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In psychology and its more medically legitimate sister, psychiatry, neurosis is a less serious mental disorder or condition than psychosis. Examples of neuroses would be phobias, obsessions, anxiety, depression, hysteria and hypochondria.
According to these disciplines, the neurotic hasn’t lost his or her grip on reality but experiences anxiety to a degree that can have a negative effect on judgment.
Psychosis, on the other hand, is generally regarded as a non-violent or violent ‘break with reality’ where normal judgment is severely impaired or non-existent.
However, some sociologists say notions of reality and normalcy are culture-bound, while not a few philosophers continue to debate the nature of both reality and normalcy (e.g. normalcy as an ethical good).
In addition, theologians along with spiritual and religious lay persons often include their particular interpretation of God and spirituality as factors in conceptualizing the real and the normal.
In short, the idea of neurosis is, perhaps, not without validity but also open to critical debate on various interconnected fronts.
Search Think Free » Alien Possession Theory (APT), Compensation, Defense Mechanism, Madness, Obsession
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Compensation is a psychological term that was first introduced by Alfred Adler in Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Physical Compensation (1907).
Adler understood compensation in terms of underlying feelings of inferiority. In order to cope with the pain of feeling inferior, the psyche develops beliefs at the opposite end of the psychological spectrum. That is, it ‘compensates’ by feeling superior to other people. Hence the now familiar idea of the inferiority-superiority complex.
In 1907 Carl Gustav Jung notes the pathogenic complex posses a quantum of libido which grants it a degree of autonomy that is opposed to conscious will. Though this dynamic has a pathological cast, it conveys the essence of what Jung termed compensation; namely, the capacity of the unconscious to influence consciousness.¹
However, Jung wouldn’t name compensation as such until 1914.
In “The Importance of the Unconscious in Psychopathology” (1914), he introduced the idea, saying, “the principal function of the unconscious is to effect a compensation and to produce a balance. All extreme conscious tendencies are softened and toned down through a counter-impulse in the unconscious.”²
We can see that Jung’s view of compensation, as compared to Adler’s, is geared more toward the idea that the psyche strives to achieve balance and integration.
In fact, Jung believed the psyche has a natural tendency toward balance and integration. If a particular attitude becomes extreme, Jung believed that therapy and close attention to dreams could help to amplify repressed or underdeveloped psychological contents.
On several occasions Jung says that his own particular brand of therapy is essential to this process. And he believed that he had successfully analyzed himself in this regard. But, at the same time, Jung didn’t try to sell potential clients on his views. If an ardent churchgoer, for example, was satisfied with what Jung may have taken as a skewed perspective, Jung would let the person be. Apparently Jung only intervened when clients’ old systems and attitudes lead to neurosis (or psychosis) and help was requested.
This latter claim might, however, be a bit exaggerated, in keeping with the tendency of some Jungians to elevate Jung as some kind of new prophet for modern times. There are also accounts where Jung was quite brash and bold, surprising and even shocking his clients. Perhaps they had asked for his help. But whether or not he was, at times, playing the the ‘wise guru’ and on a bit of a power trip remains open to debate.³
³ Although married to Emma Jung, it seems Carl had sex with at least two of his clients, Sabina Spielrein and Toni Wolff, which certainly wouldn’t wash in psychiatry today. See » http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung#Marriage
In 1922 the pioneering psychologist Sigmund Freud wrote that the defense mechanism is “a general designation for all the techniques which the ego makes use of in conflicts which may lead to neurosis.”¹
The defense mechanism may be useful and adaptive but when inappropriate or out of balance it is regarded as neurotic and potentially destructive.
A defense mechanism arises from anxiety that poses a threat to the psyche. Anxiety may be generated by instinctual tensions, guilt (threats of bad conscience from the superego) or by actual danger.
Freud was close to his daughter, Anna, who became a psychoanalyst in her own right. Anna Freud lists the defense mechanisms as
- reaction formation
- turning against the self
Of the ten, sublimation always refers to positive, so-called normal behavior and is never deemed neurotic or negative. Additionally, the psychological processes of splitting and denial are usually regarded as defense mechanisms.
It’s interesting to note that the idea of the defense mechanism is worded in such a way so as to make the world seem like a hostile, attacking place. While it’s true that much of human life is about psychological assault and being assaulted, children with a good, loving upbringing have parents (or primary caregivers), family and friends who shield them from many of life’s attacks. Good parenting also knows how to guide the child toward a healthy kind of mastery that includes genuine consideration for the rights of others. From this, kids and adults can experience all the joy and satisfaction that accompanies a mature balance of mastery and considerateness.
