Pathologizing is the practice of labeling something or someone as psychologically abnormal or unhealthy. This word mostly has negative connotations and isn't typically applied to legitimate scientific knowledge or medical practices. As such, pathologizing is heavily associated with the use of popular psychology by officials, administrators, academics, authors, public speakers and individuals. The following are illustrative examples of what it means to pathologize.
EmotionLabeling emotions such as sadness with names of disorders.
CharacterLabeling people with personality types from popular psychology. This may oversimplify the vast pool of human character traits down to a handful of silos.
BehaviorLabeling behaviors as abnormal using the names of disorders. For example, a teacher who labels a student with a disorder because they don't listen to their lectures or comply with their demands.
ControlThe use of popular psychology to control others. For example, a parent who gaslights a child into believing they are abnormal so that they will become more dependent on the parent.Attempting to apply popular psychology to yourself, others, culture and society in ways that don't lead to any pragmatic results or realistic interpretations. For example, an employee who thinks their manager has negative reactions to them because the manager must have a wide range of psychological issues when in fact that manager is reasonable to criticise the employee based on their low performance.
SocietyIn theory, a society could diagnose a large percentage of its population with psychological disorders as a means of control.
PoliticsAttempts to pathologize the political opposition by labeling them with concepts from psychology.
CommunicationThe use of popular psychology to create fear around a message for the purposes of influence, propaganda or advertising.
MedicalizationMedicalization is the process whereby things are recognized as being a medical concern that were previously viewed as behavioral, spiritual or cultural.
NotesBeginning in the 1970s, it became increasingly common for people to use concepts from popular psychology in their interpretations, communication and work. This is perhaps related to the proliferation of self-help books in the same time period that helped to spread basic concepts in psychology.
This is the complete list of articles we have written about character traits.
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ReferencesKardefelt‐Winther, Daniel, et al. "How can we conceptualize behavioural addiction without pathologizing common behaviours?." Addiction 112.10 (2017): 1709-1715.Dudley-Marling, Curt, and Krista Lucas. "Pathologizing the language and culture of poor children." Language Arts 86.5 (2009): 362-370.Theodossopoulos, Dimitrios. "On de-pathologizing resistance." (2014): 415-430.Ullucci, Kerri, and Tyrone Howard. "Pathologizing the poor: Implications for preparing teachers to work in high-poverty schools." Urban Education 50.2 (2015): 170-193.Heydon, Rachel, and Luigi Iannacci. Early childhood curricula and the de-pathologizing of childhood. University of Toronto Press, 2008.
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