This paper posits that the real self is part of unified self, a self that is formless. On earth we are not aware of the nature of the real self. On earth we manifest in bodies. We perceive those bodies as nothing (this perception is more acute in so-called neurotics and the mentally ill). We then use our imaginations to construct idealized selves still in bodies and pursue those alternative selves. The ideal self is a replacement self, a substitute self. The neurotic sees his bodily self as not good and wants to replace it with an imaginary ideal self he invented. As long as he pursues the imaginary ideal self he is pursuing a chimera and is deluded. Mental health lies in giving up pursuit of the ideal self and accepting the bodily self for what it is, nothing and recognizing that there is another self, a formless (which folks call spirit) self that is eternal and identifying with it.
Perception Of The World As Meaningless, Desire To Make It Meaningful Through Personal Ideation And The Etiology Of Mental Disorders
By Ozodi Thomas Osuji
Karen Horney (1950) came very close to explicating the etiology of mental disorders. She failed only because she tried very hard to root her understanding in psychoanalytic methodology; if she had rooted it in existential perspective on life she would have explained it all and this paper would not be necessary. Briefly, she said that the neurotic is a person who does not like his real self, rejects his real self and posits a mentally constructed idealized self and pursues that ideal self in an obsessive-compulsive manner and fears not attaining it hence always has free floating anxiety (basic anxiety, she called it). Horney went on to say that the family plays a role in this situation. The parents of the neurotic to be child did not, in Carl Rogers (1951) terms accept him in a positive unconditional manner but instead conditionally, posited an idealized person that he had to become for them to accept him and thus he strives to become like the idealized person or else his parents rejected him. The neurotic rejected his real self and is pursuing a mentally constructed ideal self. In effect, the cause of neurosis is sociological, the demands of parents, families and society for children to become ideal before they are accepted. Carl Rogers built on this sociological etiology of mental disorders to urge parents who aim at producing healthy children to accept their children in an unconditionally positive manner. If a child is accepted without preconditions as to who he ought to be he would accept his entire self as good and therefore not develop self-rejection and neurotic desire to become an ideal other person.
Both Horney and Rogers are correct in descriptive understanding of the neurotic; however, what they did not fully grasp is the actual cause of neurosis and mental disorders in general.
This paper presents the real cause of neurosis.
THE REJECTION OF THE REAL SELF
The neurotic to be child right from the day he is born considers his body as not good enough. He generalizes and considers his self as not good enough. He hates his body and self and rejects his body and self. He then uses his mind to invent an ideal body and self and wants to become them. His life is characterized by pursuit of the ideal, perfect body and self. He experiences anxiety from fear of not attaining the ideal perfect self. Since there is no such thing as an ideal, perfect body and self the neurotic then is condemned to a life of perpetual anxiety from pursuit of a chimera that never materializes and yet he fears accepting his real self as it is.
The above description of the nature of neurosis is pure psychoanalysis ala Karen Horney. Neuroscience would consider it not good enough. As neuroscience sees it, mental disorders have biological etiology. In effect, there is something in the body, specifically in the brain of the neurotic child that makes him hate his body and strive after an ideal body. Contemporary biological psychology pretty much has reduced human behavior to biological causation.
Anxiety disorders is said to be caused by problematic functioning of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain (not enough of that inhibitory neurotransmitter); depression is said to be caused by insufficiency of the neurotransmitter serotonin; mania is said to be caused by too much of the excitatory neurotransmitter neuropiniphrine or acetylcholine; schizophrenia is said to be caused by too much of the neurotransmitter, dopamine in the brain.
Having reduced the causation of mental disorders to biochemical matters biological psychiatry treats the mentally ill with medications. If you are anxious you are given the various anxiolytics (such as Xanax, Ativan, Valium etc.); if you are depressed you are given the various serotonin reuptake blockers (such as Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft); if you are manic you are given anti mania medications (such as Lithium and Depakote), and if you are schizophrenic you are given the various neuroleptics (such as Zyprexa and Risperdal).
There is no doubt that these medications do reduce the gross symptoms of mental disorders but they do not heal them. They do not heal them because whereas there is always biological correlation in all mental disorders those are not the entire cause. There is an existential dimension to the genesis of mental disorders, a dimension this paper grapples with.
So, why did the neurotic to be child reject his real self? It is here that I part company with Western psychology (I am an African and I am supposing that African world view influences my view of the origin of mental disorders?).
The neurotic to be child had empirical reasons why he rejected his body and self. Invariably he inherited a problematic body (as were his parents who passed it to him) and a problematic family (a parent had his problematic body and hated it and desired ideal, perfect body and expected him to become ideal perfect body and self).
Body and family (society) play roles in the etiology of neurosis. But body and society play secondary role in the origin of neurosis.