Having said this, one might wonder why Freud didn’t take a more positive approach and call these psychological dynamics coping or, perhaps, living mechanisms instead of defense mechanisms. Perhaps Freud’s choice was partly due to the fact that he developed his theories from working with neurotic patients. Also, Freud had a pessimistic, atheistic vision in which his patients, at best, progressed from neurotic anxiety to an apparently normal state of human unhappiness.
By forwarding a psychology which omitted God’s love from the healing process, one could say that, for all his smarts, Freud missed the main point.
¹ Cited in Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, p. 28.
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Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was a Jew of Austrian parentage and the founder of psychoanalysis. He studied medicine in Vienna and then neurology and psychopathology. He was marginalized by the medical community for his interest in the idea of infant sexuality. Today he, perhaps ironically, is often frowned on as a reductionist.
Freud remains one of the great innovators of the modern age. He attempted to scientifically outline the idea of the unconscious which formerly had been represented in literature, philosophy and nineteenth-century occultism.
His psychoanalytic techniques of free association and abreaction were influenced by several other contemporaneous “doctors of the mind,” most notably Jean-Martin Charcot, but Freud made them uniquely his own.
His works were almost entirely destroyed by the occupying Nazis. In 1938 he reluctantly withdrew from Vienna to London, leaving behind several sisters, all of whom died in concentration camps.
A habitual cigar-smoker, his relationship with his daughter Anna became extremely close; she acted as secretary, friend and confidant. Freud eventually contracted jaw cancer but refused pain-killers because they dulled his mind and interfered with his work.
After Freud’s death Anna further elaborated on the idea of defense mechanisms, distinguishing herself as an important thinker in her own right.
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But the distinction between sanity and madness isn’t always cut and dried. Madness usually is a matter of degree.
Psychiatry talks about “borderline” psychosis, a shadowy place where small triggers could send the disturbed and unstable toppling over the edge.
We also hear of the “temporary insanity” plea made by court defendants, indicating that madness could be impermanent.
The Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing suggests that unconscious family agendas and social hypocrisies could force individuals into a kind of madness or into adopting the role of the madperson. Laing claims that the current understanding of madness rests on biased interpretations of largely misunderstood behavior patterns.
Having said that, Laing as a psychiatrist does try to cure patients, which suggests that he sees his particular perspective as more ‘authentic’ than their own.
Not unlike Laing, the French postmodern thinker Michel Foucault argues in Madness and Civilization that the idea of madness is socially constructed. To say that something is socially constructed is a way for social thinkers to suggest that truths are relative to cultures, subcultures and history. And in Foucault’s analysis, social power plays a large role in the formation of these relative truths.
Foucault says the 18th century rise of insane asylums in Europe is linked to the ideological and political concerns of the day. Most notably, a new faith in medical science replaced superstition after a centuries long spell of repressive, imaginary thinking, which historian Daniel Boorstin blames on the medieval Catholic Church.
Interestingly, some contemporary Catholics see psychiatry as a toolbox for Satan because it tends to downplay the idea of spiritual powers, both good and evil. Other contemporary Catholics, however, uncritically accept the latest psychiatric claims and procedures, not really realizing that this represents just another belief system and its tangible expression.
Laing, as well as the Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung and the Czech Stanislav Grof, suggest that madness, with proper professional guidance through crisis periods, possibly is a necessary stage leading toward a more comprehensive form of psychological health.
According to this perspective, psychological instability may be part of a natural process of healing, transformation and genuine becoming. Indeed, Laing says that psychiatric breakdown could be better seen in terms of a potential breakthrough.
Jung, himself, experienced a well-documented ‘creative illness’ that lasted five years. During this period of inner searching Jung minimized his official duties. He painted, made sandcastles by the water’s edge, engaged in a kind of creative visualization and explored the contents of what he understood as the collective unconscious. In contrast to Laing’s theory about scapegoating within families, Jung wrote that family ties helped to keep him sane during this period.
The history of religion and myth reveals different ways of distinguishing the mad and the sane.
The distinction is present throughout Jewish scripture and the Christian Bible. In keeping with the idea of a positive, therapeutic kind of madness, Daniel of the Old Testament, for instance, correctly interprets the tyrant King Nebuchadnnezzar’s dream as a sign of the dreamer’s impending madness. Daniel’s warning to repent and thereby ward off a curse of madness is ignored by the King who later wanders the land, eating grass like an ox for seven years. Afterward, however, Nebuchadnezzer repents and is reconciled with God (Daniel 4).
