The Hatred of Authority

I came of age during the late 60s and early 70s, when youth rebellion against authority exerted a profound influence on the entire culture.  Parent-child relationships, marriage and family life, music, television, politics and, of course, the war in Viet Nam — in just about every sphere, my generation rebelled against the status quo.  So much good came out of this revolution, with enlarged rights for women and minorities, greater freedom from repressive attitudes toward sex, and a government more responsive to the voice of its people.  Without rebellion against established authority, progress would never occur.  Just take a look at the regime in North Korea if you want an example of what happens when authority forbids any challenge to its position.

Given how profoundly rebellion against authority has shaped our culture since the 1960s — how it has become an accepted norm, in many ways, especially within politically liberal circles — it’s easy to forget that authority also has a social value. Without authority to curb our anti-social tendencies, for instance, anarchy would prevail.  If everyone did whatever he or she wanted, without regard to restrictions imposed by the social order, civilization could not exist.  Another kind of authority comes with the accumulation of experience:  in its best expression, authority tries to pass along the lessons of experience so that the next generation doesn’t have to start from scratch and learn everything all over again.  This is a large part of parenting:  we teach our children what our own parents taught us, as well as what we may have learned in our own lifetimes — about how to navigate the challenges and frustrations of existence, to manage ourselves and our relationships, to work, play and find meaning in our lives.

A large part of parenting involves the word NoNo, you cannot pull the cat’s tail — she will scratch you.  No, you cannot run into the street — a car might run you down.  No, you cannot stick that paper clip into the electrical socket.  Children, especially very small ones, have no idea about the dangers of the world; by exerting their authority to curb dangerous impulses, parents teach their children about those dangers.  By imposing other limitations such as bedtimes, homework-before-play rules and good eating habits, parents also help their kids learn how to take care of themselves.  Thoughtful rules, imposed with concern, encourage the development of self-control and self-discipline.  In these ways, proper authority is enormously useful.  Imagine a child growing up without it.  Parents also pass along values they have absorbed from their culture which (optimally) have helped make their own lives more meaningful — values such as monogamy, devotion to family, the importance of community and meaningful work, etc.  This is a best case scenario, of course.

Some people who rebelled against authority during the 60s and 70s threw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.  They rejected just about every aspect of the status quo, as if it had zero value; they believed they could create a new social order from scratch, free of all the “hang-ups” of their parents’ generation and every other one that preceded it, unrestrained by any kind of authority.  Monogamy, family life, career — for some of my generation, these were contemptible “bourgeois” values which must be rejected.  While the idealism of my generation led to so many worthwhile changes, the confused rejection of all forms of authority led many people to waste years pursuing impossible dreams.  One couple I know “dropped out” and went to live on a commune for ten years; only after experience taught them some painful lessons did they return to society-at-large and find a way to express their idealism within the “real” world.  They tell few people about their experience on that commune and acknowledge feeling a great deal of shame about it.  In rejecting society and the bourgeois lifestyle of their parents, this couple at the same time rejected the meaningful aspects of that society, the useful role of authority and the positive aspects of the lives their parents had led.

Many parents make absolutely awful authorities, of course; they teach us maladaptive ways of coping with life, or pass along repressive values.  Their own lives may be a chaotic mess.  They may be cruel or incompetent, with little true ground for claiming authority other than superior size and strength.  Rebelling against such authority makes sense so that we can learn better ways to live.  Over the years, I’ve seen many clients who came from such families:  rebellion saved their lives because they rejected the values and rules that regulated their childhoods and came into treatment, looking for a better way.  With some of these people, they unfortunately developed such a hatred of established authority that they had a very difficult time accepting it in any of its guises, even when informed by experience and genuine concern.

One client, a young therapist-in-training named Alan, used to challenge every intervention I made.  I’d listen carefully to his associations and tell him what I heard him saying, the unconscious communication he wasn’t aware of making; he’d often respond by saying something like, “Why should I believe what you say, just because you tell me so?  How do I know that another interpretation isn’t equally valid?”  An extremely intelligent man, Alan always sounded very reasonable when he said such things.  This was many years ago; at that time, I tried to talk to him about his reaction in terms of neediness — that he didn’t want to put himself in the position of being needy in therapy and therefore questioned whether anything I had to offer was of value.  In retrospect, I think I missed the boat.  While he indeed had a difficult time with dependent relationships, he profoundly resented authority in any form.  He always knew better than his teachers and supervisors, and certainly implied that he knew better than I did.  He dropped out of treatment within a few months.  Today, what I would tell a client like Alan is that he doesn’t have to believe any of my comments simply because I make them, that he is the sole authority on his own experience and has to decide for himself whether my words shed any useful light.  This defuses the issue of authority, at least for the moment.

