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The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness

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In The Divided Self (1960), Laing contrasted the experience of the "ontologically secure" person with that of a person who "cannot take the realness, aliveness, autonomy and identity of himself and others for granted" and who consequently contrives strategies to avoid "losing his self". Laing explains how we all exist in the world as beings, defined by others who carry a model of us in their heads, just as we carry models of them in our heads. In later writings he often takes this to deeper levels, laboriously spelling out how "A knows that B knows that A knows that B knows..."! Our feelings and motivations derive very much from this condition of "being in the world" in the sense of existing for others, who exist for us. Without this we suffer "ontological insecurity", a condition often expressed in terms of "being dead" by people who are clearly still physically alive.

This watershed work aimed to make madness comprehensible, and in doing so revolutionized the way we perceive mental illness. Using case studies of patients he had worked with, psychiatrist R. D. Laing argued that psychosis is not a medical condition, but an outcome of the 'divided self', or the tension between the two personas within us: one our authentic, private identity, and the other the false, 'sane' self that we present to the world. Laing's radical approach to insanity offered a rich existential analysis of personal alienation and made him a cult figure in the 1960s, yet his work was most significant for its humane attitude, which put the patient back at the centre of treatment. R.D. Laing (1927-1989), one of the best-known psychiatrists of modern times, was born in Glasgow, Scotland.

This work is available on its own or as part of the 7 volume set iSelected Works of R. D. Laing

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1960

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About the author

R.D. Laing

43 books451 followers
Ronald David Laing was a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively on mental illness – in particular, the subjective experience of psychosis. Laing's views on the causes and treatment of serious mental dysfunction, greatly influenced by existential philosophy, ran counter to the psychiatric orthodoxy of the day by taking the expressed feelings of the individual patient or client as valid descriptions of lived experience rather than simply as symptoms of some separate or underlying disorder.

Laing was associated with the anti-psychiatry movement although he rejected the label.

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Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
1,029 reviews17.7k followers
August 13, 2023
The end of our spiritual search is realizing we have driven all sense of the Divine from our lives with the noisy crowd of our peccadilloes. And this explains the uncompassionate diagnoses of many a hide-bound doctor in the sixties.

"We killed God - in our childhood. And so now the only appropriate remedy for mania appeared to us to be, like for Susan Hayward, the Snake Pit (Google it!)." Yikes - one drastic remedy for Everyone.

At the age of 12, I became what R.D, Laing terms “ontologically insecure” - like that experience was for Sartre’s anti-hero Roquentin - for run-of-the-mill, bargain-basement life no longer made much sense to me. And it all started with a near-fatal car wreck in 1952... more on that later.

So I had made a fortress out of my phony ego...

And at coming of age I had constructed MY OWN VERSION of the events of my personal Fall. To justify my own dumb faults. And I built this ego-structure equally dumbly - with no foundation.

So when the storms of life hit, that ego-structure collapsed. For it had been merely fabricated (the one produced naturally was killed in that horrific accident).

That’s my take on the clinical conclusion R.D. Laing draws.

Oh, I had a frantic chase at living -

Living is
Something we do
Now or never -
Which do you?

For me, it was almost never.

And - get this little story I’m gonna tell you - when later, almost cured, as a stressed-out manager, I supervised an irrepressible cadre of clerks in the 1990’s.... Back then, I had a good friend Dan, a man possessed of a mordant wit.

His wit cut through my crap.

Dan, old friend, I OWE you! Big time.

On workplace-designated casual days, he would wear a full-colour tee-shirt displaying Edward Munch's famed work, The Scream.

Outside his office, Dan had a space photograph with planet Earth in the left edge. That, said the caption (using a big arrow), is us...

The good stuff is somewhere out there, said the caption - pointing another arrow at Deep Space (heh, heh).

Yep - Dan and I were slightly spacey chasers of dreams.

Of course, he achieved director status when he retired! I never aimed for such a star. My star was God - it's a corny trust that has worked for me. Dumb, mybe, but it fit my soul like a glove.

But back at 12 I had constructed my own flimsy personal dream - I had made a new self out of my outlandish EXCUSES to God. Sound familiar?

The Fall outta Eden. The Divided self.

If it doesn’t sound familiar, it should...

For every one of us who is to the slightest degree alienated from our old, innocent lives (through sheer bad luck), has concocted similar excuses - though most of us have chosen the more honest course of just turning our backs on God, like Laing's fellow doctors.

That's why Laing later changed his mind and sided with us miscreant patients.

Because for his patients, coming of age was the Vision of Hell. And the rest of their life was a vain attempt at escape.

They could never face the Face, as Pete Townsend says we all must do. Sorry, Pete, I still can't. Our society can, but it's dying.

So in effect, here I’m challenging you to go beyond science and beyond your escapes - to find closure for other existentially-driven outsiders - by reifying the richness of our theistic heritage for the sake of our own pale lives.

We all seek closure. But few, these days of pervasive misinformation, find it.

Gentle humility works best.

Especially if your life has been thrown into a frantic loop.

Closure, as Kierkegaard says, begins with the remorse of conviction.

We must go back to the beginning and act the way Adam shoulda reacted.

We know society is at a dead end:

It's a Dying Concern for us all.

So let’s return to our garden -

And this time simply say, “I’m sorry:”

And this time Really MEAN it.
Profile Image for JJVid.
65 reviews12 followers
August 16, 2013
From a foundation of ontological insecurity, in which the 'self' is divided from the body, the schizoid personality finds refuge within the safe haven of incomprehensibility. Never feeling secure within a monistic, holistic sense, the divided self fractures into semi-autonomous entities which serve to shield the person from an imagined external threat of annihilation. When your sense of being, of life and self-worth, are threatened by the very notion of becoming perceived it bodes you well to become enigmatic and misunderstood. For when you are rendered incomprehensible to the Other you face no fear of destruction, no fear of being killed, no anxiety of becoming 'found out' and subsequently rejected. Laing postulates that schizophrenia is a reaction to the basic insecurity of rejection; that by adopting the persona of a false-self, by hiding behind a masquerade, the true self is immune from all attacks. Lock yourself behind impenetrable walls and you have no fear of extinction.

