PSYCHOLOGY: Are you analysing me?

I am a psychologist.

If you put it like this, the answer to the question is no. Firstly because I’m not that clever. Partly because I don’t care whether the twitch in your left foot means you have mother-issues. But mainly because I don’t want to. It’s a really horrible thing to do to people. Especially at parties.

We hate being scrutinised like this because deep down we may fear that there is something terribly wrong with us. Sooner or later we’ll be unmasked as the imposter we are. And then everyone will see the pain or humiliation we’ve worked so hard to conceal. It’s this concealed crazy core that we fear a steely-eyed shrink might just cotton on to over drinks and canapés. We don’t want to be rumbled.

But this is where psychology can comfort us, not expose us.

Every year at university I lecture my way through the entire alphabet of mental distress, from arachnophobia to zoomorphism. Every year I see exactly what psychology does. It helps us make sense of some of the most complex and disturbing human behaviours. It tells us why this woman talks to herself, or why that man can’t get out of bed. Why this child bites his teachers, or why this old lady washes her dishes in the toilet. It helps us understand these things. And therefore gives us the chance to accept the people who do them. Not as weird creatures from a nightmare planet we never want to visit, but as human beings like ourselves.

And here’s the comfort. The more we understand the distressing extremes of human experience, the more we get a chance to come to terms with the bits of craziness that lurk in all of us. In learning to love others we learn to love ourselves.

I guess that’s my take on psychology. It’s not a popular or widely held view. But in my opinion psychology gives us the understanding we need to love other people. That’s what it’s good for.

That’s why at parties, or anywhere else for that matter, I have no interest in analysing people. Instead I’m more often asking a different question: in what way is this person a gift to be prized or celebrated? And if ever, out of fear or suspicion I resort to viewing the people around me as categories or numbers, like insects pinned to a board, it’s just a failure of imagination on my part. For as a good friend of mine is fond of saying, perception without love is sin.