Another client, Janice, had always identified with youthful rebels, especially as expressed in rock music.  She seemed perpetually young, a teenager in constant rebellion against all forms of authority:  the necessity of finding gainful employment, the need for adequate sleep so she could function the next day, the fact that mastery in any area required hard work over a lengthy period of time.  Janice cherished a fantasy that her innate genius would be discovered and she would become a rock star like one of her idols — and yet she could never exert enough self-discipline to learn a musical instrument.  She came from a highly dysfunctional family, with a sister who had tried to commit suicide and a psychotic brother who lived out of his van.  When she began treatment, her parents at first paid for her sessions but soon kicked her out of the family home.  When I told Janice that I could not see her for free and that she would have to find a way to pay for her sessions, she grew enraged and abusive.  I held my ground and explained about the need to work; I eventually helped her to look for a job.

Over the years, Janice became devoted to our work together and continually resented the authority I represented.  She eventually revealed that, each time I made an interpretation, a voice inside her head would repeat my words in savage mockery.  While the healthy part of her understood that I was a helpful authority figure, exactly what she needed after the chaos of her upbringing, another part of her hated the values I embodied.  In essence, I represented for her the ultimate authority that is reality, with all its limitations, as opposed to fantasy life in which anything is possible.  In my view, this hatred of reality is a core feature of psychotic processes; I have seen it not only in clients who present as psychotic but also in those who might be recognized as Borderline Personality Disorder.   When psychotic processes dominate, reality has no authority but is completely rewritten according to the requirements of fantasy.

With Janice, even years later when she had established a career, married and begun a family, a part of her continued to resent authority in all its forms.  As I said to her many times, “However reasonable you may sound, in a part of your mind, you reserve the right to re-make reality in any way that you like.”  Despite some facts she’d gleaned about my personal life, and other things I myself had told her, she continued to insist that I led an ideal existence, free from pain or frustration, with perfect genius children who adored me, etc.  Of course, what she really persisted in believing was that someday, she would have such a life.  She hated the facts of human existence, the ultimate authority of reality and the limitations it imposed.  She constantly rebelled against her own authority, as well — refusing to acknowledge what she knew about her own limitations, for example, or what experience had taught her about alcohol and its effects on her state of mind.  For this reason, despite her actual age, she always seemed much younger, like a rebellious teenager giving authority the finger.  As much as she respected, valued and needed authority, she also hated it and to some degree, always will.

Occasionally on this website, I receive a hostile comment from  a visitor; with some, I have the clear sense that what has angered them is my belief that I know what I’m talking about and presume to put myself forward as an authority.   Though these site visitors are not my clients, it feels very much  as if they are having a “transference” reaction to me as a figure of authority, just the way my actual clients Alan or Janice did, expressing their hatred in very clear terms.

Finding Your Own Way:

What is your attitude toward authority?  Are you a rebel or an obedient citizen?

Think about your parents and how you view them as figures of authority.  Do you respect them?  Do you ridicule them?  Even if they were truly deficient, can you remember ways in which they tried to exert a positive influence?  Are you grateful that they tried even if they failed?  My own, emotionally absent father had an authoritarian parenting style.  I was an obnoxious, defiant teenager, but over the years, I’ve come to value his example of hard work, the way he provided for his family and shielded us from his very large financial anxieties, even if he failed me on an emotional level.

Did you have teachers who inspired you with their intelligence, humor or insight?  Did you submit to any one of them?  I had a drama teacher I adored in high school … until I became disillusioned and began to question every single word she said.  I’m the type of person who expects his authority to be perfect (but that’s a different issue altogether).

One of the hardest experiences to cope with is submission to authority that feels unjust.  This often occurs in the workplace.  Do you have a boss whose authority you resent?  How do you express your resentment?  Can you think of ways in which he or she, despite those glaring faults, exerts a positive authority?