Yet isolation is sure to destroy as well. In absence of connection to the world without the self is surely to die. You murder yourself to prevent others from murdering you. It is a damning, futile attempt to preserve the 'self' by starving.

I can't help but think the strategy of disclosing one's own identity by fabricating a false-self to portray outwardly is a normal, natural stratagem. To an extent, we all wear a mask. Usually, we mask ourselves to hide seemingly undesirable traits for the time being until we feel comfortable with fuller expression. With the schizoid turned schizophrenic, however, this mask is a Medusa's head petrifying others before they have the chance to petrify us in turn. Have you had the anxious notion that someone sees you too clearly, sees your for who you really are, with all your faults, foibles, and detriments? And isn't such a situation absolutely petrifying? Reverting to the masquerade is consoling. You can't ever feel insecure in this situation if the persona you project is not the 'self' which you believe to be YOU. It becomes more than a comfort to hide so well, to become invulnerable by being not-you.

But when 'you' become 'not you' what basis do you have for relating to the world? To others? How can you truly 'live' by not being yourself? In what sense are you truly alive after you've murdered your 'self'?
Profile Image for Rachel.
100 reviews
August 18, 2012
Me: OMG this book is diagnosing all my problems!!!!1!11
Husband: Then why is it so small?

He was being funny, but he was also making a valid point. The explanation is that this book gets at the root cause of so many things...

The psychology classes I took in college were such awkward mashups of psychoanalysis and behaviorism, at once oversimplifications and obfuscations. If I'd known psychology could be like this, I might have majored in it.

The philosophy classes I took in college were more about things than about being--more about essence than existence, I guess, in more traditional terms--certainly more about object than about subject. They provided fascinating intellectual exercise, but they seemed so irrelevant. If I'd known philosophy could be like this, I might have majored in it.

As it was, the best I could do was major in English, which suited me just fine. But I'm pretty sure this book exemplifies what I was really trying to get at.
Profile Image for Kira.
64 reviews63 followers
July 29, 2011
After a second, or third read (I can't remember), I still consider this the best phenomenological psychology I've ever read.

The case studies showed a combination of empathy and rationality that I find rarely in any written works about people. His studies of Joan, and of Julie, which conclude the book, are tough for me to read without raising strong emotions.

Speaking as a student of philosophy, though, Laing's early work is best when he speculates, and phenomenological speculation may be one of the safer forms. In particular, how are we to answer this question: what is a perspective of experience which does not constitute the feeling of self-identity over time? Frankly, it reminds me of Sartre's claim that any ego, empirical or transcendental, must be constituted on the basis of an impersonal field of experience. Williams James seems to have come to the same conclusion in his later work. To read particular accounts of experience shifting from this impersonal field to one persona or another puts flesh on these philosophical bones, to say the least.

It may be intolerably crass to cite H.P. Lovecraft, the author of gothic fiction, in an attempt to appreciate psychiatric case studies of real human beings, but bear with me. HPL claimed that correlating the total contents of one human mind would be terrible enough to drive one mad. Perhaps that was true for him. It seems to me that it is far more terrifying repeatedly to move between a normal kind of correlation (a personal self), and the impersonal field.

Profile Image for Maica.
62 reviews177 followers
June 5, 2016
This work resonates what I had been thinking for years, it's like a treasure chest filled with things that one knew with great familiarity. An in-depth description and analysis on the phenomenon of the Divided Self. It goes right into the heart of the situation, the inner world, and the dynamics of the Divided Self. The writing is simple and concise, philosophically insightful and psychologically satisfying. Somehow, the ontologically-secure person is the ideal that the self needs to strive for.
Profile Image for Paul Ataua.
1,454 reviews144 followers
November 7, 2017
Revisited “the Divided Self” after 40 years. Working with schizophrenics back then, it was like our bible . It was an approach that didn’t just start from noting down all the abnormalities and then bombarding the person with Thorazine. It tried to understand the differences, to make sense of what seemed to make no sense. I am not sure it got everything right, and maybe it was replacing one mistaken interpretation of schizophrenia with another mistaken interpretation, but it was one hell of an attempt to break away from the rigid “this person is mad and nothing makes sense” approach. It certainly helped me along the path to listening and to not equating difference with abnormality.
Profile Image for Mat McNeil.
6 reviews2 followers
February 2, 2014
R.D. Laing was only twenty-eight years old when he penned his magnum opus, which is a brilliant and visionary orientation to mental illness, informed by the masters of existential-phenomenology (Jaspers, Sartre, et al.), and a work which made him a counter-culture star. For Laing, as for Foucault, mental illness cannot be imputed to biological defect alone. Such a conception amounts to a scapegoat as it outright vindicates society-at-large (and other environmental dynamics) from the fundamental role it plays. Mental illness, then, is a product of our social relations, master-slave dynamics within family and society which inevitably cause some to become "ontologically insecure." The ontologically insecure person is affectively cut off from experience, withdrawn unto himself, enclosed inside a central citadel which is impenetrable to others. Laing suggests that what the schizophrenic attempts to accomplish is a "death inside life" as affective engagement becomes impossible and withdrawal becomes a desperate mode of existence. Such people are hopelessly oriented to life since the very experience and "look" of another is felt to be shattering and suicidal. He suggests that we need to meet the schizophrenic in the fog of his loneliness and break the tyranny of otherness so suffused in him (since the schizophrenic lives under the specter of an 'interiorized other'). This would involve going outside the confines of conventional psychotherapy (we need to integrate MDMA into therapy, in my opinion). "Real toads invade imaginary gardens" in this fine work pulled from your worst acid trip.
Profile Image for Ben Loory.
Author 24 books694 followers
February 16, 2014
one of the best books i've ever read about the workings of the mind; right up there with Consciousness Explained, The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory, and The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. one of those books that presents the mind as a place and not just a bunch of terminology.

