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The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  5,042 ratings  ·  169 reviews
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 m ...more
Paperback, Penguin Psychology, 224 pages
Published August 30th 1965 by Penguin (first published 1960)
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Aug 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 t
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 be ...more
Nov 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

We killed God - in our childhood.

But I was much worse...

At the age of 12, I became what R.D, Laing terms “ontologically insceure” - 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.

Why? Like Adam, I had heard the fateful footsteps of God approaching in my innocent garden. S
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Jul 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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 t

Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
One cannot go too long in this life without meeting people who have more or less lost their humanity (try saying "Hello!" to everyone you meet today on the street; you will invariably be met with not a few mute lips and stone-faced grimaces!). This is called alienation, and schizophrenia is the psychological term for it. I like to call it the Madonna-syndrome, because the primary symptom is not identifying with what one projects oneself to be. Hence, schizophrenics are everything in fantasy beca ...more
Mat McNeil
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Ben Loory
Feb 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Paul Ataua
Nov 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 at ...more
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008
This book blew my goddamn mind. Of course now I'm convinced I'm schizophrenic, but then again... ...more
Mar 28, 2018 rated it liked it

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 i

Erik Graff
Oct 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: wanna-be psychotherapists
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: psychology
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 orien
Kressel Housman
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 ...more
Dec 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of my all time favourite books. A wonderful and insightful alternative view of schizophrenia. Inspiring.
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 an ...more
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 on
Simon Robs
Oct 04, 2018 rated it liked it
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 a ...more
Jun 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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!
Jul 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
May 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those into exsistential psychology
I think this crazy Scottsman may be my fave pychiatrist that ever lived
Jun 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
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.
Arjun Ravichandran
Jul 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
There is succinct methodology to his book, seeing as it is one of the prime examples (as well as being one of the first) of “existential psychiatry" around - and this methodology comes down to the rigorous pursuit of conclusions occasioned by the fundamental revisions of the premises of classical psychiatry.

What this basically means is that the author, a rogue psychiatrist quite well-versed in existential philosophy (there are numerous references to Heidegger and Sartre) as well as an appreciat
Nov 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pdp
Giving it 4* rather than 5* may seem a tad harsh when you read what I'm going to say, but it makes sense to me when you consider the evolution of theory and practice since this was written, and the differences in language inherent of such changes. And I like to think I'd know something of this, working in the trade.

There have been some mind-melting sections, some mind-bending sections and then there have been some enlightening and well crafted sections.

I've enjoyed reading every page - even the
Sep 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theory, psychology
"Psychotherapy is an activity in which that aspect of a patient's being, his relatedness to others, is used for therapeutic ends. The therapist acts on the principle that, since relatedness is potentially present in everyone, then he may not be wasting his time in sitting for hours with a silent catatonic who gives every evidence that he does not recognize his existence." ...more
Oct 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
if you really want to understand schizophrenia, this is one of the best books on the subject that i've read. ...more
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Well, that was a disquieting mirror to my own psyche...

I loved it!
Enrico Schiavo
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
To a better understanding of this book, I recommend Machado de Assis' short novel "O Espelho" (The Mirror). It is only 5 pages long.

"The Divided Self" is an existential study in sanity and madness. The subtitle says it all. It is existentialist in two ways.

First, it strikes against the whole schematization put forth by traditional psychiatry and the orthodox psychoanalysis, as both try to encapsulate the patient's psychology within rigid frameworks. To an existentialist's point of view, the pat
Oliver Clarke
Sep 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was heavy going at times and ended up being a frustrating mix of brilliant insights that made perfect sense and long sections I didn’t understand at all. That’s probably as much my fault as Laing’s!
Apr 21, 2017 rated it liked it
I heard about and read this book years ago. It wasn't an easy read. I've got the book on my bookshelf (the one that exists in this dimension) and I've no desire to read it again anytime soon.

The above was as succinct as I could be about this book. Literal also, except for the bit about this dimension (just checked and the bookcase is still there, phew). I'm not even sure what dimensions are exactly. R D Laing might urge you not to be so ontologically insecure, somewhat like this book did me all
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Warning: for hardy souls who are not easily unbalanced. The book is likely to cause introspection, some identification (even if on trivial levels), and questioning of own mental stability. Proceed with caution.

The thesis, in my interpretation: Madness arises from the tension between who we think we are and who we think others perceive us to be. If we are insecure, this tension may create a conflict, which may escalate along ever-widening spirals, destroying more and more of our healthy relations
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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 descrip ...more

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