And what about yourself as an authority?  Like many parents, I was shocked the first time I heard the words “Because I said so” coming out of my mouth; but sometimes, given the challenges of functioning as an authority, what is badly needed is submission.  To be an authority, and to feel continual rebellion against that authority, is a draining challenge.

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

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36 Responses to The Hatred of Authority

  1. Evan says:

    Counter-dependence still has others setting the agenda.

    The question I guess is how we decide what authority is legitimate.

    For anti-social tendencies. Well is the social healthy? Was Bonhoeffer anti-social to Hitler’s Germany? I think anti-social has some concealed values lurking in it.

    I’m conservative in the sense that I use individual’s to judge cultures – no sacrifice of individuals for the good of society. I am against democracy as the tyranny of the 51%. Ie. killing 49% of a group is not permitted even if 51% is in favour.

    I think I’d reformulate the question so it doesn’t focus on compliance-rebellion to more along the lines of: What do we need to thrive? How can we help each other do this?

  2. Heather says:

    Fantastic and well written once again. Everything you say is very true and like the example you give of transference. As I was reading I could relate to times when I am hostile towards authority. Very good.

  3. Naomi says:

    I appreciate how nuanced and thoughtful this piece on authority is. I hit a low point a few years ago–am now 45–when I realized that I was repeating an older pattern of behaviour vis-a-vis male colleagues that I thought had power/authority over me. It was the repetition of a cluster of responses and emotions that made me realize that these male figures were perhaps fill-ins for my father from whom I sought approval. But it took a lot of effort to get to this point, including keeping an hourly journal of forgiveness (self and other) and reminders that it was my LACK (cultivated over years) that made me give my power away.
    Thank you for this and for your website.

    • Dr bob dick says:

      wow ! an hourly journal of anything is an impressive & challenging discipline — clearly it was helpful to you & worth the effort — likely that discipline bore other goode fruit , maybe even some things not readily apparent . Brava ,b

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Your comments about how hard it was to reach an understanding of your dynamics illustrate the reality of growth and change: it’s never easy, and not simply a matter of learning how to feel or voice the right group of acceptable feelings. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  4. Dr bob dick says:

    Hi J , as thought provoking as ever – you sure write a lot . While reading your post , I remembered that this nation was founded upon rebellion — another important outcome of not blindly tolerating abuse of power . I also thought that resisting authority is possible w/o hating Authority . I’m pretty resistant to arbitrary rules that don’t work well — especially when those rules don’t work well for me . And too often , I’ve found myself both resisting & hating authority when it wasn’t necessary or useful . b

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks, Bob — important distinction between resisting and hating authority. I’m also resistant to arbitrary rules that don’t work well … but I also hate rules that mean I can’t have things exactly my way. Still working on that one.

  5. JB says:

    I really sat up and took notice when I read “the ultimate authority … is reality, with all its limitations, as opposed to fantasy life in which anything is possible. … When psychotic processes dominate, reality has no authority but is completely rewritten according to the requirements of fantasy.”

    Wow. That ties narcissism strongly into resentment of authority (or should I say, resentment of reality). That goes a long way to explain why some people can ‘rage’ for no obvious reason. (Reality just got a foot in the door. Close that door! Aaaagh!) It also explains why a narcissist might retreat into relative seclusion. Is the need for praise and recognition worth the chance that reality will intrude? Narcissists that get to that stage are pretty much off the radar of everyone but their families. They cannot do much damage, unless others support them in their fantasy life. Folie en famille…

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      You’re absolutely right, it does explain why narcissists rage for no apparent reason. And also that the inability to bear narcissistic injury leads some people to retreat from the world.

  6. anon says:

    While some good may have come from the counter-culture, I think there was a lot more bad that you may not have expressed according to a documentary that I saw on San Francisco and how messed up some people were. Lives were shattered with the lose morals and drug culture.

    I post the following that I hope might be of interest and am not looking for free therapy. :)

    This week, I met with a therapist that I visited when I was 17 because I needed paperwork signed for work. He did not seem to have the vaguest recollection of me when I told him that I saw him then, which I knew could very much be the case.