on the other hand it makes me want to check myself into a mental hospital ASAP. but hey. pros and cons.
Profile Image for Rowan.
96 reviews13 followers
July 8, 2008
This book blew my goddamn mind. Of course now I'm convinced I'm schizophrenic, but then again...
Profile Image for hayatem.
687 reviews169 followers
July 16, 2023
دراسة في مرض الفصام ومراحله المختلفة والمتطورة في الشخصية عبر الزمن والتي تختلف حدتها من مريض إلى آخر ؛ بين الذات المزيفة أو الوهمية والذات المدركة( الواقعية) / الواعية ، والذات المتجسدة والغير متجسدة؛ والحالة ( البينية) بين هذا وذاك والقدرة على قياس أو ضبط المسافة بينهما. مع توضيح الأسس الفينومينولوجية الوجودية لفهم الذهان.
تحوي مادة الكتاب على عدد من الدراسات والقصص لعدد من الحالات التي تصف التطورات الذهانية وشدتها بين حالة وأخرى. كما تصف حال العقل الذهاني للمريض، وطرقه في التعبير والسيطرة على ذاته المنقسمة بين عدة شخوص أو حالات ل -النفس وأفكار، بين الواقع واللاواقع والانشغال بالذات. و كل المعارك بشذراتها الفوضوية التي تطحنه من الداخل.
Profile Image for Brandt.
145 reviews21 followers
March 29, 2018

As an introduction to this review, the actual process that R.D. Laing undertakes is one of empathically describing the lived experience of his patients that struggle with schizophrenia, in a relatable way. Moreover, Laing attempts to place the foundations of schizophrenic presentation within the family constellation. Notwithstanding this particular summation, my intent is to respect the specific nature of Laing’s endeavor while attempting to abstract his existential comportment and relatedness into a generalized overview towards the givens of existence.

The “problem,” according to Laing, begins with the terminology utilized in exploring the lived experience of others. How can language be used to accurately depict thought? How can the significance and relevance of a person’s situation be conceptualized and isolated for this particular person (client) in relation to another particular person (counselor/therapist)? Obviously, the answer is not to be found in the vocabulary of psychology; nor can it be found in an objective isolation of an individual from their inherently subjective positioning.

Words may have meaning; however, this meaning is lost in abstracta in such words as “mind and body, psyche and soma, psychological and physical, personality, the self, the organism” (Laing, 1969, p. 17). Instead of strengthening the relationship between two people, these words externally objectivize the lived experience of humanity. Further, attempts to fuse these words together, such as, “psycho-physical, psycho-somatic, psycho-biological, psychopathological, psycho-social, etc., etc.,” inappropriately internalize the lived experience of this individual; this person; this being-for-themselves.

Consequently, the concretum must come from the subjective existence of the individual; their being-in-the-world. From the existential perspective, this means relating to the person as being capable of making their own choices, being responsible for their actions, and being capable of experiencing autonomy. Hence, any theory that attempts to synthesize the individual as conditioned responses and learned behaviors, is just as preposterous as any person whose lived experience is envisaged as a robot, a computer, a mind only (with no body), or even as an inhuman animal; “Life, without feeling alive” (Laing, 1969, p.42). Therefore, Laing’s thesis contends that a theory of humanness, that is, what makes this individual human, will lose its importance if it looks at humanity as merely a machine or “an organismic system of it-processes”(Laing, 1969, p. 21).

Perhaps one of the more intriguing aspects of the text is Laing’s exposition of ontological insecurity. Laing presents, the term “ontology,” as “the best adverbial or adjectival derivative of ‘being’” as opposed to the way it is used by Martin Heidegger(1949), Jean-Paul Sartre(1956), and Paul Tillich(1952) (Laing, 1969, p. 40, ff.1). Hence, ontological insecurity is defined as an utter lack of the self-efficacy, and self-validating certainties that secure a personal encounter with the givens of existence. From this position, Laing describes three forms of anxiety encountered by the ontologically insecure person; viz., engulfment, implosion, and petrification.

Of particular interest, Laing describes the lived experience of an ontologically insecure person suffering from the anxiety of implosion as,

The individual feels that, like the vacuum, he is empty. But this emptiness is him. Although in other ways he longs for the emptiness to be filled, he dreads the possibility of this happening because he has come to feel that all he can be is the awful nothingness of just this very vacuum (Laing, 1969, p.47).

This presentation seems consistent with Viktor E. Frankl’s notion of the existential vacuum being “the mass neurosis of the present time” (Frankl, 2006, p. 129). Moreover, Laing suggests that in the petrification (and depersonalization) mode of ontological insecurity, the individual becomes “an it without subjectivity” (Laing, 1969, p. 48). As a result, Laing proposes that from the ontologically insecure position, the more an individual attempts to retain their identity and autonomy by dehumanizing other’s, the stronger the urge to continue the process. This dehumanization of others further results in the accompanying negation of one’s own humanity; thus, the ontological insecurity is increased. The representative culmination is characterized by a depersonalized individual that can be used, manipulated, and acted upon.

From an existential perspective, this means that feelings of frustration and hatred cannot be fully explained by the classical psychoanalytical mode of aggressive and libidinal drives through transference. Instead, these feelings must be considered as arising from an existential stance of allowing a person to choose the person they are; to become the person they want; and, to accept the responsibility of self-definition. Therefore, an environment in which the person can take responsibility and an appeal and comportment toward autonomy is exposed by Laing to be an important condition in the process of becoming.

Moving to the second part of the text, Laing provides insightful definitions of the embodied and unembodied self. Whereas the embodied person feels their body as real, alive, and substantial, the unembodied feeling is characterized by a sense of separation between their mind and body. Laing interprets the embodied and unembodied self as “basic existential settings” (Lang, 1969, p. 69). Hence, the position of the person as an unembodied self is characterized by the feeling that one is more of an object in a world of objects rather than their own individual being.

Contrariwise, the embodied self recognizes their position as a duality of mind and body that culminates in the understanding that they had a beginning and will have an end. In this respect, one’s self is revealed in and through the actions one takes. This is also consistent with the Sartrean (1956) existential stance that existence precedes essence. Moreover, the participation of the embodied self is characterized by active participation in life in spite of the existential anxiety inherent in existence.

