Some children are born in bodies that are prone to inordinate pain (due to some inherited medical disorder in all the cells in their bodies). They feel pained and do not want to be pained. They want to escape from this extraordinary pain. They cannot do so realistically so they try to do so mentally. They use their imagination to construct alternative selves that are pain free, ideal, powerful and superior self.
In clothes and shoes such children’s bodies feel pained and constricted and cry out to be released from those constricting and pain making contraptions of so-called civilization.
The moment they are freed from shoes and clothes they breathe free and happy (released by the mind that jailed them in shoes and clothes in pursuit of ego-body based civilization).
In pursuit of separation based civilization we jail ourselves into bodies and eventually in clothes, shoes and houses.
A pained child constructs a self that uses wishes to banish what pained him. Thereafter, he pursues the attainment of the imaginary, ideal powerful self.
It is impossible to attain this imaginary powerful self for it is a mere wish, a picture in his head and not a real self that replaces his actual body.
The pursuit of the imaginary ideal self becomes obsessive-compulsive hence neurotic in the sense that it is always pursued even as it is unreal and impossible of attainment.
Alfred Adler (1912) defined neurosis as rejection of the real self (one’s body), postulation of an imaginary powerful self and pursuing that fictional self.
Karen Horney (1950) defined neurosis as rejection of the actual self (one’s body), positing of an imaginary ideal self and pursuing that imaginary ideal self and its goal of making people ideal, making social institutions ideal and making everything in the world ideal.
PSYCHOSIS IS BELIEF THAT ONE IS THE IDEAL SELF
If the ideal self is believed as who one is one becomes deluded (psychotic); to be deluded is to believe that one is who one is not, an ideal, powerful and superior self.
NEUROSIS IS DESIRE FOR IDEAL SELF WHILE RETAINING AWARENESS THAT ONE IS NOT IDEAL
The pursuit of ideal self remains neurotic if it is merely wished for albeit in an obsessive-compulsive manner while not believing that one is already ideal, powerful and superior. The neurotic is able to test reality, to distinguish between the wished for fantasy and being that fantasy itself.
The pursuit of the impossible ideal self leads to fear of not attaining it hence to having free floating anxiety in the individual. The neurotic always has anxiety from fear of not attaining his imaginary fantasy self.
The pursuit of ideal self and consequent anxiety becomes a secondary disorder requiring medications or psychotherapy to calm it.
I have employed the term neurosis loosely; in the real world every human being is a bit neurotic for every person pursues a bit of fictional ideal self; it is the degree it is pursued that matters; neurotics, David Shapiro (1972) tell us, are rigid in their pursuit of idealized selves, whereas normal persons’ wish for ideal selves flexibly.
The neurotic individual soldiers on with the illusion that there is a better self to be attained, a self that is not his pained real self, his body self. He is motivated by the wish to attain an imaginary ideal self. He thinks that he has to keep learning something new so as to attain knowledge of the ideal self.
This desire to learn may become religion where the individual hopes to find a spiritual ideal self. There is no such thing as an ideal self in body or in spirit.
Yet the pursuit of discovering the ideal self keeps the individual going. There is nothing more for him to learn or know about his self but he has the illusion that there is something else to know.
Psychology is very simple; it is description of people as they are, not as they could become; yet the neurotic individual keeps thinking that he is going to learn more and find the Holy Grail to becoming an ideal self.
THE PURPOSE OF PSYCHOLOGY IS TO ENABLE THE INDIVIDUAL TO ACCEPT HIS IMPERFECT SELF
The purpose of psychology is not to change people and make them become ideal (that would make them deluded); the goal and objective of scientific psychology is to enable people to understand their selves as they in fact are and accept those imperfect real selves.
Accept who you are in reality, your bodily self, not the imaginary ideal self you yearn for hoping that if you attain it you would become painless and divine.
Divinity is an illusion; psychology helps people to accept their physical selves, as they are, not as they think that they should become.
It must be reiterated and accepted that a pained child must necessarily reject his pained body and seek a painless body and thus his pursuit of ideal self is inevitable; that is to say that neurosis, that is, rejection of the real self, is inevitable in some human beings.
To be human, in degrees, is to reject the real self and yearn for the idealized self (on earth and in spirit). To be human is to quest for illusions that transcend the limited nature of being human.
The neurotic individual’s failure to attain the ideal self is inevitable since the ideal self is not a reality and cannot be attained in the real world.