    He asked the questions such as birth order, education level, and about discipline of parents. I told him that my dad was severe starting at about 12. He seemed to dwell a lot on whether there was alcohol abuse in the family when I have no problem with that as I don’t even drink(against my religion). We had to cover a lot of ground so he apologized for interrupting. I appreciated his response to some painful things in the past including mistakes that I made. He asked about sexual abuse and I said yes but said it was not sex and that the person was related but not too much older than me. He didn’t try to get details but I volunteered how it really hit me at about thirty. I had my ocd and everything but I still had this image of myself as being pure although I felt contaminated all of the time. The memory was never repressed completely but it was not something I dwelt on and had never brought up in any therapy session in my past or among clergy until I was over 30. I felt so dirty. I felt so betrayed as the person was someone I had trusted growing up and how they tricked me and took advantage of my innocent nature. I let it happen more than once as they tricked me by saying I was tense and needed a massage. Again, it never went very far it was a massage that went below where it should and I let more happen than I should as I felt sorry for him. But I would never let him do it all. That is where the betrayal really comes in because I don’t know how far he would have taken it. And the shame is that I let it go on somewhat when he was doing things and that I let it happen more than once until we were found. Then, my mom who was told by my little sister who even had a name for what we were doing as she must have known more about things that me looked at me like it was all my fault. I never let it happen again. I didn’t go into what exactly happened or my mother’s response.

    Although he wanted to know family dynamics and whether my father was too severe, and he did seem to speak of how my mother did not protect me based on my words, he did not dwell much on abuse. I understand time is short. However, it bothers me that a therapist or a clergy person has never really validated my belief that psychological abuse such as screaming in my face with a maddening rage, sometimes breaking things, infrequent and rare physical abuse but never to the point of really hurting me other than sometimes being scared, and the message that I couldn’t do anything right including cleaning or holding a tool right. That is not to say that I was never praised for things such as school work or sports ability. He did not even ask about psychological abuse so I couldn’t even talk about it. We were just there for a signature and he seems willing. He seemed compassionate. I know therapist don’t want to dwell on blame but sometimes you do need to at least say that something may have been part of the problem. I do think I am biologically wired for my problems too. I guess he probably knows that with little time that we couldn’t go into all of this. And I only saw him briefly at 17. I was to unable to speak about things then. That was prior to my having ocd. The person with the rages never sexually abused me for the record as that was someone just a little older. Later therapists would only let me skim the surface on abuse. Then, there was a physical incident during abuse that was of a serious nature. Instructions were given to move out in a month but no resources or help. I was pretty close to out of my mind and had trouble going places. I was going to school and work and maybe Church but I would avoid stores, restaurants, had to change majors even. Going anywhere was maddening as I always felt like I was a risk. So my point is that the therapist who said to move out in a month later followed up and just asked “how is dear old dad.” I hadn’t moved out and she didn’t even check about safety.

    The therapist did say it is good that I am over my feelings regarding sexual abuse yesterday when we discussed it briefly.

    Well, I don’t think I would make a good patient as I think I know too much and am not too open. But yes, I do have rage issues but in recent years they have not been directed at the person who physically and psychologically abused me for the most part. I chalk that up to him being out of his mind at the time. He was not like that when I was younger. I think he would protect me in any way he could from outside harm and would have protected me from the sexual abuse if he had known. He was strict and I wasn’t allowed to watch shows such as Three is Company. He has done amazing things to protect people and cares about people. He can also be a jerk to so don’t get me wrong. But I believe he loves me.

    Where I have felt a great deal of rage in recent years has been to therapist who didn’t let me share my feelings or didn’t say how these things could be a factor in ocd. Most of all, I felt rage for those who did not help me out of the abusive situation when I was not in my right mind and couldn’t get out on my own. I was very dependent and could not take care of myself. I guess they did not know how dependent I felt I was. They may have looked at the fact that I had lived away from home at one time but I was never alone during that time and not independent as the other people were essential. But you can’t live in the mission field for ever nor would I want to because it is very stressful.

    I confided in one person regarding my dad after the physical abuse and they said to hug him and profess my love. So when my dad would break things when my mom and I would forget to turn on the music, I would say that it was really him for not getting me out of an abusive situation. He was the one breaking things not my dad who was out of my mind. To me that person was the guilty party. But I realize that he probably didn’t know about the breaking things part as I never told him. I was angry that he never followed up.