This presentation is not to suggest that there is an autotelic end-point or teleological perfection. Indeed, this is why the process of being is seen from the existential perspective of becoming. As Laing suggests,

'A man without a mask’ is indeed very rare. One even doubts the possibility of such a man. Everyone in some measure wears a mask, and there are many things we do not put ourselves into fully. In ‘ordinary life’ it seems hardly possible for it to be otherwise (Laing, 1969, p. 101).

Moreover, existential identity requires others to recognize the individual as a person concomitant with one’s own recognition of self. Hence, it is impossible to consider the idea of perfection outside of a relationship with others. Or, as Lang writes, “[t]he self can be ‘real’ only in relation to real people and things” (Laing, 1969, p. 152). Therefore, the existential task is to become aware of one’s authentic ‘self’ and to see the freedom of choice the individual has from the multitude of possibilities in the givens of existence.

As a final reminder, Laing explains that ultimately, “Personal unity is a prerequisite of reflective awareness, that is, the ability to be aware of one’s own self acting relatively unself-consciously, or with a simple primary non-reflective awareness” (Laing, 1969, p. 214).

Happy Reading!


Frankl, V.E. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Heidegger, M. (1949). Existence and being. London, England: Vision Press.

Laing, R.D. (1969). The divided self. New York, New York: Pantheon Books.

Sartre, J.-P. (1956). Being and nothingness. Trans. Barnes, H. London, England: Rider.

Tillich, P. (1952). The courage to be. London, England: Nisbet.

Profile Image for Magdi.
211 reviews59 followers
June 21, 2023
في كتابه: الذات المنقسمة (دراسة وجودية في العقل والجنون)، يحاول "د: لانج" تقديم سرد وجودي فينومينولوجي لبعض الأشخاص شبه الفصاميين schizoid ومرضى الفصام، ويهدف إلى تقديم صورة مفهومة للجنون والعملية التي تؤدي إلى الإصابة بالجنون. في الفصول الأولى يستهل حديثه موضحًا أسس منهجه العلمي (الفينومينولوجية الوجودية) وهو مذهب فلسفي، غايته لا تكتفي بوصف وتصنيف الظواهر النفسية للشخص، بل وصف طبيعة وخبرة الشخص بعالمه ونفسه بلغته ومنظوره هو، لا كما نتصور أو نرجو أن تكون؛ تحاول رؤيتها وهي تتشكل لتصبح كيانًا كليًا هو سبيل الفرد إلى الكينونة في العالم. وقبل أن يبدأ يقوم بعقد مقارنة منهجه الفينومينولوجي، بالطب النفسي الإكلينيكي والسيكوباثولوجيا الرسميين. موضحًا قصور كلا المذهبين في استيعاب تلك القضايا بأساليبهم ولغتهم المعتادة (التي تبدو عليها آنذاك)، "تشير كلمات المعجم التقني الحالي إما إلى الإنسان بمعزلٍ عن الآخر والعالم، أي بوصفه كيانًا ليس أساسًا «فيما يتعلق» بالآخر ويعيش في عالم، وإما تشير خطأ إلى جوانب جوهرية لهذا الكيان المعزول. هذه الكلمات هي: العقل والجسد، النفس والبدن، السيكولوجي والفيزيائي، الشخصية الذات، الكائن الحي. وهي كلها مصطلحات مجردة. بدلًا من الرابط الأصلي بين أنا وأنت، نتناول إنسانًا منفردًا في عزلة ونفهم جوانبه المختلفة في (الأنا) والأنا العليا» و «ألهو». يصبح الآخر كائنًا دَاخِلِيًّا أو خَارِجِيًّا أو اندماجًا بينهم. كيف يمكن أن نتحدث بشكل مناسب عن العلاقة بيني وبينك من منظور تفاعل جهاز عقلي واحد مع جهاز آخر؟ وحتى، كيف يمكن للمرء أن يقول ما يعنيه إخفاء شيء ما عن نفسه أو خداع نفسه فيما يتعلق بالحواجز بين جزء من جهاز عقلي وجزءٍ آخر؟" فيرى أن دراسة تلك القضايا تتطلب منهجًا وجودي فينومينولوجي لتوضيح ارتباطها الإنساني الحقيقي وتوضيح أهميتها، وبالتالي يُنظر من الناحية الوجودية، إلى العياني على أنه كيان الإنسان، كيانه في العالم.

يرصد بعد ذلك بعض المخاوف التي تمثل جوانب من عدم الأمان الأنطولوجي (الوجودي) الأساسي، گ: الخوف من الموت، الخوف من الاحتلال والاستحواذ، الخوف من فقدان الهوية أو تغيرها، إلى آخره. فيعيش الإنسان المهدد وُجُودِيًّا في رعب مستمر بسبب هذه المخاوف، لكن على الرغم من ذلك تستمر الحياة! هنا؛ وهذا هو محور القسم الثاني من الكتاب: يحاول "لانج" تبيّن العلاقة التي يطورها بعض الأشخاص غير الآمنين وجوديا مع أنفسهم، في ظل أحد أشد الصراعات مع ذواتهم، يرى أنهم بالأحرى يشعرون بأن ذواتهم منقسمة إلى عقل وجسد. ويشعرون بأنهم يتناهون بشكل أقوى مع (العقل). "حين تتخلّى الذات جُزْئِيًّا عن الجسد وأفعاله، وتنسحب إلى النشاط العقلي، تشعر أنها كيان ربما يتمركز في مكان ما من الجسد." يعتبر هذه الانقسام محاولة للتعامل مع عدم الأمان الضمني، أحيانًا يكون محاولة للحفاظ على كيانها، وسيلة للعيش بشكلٍ فعال معه أو حتى التسامي عليه، لكن من الممكن أيضًا أن يُديم المخاوف التي تعتبر إلي حد ما دفاعًا ضده، وقد يتطور وينتهي بالذهان. وهذا الاحتمال موجود إذا بدأ الفرد في التماهي حصريًا مع جزئه الذي يشعر بأنه غير متجسد. في هذا الفصل يقارن بين الذات المجسدة مع الذات غير المجسدة، ومن ثم انقسام الذات، كأن تنقسم ذات المرء إلى ذات حقيقية وأخرى زائفة.

