

Language, which is the tool of thinking, is all derived from conversation with those about us. When we learn to use language we are subjected to a very thorough social control. This social control of the individual through the public origin of the very elements of his thinking, of the symbols by which the individual initiates his own actions, is what the Freudians are getting at in their notion of the super-ego. This expresses a real stage in the development of the personality. Our behavior is now subject to social influence from within us.

Edwin R. Guthrie (1938)

Does expanding your emotional vocabulary sound like a good idea yet?

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One thought on “Know Thyself — Language and Control

  1. Pingback: Be You, Only Better: A Queens and Bees Round-Up « Queens and Bees

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