    Thankfully, I am not in a place where I want to move at the moment. I have not wanted to move out for a long time. I don’t want to live a moment longer than my parents and want them to be well enough to take care of me. That is my only chance for decent survival. I work from home. Not going places is great medication. Going to the therapist office was most difficult as you can probably imagine. I tried to get someone to sign without an office visit but to no avail.

    Thanks for letting me vent. And yes, I have problems with authority. Fortunately, I have a great supervisor at work. But as cool as he is, he is my supervisor. He is one of my all time favorites though. I was very shy with professors at school as you can probably imagine and avoided talking to them generally.

    I was the teacher’s pet type in grade school but it didn’t stem from abuse originally as abuse came later.

    Vent over.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      You are welcome to vent. Many authority figures let us down, and there are often very good reasons to be angry and rebel against them.

  7. anon says:

    Dr. Burgo, I appreciate your being willing to let me vent. I think that the authority figures that I speak of all meant well. I do not hate any of them. I have been angry and bitter towards them but I do not see that the same as hating them. I think all of them wanted me to be well. From my experiences and many of the most traumatic came(with the exception to the sexual abuse when I was in my early teens) after high school, I can understand why some rebel and do not trust. With my weaknesses, it is scary to think that a person could have power over me. I am very independent emotionally. But I need other people to help me with daily functioning and I need my work to let me keep working. I have had good reviews and receive positive feedback. I just worry if I had problems that I could lose my job. Fortunately, things have gone well in the past.

  8. Your approach toward the anti-authoritarian stance is simplistic and fails to recognize the most important reason as to why people might adopt such a posture in the first place.

    Does oppression, exploitation and abuse give one enough cause to dislike figures and institutions of authority?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Of course it does. But it’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater if you reject all authority for that reason.

  9. vavavoom says:

    Thanks for the thought provoking post – it has given me some insight into a part of myself I dont really understand – which is sometimes I am deeply rebellious!

    I have PTSD and the seat of my trauma is control, domination, abuse, and especially social injustice. I am deeply rebellious when someone is demanding (via control & domination) authority.

    I appreciated being reminded – that submission in the face of injustice may be difficult – but may be the reality of the situation. Submission in the face of abuse well that is another matter….. and maybe that is in part your point?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I don’t advocate submission to injustice, even though sometimes there’s not much else we can do, as you say. What I’m trying to show is that there’s such a thing as good, concerned authorities who have the best interests at heart of those over whom they exert their influence. It’s worth respecting those people.

  10. Jeremy Russell says:

    I enjoyed reading this. It showed me a outsider’s perspective towards myself, and during that altered state of mind, I was able to see flaws in my own ideology.

    I am currently thinking that the reason I resent being told what to do so much, is that authority figures hold no confidence in me and my abilities, and by taking command of my actions, they are nullifying any value that I could have gained, before I even finish what I started.
    For example. I do not plan my life in specific regimented blocks, I don’t even think a day ahead most of the time, but I do have a vague vision of what my future will be like. To get to that future, I feel it is necessary to go about it on a whim, doing whatever feels right at the time, and hopefully hitting the mark in the end. And when I eventually get there, I feel so great, because no matter what I had done, I was successful, and that’s an amazing feeling.
    But when someone interferes with the natural order of my life, directly, it destroys any hope I had of achieving my goals, and renders any efforts I had made up to that point a waste of time. And when this pattern continues to occur, in everything I do, the hatred inside of me gathers and aims at any and all authority figures.

    This is my rough analysis of why I hate authority so much.

    But I am yet to understand what spiritual force is driving me down this specific path in the first place.

    Maybe I will understand that one day also.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      That’s an interesting approach. The problem with it, in my view, is that it doesn’t take into account the way reality and society are structured. “Doing whatever feels right at the time” isn’t an approach sanctioned by society; instead, society tends to prescribe rules and sets up hurdles and requirements you must meet to achieve many goals. I wonder if your anger comes up because you don’t want to have to conform to reality and the limits imposed by society but just want to do things “your own way.”