هذا الإنسان غير الآمن وُجُودِيًّا يشعر أنه زائف وفارغ، وهو يضع هويته موضع بحث مستمر. يتجنب الآخرون، والواقع الخارجي كله، لأنهما يشكلان تهديدًا باقتحامه واحتلال فراغه. يكون مهمومًا دائمًا بحماية كيانه الهش حتى في ظروف الحياة العادية. ولكي يشعر بالراحة يلجأ إلى حيلة عقلية يقوم فيها باتخاذ ذات زائفة لحماية ذاته الحقيقية، غير المتجسدة، وأن كل ما يظهر للآخرين والواقع الخارجي مجرد ذات زائفةً لا ينتمي إليه. ولكن ذاته الحقيقية غير المتجسدة تزداد جفافًا مع الأيام لانعدام صلتها بخبرات الواقع الخارجي، الذي تستبدل به عالمًا فنتازيا من نسج خيالها، تقيم فيه علاقات وهمية مع نفسها، فتزداد اغترابًا حتى تذوي وتموت نِهَائِيًّا! "إن الذات «الحقيقية»، التي لم تعد مرتبطة بالجسد الفاني، تصبح «فانتازية»، وتتطاير إلى شبح متقلب من أشباح خيال الفرد. وبالطريقة نفسها، بعزلة الذات كآلية دفاعية ضد الأخطار التي يبدو أنها تهدد هويتها من دون ذلك، تفقد الذات الهوية المزعزعة التي تتمتع بها بالفعل. وبالإضافة إلى ذلك يؤدي الانسحاب من الواقع إلى إفقار «الذات». وتستند قدرتها المطلقة على العجز. وتعمل حريتها في فراغ. ويكون نشاطها بلا حياة تجف الذات وتموت."

يتتبع الكتاب ببعض التفصيل تلك التقنيات التي يلجأ إليها المريض غير الآمن وجودًا، والتي يمكن أن تؤدي بالتالي إلى الذهان، والجنون. كما أنه مزود بدراسات لحالات حقيقية ينتقل فيها الفرد من حالة: شبه الفصام، إلى الفصام، ومن ثم الجنون. استشهاداته العديدة من فلاسفة الوجودية سارتر وهايدجر وكيركجارد، وفلاسفة الفينومينولوجية برنتانو وهوسرل وبنزفاجنر ومنكوفسكى وبوس، بل ومن هيجل وتيلتش وبيكيت، الى جانب علماء النفس فرويد ويونج وكريبلين وسوليفان وعشرات غيرهم. بالنسبة لي هذا أحد أفضل الكتب التي قرأتها في هذا الباب، وقد استفدت منه كثيرًا في الإجابة على الكثير من التساؤلات التي انتابتني مؤخرًا. شكرا لدار آفاق والمترجم الكبير: عبد المقصود عبد الكريم على هذا الكتاب العظيم جدا.#تمت😍
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,030 reviews1,166 followers
May 5, 2016
My draft board office having been fortuitously immolated, I was able to return to Grinnell College in the fall of '72. The year out of school had been fruitful in that the time to read freely led to new interests in philosophy, psychology and religion--to, in other words, consideration of the inner life. I had left college as a history major. I returned to college wanting to major in psychology.

Grinnell's Psychology Department, however, did not offer much of what I was interested in. Their orientation was objective. My interests were with human subjectivity. They seemed to spend a good deal of time studying the behavior of rats. A vegetarian since high school, the torture of animals was anathema to me. Consequently, I had to pursue other avenues which involved some straight psych, some ed psych and a lot of independent study and directed reading projects, many of them sponsored by members of the Department of Religion, some of whom were themselves licensed psychotherapists. It was in the context of these independent study projects that I came upon or was introduced to R.D. Laing and other unorthodox psychologists.