(As A course in miracles, 1976, would say, sick bodies were chosen by those who have them to give them a reason to develop the life style they have. At this point I must say that whereas I may refer to other folk’s works that I do not use them to justify my perspective; I do not use so-called authorities in the field to give my views credibility. My perspective on mental disorders is strictly what makes sense to me. I worked in the mental health field for over twenty-five years and developed ideas on what is the cause of mental disorder and based on that told myself that contemporary Western mental health field puts the cart before the horse, has not fully grasped the cause of mental disorders hence is treating it wrongly and thus cannot cure it. I looked to my own understanding to enable me explain the origin of mental disorders and what to do about them. This paper and others represent my view; the reader can make of it what he or she likes; I may not necessarily have solid empirical evidence to back the view yet it is what makes sense to me. It does help neurotics heal themselves. If the reader is experimentally oriented and accepts only what he has tested and found valid he is free to subject my hypothesis to verification studies.)
PERCEPTION OF EXISTENCE ON EARTH AS MEANINGLESS IS AT THE ROOT OF NEUROSIS
What are at the heart of neurosis are the child’s perception that as he is he is no good; and his perception that the human body and self is not good. The neurotic to be child right from the moment he is born sees his body and self in body as not good. He sees existence in body as not good. He sees existence on earth as totally meaningless and pointless and rejects it.
This perception of the self and tis world as meaningless is at the root of all mental disorders. Until this point is grasped and accepted no mental health professional can heal the mentally ill.
The mentally ill person as a child (from the day he was born) sees his body and self, other peoples bodies and selves, the world and its social institutions as meaningless and pointless. The physical world, the social world, social institutions, and everything in this world to him is meaningless and pointless.
Put differently, the neurotic to be sees the self and its world as nothing, as having no value and worth. He sees everything in the empirical world as meaningless and pointless.
The neurotic to be child is able to have this perception of being on earth as nothing because developmentally he has reached a stage where that perception can be made.
Normal children developmentally cannot see their bodies and selves and the world as meaningless and pointless. Ninety or more percent of the people right from the moment they are born see their bodies and selves and the world as good and desirable and want to enjoy them. Normal persons are not pretending when they say that they like their bodies and that the world is a good place; they really mean it. Developmentally that is the only choice available to them.
On the other hand, about five percent of the human population right from the moment they are born see their bodies and selves and the world as worthless, valueless and meaningless and reject them.
This explanation of the origin of neurosis and mental disorders could be called existential; however, I do not like to fit my perception into already existing Western explanatory frameworks for mine is almost always slightly different from them; my hypothesis on the origin of mental disorders must therefore be seen as independent, although obviously it is shaped by my reading of Western psychology, philosophy and science in general.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE IDEAL SELF AND WHY HUMAN BEINGS DO SO
The human child cannot survive for a day on earth if he were to accept his initial perception of his body, self and the world as valueless and
meaningless. To live on earth he must play a mental trick on himself. Whereas he initially saw his body and self and the world as totally worthless and meaningless he denies that initial perception (drive it into what psychoanalysts would call his unconscious mind) and posits a mentally invented ideal self and world. He uses his mind to invent an alternative to the self and world he had concluded is worthless; he posits an ideal picture of his body, self and the world and pursues them in an obsessive-compulsive manner.
The neurotic child sees a repulsive world, rejects it and replaces it with an ideal, perfect alternative to that world. Subsequently, he devotes his entire life to trying to make the ideal and perfect possible; he tries to realize the ideal self and ideal everything.
Attempts to protect the false ideal self and live from it is what neurosis is all about. Protecting and living from the false ideal-self exacerbates all the negative emotions; the person becomes more prone to fear, anger, depression and paranoia. The false ideal self wants to be acknowledged by other people as the individual’s real- self and when it is not acknowledged feels fear or anger (or the other affects).
IDEAL SELF GIVES THE NEUROTIC PERSON MEANING IN A MEANINGLESS WORLD
The idealized self gives the neurotic person’s life meaning and purpose. As long as he seeks to attain the ideal, perfect self he feels that he is doing something meaningful and purposeful.
Erich Fromm (1955) observed that neurosis is a private religion; that the neurotic gives his life meaning from his neurosis. Normal persons give their lives meaning from religion and its gods; neurotics try to give their lives pseudo meaning by pursuing their false ideal selves and ideal everything; if they were not to pursue them they would see their lives as meaningless and contemplate suicide, so as to get out of what they see as a meaningless world.
If the neurotic were not to seek becoming the ideal, perfect self he would return to his original awareness that his self and the world are meaningless. The pursuit of the mentally constructed ideal self and ideal world gives the neurotic meaning and purpose and as such acts as his personal religion (for religion gives people meaning and purpose on why life in body should be tolerated).