Some of the people at the time of Jesus thought he was mad (Mark 3:21; see also Deut. 28:28; Hos. 9:7; Jer. 25:16).
Today some non-Christians hold the view that Jesus was an egomaniac. We must ask, however, whether a mere egomaniac devoid of authentic spiritual power could launch a Church that would endure cruel and frightening persecutions, expand and, indeed, thrive 2000 years after his death.
In ancient India, the book of Manu, primarily a law book influenced by caste-related beliefs, separates the mad from the sane.
In Greek mythology, Euripides’ play Heracles (416 BCE) personifies Madness as the daughter of Heaven and Night, sent to drive Heracles insane.
Madness has mounted her chariot
Groans and tears accompany her
She plies the lash, hell-bent for murder
rage gleaming from her eyes
A Gorgon of the night, and around her
Bristle the hissing heads of a hundred snakes¹
Considering the global reality of war, horrendous human rights violations, environmental destruction, crime and violence, it might seem that Madness, in all its dreary dementia, rules the world.
And the American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-86) had this to say about possible connections among the idea of madness, hypocrisy and social power.
MUCH madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
‘T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,-you’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.²
¹ Euripides, cited in Eric Flaum and David Pandy, The Encyclopedia of Mythology: Gods, Heroes, and Legends of the Greeks and Romans, Philadelphia, Courage Books, 1993, p. 99.
² Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Part 1: Life (11), Boston: Little, Brown, 1924; Bartleby.com, 2000. www.bartleby.com/113/
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The issue of normalcy is arguably a complicated one. Does the idea of normal change over time or is there something constant that mankind can always refer back to?
A compelling argument against the idea of a transhistorical normalcy is found in poststructural thought. Postructuralists point out that different cultures regard normalcy differently, both now and throughout history.
For example, in Biblical times and the Middle Ages abnormality was often associated with demonic influence or possession. Not a few individuals were literally burnt at the stake when defined as abnormal heretics.
Today, however, it seems both abnormal and cruel that anyone would burn another living person, for any apparent reason whatsoever.
In contemporary society, we see a shift away from religious to medical explanations for abnormality. Violent criminals, for instance, are often said to be mentally ill instead of ‘possessed by Satan.’
Another difficulty in ascertaining the normal as a moral good is the issue of hypocrisy. In sociology, power and labeling theorists suggest that individuals and groups possessing social power often label other powerless individuals and groups as deviant for engaging in practices that members of the high-powered groups profit from.
Although today’s social scene shouldn’t be reduced to such a simple formulation, we should point out that in medieval times there was a high degree of reliability among witch hunters when classifying targeted individuals as witches. And in contemporary society there’s a high degree of reliability among psychiatrists in defining so-called mental illnesses.
However, one could argue that, in both instances, a high degree of reliability in assessment does not necessarily relate to a high degree of validity for that assessment.
In other words, just because a powerful social group says something is so, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it actually is so. This is a basic philosophy 101 point certainly overlooked by witch hunters and sometimes by contemporary psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, along with anyone who unconditionally accepts a particular worldview that happens to be hegemonic or perhaps just in vogue.
Canadian folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn expressed his own views on normality in the song, “The Trouble With Normal” (1981; released 1983):
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.
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In psychoanalytic terms obsession this is a neurosis where one dwells on an issue or another person to an unhealthy and potentially destructive degree.
Obsessive thinking is often accompanied with compulsive behavior—for example, an internet stalker.
Psychologists see obsessive thought and compulsive behavior as flawed mechanisms where a person tries to avoid unconscious feelings of pain, guilt or inadequacy.
A classic literary example of obsession is found in Shakespeare’s character Lady Macbeth, whose repeated hand washing bespeaks a crime and her feelings of guilt and defilement from it.
In Catholic theology, the term obsession refers to a person who is unduly influenced or harassed by evil spiritual powers or beings. By way of contrast, the term possession suggests that a person loses control over the body – but not the soul – as the devil appears to control them.
Psychological and theological perspectives on obsession arguably could be combined to their mutual advantage. For instance, an unresolved psychological complex could be a weak spot for demonic influences to develop or exacerbate physiological conditions and behavioral patterns related to obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Put simply, evil might like to prey on psychological vulnerabilities.
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Psychosis is usually defined within psychological and psychiatric circles as a fundamental “break with reality.” According to prevailing theories, this apparent break with reality is caused by some combination of biological and environmental factors, resulting in a kind of mental breakdown or disintegration where normal judgement is severly impaired or entirely lacking. This break can be non-violent or violent, temporary or permanent.