The Divided Self was the first Laing book I read and also the first he had published. Originally, I owned the Penguin edition. Later I was to purchase the three volume hardcover set which also included Sanity, Madness and the Family & Self and Others, reading them in order of composition.
Profile Image for Kressel Housman.
974 reviews226 followers
June 15, 2008
In keeping with my current excursion into the world of abnormal psych, I've just attempted 60 pages of this classic. I think R.D. Laing's main point - that madness is vastly misunderstood and therefore mistreated - is absolutely true, but I found that this book uses as much depersonalizing language as the psychiatrists the author criticizes. I found it very hard reading in spots, and my public library wouldn't let me renew it because it was so overdue. The real test of how dedicated I am to the subject will be if I actually take it out again some time. But for now, it seems Hashem is leading me to All for the Boss.
Profile Image for Melsinyork.
30 reviews6 followers
January 25, 2014
One of my all time favourite books. A wonderful and insightful alternative view of schizophrenia. Inspiring.
Profile Image for Yousef Nabil.
204 reviews203 followers
August 26, 2022
أعادتني قراءة هذا الكتاب لتذكر عالم لانج الذي تعرفت عليه منذ أعوام طويلة عندما وقعت يدي بالصدفة على كتاب: "الحكمة والجنون والحماقة.. سيرة طبيب نفسي" في طبعة بائسة من إصدارات الهيئة المصرية القديمة. منذ فترة مبكرة وأنا مهتم بعلم النفس ولذلك اقتنيت هذا الكتاب. أذهلني هذا الكتاب حينها، لكن عندما قرأت "الذات المنقسمة" الذي يُعتبر إنتاج لانج الأول، بعكس سيرة طبيب نفسي الذي صدر في مرحلة متأخرة، أدركت أن قراءة الأول مهمة لفهم الثاني بصورة أعمق وأدق.
في بداية الكتب يوضح لانج منهجه الفينومنولوجي الوجودي في التعامل مع الظواهر النفسية، وهو منهج إنساني يعتمد على تعليق الحكم "ممارسة فينومينولوجية" والاستماع للمريض جيدًا، ومحاولة فهم منطقه الداخلي وإيقاعه الحيوي بلغته لا بلغتنا، بمنظوره لا بمنظورنا. لا يعني ذلك إهمال التحليل النفسي أو العلم النفسي بوجه عام، ولكن يعني رصد الظاهرة كما هي على حقيقتها ثم الاستفادة من كل منجز علم النفس بعد ذلك. يوضح لانج أن ما لدينا من علم قد صار حمولة تحول دون فهم المريض الذي لم يعد يُعامل كإنسان، بل كظاهرة مرضية أو شيء غير حي.
يتعرض الكتاب لقضية انقسام الذات؛ أن تنقسم ذات المرء مباشرة وتصير هناك ذات حقيقية وذات زائفة. هذا أمر بعيد تمامًا عما يُصوّر في الأفلام السينمائية عن وجود شخصيتين داخل المرء. في الحقيقة يحدث الأمر بصورة مختلفة تمامًا. يحاول المرء أن يخلق ذات زائفة يحمي بها ذاته الحقيقية لوجود مشكلات تهدد وجوده؛ أو بالأحرى لمروره بأزمة وجودية من شانها أن تنسف وجوده. الذات الزائفة التي يخلقها لحمي بها نفسه تتحول إلى تهديد آخر لوجوده. في أحد سطور الكتاب يصف هذه الحالة بشكل مريع؛ يقول مثلا: "ببقائها ميتة بمعنى ما، لا يمكن أن تكون ميتة بمعنى ما، ولكن إذا تحملت مسئولية وجودها حية "حقًا" فقد تُقتل "حقًا". هنا يقتل المريض ذاته حينما يشعر أنها مهددة بالقتل؛ يقتلها كي لا تُقتل!
الكتاب مزود بدراسة حالات حقيقية ينتقل فيها الإنسان من حالة "شبه الفصام" إلى حالة "الفصام" والجنون الكاملين. من الأمور الملفتة جدًا في الكتاب هو نظرته المختلفة إلى مفهوم الجنون، وكيف يمكن أن يعبر المريض – رغم كل التمويهات والإخفاء – عن حقيقة شعوره وحالته بدقة.
يرصد الكتاب أيضًا التقنيات التي يلجأ إليها المريض الذي يُسحق وجوده، وهي التقنيات التي تجعله في الأساس يصنع ذاتًا زائفة لحماية ذاته الحقيقية، ثم سرعان ما ينقلب الأمر لتصير ذاته الزائفة سببًا في موت ذاته الحقيقية.
الكتاب موجه إلى رصد الحالة لا إلى طريقة العلاج. تتمثل طريقة العلاج بالطبع في محاولة العودة بالمريض إلى ذاته الحقيقية، وهو أمر يتطلب في البداية تقبلا له وحبًا حقيقيًا، ومحاولة لفهم حالته من منظوره الشخصي.
يبدو الكتاب في البداية صعبًا بعض الشيء، ولكن مع مرور الصفحات وتكرار الفكرة وتطبيقها على حالات مختلفة تتضح الأفكار بصورة أوضح. أظن إنه كتاب في غاية الأهمية جعلني أرغب في مطالعة كل ما يُترجم للانج.
Profile Image for Daniel.
Author 1 book46 followers
February 20, 2013
The Divided Self is a fairly good and short phenomenological/existential description of schizoid/schizophrenic being-in-the-world. In other words, instead of trying to find a strictly biological or psychoanalytical causal explanation of madness, Laing, drawing from Binswanger, Merleau-Ponty, and Heidegger, tries to describe how the schizoid/schizophrenic person sees and interprets her/his world. For this reason, the book deals much less with alleged causes of madness and more with the healthy and unhealthy relationships between self, body, and world.

For example and as Laing claims, key to understanding the divided character of schizophrenic madness is the distinction between the patient's real self and her presented self: the real self constantly battles to overcome the presented self/body that has been merged or taken over by the world/others. Hence, "[t]his detachment of the self means that the self is never revealed directly in the individual's expressions and actions, nor does it experience anything spontaneously or immediately. The self's relationship to the other is always at one remove" (80). Though neurotic individuals can experience depersonalization or de-realization, their disembodied experiences often leave once their anxiety is taken care of; by contrast, the division between one's own body, one's presented self, and one's 'real' self is fundamental and a permanent feature of the schizophrenic's madness.
Profile Image for Katrina.
63 reviews37 followers
January 1, 2014
You always get the best insights from the people who have actually experienced the disorders. R D Laing has been on both sides of the therapist's couch, so to speak. This is one of the best, most insightful psychology books I have read, certainly the best account of what schizophrenia is actually like. I assume. I wouldn't really know, so I'm trusting Liang to know his stuff.

Anyway yeah, I'm excited to write my essay now because of this book. Still a little intimidated by the topic (how does one argue about the self and consciousness, there's nothing to hold on to!) but excited nonetheless.
Profile Image for Brendan.
9 reviews2 followers
July 1, 2009
I am not a fan of psychology, but I felt that this was a very human and humane treatment of mental illness. Illuminating in its understanding and sensitivity.
Profile Image for Tim Pendry.
1,016 reviews374 followers
April 2, 2021

Laing still has his followers and his own work moved on somewhat from this 'classic' early text but, as the introduction to this edition by neuropsychiatrist Anthony David suggests, his 'insights' of the late 1950s into the causes of schizophrenia have not stood the professional test of time.

This does not mean that he was wrong since we should always be wary of expert claims (they may be overturned a decade or more later) but only that the book is not likely to be useful to working psychologists rather than cultural historians and those 'searching for meaning'.

The book should be seen as a humanist tract coming out of two intellectual trends - existentialist philosophy and psychotherapy. It still has value as insight into the trajectory of thought as our culture moved into the 'sixties'. It is still provocative in its working model of our own condition.

The basic thesis is outlined with all the complex language of these two traditions, creating the paradox that an appeal to direct engagement with the problem of 'madness' beyond objectivity is couched in a rather sclerotic and often derivative language of 'given discourses'.

Critics might also point out to Laing's well known personal instabilities and his inability to maintain his own family despite the costs that his own writings might have implied as far as his children were concerned. I am not going to go down that route.