      • Fran says:

        Hi Doc .
        Firstly I noticed that you are keen that all readers recognise your thirty years of experience, which I am guessing you feel projects a certain authority in your opinions. Time in authority does not necessarily equate to being a good source of authority. History will bear me out on this one
        An individuals sense of ‘Reality’ and the perception of what this ‘should be’ is controlled by the state or ideological power in control of ‘society’ via hegemonic culture.
        Hegemony is what happens when connotation becomes denotation and myth is born.
        Authority must always be questioned as should any implied ‘common sense’ version of reality when it is being applied in a routinely controlling or arbitrary manner.
        Most human rights abuses are carried out via a dominating authority via a rhetoric of ‘common sense’ or ‘shared perception of what is reality’
        The reality of authority figures to an impoverished child, rape victim or a victim of racial prejudice, or perhaps a person socially disadvantaged by learning disability is not the same reality as that of a wealthy middle class, white male professional.
        Not wanting to conform to ‘reality’ is a question that begs a second question? Whose reality do you not want to conform to and why?
        What are the limits imposed by societies authoritarian version of reality?
        Are these limits prejudiced, fair, exclusive, inclusive?
        Who do these limits favour, who do they leave out?
        The last question that I would consider is what is unhealthy in an individual wishing to do things, ‘his or her own way’?
        This is how people learn to be empowered, resourceful and develop good self esteem.
        Challenging authority brought about the abolition of slavery, votes for women and revision of male western, written history with regard to European imperialist propaganda and people of other cultures.
        A pluralist approach to what constitutes ‘reality’ and ‘authority’ might be more helpful to people struggling with their issues.

    • Walnuts says:

      Hello Jeremy,
      I can relate strongly with your post. It seems I’m having a very similar issue with my support worker. She insists on highly defined “goals”, and though I do have goals, I struggle once they are defined, even to myself, and I think it’s because this interferes with my constant intuitive management of my expectations.
      I do wonder whether m problem is fundamentally a hatred of authority/reality, or simply my way of navigating reality. Perhaps the two are the same? Namely, someone such as myself ( I don’t know your experience) who was badly parented and abused in several settings where authority figures observed, yet did nothing to help me, perhaps has a need to “find their own way”, no matter how inefficient it may be? Good luck in your life journey.

  11. A Person says:

    Thank you for this article. I recognize in myself, all too well, the issue of mistrusting authority arising from early trauma. Hatred of authority is something I experience only when I feel wronged. Unfortunately, I feel a bigger issue is “respect” for people IN Authority …AS authorities. It is like they must be tested by a standard I have set and only get respect if they pass. That standard is rather high. If they pass they get lots of respect. I become interested in everything they have to say and I am willing to “try on” ideas or suggestions they make.

    If they do not pass…I write them off as having anything of value to offer. This does not seem to be a good or useful way to be. People know when they have been written off..It makes it more likely that they will see me as a problem and touch off all the buttons in me that presses ….

    Of course, I experience my difficulty with authority as alternatively 1. proving something is fundamentally wrong with me or 2. proving that what is good in me will never be recognized by anyone in mainstream authority positions.

    SO not helpful.

    – A Person

  12. Sophianna says:

    For me personally, my problem is with authority that claims its authority by virtue of its authority. In other words, I have an extremely difficult time doing something just because I was told to do so; if you justify your position to me and earn my respect, however, I’m very deferent. I think that justification of your decisions isn’t a courtesy but in truth a responsibility.

  13. Leo says:

    I enjoyed this article, but what is one to do that was put in a highly intense hatred of authority at a young age? I feel like I am able to relate with the healthier perspective that I need authority in my life and yet there is that irrational side of mind one cannot change in a logical manner. Are people like Janice forever doomed to have to deal with the feeling that authority is a corrupt, oppressive creature? It becomes a problem when I can’t accept my own authority.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Janice wasn’t doomed because she stayed in therapy. She eventually came to feel quite differently about authority.