What now needs to be done is to reorient the individual and get him to accept his real self-albeit it a pained imperfect self and live with that reality.
This world is not a bed of roses but in every dark cloud is a silver lining, for from pain and imperfection the individual learns a lot about human psychology.
Psychology studies peoples psyche, minds, their thinking and behavior. It identifies the obstacles that prevent people from living fully and helps them (in psychotherapy) to remove them.
For example, if a person is seeking to become a big, ideal powerful self he is bound to be prone to anger and fear; he feels angry at those people who do not collude with him and tell him that he is the big self he wants to become; he easily flies into anger when his imaginary big self is not affirmed and validated by other persons; he feels fearful of not attaining his big self in the real world.
When he understands how pursuit of the big self-interferes with his living well and fully and works on removing the psychological issues causing his problem then he lives realistically. He no longer feels angry just because other people do not recognize his fictional big self; he no longer feels fearful and anxious from desire to approximate the imaginary big self; he is calm, peaceful and happy most of the time. Of course he often lapses back to his old self and its fears and angers but he quickly understands what is going on and corrections them.
What would an individual who has been analyzed, has identified his issues and corrected them live like? What would such a person be doing with his life?
He would be doing whatever he has talents for doing and do so without illusions. For example, if he is interested in politics he engages in real politics, not idealistic politics that wants to bring about ideal states that are not going to happen.
Real politics is people getting together and doing what they have to do to govern their human polity; there are no ideals involved in politics for it means dealing with power and authority and social realities such as some people being more powerful than others. There is no magic wand to make every person the same and equal in the world. In spirit people may be equal body in body they are obviously different.
Living fully and being one’s real self means that if one is a painter, an artist one simply paints or writes etc. for it gives one satisfaction to do so.
A healthy person lives doing what his nature bids him to do and does not moralize about how he and other people should live.
The child who inherited a body that is prone to extraordinary pain must reject that body and wishes for a body that is not pained. From that wishful basis he embarks on pursuing an idealized self, idealized other people, idealized social institutions and idealized world and everything.
This pursuit of ideal self and things is the origin of neurosis. Neurosis is the wish for the self and the world to become better than they are.
The self and the world are not going to become perfect hence neurosis is futile pursuit of the impossible. The neurotic must fail in his quest for ideal self and ideal anything.
From his frustration and inability to become ideal he learns to accept himself and the human condition as it is, imperfect and becomes a mature person.
The neurotic is differentiated from the psychotic because while yearning for ideal self he knows that he is not the imaginary ideal self. The psychotic, on the other hand, gets to a point where he believes that he is the desired ideal, perfect and powerful and superior self.
The schizophrenic thinks that he is the ideal powerful self (that the neurotic merely wishes to become); the manic believes that he is the ideal powerful and rich self (that the neurotic wishes to become but knows that he is not); the deluded person thinks that he is the important self he wishes to become but in fact is not.
Mental disorder has two steps: first, is the desire for ideal, powerful self (neurosis) and second is the belief that one is already the ideal, powerful self (psychosis).
(You can call neurosis the various personality disorders.)
Psychotherapy inheres in persuading the individual that despite his pained and imperfect body that he is that body he has and is never going to become a pain free, perfect body (until medical science can come up with cure for physical pain).
When the real imperfect and pained self is accepted and the desire for ideal self is given up the individual reduces his anxiety (from fear of not becoming the ideal self) and lives a relatively normal, even healthy existence.
Ultimately, the goal is to get ourselves away from identification with body and body based civilization (clothes, shoes, houses, food, medications) and return to love (first, while still in bodies but eventually outside bodies). This is where spiritual psychology comes in to supplement scientific psychology.
Outside bodies (what folks call spirit but it has no name) we are free, happy and peaceful and know only love. But in bodies we are limited, not free; in bodies we do not know perfect love, peace and joy.
We need to return to freedom, peace and joy through return to love (which in their perfect state is only possible outside bodies but we can approximate them while still in bodies).
In the here and now world, the goal is to get human beings to give up their pursuit of powerful, ideal selves, to stop questing for superiority and accept the self they thought is inferior. In actuality the self is neither inferior nor superior, it is what it is. What it is we really do not yet know.
Do you know who you are? Is it only what George Kelly (1955) called your self-concept and what Carl Jung and Gordon Allport called personality or is it more than that? I do not know what the real self is and do not propose to speculate on it in this essay.
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Ozodi Thomas Osuji, PhD
June 3, 2012
Scientific and Spiritual Psychology Institute, SSPI