Going back a few years because I got curious about our political leaders these days, so looking for the definition, I found this article:
Leaving the past behind: what became of the anal personality?Nick Haslam, The University of Melbourne
In theory, bad scientific ideas are abandoned and replaced by better ones. We no longer believe living things are animated by a vital force or that combustible matter contains phlogiston. We don’t believe the bumps on our skulls reveal our strengths and weaknesses or that disease is caused by foul air.
Sometimes, though, ideas are abandoned too soon. They may simply become unfashionable or contain a germ of truth that is wrapped in a husk of error. Arguably one of Sigmund Freud’s oddest ideas – the existence of an anal character type – is an example of the latter. In this case, the baby may have been thrown out with its soiled bathwater.
The anal character
Writing in 1908, Freud identified a cluster of personality traits that came to be known as the “anal triad”. Orderliness refers to excessive conscientiousness and a concern with neatness and cleanliness. Obstinacy involves being stubborn, wilful and rigid. Parsimony represents stinginess with money and time.
Freud found these traits clustered together in people who expressed, during psychoanalytic treatment, an emotionally charged fascination with defecation. They recalled taking pleasure in emptying their bowels and in “holding back”, a pleasure Freud described as erotic in his expansive understanding of the word. Their anal traits originated in this childhood obsession. Orderliness was a reaction against their fascination with filth, and obstinacy and miserliness were sublimated, socially acceptable expressions of faecal retention.
Later psychoanalytic theorists such as Ernest Jones and Karl Abraham filled in Freud’s sketch of the anal personality. This character type was perfectionistic, pedantic, detail oriented, prone to disgust, and excessively self-reliant. Anal characters had a passion for classifying, organising and statistics and they were drawn to collecting objects like coins and stamps which, to Freudians, symbolised excrement (filthy lucre).
Anal characters were often “notorious bores” afflicted by “Sunday neurosis”: the inability to relax on the weekend. Writers speculated they were fascinated by tunnels, tended not to change underwear “more than is absolutely necessary” and were exceedingly sparing in their use of toilet paper.
Research on the anal character
In the mid 20th century researchers began to subject these pungent ideas to empirical scrutiny. Some of their findings were encouraging: anal character traits did tend to cluster together among adults, although they formed a spectrum rather than a type. However the more basic question is whether these traits are rooted in early childhood and linked to defecation. If not, the anal character is in no meaningful sense anal.
One amusing study examined whether anal characters were indeed particularly troubled by faeces. People high or low in anal traits were asked to identify by touch objects submerged in different liquids. In one experimental condition that liquid was water and in the other a malodorous pseudo-faecal mixture of flour and used crankcase oil. As predicted, anal characters performed more poorly in the faecal condition, supposedly thrown off by their excremental anxieties.
Other research was less supportive, however. Studies repeatedly failed to find any correlation between aspects of childhood toilet training and anal traits in adulthood. Cross-cultural studies found no link between the severity of a culture’s toilet training regimes and its rigidity or other anal trends.
The end of the anal character?
As Freudian ideas about the anal character failed to receive empirical support, and psychoanalytic theory was increasingly eclipsed in psychology, they were progressively abandoned. In the Google books database the term “anal character” hit its peak popularity in 1956, tailing off sharply thereafter. “Anal personality” held on a little longer, cresting in 1987 but then dropping precipitously to the point where it is rarely used today.
So has the anal character been wiped from the field? Reports of its death are greatly exaggerated, as anal traits have reappeared in several new guises in more recent personality psychology. Active research programs explore the complexities of perfectionism, orderliness, disgust proneness and detail focus. However, the best preserved expression of this very undead idea is obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD).
OCPD is a psychiatric diagnosis that is alive and unwell. It refers to a pervasive pattern of inflexibility, compulsiveness, overwhelming need for mental and interpersonal control, and excessive attention to detail. Studies suggest it may be the most common of the ten recognised personality disorders, and thus the preeminent form of disturbed personality.
The diagnostic criteria for this condition align almost perfectly with Freud’s portrait of the anal character. Orderliness reappears as perfectionism and preoccupation with rules and lists. Obstinacy returns as rigidity and a reluctance to delegate tasks. Parsimony lives on in miserly spending habits and an inability to discard worn out objects.
Freud’s anal character type is neither anal nor a type. Even so, cleansed of its dirty connotations, it captures a common personality variant that remains with us to this day. Freud’s bad idea has been not so much abandoned as recycled into a few better ones.
After a lengthy absence, I re-publish this interesting article which sort of mirrors
what I posted about in April:
FOREST BATHING - WALD GEGEN CORONA-VIREN
A radical nature-based agenda would help society overcome the psychological effects of coronavirusMatthew Adams, University of Brighton
More of us than ever are stuck indoors, whether we are working at home, self-isolating, or socially distancing from other households. Long periods of isolation are already impacting many people’s mental health and will continue to do so.