  14. Antiscathen says:

    Unfortunately I “suffer” from a sense of entitlement, and an intolerance of frustration, rendering me a life time social, educational, and employment non achiever. I think I may be unusually narcissistic for someone with BPD, or more able to acknowledge it, as others don’t, if present, seem to. I also have a pathological hatred of authority. The level of my disdain for authority reaches into mystical realms. In my second year of therapy (or was it my first) I applied to college. I turned up and basically told them I was a writer (In my defence I have since completed a novel, which, due to my using words as things, is unreadable to most, being the equivalent of being told a story by being beaten with a hammer) who despised debate (a fundamental part of the course) as it was an act of power over and domination of ideas in the services of monopolising thought. Long story short, I didn’t secure a place on the course. I wasn’t pleased. Demanded a second interview, which was granted. A panel interview. I just saw a bunch of self righteous suit wearing pricks who must be utterly subjugated to dependency on the “State” and its thoughts and opinions. So I decathected my interest in them or education. I cannot find a way in, to accept the society I was born into. I despise it’s ideas and it’s institutes. I despise school, education. I despise psychiatry, I despise government. I despise parents, mainly on account of my belief that without exception they are all abject failures in love. I cannot believe for the life of me, although I never had a choice in being born into this concrete monstrosity called CULTure, which I was forced indoctrinated into accepting, I have to submit willingly to its demands!!! However. Through my two and a bit years of psychoanalytical psychotherapy, although I think society is even sicker to its core than I could have ever imagined, I can, perhaps, integrate into it without sacrificing autonomy. How I do that, I haven’t the foggiest. I just sense, on the peripheral of my mind, when the catastrophic annihilating horrors that lurk in my unconscious aren’t dominating the landscape, life could be something other than what it, for me, has always been. This knowledge, I believe, however tenuous at this time, is priceless, making psychotherapy priceless. If I believe that I must be clinically dead! LoLz (Joke, partially) And yes doctor, when I read some of your posts, as when I hear truths in psychotherapy, I do become quickly enraged, but I now have the skills to smile, even only fleetingly, because I know its truth, and rage can attack truth, even hiding behind seemingly flawless, clinical rationality, but it can’t get rid of it. We all gotta be on alert when dealing with this kinda things (especially empirically highlighting parental responsibility in the aetiology of human suffering) because rage, often of an intensity which would shake the earth, making innocent others experience the horrors of hell, also lurks in seemingly agreeable comments. ;)

  15. Devon McMurray says:

    The problem with authority is not simply that people do not like being told what to do or given valuable advice. It is simply that, especially in the USA, the rules are not based on sound logic. The punishments are also extremely exaggerated. Look at the so called Drug War. This is especially relevant to people with depression because often it is only those drugs which are “illegal” that truly help them. So they are literally denied true freedom their entire lives by having to go through the endless search for “legal” medicine that helps in any meaningful way. I truly believe that is a big part of the picture.

  16. Sonia says:

    I see myself in your comments. I feel a sense of despair about my problems. They seem enormous. I rage at and resent reality. I just want to feel safe and for someone to take care of me, stand up for me and defend me. I long for these things.
    I also noticed my need to use a fake name here. Ashamed and scared, I feel a need to hide my identity.

    There is so much wrong with me. Yet, I rebel against my own authority also. I have such a need to remain a child, and I am 48 years ago. I am ashamed to admit this too.

    Where is the safe place that I dream of? Where can I find rest and peace? How can I love and trust ? Where is it safe to open my heart?

    I am glad to be able to come here and express myself. I am the emotional scared 10 year trapped in a 48 year old body.

    I crave attention and approval. I am alone inside this unfamiliar grown body. The decades have passed and I have been abandoned, unnoticed inside. I am glad to be able to speak without fear of saying what I feel. Who will rescue me? I know the answer, no one. Sad, I am sad that there is none but me.

    Not sure this helped because I feel scared and depressed to know that there is no parent to coddle and console me anymore. It doesn’t seem enough to do this myself. It doesn’t fill the hole inside me, the emptiness, where I yearn for a safe place.

  17. Sonia says:

    It is easy to let the scared child talk, what is harder is to let the angry rebellious person talk. The one who hates, resents and rages at god (lower case on purpose because of defiance and hatred of Him). This part scares me. I know that this kind of resentment, defiance and disrespect of god is dangerous. Yet, I ask him to help me with it, then push him away. I laugh at him and dare him to oppose me and think its funny. See what a mess I am in? What danger? How will I escape such hatred, such rebellion. The idea that I need the help of someone I am so angry and mistrusting of, makes it worse. Now I am scared because where can I go if not to god?

