The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness

The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness

In The Divided Self (1960), Laing contrasted the experience of the "ontologically secure" person with that of a person who "cannot take the realness, aliveness, autonomy and identity of himself and others for granted" and who consequently contrives strategies to avoid "losing his self". Laing explains how we all exist in the world as beings, defined by others who carry a m...

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Title:The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness
Author:R.D. Laing
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The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness Reviews

  • Rowan

    This book blew my goddamn mind. Of course now I'm convinced I'm schizophrenic, but then again...

  • Kira

    After a second, or third read (I can't remember), I still consider this the best phenomenological psychology I've ever read.

    Speaking/>The

    After a second, or third read (I can't remember), I still consider this the best phenomenological psychology I've ever read.

  • Jesse

    One cannot go too long in this life without meeting people who have more or less lost their humanity (try saying "Hello!" to everyone you meet today on the street; you will invariably be met with not a few mute lips and stone-faced grimaces!). This is called alienation, and schizophrenia is the psychological term for it. I like to call it the Madonna-syndrome, because the primary symptom is not identifying with what one projects oneself to be. Hence, schizophrenics are everything in fantasy beca

    One cannot go too long in this life without meeting people who have more or less lost their humanity (try saying "Hello!" to everyone you meet today on the street; you will invariably be met with not a few mute lips and stone-faced grimaces!). This is called alienation, and schizophrenia is the psychological term for it. I like to call it the Madonna-syndrome, because the primary symptom is not identifying with what one projects oneself to be. Hence, schizophrenics are everything in fantasy because they are nothing in reality; self-willing their death so as to preserve their life from external death - it is the imagination that has destroyed reality. No one outside of Laing chose to talk about this topic with the understanding that what schizophrenics were doing and saying wasn't insane, but a mere reflection of their personal, and perhaps our larger social tragedy. As a result, Laing was labeled an anti-psychiatrist and stigmatized as a crazy lefty, but for those who really want to understand what happens to individuals in an individualist, i.e. alienated, society, there is no better resource in all of psychological literature than Laing's book here.

  • Rachel

    Me: OMG this book is diagnosing all my problems!!!!1!11

    Husband: Then why is it so small?

    He was being funny, but he was also making a valid point. The explanation is that this book gets at the root cause of so many things...

    The psychology classes I took in college were such awkward mashups of psychoanalysis and behaviorism, at once oversimplifications and obfuscations. If I'd known psychology could be like this, I might have majored in it.

    The philosophy c

    Me: OMG this book is diagnosing all my problems!!!!1!11

    Husband: Then why is it so small?

    He was being funny, but he was also making a valid point. The explanation is that this book gets at the root cause of so many things...

    The psychology classes I took in college were such awkward mashups of psychoanalysis and behaviorism, at once oversimplifications and obfuscations. If I'd known psychology could be like this, I might have majored in it.

    The philosophy classes I took in college were more about things than about being--more about essence than existence, I guess, in more traditional terms--certainly more about object than about subject. They provided fascinating intellectual exercise, but they seemed so irrelevant. If I'd known philosophy could be like this, I might have majored in it.

    As it was, the best I could do was major in English, which suited me just fine. But I'm pretty sure this book exemplifies what I was really trying to get at.

  • JJVid

    From a foundation of ontological insecurity, in which the 'self' is divided from the body, the schizoid personality finds refuge within the safe haven of incomprehensibility. Never feeling secure within a monistic, holistic sense, the divided self fractures into semi-autonomous entities which serve to shield the person from an imagined external threat of annihilation. When your sense of being, of life and self-worth, are threatened by the very notion of becoming perceived it bodes you well to be

    From a foundation of ontological insecurity, in which the 'self' is divided from the body, the schizoid personality finds refuge within the safe haven of incomprehensibility. Never feeling secure within a monistic, holistic sense, the divided self fractures into semi-autonomous entities which serve to shield the person from an imagined external threat of annihilation. When your sense of being, of life and self-worth, are threatened by the very notion of becoming perceived it bodes you well to become enigmatic and misunderstood. For when you are rendered incomprehensible to the Other you face no fear of destruction, no fear of being killed, no anxiety of becoming 'found out' and subsequently rejected. Laing postulates that schizophrenia is a reaction to the basic insecurity of rejection; that by adopting the persona of a false-self, by hiding behind a masquerade, the true self is immune from all attacks. Lock yourself behind impenetrable walls and you have no fear of extinction.

    Yet isolation is sure to destroy as well. In absence of connection to the world without the self is surely to die. You murder yourself to prevent others from murdering you. It is a damning, futile attempt to preserve the 'self' by starving.

