Psychopathology of everyday life


This is a re-post of the April 3, 2010 entry from my blog Dreams of Translucence (http://turiyatita.blogspot.com).

Psychopathology of everyday life

I have been writing a lot about many different ways pathologies exist in personality and society. This interest of mine in pathological states and conditions didn't emerge out of simple curiosity; these are the practical questions asked by life itself to figure out. Since there is a spectrum of consciousness (that is, our consciousness is multilevel and multidimensional) it appears that there is also a spectrum of pathologies that can emerge at any stage of development and then progress through our being-in-the-world. Any kind of behavior, including pathological (with corresponding interior states), seems to be in some way an adaptive response of the mind-body system to certain circumstances in life. Post-traumatic stress disorder, for instance, characterized by the dissociative defense mechanism seems to emerge in an attempt of psyche to chunk traumatic experiences in pieces so as to defend the structure of the conscious self from the experiences it can't digest yet.
 
In classical psychiatry there are "bigger" psychological pathologies that structure the entire life around them (psychotic to borderline) and there are "smaller" pathologies (neurotic) that, even though they affect the matrix of experience, allow one to live more or less adaptive social life to some point. Wilber and some other authors argue that the continuum of psychopathology isn't limited by the psychotic to borderline to neurotic sequence and there are also role/script pathologies, identity pathologies, existential pathologies, and various spiritual pathologies (each corresponding to the stage of development where it emerged). In fact, Wilber divides psychopathologies into three broad categories: prepersonal (psychotic to borderline to neurotic), personal (role/script to identity crisis to existential), and transpersonal (psychic to subtle to causal). The last category is still not well-studied in terms of its cohesive integration with the prepersonal and the personal which are more conventionally known levels of pathology; and Wilber's model of consciousness and its pathologies has been in its own development, so certain aspects of the transpersonal category must be revisited (to my knowledge, no official work has been published yet introducing the last installment of Wilber's view on spiritual pathologies; the world is still waiting for the revised edition of Transformations of Consciousness, a book that Wilber calls one of his most important works, to be published).
 
In order not to distract us from the simple point of this post (those of the readers who are not interested in a technical psychological talk can skip to the next paragraph), I will just briefly mention here that, since there has been a new understanding that we can speak of vertical and horizontal development, with the former being a structural (structure-stage) development towards higher altitudes of consciousness and the latter being a state (state-stage) development that is characterized by an increasing access to various spiritual states of consciousness that can be occurring to some extent at any altitude of consciousness, what Wilber previously saw as pathologies in the transpersonal structures of consciousness (which are very advanced stages of vertical development) now can be seen rather as pathologies in the ways individual consciousness (being at any level of development) embraces spiritual states of consciousness. To my opinion this is very important because it leads to the conclusion (in a form of hypothesis) that in the worst cases one person can combine both structural and state pathologies. For instance, if a neurotic person undertakes meditation practice (such as, e.g., vipassana or Transcendental Meditation), is stubborn enough, and doesn't receive care from a really qualified teacher, he or she can actually succeed in adding a spiritual state pathology to his already emerged structure pathology of neurosis; and those ought to be treated simultaneously. Not to mention that his neurotic self will be interpreting all state experience accordingly to the already pathological (i.e. incorrect, false, lying) view of the self and others. It doesn't necessarily take a conscious spiritual practice, there can be spontaneous awakenings towards deeper states dimensions.
 
Now, what's probably the most important is that if structural and states pathologies can emerge simultaneously in one psychological system then they will be naturally forming a kind of interpenetrated unity, something like a states-and-structures knot, and it can be very hard to untie this knot and to hermeneutically make sense of it. I know of one case when a probably borderline/narcissistic individual, let's call him S., had a series of spiritual experiences that led him into thinking that he, and he only, was Jesus Christ and others ought to listen to him and follow his commands for he, and he only, came to save the world. S. was already wanted by Interpol for crimes he committed in a different country (in Russia; the European country where he resided gave him asylum because he was a citizen of this country) but he thought that since he was Jesus Christ himself he will not be arrested. This led him to actually attempting to leave the asylum country and travel to Russia; and, as one would rightly guess, right on the border he was arrested and imprisoned (this is where my knowledge of the story ends). This JC experience (which may or may not be considered a some kind of false satori) wasn't initially a part of the pathological phenomenology of this individual; it was appropriated by his borderline "self" (actually, it can hardly be said that there is any self in a conventional sense in a person with the borderline psychopathologies) later on.
 
