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The Divided Self: An Existential Study in…

The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness (Penguin… (original 1960; edition 1990)

by R. Laing

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1,000812,937 (3.83)6
Title:The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness (Penguin Psychology)
Authors:R. Laing
Info:Penguin (1990), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness by R. D. Laing (1960)


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This is an absorbing introduction to schizophrenia from an existential and phenomenological point of view. That is, with an intent to understand the ways that people think and feel and experience the world who are heading towards schizophrenia, and who are schizophrenic. It is made clear that there is a spectrum of schizoid traits (ways of feeling and of viewing/responding mentally to the world) between well adjusted people and those clinically schizophrenic. Some people have schizoid world views and live a normal-appearing life for many years (by coping mechanisms and pretending to be how they view others to be), while for others these world views lead to progressively more unusual behaviour and thought patterns until they lose any coherence of thought and sense of self.

Firstly, R.D. Laing explains the main concepts required for a basic understanding of schizophrenia. One of the most important of these is “ontological security” - the degree to which we feel or don't feel confident of our existence (bodily or mentally), in the world, and also of the existence of the outside world itself, other selves, and the ability to differentiate between oneself, others, and the world. A baby is not ontologically secure when it is born as it does not have a sufficiently complex world view, but this, along with a sense of ontological security usually develops as it grow up. Hence there is a range of world views and levels of ontological security within the healthy population.
In many schizophrenics this lack of ontological security means that they feel vulnerable to destruction by becoming absorbed or engulfed or dissipated by the world or others, and so create one or more false personas as a defensive mechanism so that their true inner self remains safely insulated from the outside. This lack of security is often felt as a subconscious unease and anxiety when faced with particular situations, and can be heightened by certain environmental and familial factors. The creation of false selves can often progress to a feeling of separation of the body and self (due to the false persona becoming more strongly associated with the body), and a further loss of ontological security, resulting in an increase in severity of the condition.
This issue of ontological security is not really discussed with regard to the idealist or materialist philosophies that themselves place emphasis on certain aspects of reality, though the parallels are obvious, and would provide material enough for another book. As would the mind body dualism of Descartes, which though discussed only theoretically by many philosophers, is actually one of the main sources of ontological insecurity of some types of schizophrenics.
Laing presents several interesting case studies throughout the book, mainly from patients he has encountered. In these he tries to understand the patterns of thinking and upbringing that have caused people to develop their atypical world views.
I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in psychology, theory of mind, or philosophy. It is very accessible and humanising, and introduces what is probably one of the most interesting psychological conditions. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Dec 28, 2015 |
Is it bad that every time I read Laing's books, I feel like I'm reading my own biography? ( )
  Melissarochell | Jul 20, 2013 |
The Glaswegian grenade attack.
2 vote mdstarr | Sep 11, 2011 |
Succinct and very readable account of the descent into schizophrenic psychosis, and how it develops from the 'normal' tendency to divide oneself between a 'true' inner self and a 'false' self or persona which is presented to the rest of the world. If the divide or conflict between the 'true' and 'false' selves becomes too extreme, this can develop into a schizoid split personality, and then can further descend into full-blown psychosis. Laing describes his approach as 'existential-phenomenological' and draws on sources including Heidegger, Husserl, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus, and Kafka. He traces several case studies, some in more depth than others, with chilling direct quotes from his patients. He also argues that it is crucial to consider not only the schizophrenic individual, but the 'schizophregenic' family, i.e. one that tends to reinforce the situations leading to full-blown schizophrenic psychosis. Hence he also discusses the reactions of family members and spouses. Laing wrote the 1st edition in 1956 when he was 28 and working as a physician at the Tavistock-Portman Clinic in Hampstead.
6 vote eccentrica | Jan 18, 2009 |
The Glaswegian grenade attack.
1 vote muir | Dec 7, 2007 |
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The term schizoid refers to an individual the totality of whose experience is split in two main ways: in the first place, there is a rent in his relation with the world and, in the second, there is a disruption of his relation with himself.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140135375, Paperback)

Dr. Laing's first purpose is to make madness and the process of going mad comprehensible. In this, with case studies of schizophrenic patients, he succeeds brilliantly, but he does more: through a vision of sanity and madness as 'degrees of conjunction and disjunction between two persons where the one is sane by common consent' he offers a rich existential analysis of personal alienation.

The outsider, estranged from himself and society, cannot experience either himself or others as 'real'. He invents a false self and with it he confronts both the outside world and his own despair. The disintegration of his real self keeps pace with the growing unreality of his false self until, in the extremes of schizophrenic breakdown, the whole personality disintegrates.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:34 -0400)

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Case studies of schizophrenic patients making madness and the process of going mad comprehensible.

(summary from another edition)

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