Using secular and spiritual psychologies to heal mental illness

The average person does not know much about mental illnesses. He may not even know that he may have an aspect of mental illness. So, this Sunday, I provide an over simplified write up on mental illness. Use it to decide whether you are normal, neurotic or psychotic, all three are states of mental illness, some more pronounced than others. I have not seen one mentally healthy person in all my life!


Ozodi Osuji

      Here is how Karen Horney (1950) defined a neurotic. The neurotic child felt that his real self is not accepted by what Harry Stack Sullivan (1964) called his significant others (parents, siblings, peers, teachers). So, he rejected his real self and tried to use his mind and imagination to invent an alternative, ideal self that other people would accept and approve. Thus, beginning in childhood, the neurotic is trying to become an imaginary ideal and perfect self that he himself invented (using material from his body and society). The self, as George Kelly (1955) tells us, is a self-construct.

     The imaginary ideal self is not who he is, but he wants to become it to be liked by people. He is now afraid to relax and be his real self because he is convinced that his real self would be rejected by other people.

     He, therefore, is always experiencing Basic Anxiety, free floating anxiety, from fear that other people would see through his mask of ideal self and see his no-good real self and reject it. He lives with anxiety, which is a painful way to live.

     At school, play and work he is always acting “As if” he is the ideal self and fears being the real self.

     Alfred Adler (1911) had a different etiological explanation of the origin of neurosis. He said that the neurotic child inherited a biological disorder that upon his attempt to adapt to his physical and social environment his medical deficits make him feel inadequate and inferior. He refuses to accept the body induced sense of inferiority and uses his mind to invent an alternative self, a self that is superior. The neurotic compensates with superiority over his underlying sense of inferiority.

    He now wants to seem superior to all persons. At school he is motivated to be a superior student and feels anxiety from not appearing superior. He is afraid of failing at any activity, school, play and work, for to fail and or make mistakes is to seem inferior and he is afraid of inferiority. Thus, he soldiers on trying to seem superior. He acts as if he is superior to other people.

     When other people treat him as superior, the neurotic feels fine but is always on the lookout and when people treat him as inferior, he feels fearful, anxious and angry at them. Thus, he always has anxiety, hence we say anxiety neurosis for the characteristic of neurosis is the presence of anxiety, which is fear.

      Some of what psychiatry now calls personality disorders were called neurosis by psychoanalysis (such as paranoid, avoidant, dependent and obsessive compulsive and passive aggressive personality disorders, those have anxiety in them).

      Neurosis, personality disorders and, in fact, all mental disorders are characterized by rejection of the real self and desire to be an alternative self-constructed to be ideal. The neurotic, the personality disordered, the psychotic is trying to accomplish one task, reject the person he knows his self to be, because he is ashamed of it, and is trying to become a different self, that he thinks that other people, and society would accept.

     In pursuit of the desired ideal self, neurotic persons are ambitious and often acquire good education and become professionals. Many so-called successful persons in society are obviously neurotic and or have personality disorders. Donald Trump is a classic Textbook Narcissistic and anti-social personality disordered man! And how about you, dear reader?

    Where self-rejection and pursuit of the ideal self is excessive the person drops out of society and simply lives as the imaginary, ideal, powerful and perfect self.

     The schizophrenic lives as the imaginary ideal self, the manic person behaves as if he is a powerful and wealthy person that he is not. The deluded person is trying to become his desired ideal, powerful self.


     If mental disorder is rooted in rejection of one’s real self and pursuit of the imaginary, ideal, powerful self, it follows that healing of mental disorder entails having the mentally disordered person desist from seeking to becoming an imaginary, ideal, powerful self.

     Since all persons have aspects of mental illness, do this: stop trying to become an ideal, powerful self and see what happens.

      If you desist from thinking and behaving from the idealized powerful self, you will feel calm. Your mind and body would feel peaceful and happy, for you are no longer under duress to become a false big self that other people would accept.


      Once you derive some peace from stopping seeking a false, ideal self, the next question you must ask is: what is the real self?

     What is the real self that Karen Horney said that the neurotic is ashamed of and is fleeing to a false, mentally invented ideal self?

     What is my real self? I asked that question and realized that I do not know who my real self is.

     Whatever I say is my real self is what other people told me. But suppose that I say that I do not know who my real self is and stay calm what would happen?


     Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism tell us to stop trying to use our ego-based minds, our ego thinking to try to understand our real self. They ask us to stay quiet, to not think, for our current pattern of thinking is rooted in ego separated thinking.