This case seems to present a person with a psychopathic personality disorder (Hare characterizes psychopaths as following: "Lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse") who for several years was able to create a kind of predatory/criminal business in Moscow based on lies, manipulations, and so on; and for a few years he had been a millionaire until he lost everything and had to flee the country which led him into a crisis of personal insignificance and an idea that if he prayed to God enough his previous life would return to him. For his self-sense it has been absolutely okay to lie, manipulate, exploit, betray, show aggressive/destructive tendencies, etc. without any remorse for most of his life. The series of mystical experiences that emerged in his attempts to undertake a spiritual discipline to recover from the shock of losing everything was appropriated by his pathological self and led to emerging of what conventional psychiatrists would call a delusional idea ("I am [i.e., my ego] [virtually] Jesus Christ; and you must obey me"), which, if that person were under psychiatric care, could pose a serious problem for differential diagnostics (e.g., he could be treated as a schizophrenic psychotic rather than a borderline psychopath that he probably was which are different diagnoses requiring different treatment modalities—and without this delusional idea, thanks to his well-developed social mask, he could be misdiagnosed as borderline-to-neurotic or even neurotic).
 
I recall as one of the people who knew that individual personally and suffered from his actions for some years characterized S., "You could meet him and speak to him for some time and think that he is a nice person who is worth your friendship; and then he would suddenly hit you in the back with a knife by stealing from you or framing you or betraying you in any possible way—or even attempting to actually beat you or kill you." The most peculiar thing was that from the exterior point of view for long time this person seemed to have no problem adapting to his social environment; and he could have been that rich John Smith living in a private house that you pass by while driving into the city suburbs.
 
And yet encountering such a person in life and communicating with him/her is no game at all because in order to survive in the childhood such a person had to develop a ruthless psychopathic personality that subsequently became effective enough to betray and manipulate dozens of people and get a house in the most expensive place in Russia—which is incidentally one of the most expensive places in the world (the notorious Rublyovka district in Moscow, where all leaders and large businessmen dream to live; perhaps, this district can be called a psychopathic paradise, a place where the densest and the richest population of psychopaths in the world resides because most of the people living there earned their capital through 1990s in the times when there was no law, only brutal force and deception reigned). He could literally ruin your life; especially if you are a lay person not familiar with a complex compound individuality of a psychopath you will not be able to correctly recognize a psychopath as such. Survival drives such people to developing sometimes a very charismatic personae system (system of social masks) so as to hide the dark passenger beneath the social mask from the world. (Dark passenger is a term from the brilliant Dexter TV series which are based on novels about a charismatic serial killer written by Jeff Lindsay.)
 
I remember when I tried to convey these my insights about psychopaths and how deceitful they can be for the first time I encountered a blank stare or even an aggressive response; and I have pondered what would that mean. And then I realized that since there is that spectrum of consciousness and corresponding pathologies it is actually very easy for all people to develop a pathology of their own. So almost everybody has a skeleton hidden in his or her own closet. In many cases such a pathology isn't severe, it can be a common neurosis or a script pathology; but since most people are not familiar with classifications of psychopathology they irrationally fear that the little shadow monster that they have been trying to hide in the depths of their psyche is actually a big scary monster, the kind of monster that, if revealed to people, would destroy their lives.
 
At some point in life almost every individual has to go through a process of coming out (initially, coming out was the term for revealing one's own sexual orientation but I believe it to be a much broader process relating to any system of self-experience that one tries to hide from oneself and others; in the broadest sense it could mean coming to terms with one's identity and the way it is interrelated with the social world). We think of our "huge" monster as of something to hide from everybody; but in most cases it appears that if we actually have this "huge" monster to come out of the closet we encounter that it is a small, cute, and perhaps a little bit angry boy or girl who is not scary at all; and, in fact, no one actually cares about your little boy or girl because everybody is so much obsessed with their own closeted boys and girls (that they falsely perceive as monsters), some personal problems of their own that are common to everybody, that they simply don't see you and build excessive systems of defense just to avoid the pain of a small girl being left home alone or of a small boy being yelled at by a parent.
 
