Yesterday I watched the biopic ‘About a Son’ in which Kurt Cobain discusses his childhood, music career and views on life. An edited version of 25 hours of interview tapes recorded a year before he committed suicide, the film offers some insight into the negative thought patterns that seemed to be driving Kurt towards taking his own life.
From the film I got the impression that Kurt exhibited many of the characteristics and symptoms of someone who suffers from social anxiety disorder.
His childhood was blighted by an unaffectionate parent and problems at school from feeling isolated and bullied by the other kids. He comments how he used to feel constantly paranoid and threatened by other people, and even had thoughts of violence because of it.
If you suffer from a lack of affection, a difficulty to connect with other people and social awkwardness then this can lead to an irrational fear, distrust or hatred of other people in adult life. And it’s believed by psychotherapists that the underlying thought processes which lead to social anxiety disorder are formed by unhappy childhood experiences.
Kurt was known to be a recluse, withdrawn and rarely engaged with other people if he could avoid it, typical symptoms of someone who suffered from social phobia.
Kurt’s answer to his troubling thoughts and his chronic stomach pains was to self medicate with opiates and heroin, which would have offered temporary escape but exasperated his problems in the long run.
A life without hope?
Nobody really knows what drove someone who was wealthy, successful and had a baby girl to feel that life was so futile that suicide was the only escape from their misery. But it’s likely that it was his inability to overcome his troubling thought patterns that made his life seem so intolerable.
Now I’m not an expert on Kurt Cobain and haven’t read any of the books on his life, but from my perspective it seems that he could have benefited from cognitive behavioural therapy.
Social phobia and other social anxiety disorders are driven by irrational, negative thought patterns. If Kurt could have been helped to understand how it was the unhelpful childhood experiences driving his subconscious hatred of people and gloomy outlook on life then maybe he could have been directed onto another path.
You feel the way that you think
The way our brains respond to the world around us is a complex puzzle which psychologists and therapists are still making sense of.
But if the brain has been programmed to think in an unhelpful way because of a troubling childhood then, with practice and patience, it can be reprogrammed to think in a more, realistic and helpful manner.
Perhaps if Kurt had learned to challenge his negative thoughts and to replace them with more objective ways of thinking then he might still be with us today, and writing more optimistic songs filled with life and hope because of it.