Sunday, July 22, 2007

Personality 1




Of Psychiatrists and Psychiatry

Without a shadow of a doubt, I suppose the human mind, whatever definition we might attempt of the same, would be the most important aspect of any person. Visiting my beautiful demented 90 year old mother makes me so aware of the disintegration of her mind, the gradual falling apart of personality. This is all the price of growing old, the price of mortality. Growth and decay are two sides of the one coin as it were. One simply cannot have one without the other.

The gradual disintegration of my mother’s personality, while on one level disturbing, is on another level a natural and simple part of the way things are for life, however, indeed one is to describe or define this latter. This observation has brought into focus for me my own reading of late in psychology and psychiatry. As the young child grows he or she becomes more differentiated, more individuated and more integrated. (My mother on the other hand has become more undifferentiated, more de-individuated and more disintegrated). That’s the whole goal of growing up – to become more of an integrated person.

Freud tells us that the newborn child is totally instinctual – completely “id” in Freudian terminology. As he or she grows they will learn to integrate into this instinctual morass (“id”) a sense of right and wrong (“superego”) and a sense of the conscious self that can regulate the child’s own functioning as a separate person in itself and in its relationship with the world (the “ego”). In short, as the child learns to grow as an individual, he or she learns to differentiate themselves from others, to socialize with others, to speak and listen and to face the lessons from their own unconscious world and, in facing them, to integrate all the shadow parts of their personality. (This latter concept of “shadow” was promulgated and expounded by Carl Gustave Jung, one of Freud’s earlier disciples who broke with him because of the narrowness of the latter’s interpretation of the unconscious.)

My favourite contemporary psychiatrist is the Anthony Storr. As I check the Wiki I find that Anthony passed away as recently as 2001. I am sorry to hear this. The last article I read by him was a review of Lytton Strachey’s famous book, Eminent Victorians, which has quite deservedly never gone out of print. (The Sunday Times, 12 April, 1998) From reading his wonderfully literate, humane and compassionate books on psychiatry and psychotherapy, I can only say that I should have loved to have met him. It does not surprise me that the people who go into psychiatry or any form of psychotherapy are wonderfully sensitive human beings, because quite simply that’s what the job is all about – being compassionate to others. I have six books by Storr on my shelves and I always re-read certain chapters of them when I want to be cheered up. I shall return to some of these marvellous books in later posts.

One of Storr’s most interesting books is one of his earliest, a little gem of psychological insight, and the best introduction to personality I have ever read. It’s called The Integrity of the Personality and was first published by Heinemann in 1960. Take this sentence that opens chapter 2 for a well put, if all-too-obvious insight: “Psychotherapists of different persuasions appear to share at least one basic hypothesis: the notion that the individual human being is of value, and that it is important that each individual should be able to develop his own personality in as unrestricted and complete a way as possible.” (p.22)

Chapter 5 is mind-blowing (admittedly a rather gauche choice of words given the subject) in so far as it is so insightful on how our personality grows and emerges into a whole or into a specific unit with a central focus (my terms, not Storr’s) which we can identify as a well-defined personality. Now, as Hamlet might say, “there is the rub” – so many of us are quite retarded in the development of our own personality. Having known a few friends who have had schizophrenia over the years and who have not really taken advantage of proper psychiatric treatment, the following words hit home as being so true: “Schizophrenia seems to be a failure of the personality to cohere as a whole, and the failure of inner cohesion is reflected in the outer absence of relationships which is the most striking feature of schizophrenia.” (ibid., p.68)

Storr went on to further argue in these words which describe my own personal experience of several people I know with this terribly soul-destroying and personality-resistant disease: “It is as if one was talking to a series of complexes, not to a person; as if one was presented with the parts of the body dissected from each other with no unity to bind them into a single body. Schizophrenia will continue to be a mystery as long as we fail to understand the forces and the organization which make for the wholeness of the personality.” (ibid., p. 68)

I began this post by referring to the disintegration of my mother’s personality as see ages. I went on to discuss how the goal of every human being from childhood is the integration, development, individuation or realization of personality into a unit or whole which has unity or wholeness of focus which may be called a well-defined and hopefully well-developed personality.

The goal of all psychotherapy and psychiatry, not to mention the very goal of humanity in its very essence for any individual member of it, is the integration or integrity of personality. That means that I must be open to learning lessons about my personality from others, from family and friends, from philosophy, from whatever culture I’m brought up in, from other cultures with all their mythologies which are storehouses of values and meanings, from the findings of science per se, certainly from the findings of the human sciences like psychology and psychiatry and from being open to incorporating the secrets of the undifferentiated personal unconscious. None of us is fully sane. None of us is fully whole. We are all human and finite. Let us learn to be open to help from others. Let us be open to incorporating all those complexes, and there are so many of them in our unconscious, into one healthy and well-focused personality. In our unconscious all those complexes, all those attendant archetypes and that whole throng of little sub-personalities that hide in its shadowy confines can be made our friends with courage and appropriate therapy and help.

Not surprisingly Dr Anthony Storr had a Dalai Lama-like smile. All great human beings smile!

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