THE IDEAL SELF CANNOT BE ATTAINED IN THIS WORLD
The ideal, perfect self is a mental construct; it is not real. That which is not real cannot be attained in the real-world of matter, space and time. The ideal, perfect body, self and world cannot be attained hence the neurotic is pursuing a chimera; his life is thus characterized by futile pursuit of the impossible ideal, perfect state. Yet he pursues the ideal in an obsessive-compulsive manner. If he were to let go of the pursuit of the ideal he would reawaken to his original conception of the world as totally pointless and would feel existential depression and perhaps destroy his life. The pursuit of the ideal and perfect self keeps the neurotic alive, albeit a disturbed life.
PURSUIT OF THE IDEAL SELF IS THE ORIGIN OF MENTAL DISORDERS
The ideal, perfect self is unreal and unrealizable. Therefore, the neurotic is seeking a delusional goal. Delusion and hallucination (DSM 1V) are the indicators of psychosis; therefore, the neurotic is seeking mental disorder by seeking ideal self and ideal everything.
HEALING MENTAL DISORDERS LIE IN RELINQUIHING PURSUIT OF THE IDEAL SELF AND ACCEPTING A MEANINGLESS WORLD
To heal his neurosis and mental disorders in general the neurotic must give up pursuit of the ideal body and self. He must accept his original assessment of the self and world as worthless, valueless and meaningless. He must accept the meaninglessness of being a human being.
If the reader is interested in existential philosophy he should see the writings of Sartre (1943); he could also look into Camus, Jasper, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.
Let me stress a point that Western psychologists in their naïve efforts to normalize neurotics miss: the neurotic cannot do what normal persons do, see his body and self as good and celebrate them. The normal person is existentially still incapable of seeing his body and self and the world as totally meaningless (you can stand on your head and tell him that the world is meaningless and he would not accept it for developmentally he cannot accept it…this accounts for why existentialist philosophy did not have mass appeal).
Normal persons value nothing (the body and its world) and do not know it. Normal persons are literally in deep slumber and take the dream world they see as real and meaningful.
On the other hand, neurotics are aware that the dream world they live in has no meaning but instead of accepting that reality they try to replace it with their mentally invented ideal self and world. (Helen Schucman made this point but attributed it to what she called Jesus hence obfuscated the fact that she had a useful insight into the etiology of mental disorders; we do not need to attribute any concept we have about anything to the gods and their surrogates; pure human reason can understand this world.)
SPIRITUAL SELF AND WORLD
Is there a self and world that is not meaningless, purposeless, valueless and worthless? If there is such a world it cannot exist in body, space and time; it cannot exist on earth; it cannot exist in the material universe. If it exists it can only exist in a non-material, non-space, time dimension, in what folks call spiritual world.
Does spirit exist or is it another delusion that human beings pursue to give their meaningless lives pseudo meaning?
Richard Dawkins (2006) sees belief in God as delusional, as belief in what is not true as true; Sigmund Freud (1927) similarly saw religion as an illusion: the Future of an Illusion.
The salient point is that neurotics are human beings who developmentally are able to understand that the world is meaningless and pointless but who try to use their imagination to invent an alternative to the world they see, a meaningful and worthwhile world. They cannot attain their desires hence their frustration and unhappiness.
The cure for neurosis is not to tell the neurotic another lie, as Western psychotherapy does by telling people that life in nothingness, body, is good. It is a lie to believe that life in body is good. Life in body is nothing. The neurotic must therefore accept the truth of his original perception that life in body and in the world is nothing. Once he accepts that his body and ego self is nothing then he can struggle to see if there is meaning in existence, meaning apart from mere ego wishes for ideal self.
The neurotic must embrace what is in accord with his nature; he must stop trying to conform to normal folk’s idea of truth. Normal folks are very close to animals in their evolution whereas neurotics have reached a level where they can see the meaninglessness of being but do not yet know if there is an alternative to it.
R. D. Laing (1960) hinted on this fact when he said that the mentally ill are sort of like mystics who tuned out our world and tuned in to a different world. He is partially correct but essentially wrong. It is true that the mentally ill saw our world as not good but they did not do what mystics do, leave that world and ask God, if he exists, to show them an alternative world. Instead, they use their minds to construct their conception of a better world and try living in that fantasy world. Contrary to Thomas Szasz’ (1974) denial of mental illness, there really is such a thing as mentally ill persons.
Let me make an assertion: biological factors held constant, all neurosis, personality disorders, psychoses, and all mental disorders are rooted in perception of the body, self and its world as nothing and futile effort to deny that perception and replace it with an ideal alternative to it.
Mentally ill persons in childhood see through the nothingness of this world but have not let go of desire for this world and instead want to improve the world and transform it into a heaven. Alas, feces cannot be turned into gold. An Igbo proverb says, regardless of the amount of soap you employ in washing the anus that it would still smell of feces. This means that all efforts to make this world ideal are magical and wishful thinking and will not succeed; the self and its world must remain imperfect and meaningless; if there is a meaningful self and world it lies beyond the world of matter, space and time.