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I expect that you’d need to work this issue out with someone down here on the human level first — say, a therapist you could rage against, defy, resent but whose authority and goodness you would eventually come to appreciate.

  18. Patrick says:

    What an interesting article. I found my way here while on a Google search for a book to help me learn and accept rules more easily. I had my own breakthrough today when I was doing something that I have always hated, taxes. I have always hated them and felt powerless and afraid of the endless forms and procedures. In the midst of this I realized the central common factor in of my failures and disappointments is my belittling and dismissive attitude towards rules. I find them tedious and cumbersome. I get inpatient with rules. It sounds strange to admit it because before today I had not realized it. I grew up with this idea that I was somehow intelligent enough to get by and be free from rules, but that all masked a fear of rules. That’s why the portion in your article on reality and it’s relationship to rules got my attention. I feel great, like I’ve uncovered a challenge worthy of contending with. A hidden poison that I didn’t know was there. The question is how to deal with it. I’m not allergic to rules. I guess it’s more of an ego problem. I was looking for a book that might help, but then the comments in the thread lead me to believe that it may be deeper and more complicated than I’ve assumed. How does one retrain oneself to think differently? Even at first glance I can tell this started very early in my life so it’s a really entrenched habit. The older the habit the harder it is to spot it, even when it’s in plan sight.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I have a friend who likes to say “rules are for other people.” Sometimes I feel that way, too, so I can relate to how you feel. I think the way forward begins with awareness — actually feeling the hostility towards those rules in the moment; then you face a choice. Emotional progress to me is all about raising awareness so that one has a choice, whether to follow one’s infantile anti-authority impulses or get oneself in hand to do what is needed.

      • Patrick says:

        I fully agree. The trick has always been to spot the fork in the road. If I can do that then I have a chance to not simply do as I have always done, but to take the new route. For so long this stayed invisible to me, and now it seems like, “an idea whose time has come, “

  19. Faye says:

    I am grateful to have come across your article. I have been diagnosed PSTD but never really understood it fully and how it comes to play in my life.

    I am not doing well right now. Despite 7 years of college and a 4.0 GPA I fail each time I am in my onsite practicums. Shaky hands, panic, heart racing all take over.

    I am on the verge of being homeless with 3 children because of my failure to be on top of paperwork. I am unemployed but failed to qualify for disability.

    I isolate, avoid, ignore issues a “normal” person would just tackle head-on.

    I know I need help but I am afraid of the world.

  20. John Doe says:

    I’m a misanthrope who despises authority.
    My solution?
    I Isolate myself.
    I go out as little as possible,
    I don’t watch TV
    I don’t read newspapers or magazines, my contact with other humans is now down to a bare minimum.
    I have never been more happy satisfied and contented.
    Anyone who wants authority over anyone else, whether it be a politician, a policeman or an oligarch is never to be trusted.
    My only regret in life Is that I was not born in an era where terraforming and faster the light travel are just science fiction, because the thought of living on my own planet millions of miles away from another human is a beautiful one.

  21. Sissi says:

    Somewhere in my early thirties, After suffering several bouts of severe depression, I decided that the best way to cope with life was to expect as little as possible from it. I didn’t engage in romantic relationships and got stuck in a dead end office job. Still, this was a much better place then the place where my fears told me I would end up.
    Now I am about to turn 47. A few months ago I had a mental breakdown. I feel suffocated in the cage I’ve built myself. Upon this, my employer thought the time had come to get rid of me. I still have a lot of cleaning up to do in my head and as of yet I haven’t had the guts to look at where it all went wrong at my place of work. I think I have been unhappy for year and I projected all my unhappyness on my employer. I have acted like a spoiled teenager. Procrastinating like there was no tomorrow. I feel very much ashamed of this behaviour. It doesn’t suit me. I am a nice person, but somehow it was easier for me to rebel against my employer than to put an ax into what was the construction of my life.
    The house of cards has fallen down and I feel I have to build myself a new life. A difficult enough task in your twenties. Now, in my forties, I feel like I’m swimming and clutching at straws. Have you any advice on how to tackle my construction of defences? Can I tackle them one by one, or should I prepare for a long time of feeling rudderless?
    Feel free to edit my English. I’m Dutch, you see.
    Sissi

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