We experience this closeted and alienated chunk of experience of ours as something disturbing to us so we do our best to be blind about it and not to see it or hear it or feel it. So any time I attempt to speak about this psychopath issue openly there is a chance that another person would projectively identify with the psychopath in question (even though he or she probably has just a little and harmless neurotic subpersonality) and sense immediate danger of one's own coming out. This results in prematurely shutting down of any kind of such talk and triggering all kinds of avoidance mechanisms.
 
The difference between a psychopathic personality and a neurotic subpersonality within a more-or-less well-adapted self-system, however, is that while the latter senses its neurotic symptoms as egodystonic (something in my own existence that is dangerous or inappropriate for my sense of self) to the former it doesn't even occur that his or her psychopathy must be cured (the psychopathological—psychopathic—structure is so embedded into the personality system and self-sense that it is completely egosyntonic); and it is actually totally okay for a psychopathic manipulator to stay a psychopathic manipulator for the rest of the life; and for a psychopath there would be no compliance (willingness to be healed) in regard to the core features of his psychopathology. It's as if these individuals say, "My psychopathy is who I am, doctor, don't you even dare to touch it, and I want to stay the way I am; what I'm interested in is why I have this headache and also why I get divorced three times, please help me with that." (But, actually, since psychopaths are so identified with their psychopathology they can't even say that because they are that, the exploiting/manipulative maniacs, and it is what they do for a living; it's not observable for them.)
 
The mistake that we all do in communicating with psychopaths is that we are so blinded by our little closeted monsters that we do our best not to see somebody who is a real monster and a social predator; and it seems that psychopaths tend to be extremely dexterous at using this blind spot of ours that we so carefully sustain. They are experienced masters of exploiting our weaknesses. When meeting another person we usually think that he or she thinks and feels the same way we do or deny ourselves of doing instead of putting ourselves into his or her shoes and hermeneutically understanding that this other person that we meet is a microcosm of its own. Thus, we tend to simplify other person's behavior and personality while overemphasizing the complexity of our own. Why we do it? One of possible explanations that I can think of is that in order to actually recognize the complexity of other person (not necessarily a psychopath) we have to empathically understand him or her, dialogue with him or her, and cognitively reconstruct his or her experience in our mind-body system; in turn, this could lead to our meeting with some closeted aspects of our own self (the same principle works within Gestalt therapy; and initially there is always resistance to letting go of one's habitual responses, scripts, and patterns which manifests, for instance, as an anxious struggle against doing the Gestalt dialogue and fighting against the therapist or facilitator who offers you to explore such an opportunity).
 
This seems to be one of the complex reasons why it is so hard for us to address difficult problems openly and honestly and directly. It simply causes anxiety; and we tend to be too serious about our experience, so we resist feeling anxiety and the truth beneath it.
 
Last point I would like to emphasize about psychopathologies is that they seem to be cross-culturally widespread (even though in different kinds of societies they can take different forms). My examples are not limited just to Russia; the psychopathic S. that I described above actually grew up in a European country; furthermore, this post itself was inspired by a news article saying that Rodney Alcala, an American serial killer and rapist, was "sentenced to death as police fear he could be behind 130 murders." The news article goes on describing this person as extremely smart and charismatic and seemingly socially adapted:
The photographer, who is said to have a genius IQ of 160, often boasted of his winning an episode of the American version of Blind Date. However, the woman who chose him later canceled their date because she found him "too creepy."
I strongly encourage you to read about the crimes he committed and his behavior in the court. See below a footage of his participating in a famous American TV show after he was already a psychopathic serial killer. Look him in the face. It is not necessary for a person with a severe psychopathology to be a murderer, he or she may enjoy pathological lying, emotional or sexual abuse, spoiling or tempting an innocent, and so on.  There are different types of personality disorder. He or she can be more or less dangerous than this particular case (it can be a historical leader figure like Stalin or Hitler whose actions and narcissistic struggle resulted in deaths of millions and karmic consequences for the entire planet).

The striking thing is that they will show no remorse. This is not that rare and far from your life; this could be your neighbor. This is what the real monster in a human flesh looks like (and this is where non-judgmental relativism ends). I am convinced that we have no luxury to continue being blind about difficulties of life and avoiding to take the darkest sides of the Kosmos into the fullest consideration that is only possible. We have to come to terms with difficult aspects of reality and how we can be compassionate even towards these poor souls and yet always keeping in mind the whole picture, including all the evils they do to others.

I didn’t find how to embed the following video, so I invite you to watch it at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Uf95INZmWI