The Dangers of the Self-Narrative

In an interview in the July issue of The Sun, Gary Greenberg, a controversial psychotherapist critical of psychiatry, believes that rooting mental illness almost entirely in biology overlooks the complex environmental, social, cultural, and political mores that shape identity.

The article—“Who Are You Calling Crazy?”—was soon wrinkled, dog-eared, and covered in yellow highlighter. My favorite observation from Greenberg: “I believe we become the people we think are.”

While a diagnosis is helpful in understanding symptoms and behavior, he warns that it can become a primary identifier, a crutch.

Recently writer Elizabeth Gilbert announced her separation from her husband, a man she introduced at the end of her landmark memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. My copy of that book is also wrinkled, dog-eared, and covered in yellow highlighter. After reading it in my twenties, I aspired to write memoir, too. The book was a powerful guide, a beacon I took as gospel.

Looking back, I am weary of how easy it is to create the self as brand, a commodity, especially in creative nonfiction. We usually want to end our piece on an upward trajectory, wiser and—most vital—happier than before. Greenberg notes that the the flip side to the pursuit of happiness is the belief that if you aren’t fulfilled or happy, you have failed in some respect. Life is cyclical. Happiness is not always a constant, nor should it be. I will remember that.







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