What is clear is that Laing is as divided as his objects of study in simultaneously trying to maintain some degree of scientific objectivity (while chafing against the theory) and 'sympathy' for the sufferers of mental breakdown. Sometimes it feels as if this book is his own psychotherapy.

The best chapters (whatever the scientific validity) are the last two which give us evidence of one schizophrenic's [Joan] own assessment of their situation (helping Laing's thesis along the way) and a dreadful account of extreme suffering [Julie].

The book ends with no resolution, no suggestion of a cure or a treatment, just a description of a state of being with the barest suggestion of some hope that is barely justified by what has gone before. The book becomes, in the end, an intellectual exercise.

To get to that point, Laing puts forward a theory of the dynamic between the 'false self' and the 'inner self' that is too complicated to summarise here but depends greatly on existentialism and phenomenology to carry its weight.

I am not qualified to judge the validity of his work in relation to treatment matters. Perhaps there are insights that are being ignored by modern experts. However, I was not as a lay person persuaded that Laing had honestly been more than suggestive. He provides 'insufficient data'.

The book becomes useful not because it tells us very much about schizophrenia that is useful (other than to confirm that it exists and is horrible) but because Laing is capturing (through the philosophy rather than his profession of psychiatry) some dark truths about our general condition.

What I found useful was the existentialist 'mythology' that he develops out of a combination of his own discomfort, study. professional practice and the observed tragedy of people whose minds completely break down for whatever reason.

What seems psychologically (at least as a means to treatment and cure) inadequate seems quite the opposite as a popularisation of the grim insights of the existentialist philosophers which have always struck me as both intrinsically true and socially unpalatable.

This does not mean that it is a great work in any way because the great work in this area is to be found in the philosophers themselves - Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre amongst others. The book is more in the tradition of Colin Wilson's 'The Outsider' as exposition of an 'ideology'.

This is not to say that it is not an important historical text precisely because a tormented professional, faced by the horrors of madness, is attempting to find an answer and offers the last late flowering of existentialist thought as part of his tool kit (at least in this book).

Having said that, the humanist aspects of his analysis are still valuable and they ring true. Laing has found something very askew in the way our consciousness can work, how families can twist things into crisis and minds can collapse in onto themselves like black holes.

There is a lot of philosophy surrounding consciousness and a separate (continental) philosophy of our relation to being but less is done on the historical evolution and contingency of consciousness not just in individual human development but within humanity over time.

Of course, the problem is that the data is often not there and what is there is skewed to extreme cases and literate elites (who mask their inner selves in any case as part of their means of retaining power).

My intuition (no more) is that Laing was looking at a set of general truths about consciousness (which existential phenomenology provides) but then taking the contingent conditions of the nuclear family in the mid-twentieth century and over-egging his pudding as a result.

Nevertheless, as I read the book, periodically I would find an insight that raised the potential fragility of my own sanity (and those around me) and how the process he describes could spin any of us under certain conditions (but there is surely a genetic issue of predisposition) into the abyss.

Most of us, if we think about it, know that our inner self and our socialised self (centred initially on the family and its treatment of our autonomy) have some type of dynamic relationship that may not be unstable for everyone but could become very unstable and may result in miserable 'fixes'.

From this perspective the book is still worth reading for its ability to 'shake up' our complacent beliefs that we have achieved reliable stability on the one hand or must accept our miserable 'fixes' or neuroses (designed to hold us together) as both given and inevitable on the other.

Laing's description of minds becoming increasingly trapped in some sort of 'death in life' where a whole series of paradoxes, contradictions, failures of communications, ignorances and misunderstanding conspire to send someone into hell remains coherent and plausible.

The book does not really answer why some people and not others, why some 'fixes' are creative, beneficial and part of personality (he alludes to William Blake suggestively) and some are disastrous and what can be done about it all. The book is not 'helpful' in that respect.

Indeed, I think some people might be rather disturbed by the book in a way that is not at all helpful though I doubt if it would send anyone mad on its own. It is not Act II of 'The King in Yellow'. All in all, worth reading but less as psychology and more as thoughtful popular philosophy.
Profile Image for Simon Robs.
438 reviews95 followers
October 5, 2018
This too, was a set-up book, surveying one of the seminal backgrounding source books Will Self used in creating his alter-ego character, Dr. Zack Busner psychiatrist and oddly too a"Knight of the Rueful Figure" in so many ways, which run throughout the entirety of (Self's) novelistic work beginning with "Quantity Theory of Insanity" - so, and but so, getting back to THIS book and author, well it's interesting mostly now as dated psychotherapy with some trippy stuff about ontological embodiment and false-self [divided] configured peeps, all with meds but before pharmacology took over, but even more so because Laing went much further in holding back, the jargon, classifications and treatments or lack thereof. Laing WAS the partial model of Busner, then it got the Self spin to oscillate into [FULL] motion which then cloned into several books' worth of nuttiness with a teleological pull that I'm pretty sure ends with "Phone" Self's last book and my next read. It's all things schizoid which is Self's playground and as such this, Laing's book so neatly puns Will as in his OWN 'Divided Self' don't'cha-think?
Profile Image for Dajana.
77 reviews27 followers
December 13, 2016
Vrlo korisna knjiga iz kliničke psihijatrije i prakse, a pritom teorijski potkovana filozofijom i primerima iz književnosti koji su povezani sa konkretnim shizoidnim/shizofrenim/psihotičnim slučajevima.
Čitala sam je kao pripremu za rad o delu koje je navodno nastalo pod uticajem ove studije, ali mislim da je zanimljiva i ljudima koji nisu psihijatri ili se ne bave ovakvim temama - napisana je jednostavno, tako da i onaj koji ne poznaje tad aktuelnu fenomenološku i egzistencijalističku filozofiju može da se snađe, a da ipak nema utisak da mu neko potcenjuje inteligenciju.
Preporučujem je svima jer je korisna za razumevanje grupe ljudi koji se bilo romantizuju, bilo mistifikuju i odstranjuju iz društva, a posebno je korisna za prepoznavanje shizoidnosti (to je još uvek zdrava osoba) kod sebe i drugih (možda se tinejdžeri najviše bore s ovim problemom). Na kraju, ovo je divno delo koje govori o tome da je psihijatrova osnovna i najbitnija sposobnost da bude Čovek.
Profile Image for akemi.
435 reviews132 followers
June 6, 2018
I like Laing, but isn't the reclamation of some autonomous self simply the inverse of the schizophrenic's fantasy--the modernist's fantasy of wholeness? At least the schizophrenic recognises their lack, their failure to be whole or genuine. Rather than try to reclaim a wholeness or authenticity (that was never there to begin with), should we not instead be ridding ourselves of this totalising modernist fantasy?

