Mar 10

The Psychology of Names: Some Thoughts

What’s the psychology of names? Why do our names matter so much? Why does it matter to so many that at the Oscars ceremony John Travolta mistakenly introduced Idina Menzel as “Adele Nazeem”? Although singer/performer Menzel reportedly has laughingly “let it go,” many others have found it to be a major gaffe worthy of continued shaming. Many have Tweeted, many have “Travoltified”—or distorted their own names—at (Yours truly, Rhys Johnzon, included.)

What if you don’t like the name given you? Journalist Carlin Flora, author of Friendfluence, has said in Psychology Today:

Whether people swoon over—or even disdain—our name is beyond our control. Ultimately, self-esteem and the esteem of the world dictate the degree to which we hold our name dear. Like our vocation or hometown, we tout our name as a distinguishing mark if it ‘fits.’ If it doesn’t, we might say that, like an inaccurate horoscope, we don’t believe in that stuff anyway. We’ll change our name, disregard it or consider it just a synonym for me.

That sounds about right to me.

One would think it’s just better to have an easier name, though. A recent study, reported by Medical Xpress, found that if your name is easier to pronounce, you’ll likely be more trusted by strangers—“even if those strangers are all from the same country,” they’re clear to add.

Psychologist Adam Alter, author of Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave (2013), notes that difficult pronunciations are troublesome not just with our names, but with other things too. And people prefer the easier ways.

Another thing Alter finds interesting regarding the psychology of names is aptronyms, those that tend to strongly suit their owners, at least over time and when we choose careers. According to Wikipediaeven way back when, psychologist Carl Jung noted there’s sometimes a “quite grotesque coincidence between a man’s name and his peculiarities.”

Likewise, an article in The Week points out that “people are unconsciously drawn to things, people, and places that sound like their own names. Psychologists call this phenomenon ‘implicit egotism’.” Jung believed, for instance, that his own interest in rebirth may have been influenced by his last name.

Examples? Some good aptronyms are available on the Wikipedia page. This is just a sampling:

Interviewed on NPR, Alter also stressed the significance of our names’ initials. “…(I)f you ask people what their favorite initials are, they will say that the initials of their names, their first and last name, are often favored.” So what, you say. Well, what if because of this, you donate more money when a hurricane shares your initial? Yup. Those with “K” names gave 10 percent of what was received for Hurricane Katrina. Donations to any crisis relief by the “K’s” before Katrina? Only 4 percent.

Which means that we all should hope that the hardest hitting storms in the future won’t have the added misfortune of being called Zelda or Xena.

Jan 18

“A Dangerous Method”: Three Psychoanalysts Depicted

In a previous post about scary boundary-breaking by therapists, I described the based-on-a-true-story film A Dangerous Method (2011), which wasn’t yet in theaters. Now it is, and in a couple months or so it will be released on DVD.

Today’s post will use excerpts from film reviews/articles to focus on the characterizations in the movie of the three depicted analysts: Freud, Jung, and Spielrein.

Rex ReedNew York Observer, regarding A Dangerous Method: “…a psychological tug of war between the father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortenson), and his disciple Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) over the mind and sex of an overwrought mental patient named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a mad Russian with a craving for spanking. Whacking her on her naked bottom must have worked. She ended up, years later, analyzing patients of her own. Too bad she didn’t also analyze this movie. It would have saved so much wasted time.”

(Ouch, Spielrein herself might have said.)

Lisa Kennedy, The Denver Post, states that “David Cronenberg’s elegant historical drama ‘A Dangerous Method’ begins and ends in a way that recalls one of Sigmund Freud’s better-known quotes.”

“‘Much has been gained,’ he told a patient, ‘if we succeed in turning your hysterical misery into common unhappiness.'”

(In modern psychiatry there is no longer a diagnosis of “hysterical neurosis.” The current DSM uses “conversion disorder,” basically defined as the conversion of emotional issues into physical symptoms. For the upcoming revised edition of the DSM, “functional neurological disorder” is being considered as the next replacement term.)

J. Hoberman, Village Voice: “…The protean Fassbender plays a proper Jung, steely yet agonized; Mortensen’s self-amused, paranoid Freud is a more unusual piece of work. Mind ablaze, he sees repression everywhere. The mystical Jung believes that nothing happens by accident; for Freud, all accidents have meaning.”

(And for Spielrein, her therapy is an accident waiting to happen.)

Dr. Sandra Fenster, Ph.D., psychoanalyst (from a post on Psychology Today): “…Jung lost his objectivity–something an analyst cannot afford to do. With his patient, Sabina Spielrein, Jung’s own insatiable needs got the best of him; he confused them for hers. That is what analysis is not. And, that is the danger in the method.”

(And this is the voice of reason.)

Nov 01

“The Prince of Tides”/”A Dangerous Method”

Kind of continuing the Halloween theme, today I present clips from two movies, The Prince of Tides (1991), and an upcoming release, A Dangerous Method (2011). The scariness today, though, relates to therapist boundaries.

#1.  The film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy could have been better in many ways. But, even though many readers were disappointed, it did receive a good number of film/acting award nominations. Here’s the trailer:

So, did you get the picture from that? Nick Nolte‘s married character, Tom Wingo, travels to New York and tries to help Dr. Lowenstein (Barbra Streisand) help his suicidal sister. In essence, he’s a family member also receiving therapeutic services from Lowenstein—but can you tell that she doesn’t appear to see it quite that way?

The following brief clip zeroes in more closely on a pivotal point in the evolution of Wingo and Lowenstein’s inappropriate relationship:

This film is scary because (A) Nick Nolte actually earned a Golden Globe for this, (B) many of the movie’s fans thought it was a great romantic drama, (C) the film was actually billed and marketed as a romantic drama, or (D) the therapist violates major ethics.

If you answered any or all of the above, well, at least you agree that this clip is scary.

#2.  A Dangerous Method is new and won’t be released in the U.S. until 11-23-11. Its plot borrows from a chapter in psychoanalytic history when Freud mentored Jung. This excerpt from the Variety review (the film was seen at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year) further introduces it:

Less concerned with the treatment of mental illness than with the way social norms encourage the suppression of human impulse, Christopher Hampton’s exceptionally coherent, literate script (adapted from his play “The Talking Cure” and John Kerr’s 1993 book “A Most Dangerous Method”) hinges on an unorthodox experiment Jung undertook with Sabina Spielrein, a Russian Jewish woman whom he treated for hysteria, and who later became a significant psychoanalyst in her own right.

Now, watch the trailer to see what kind of “experiment” was allegedly undertaken:

Reviewer Shaun Monro recently called this movie “…a well-acted skewering of overreaching psychology.” Overreaching. Good word.

Interesting that we have so few movies that attempt to represent the field of psychotherapy, and when we do, so few of them are not about the violation of therapist boundaries and ethics.

And that’s scary in and of itself.