Psychiatrists like R. D. Laing and Stanislav Grof emphasize not just the negative but the potentially transformative positives that could follow a breakdown, providing it’s been competently handled and followed through. Laing, in fact, says we should try to think in terms of a potential ‘breakthrough’ instead of an irreparable ‘breakdown.’
This approach arguably has merit but most mental health professionals are quick to point out that psychosis is no trivial matter and should not be overly romanticized. While some may recover and flourish after a psychotic episode, others may never fully recover–even if a positive family and social environment is in place.
This is a point that some anti-psychiatry critics tend to overlook or perhaps try to explain by claiming that positive family members only appear to be helpful. The social network of mentally healthy “normals,” they argue, subtly scapegoat the individual in question because of that individual’s difference from the social norms and expectations in which they must live.
What’s at stake here is the definition of mental health and normalcy.
In the sphere of religion, similar difficulties arise when we try to define psychological health and normality. In New Testament times, for instance, some believed that Jesus Christ was insane or possessed by a demon:
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub[a]! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons (Mark 3:20-22, NIV).
While Christian believers might see Jesus rebuking his accusers with the dignity and intelligence of God’s only Son, some nonbelievers see Christ as a misguided egomaniac:
So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.” (Mark 3: 23-30).
Even today, Christians of different denominations suggest that Satan may try to enslave victims in a psychological, social and spiritual hell.
Meanwhile, the Catholic hierarchy advocates the use of psychological profiling and, when required, treatment according to the norms and standards of contemporary psychiatry.
To complicate matters, many sociologists suggest that notions of reality (i.e. as something to ‘break’ with), health and normalcy are somewhat culture-bound. And philosophers continue to debate the nature of reality and question whether normalcy really is an ethical ’good’ to be cultivated by individuals.
Moreover, theologians and spiritual lay persons often include their particular understanding of the self, God and spirituality as factors in conceptualizing the real, the healthy and the normal.
To sum, when we consider the diverse sociological, philosophical and spiritual perspectives available to us today, psychosis appears to be a complicated idea somewhat difficult to define. Indeed, the idea of psychosis may involve biological, environmental, social and spiritual factors.
In the 21st century, however, psychiatry is vested with the legal authority to make definitive assessments in this regard. Not surprisingly, the relation between these legal powers and individual rights and freedoms differs somewhat among countries and regions.
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Sociology is usually defined in terms of the ‘scientific’ or ‘systematic’ study of society, two notions that postmodern – and just serious – thinkers today openly question.
The term was coined by Auguste Comte (1798-1857), although others were thinking sociologically (i.e. examining social trends and truth claims) well before his time.
On the Web:
- For a mainline view, Wikipedia provides good coverage of the chief figures now known as part and parcel of sociology. » http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociology
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When a person seems to know through insight, intuition and experience the best course of action or the possible outcomes of situations, we might say they are wiser than those who make superficial, snap or conventional judgments.
Wisdom may or may not involve scholarly, specialized or factual knowledge. The intuitive aspects of wisdom may involve revealed, infused, illuminated or ‘transcendental’ knowledge–that is, knowledge that seers and mystics from most world religions say extends beyond the conventional understanding of space and time.
The notion of wisdom is sometimes hotly debated among various religious traditions. Some Hindus, for example, might see Christians as slaves to externally imposed dogmas and rituals that lock them up in ignorance, while some Christians may see the works of the devil binding Hindus to false or incomplete beliefs which deny or ‘water down’ the belief that Christ is the unique and only human incarnation truly equal to God.
But even within a given world religion, opposing viewpoints can be found as to the nature of wisdom. Fundamentalist Christians, for instance, often have knee-jerk, hypocritical and perhaps sometimes violent reactions to the deeper aspects of Christian mysticism that they themselves haven’t experienced. In fact some Christians go as far to say that all mysticism is of the devil.
The Protestant Josh McDowell seems to lean in this direction. In The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict McDowell begins by noting in a sentence or two that there are many types of mysticism but proceeds to only discuss his perception of the errors of the “pantheistic mysticism of the East” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999: 643-658 ). And his discussion equates the general term ‘mysticism’ as if it only applied to Eastern mysticism, most notably that of Zen Buddhism.
McDowell’s argument overlooks the plain and obvious fact that the term ‘mysticism’ applies to a wide variety of religious experiences along with the key question as to their place of origin and related ethical orientation–e.g. (a) God as ‘wholly other’ (b) God as conceptualized in pantheism or (c) an evil being hostile to God.
In fact, Catholics and other Protestants take great pains to differentiate those interior experiences which are from God and those which are not.
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