Some people enjoy being martyrs. They love to tell about the terrible strain they have been under, the amount of work they have done, or the number of times they have collapsed. One of my patients gave every evidence of satisfaction as he told about his various breakdowns. “The last time I was ill,” or “That time when I was in the sanatorium,” were frequent phrases on his lips. Finally, after I had asked him if he would boast about the number of times he had awkwardly fallen down in the street, and had shown him that a neurosis is not really a matter to be proud of, he saw the point and stopped taking pleasure in his mistakes.
Such signs of pleasure in the wrong things are evidence of suppressed wishes which we do not acknowledge but try to gratify in indirect ways. The pleasure which ought to be associated with the idea of good work well done has somehow been switched over to the idea of being an invalid. The satisfaction which ought to go with a sense of power and ability to do things has attached itself to the idea of weakness and inability. The pleasurable feeling-tone which normally belongs to ministering to others, regresses in the nervous invalid to the infantile satisfaction of being ministered unto.
[Footnote 46: For a further elaboration of this theme, see Holt: The Freudian Wish.]
But these things are only a habit. A good look in the mirror soon makes one right about face and start in the other direction. Once started, a good habit is built up with surprising ease. It is really much more satisfying to cook a good dinner for the family’s comfort than to think about one’s ills; much pleasanter to enjoy a good meal than to insist on hot water and toast. Once we have satisfied our suppressed longings in more desirable ways, or by a process of self-training have initiated a new set of habits, we feel again the old zest in normal affairs, the old interest and pleasure in activities which add to the joy of life. Thus does re-education fit a man to take his place in the world’s work as a socially useful being, no longer a burden, but a contributor to the sum total of human happiness.
=Knowing and Doing.= Having set out to learn how to outwit our nerves, we are now ready to sum up conclusions and in the following chapters to apply them to the more common nervous symptoms. It has been shown that a nervous person is in great need of change,—not, indeed, a change in climate or in scene, in work or in diet, but a change in the hidden recesses of his own being. Outwitting nerves means first and foremost changing one’s mind, an inner and spiritual process very different from the kind of change which used to be prescribed for the nervous invalid.