This reinforces the surge of research exploring the psychological benefits of connecting to nature that has developed in recent years. The idea is also growing that encouraging time in and engagement with nature has enormous potential in terms of mental health and wellbeing.
There are more and more programmes explicitly aimed at helping people with experiences of distress by providing structured contact with nature. These are variously referred to as nature-based interventions, ecotherapy or green care. A growing evidence base suggests they are effective in alleviating distress and fostering recovery and resilience – for people but also, at least potentially, for nature too.
I think programmes like this need to be rolled out en masse, with a few vital provisos.
My work often involves evaluating nature-based interventions from a psychological perspective. I have repeatedly witnessed the benefits of time spent in nature for those involved.
One organisation I work with, called Grow, takes small groups of six to eight people – often strangers at first – into nature. Participants all suffer, or have suffered, from debilitating forms of psychological distress and are recruited on that basis. Like many such services, Grow operates with funding from sources like the National Lottery, larger charities and local council grants to run a number of programmes a year.
Clients are not yet referred through or commissioned by the health service. Your doctor might be more likely today to suggest you get outside more in a move towards green prescriptions. But institutionalised health provision is still catching up with the evidence of the benefits of structured, supported and sustained contact with nature.
At Grow, trained professionals run a series of activities to help participants connect to nature on daily trips, once a week, for eight weeks. Activities include mindfulness, silent walks, foraging, sharing food, identifying flora and fauna, building fires, arts and crafts using natural objects, and reflective diaries, alongside more traditional active conservation activity like planting, clearing and coppicing.
Colleagues and I have collected surveys, diaries and interview data about the project over a number of years. Our findings reveal how transformative the experience has been for participants. (I was so impressed I later became a trustee of the charitable organisation involved.) We found plenty of evidence of the psychological benefits of nature connection, but also, vitally, something else – a deepening of social connectedness.
For people struggling emotionally, socially or psychologically, just being in nature seems to rekindle their ability to relate to and engage with others. Feeling present and “held” by the natural environment can nurture new and positive forms of social contact, which in turn enhances experiences of nature.
So for me, while there are always important caveats (such as the need for on-hand trained professional support), the benefits of a range of nature-based projects are unequivocal. They can be used as therapeutic interventions for people struggling to cope. They also work preventatively, by helping to maintain a sense of wellbeing, happiness, awe and belonging.
A human right
The impact of coronavirus-induced isolation on mental health is already mirrored in rising psychiatric diagnoses. And so the need for these kinds of interventions has never been greater. It is not enough to just encourage people outdoors. For many, access to nature is practically difficult. For others, it is an alien concept.
There are projects like Grow across the world and they are chronically underfunded. We need more of them. We need our governments to be funding projects like this as a matter of urgency, rolling them out on a national scale. Doctors, nurses and other primary care professionals should be able to refer people to local green care services as part of a wider shift towards “social prescribing”.
This is not only a psychological issue. Access to nature is not equal. The richest 20% of areas in England offer access to five times the amount of green space as the most deprived 10%.
If nature is so fundamental to our wellbeing, it should be understood as a right rather than a luxury. This is why diverse organisations such as walkers’ rights group the Ramblers and the mental health charity MIND are increasingly calling for legally binding targets that guarantee people’s access to nature. This should be part of a radical shake up of health and care policy.
We also cannot ignore the fact that nature is in retreat, decimated as ecological devastation is wrought across the globe. In this context, contact with nature might seem futile, contradictory even. There is arguably something perverse about asking nature to make us well at the same time as we are destroying it.
But the movement is evolving rapidly. One of the most promising developments I’ve seen is the growth of “reciprocal restoration” projects – interventions explicitly designed to combine restoring people with restoring natural environments.
The potential for more collective forms of green care, such as the mass mobilisation of volunteers, is well worth exploring. Evidence also suggests that the more access to nature we have, the more we come to care for and want to defend the natural world.
There are already signs that we are at last more willing to face up to the realities of ecological crisis – if the shift in nature documentaries, the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the growing youth climate movement are anything to go by.
So perhaps it’s possible that an ambitious push for nature-based interventions might further encourage a groundswell of action that is truly restorative – of both humans and nature.
MORE NEWS TO CONSIDER:
Coronavirus: WHO backflips on virus stance by condemning lockdowns
Lockdowns have been used to control the coronavirus around the world.
Now a WHO official has questioned the success of them.
The World Health Organisation has backflipped on its original COVID-19 stance after calling for world leaders to stop locking down their countries and economies.
Dr. David Nabarro from the WHO appealed to world leaders yesterday, telling them to stop “using lockdowns as your primary control method” of the coronavirus.
He also claimed that the only thing lockdowns achieved was poverty – with no mention of the potential lives saved.
“Lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer,” he said. ...........................READ MORE