      Reject all ego-based thinking and deny that you are the ego that you invented to replace your real self and stay quiet until your real-self-reveals itself to you.

    East Asian religions say that if we truly negate living from the false, ideal self that we would experience Samadhi, Nirvana, Satori; here, we escape from the usual ego self and experience our real self.

      The real self is said to be part of what religion calls God. God, in Asian terms, is a self that is one and simultaneously infinite in numbers 

 ; one God extends his self to infinite selves, each of them a son of God.


     The sons of God separated from God and invented the phenomenal universe. They invented space, time and matter and used matter to form their bodies and now seem to live in bodies and seem separated from God and from each other.

     In their bodies, space and time they invented separated ego self-concepts and self-images. We now live as separated ego selves, human personalities.

    Our bodies, egos and personalities are masks over our real self. Our real self is part of Unified Spirit Self. When we let go of the ego separated self, we experience our unified self and in it feel peaceful and happy.

    We are the prodigal son who left his father and brothers, his home, heaven, unified self, and went on a journey without distance, for wherever we go we go in God, for God is everywhere and we cannot leave him. But in our minds, we can think that we have left oneness, heaven, God and now live-in space, time and matter.

     Space, time and matter seem real but East Asian religions say that they do not exist, that they are illusions that seem real but are not real.

     The physical world and our self-concepts and self-images are dream selves; they seem to exist in dreams but in fact do not exist.


     At this point your ego is rebelling, saying that I have gone too far, so you stop reading and return to living as the ego separated self, but seek to ameliorate the pain that your ego gives to you by making God a mysterious, powerful other and using your ego to pray to him.

     In seeing God as another self and praying to him you retain your ego, retain separation from God and reduce the anxiety and fear you feel from living apart from God; you reduce your neurosis and become a normal ego.

      The neurotic, and more so, the psychotic is seeking excessive ego separation from God and people and did not shrink his ego to the level of normal persons hence his heightened psychological pain.


     If you let go of the desire for the ego, big or small, altogether, if you stop wishing to be your temporal self, your self-concept, your self-image, your body, if you stop wishing to live as a separated self in body, space and time,  and on earth and keep quiet and let your  ego die, something happens to you.

     The ego does not die for it had never lived; what is imaginary has no life and had not lived and therefore cannot die.

     When you let go of your identification with the false, ego separated self you awaken to a different self. First is the glorified self, the self in light form, astral self, and, finally, you awaken to the formless, unified spirit self, God, heaven.

     You cannot use your ego thinking to understand God’s unified spirit self for it transcends human language and speech, but it can be experienced.


     What is the real self? The real self is a son of God, a part of formless unified spirit self.

     The real self, the formless unified self is eternal, permanent and changeless. The real self transcends the ego, phenomenal self (human personality). The physical universe was made to enable us hide from our real self.


     East Asian ideas on the real self obviously go beyond what Western psychology teaches; psychology limits itself to the observable, verifiable world, to the world that is amenable to the scientific method.

     Science cannot verify the real self, so science does not focus on it. That self is known only through experience.


      What I did in this brief essay is to marry scientific and spiritual psychologies; I used both to enable us to understand our ego, false selves and to transcend the ego and return to the awareness of the unified self, our real self.

     The individual can use secular psychology to understand his ego self and humble it but to become healed he must let go of his false, ideal self, the ego self and meditate to experience his formless, unified spirit self.

     It is in God that we know about our real self; apart from God we cannot know our real self.


Adler, A. (1938). Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind. J. Linton and R. Vaughan (Trans.). London: Faber and Faber Ltd.

Adler, A. (1956). The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler. H. L. Ansbacher and R. R. Ansbacher (Eds.). New York: Harper Torch books.

American psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (2013). Fifth Edition. Washington D C: American psychiatric Association’s Press.

Horney, Karen (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth. New York: W.W. Norton.

Kelly, George (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. Vol. I, II. New York: Norton.

Sullivan, Harry Stack (1964). Chapman, A. H.: Harry Stack Sullivan – His Life and His Work, New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976.

Evans III, F. Barton: Harry Stack Sullivan – Interpersonal theory and psychotherapy. London/New York, Routledge, 1996.

Osuji, Ozodi (2021). Connected Lives. Las Vegas, Nevada: Rushmore Press.

Schucman, Helen (1976). A course in miracles. Mill Valley, California: Foundation for Inner Peace.

Ozodi Osuji

November 14, 2021

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