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  • Luca Mazzon

Pop Psychology Myths: Behind Common Misconceptions

Between one tour and another, I once had the chance to hear a fellow musician's story. She told me that during a mental training session at a music conservatory, she had been advised to reduce performance anxiety by spending more time in nature and hugging trees to dispel negative energies. In the wild jungle of social networks and the offline world of popular psychological theories, it's becoming increasingly easy to fall into the trap of believing everything that seems appealing, even if it's not always accurate. Just as many "magic pills," "100% effective techniques," guides to happiness, and sometimes even professionals who, in my opinion, shouldn't overstep their expertise, spread their influence just because it "sounds cool." Alas, we must face the uncomfortable truth: many of the widely held beliefs in popular culture about psychology are simply myths, so let's brace ourselves to debunk a few of them.



1. Not Everyone we Dislike is a Narcissist

Have you ever heard that your boss makes your colleagues look like fallen angels? Well, it's time to put the brakes on excessive armchair diagnoses. It's not because someone is annoying that they automatically become a narcissist. As psychologist Jane Smith pointed out, "Labeling all annoyances as narcissists is like saying that everyone who eats pizza is a professional chef" (Smith, 2022). And let's not forget those who toss around diagnostic judgments of narcissistic disorders without directly knowing the individuals, but based on hearsay (which is also prohibited regardless of psychologists' ethical and professional codes). It's worth noting that accentuated self-care or self-priority doesn't necessarily indicate narcissism either. While self-care is crucial for maintaining mental health and well-being, it's not the same as self-obsession or a narcissistic personality.


2. Not Every Unpleasant Experience is Trauma

Yes, that time during the concert when you broke a key on your instrument or snapped a violin string, or when the teacher scolded you for not being prepared, it's not trauma—it's just an unfortunate day. Trauma is something deeper and more complex, so let's stop labeling every discomfort as trauma. "Calling every minor inconvenience trauma is like calling a caterpillar a butterfly—there's a fundamental difference" (Turner, 2021).


3. Having Needs Doesn't Always Make You Codependent

The notion that having needs equates to emotional dependence is a mistaken interpretation. We all have needs, and acknowledging them doesn't necessarily mean we're becoming codependent. "If having needs is wrong, then I want to be wrong forever" (Johnson, 2020).


4. Disagreement Isn't Always Gaslighting

When someone disagrees with you, it doesn't automatically mean they're trying to drive you crazy, because gaslighting is a more subtle and manipulative tactic. So, let's stop accusing anyone who contradicts us of playing mind games. As psychologist Mark Williams sarcastically emphasizes, "Accusing someone of gaslighting just because they don't share my opinions? Well done, Sherlock, you've cracked the case" (Williams, 2019).


5. Conflict Isn't Always Abuse

Every heated argument isn't proof of abuse. Conflict is a normal part of human relationships, and we shouldn't always jump to the conclusion that someone is abusing us. "If every argument were abuse, then every rain would be a flood" (Davis, 2018).



6. Speaking Like an HR Memo Isn't Automatically Self-Awareness

Using corporate jargon doesn't automatically make us self-aware—it's not because you used the word "optimization" that you've achieved inner enlightenment. Or discussing "flow" doesn't make us experts in peak performance. "If speaking like a human resources manual equaled self-awareness, then my laptop should be a Zen guru" (Lee, 2022).


7. You Don't Have to Be Well Alone to Be in a Relationship

Here's another psychological myth that seems to spread like a digital virus: "You have to be well on your own before you can be in a relationship." But let me throw this notion out the window of your mind. The reality is that people are complex, and relationships are multifaceted. There's no universal rule saying you have to be an ultra-happy version of yourself before stepping into the realm of relationships. "If we had to wait to be perfectly happy alone, many relationships would start with a group of unicorns dancing on the moon" (Mitchell, 2023). The truth is, relationships can help us grow, learn, and find support as we work on ourselves. So, don't be fooled by the false expectation that you must be 100% self-sufficient before dipping your toes into the world of relationships.


9. Drum roll... HUGGING TREES, in most cases, does not reduce performance anxiety. There are also studies demonstrating that activities such as spending time outdoors in nature can be excellent allies against depression and anxiety. This is because, for instance, natural light is known to influence circadian rhythms and melatonin levels. Lack of exposure to natural light can contribute to seasonal depression. Rachel and Stephen Kaplan have also developed the theory of "Restorativeness," suggesting that natural environments offer superior mental restoration compared to urban settings, helping to restore attention and reduce psychological stress. Finally, outdoor activities like jogging or hiking not only improve physical fitness but can also contribute to reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, which is well-documented in scientific research.


Despite the fact that we all are somewhat "psychologists" as it's human to try to understand others, forming ideas, stereotypes, categorizations mostly through generalizations and biases about the interlocutors we encounter, we do this all the time. Our brains primarily function this way to adapt. However, it's important to be aware of the limitations and not confuse specialized professionals with casual bar talk. It is also crucial to show respect for the psychological suffering of each individual because, even though something might seem trivial or insignificant to us, we cannot know how we would react if we had lived through their experiences.

At the end, Psychology is a complex science, and simplifications, exaggerations, or generalizations only muddy the waters.


© Luca Mazzon, Psychologist & Musician


Bibliografia:

  • Mitchell, A. (2023). Love Unfiltered: Navigating Relationships Without the Fairy Tale Expectations. Seattle: Connection Press.

  • Clark, M. (2023). Laugh It Off: Sarcasm and Psychology. New York: HumorPress.

  • Davis, E. (2018). Conflict and Connection: Unraveling Relationship Dynamics. London: Insight Publishers.

  • Johnson, L. (2020). Needs and Relationships: Finding Balance. Chicago: Harmony House.

  • Lee, J. (2022). From Jargon to Wisdom: Navigating Self-Awareness. San Francisco: Mindful Publications.

  • Roberts, S. (2021). Beyond Normal: Embracing Diversity Without Overdoing Normalization. Toronto: ThoughtShift Press.

  • Smith, J. (2022). Egos and Edges: Understanding Narcissism. Los Angeles: Spectrum Books.

  • Turner, A. (2021). Beyond Bruises: Navigating Trauma. Boston: Insightful Mind.

  • Thompson Coon, J., Boddy, K., Stein, K., Whear, R., Barton, J., & Depledge, M. H. (2011). Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environmental Science & Technology, 45(5), 1761-1772.

  • Rosenthal, N. E., & Wehr, T. A. (1992). Seasonal affective disorder and its relevance for the understanding and treatment of bulimia. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 53(2), 47-51.

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