Does Laing not reproduce these feelings of inadequacy (of not being oneself) in the very patients he's trying to help, through the imposition of an existentialist model of selfhood that conjures another imago beneath the mask?

(Why does he wear the mask? Because without it he is nothing. Something something Goffman.)
Profile Image for Somayeh Farhadi.
71 reviews63 followers
October 13, 2019
نویسنده مفهوم «امنیتِ بودن در جهان» را اساسی بر تحلیلش از دیوانگی می‌کند. و دیوانگی را در چارچوبی هستی‌گرایانه توضیح می‌دهد. در واقع نویسنده می‌خواهد بگوید: دیوانگی را می‌شود فهمید.
کتاب کم حجم است اما تحلیل‌های بسیار جالبی از رفتارهای بیماران اسکیزویید و اسکیزوفرنی و ... (در مثال‌های متعدد) داده است. البته این را هم بگویم که کتاب خوانش آسانی ندارد. دنبال کردن جمله‌ها سخت است و گاهی آدم فکر می‌کند که یک روان‌پریش آن‌ها را نوشته‌است! نویسنده به وضوح «نویسنده» نیست (شاید هم هوش من رو به زوال است!).
در هر صورت اگر به ادبیات علاقه دارید، این کتاب را حتمن بخوانید. توصیه‌ی عجیبی است! اما این را می‌گویم چون باور دارم تحلیل، فهم، و بعدها خلق شخصیت‌ها در شاهکارهای ادبی نیاز به آگاهی ژرف از روان انسان دارد. و البته هیچ موضوعی جز پیچیدگی‌های انسان نتوانسته اثر بزرگی خلق کند.
Profile Image for Bonita.
3 reviews3 followers
February 17, 2014
As a student of psychology, it is perhaps easier to read the literature and be somewhat dispassionate about it. This book proves the exception to that rule! Probably the most insightful, provocative read into what could be termed "the inception of schizophrenia (hence the title), that anyone has yet recorded!
Incredible! Sometimes, painfully so!
Profile Image for Cana.
34 reviews2 followers
July 25, 2010
Utterly amazing. Read this many years ago while at university and it helped change my perception of psychiatry and psychology. It changed my whole perception of what mental illness was and how it is such a thin Line between us 'normal' people and those with a diagnosis.
Profile Image for Photokitten.
33 reviews
May 26, 2007
I think this crazy Scottsman may be my fave pychiatrist that ever lived
Profile Image for Sajid.
423 reviews67 followers
January 29, 2022
A brilliant analysis of man's existential position in madness and sanity

The introduction and some of the initial pages of this book was remarkable. Laing's way of unmasking the conceptual jargon of psychoanalysis was quite revolutionary at that time. And it was revolutionary in a sense that he popularised the phenomenological or ontological term in the field of psychology. Or in Laing's own words,“This book attempts an existential-phenomenological account of some schizoid and schizophrenic persons.” And which i think Laing did successfully in this book without wasting any time of the reader. Besides, it was written in a very precise and clear-cut way. “ Existential phenomenology” says Laing, “attempts to characterize the nature of a person’s experience of his world and himself.It is not so much an attempt to describe particular objects of his experience as to set all particular experiences within the context of his whole being-in-his-world.” So Laing here mostly gave his reference to Sartre and Heidegger,and to Kierkegaard as well (And probably it was Kierkegaard who in his book The sickness unto death analysed philosophically the condition of a man who is lost or fragmented).

So after giving some intial basis for our understanding of his approach he right away started to analyse how "psychoses" or "schizoid" condition wraps up a man from his fundamental ontological insecurity(i think it was very good of Laing to use the word “ontology” here other than any vague Freudian term). He says that he can approach this problem in only particular way and he went on to explain schizophrenic and psychotic conditions in terms of "embodiment" and "disembodiment". Whereas in embodiment a person is blinded by his bodily pleasure and existence without being aware of his psychological realm. And in case of disembodiment a person is detached from material world,even from his body,everything seems to him fake. And it is only in latter case that Laing guides us throughout the book,which is schizophrenia. He gave reference to so many of his patients, and tried to describe their condition in existential phenomenological way.

So these are the basic outlines of this book. And i think each of us should be aware of what Laing is trying to communicate to us. Which has become much more important in this era of social media.
Profile Image for T.
195 reviews1 follower
January 26, 2023
"Schizophrenia is a disaster in life, but a gift in poetry"
-Harold Bloom

Non-commital existentialist (with a dash of psychoanalysis and Hegelianism) reading of schizophrenia.

I'm sure it was groundbreaking in the 1950s, but now it reads like an armchair speculation on what Sartre would say on Laing's patients. The narrative gets more boring and threadbare as the book's initially interesting ideas grow increasingly dull and tiresome; a priori assumptions speak over the patients' experience, and rigour progressively loses its place. If the patient does want recognition, why must the theoretical baggage weigh so heavily over the intended actions and words that they speak?

Also, Laing seems to underplay the seriousness of his subject. Whilst empathy should always be extended to those suffering with mental health problems, they are not merely literary devices, or a sign of a "mad world" - they can have serious implications on the sufferer and their family. Whether the world is "false" or "one dimensional", we have to live in it, and utopianism and hedonism mustn't become an excuse for an abdication of responsibility. Utopianism and hedonic desires should anchor our thoughts, to provide transcendence and shape concrete possibilities, not become fetishised ends in themselves.

Either way, if my choice was between treatment from Laing or electro shock therapy and forced consumption of insulin, I'll take the mad Scotsman!
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