In my last post I described frotteurism, which the APA lists as one of their mental disorders/illnesses. The central theme of this blog is that there are no mental illnesses – that mental illnesses are essentially psychiatrists’ ways of conceptualizing ordinary human problems for the purposes of consolidating turf and legitimizing the use of drugs to alter people’s behavior and mood.
This is not to say that the behaviors in question are not problems. They certainly are. Frotteurism is a case in point. A man who uses the crowd cover of trains and buses to press his genitals against non-consenting females clearly has a problem. The question is: how can we explain this behavior? Why does he do it?
Socialization is the process by which we acquire the skills necessary to function in society. The newborn has no sense of the needs/rights of others. He is a bundle of pure and utter selfishness. During childhood his parents and other significant adult figures instill in him an appropriate measure of regard for other people’s rights and needs. They also help him acquire an appropriate level of personal control. During his formative years he acquires the ability to control his immediate needs, to respect the rights of others, and to pursue the attainment of long-term goals. This is a complex process, but it is generally achieved through the long-established practices of consistently applying appropriate rewards and punishments and through the process of good example (role modeling).
Now it’s a fairly obvious fact of life that this socialization process isn’t always entirely successful. We have all encountered adults who are “spoilt brats” or who routinely afford more priority to short-term than to long-term goals, or who blatantly disregard the rights of others.
The reasons for these failures in socialization are as varied as the population. Sometimes the parents simply didn’t know what they should have been doing. Other times they were drinking and drugging and just didn’t care. Other times there was conflict and tension between the parents, and the child “slipped through the cracks.” Other times the parents themselves weren’t adequately socialized and so the role modeling was inadequate. And so on.
In order to understand why an individual is deficient in these areas, one needs to examine the individual case closely. So in the case of frotteurism, we have an individual who routinely disregards the rights of females (i.e. the right to be free from molestation) and who probably lacks the social skills necessary for normal heterosexual interactions.
The explanation of his behavior is:
1. Like almost all men he has an internal drive to make genital contact with women.
2. He has not acquired the skill/habit of controlling and channeling this drive in socially appropriate ways.
Note that this is not a complete explanation of the behavior in question. If we wish to understand why an individual behaves in a certain way, we must devote a good deal of time and energy to studying and examining the individual case. There are no shortcuts in behavioral analysis.
This is in marked contrast to the APA’s implied position, i.e., that he engages in this behavior because he has a mental illness called frotteurism. The facile nature of this explanation is seldom articulated, but this kind of simplistic thinking underlies the response of the mental health system (and frequently of the judicial authorities) to these individuals.
Next Post: More on sexual disorders.