    I can't help but think the strategy of disclosing one's own identity by fabricating a false-self to portray outwardly is a normal, natural stratagem. To an extent, we all wear a mask. Usually, we mask ourselves to hide seemingly undesirable traits for the time being until we feel comfortable with fuller expression. With the schizoid turned schizophrenic, however, this mask is a Medusa's head petrifying others before they have the chance to petrify us in turn. Have you had the anxious notion that someone sees you too clearly, sees your for who you really are, with all your faults, foibles, and detriments? And isn't such a situation absolutely petrifying? Reverting to the masquerade is consoling. You can't ever feel insecure in this situation if the persona you project is not the 'self' which you believe to be YOU. It becomes more than a comfort to hide so well, to become invulnerable by being not-you.

    But when 'you' become 'not you' what basis do you have for relating to the world? To others? How can you truly 'live' by not being yourself? In what sense are you truly alive after you've murdered your 'self'?

  • Mat McNeil

    R.D. Laing was only twenty-eight years old when he penned his magnum opus, which is a brilliant and visionary orientation to mental illness, informed by the masters of existential-phenomenology (Jaspers, Sartre, et al.), and a work which made him a counter-culture star. For Laing, as for Foucault, mental illness cannot be imputed to biological defect alone. Such a conception amounts to a scapegoat as it outright vindicates society-at-large (and other environmental dynamics) from the fundamental

    R.D. Laing was only twenty-eight years old when he penned his magnum opus, which is a brilliant and visionary orientation to mental illness, informed by the masters of existential-phenomenology (Jaspers, Sartre, et al.), and a work which made him a counter-culture star. For Laing, as for Foucault, mental illness cannot be imputed to biological defect alone. Such a conception amounts to a scapegoat as it outright vindicates society-at-large (and other environmental dynamics) from the fundamental role it plays. Mental illness, then, is a product of our social relations, master-slave dynamics within family and society which inevitably cause some to become "ontologically insecure." The ontologically insecure person is affectively cut off from experience, withdrawn unto himself, enclosed inside a central citadel which is impenetrable to others. Laing suggests that what the schizophrenic attempts to accomplish is a "death inside life" as affective engagement becomes impossible and withdrawal becomes a desperate mode of existence. Such people are hopelessly oriented to life since the very experience and "look" of another is felt to be shattering and suicidal. He suggests that we need to meet the schizophrenic in the fog of his loneliness and break the tyranny of otherness so suffused in him (since the schizophrenic lives under the specter of an 'interiorized other'). This would involve going outside the confines of conventional psychotherapy (we need to integrate MDMA into therapy, in my opinion). "Real toads invade imaginary gardens" in this fine work pulled from your worst acid trip.

  • Ben Loory

    one of the best books i've ever read about the workings of the mind; right up there with

    ,

    , and

    . one of those books that presents the mind as a place and not just a bunch of terminology.

    on the other hand it makes me want to check myself into a mental hospital ASAP. but hey. pros and cons.

  • Maica

    This work resonates what I had been thinking for years, it's like a treasure chest filled with things that one knew with great familiarity. An in-depth description and analysis on the phenomenon of the Divided Self. It goes right into the heart of the situation, the inner world, and the dynamics of the Divided Self. The writing is simple and concise, philosophically insightful and psychologically satisfying. Somehow, the ontologically-secure person is the ideal that the self needs to strive for.

  • Paul Ataua

    Revisited “the Divided Self” after 40 years. Working with schizophrenics back then, it was like our bible . It was an approach that didn’t just start from noting down all the abnormalities and then bombarding the person with Thorazine. It tried to understand the differences, to make sense of what seemed to make no sense. I am not sure it got everything right, and maybe it was replacing one mistaken interpretation of schizophrenia with another mistaken interpretation, but it was one hell of an at

    Revisited “the Divided Self” after 40 years. Working with schizophrenics back then, it was like our bible . It was an approach that didn’t just start from noting down all the abnormalities and then bombarding the person with Thorazine. It tried to understand the differences, to make sense of what seemed to make no sense. I am not sure it got everything right, and maybe it was replacing one mistaken interpretation of schizophrenia with another mistaken interpretation, but it was one hell of an attempt to break away from the rigid “this person is mad and nothing makes sense” approach. It certainly helped me along the path to listening and to not equating difference with abnormality.

  • Brandt

    Moreover, existential identity requires others to recognize the individual as a person concomitant with one’s own recognition of self. Hence, it is impossible to consider the idea of perfection outside of a relationship with others. Or, as Lang writes, “[t]he self can be ‘real’ only in relation to real people and things” (Laing, 1969, p. 152). Therefore, the existential task is to become aware of one’s authentic ‘self’ and to see the freedom of choice the individual has from the multitude of possibilities in the givens of existence.

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