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Containing opposites, spirits, and “schizophrenia”

“Schizophrenia” can be seen as revolving around having difficulty in containing opposites, such as love and aggression.  In normal everyday culture, opposites are often contained simply by pretending they aren’t there and aren’t supposed to be there, while “under the table” they are allowed to coexist.  In other words, hypocrisy is the rule.  Those who end up defined as “schizophrenic” are often those who actually attempt to do what the culture says it does, which is to get rid of one opposite in favor of another.  This sets off an internal war, as other parts of the self rise up to prevent any such elimination, since in reality both opposites are necessary to life.

At the same time, when people who are caught up in “schizophrenia” manage to recover, they do a huge service for the culture, because they find ways to accomplish the reconciliation of opposites in new ways, and often ways that are much less hypocritical than those common in the culture beforehand.

Of course, problems with opposites manifest as other disorders as well.  Elizabeth Howell writes well about this in her chapter in the book “Psychosis, Trauma and Dissociation: emerging perspectives on severe psychopathology.”  She writes that what we call borderline personality disorder emerges out of a pattern where a person alternates between being “hyperattached” which means ignoring abuse etc. in order to attach, and being totally focused on aggression, with no regard to one’s need for attachment.  This follows from the abused child’s dilemna, of both needing to attach and needing to defend against abuse. 

She calls it a “stable instability” when a person is locked into an “avoidant oscillation,” in this case where being hyperattached leads to a fear that one is being too vulnerable, which leads to flipping over to being aggressive, which leads to a fear of loss of attachment, which then leads again to being hyperattached.  The problem is that while being hyperattached, the person is dissociating the need for protection from harm from the attachment figure, while when being aggressive, the person is dissociated from the need for attachment.  In each case the person’s sense of security is increased by the dissociation, but this also leads to an overall lack of integration in behavior.

I think people who are diagnosed with psychosis often have the same issues, but rather than “flip” into identifying with the opposite, they often have the opposite manifest within them as some pattern that seems autonomous, such as a voice, or something that gets projected as some kind of paranoid fear. 

I recently was looking at Mirel Goldtein’s website and saw a slide by Andrew Gumley that said:

“Adult Attachment Interview and Psychosis
• Studies using the AAI in individuals diagnosed with BPD
have found that participants tend to be classified as
preoccupied with attachment. Narratives tend to be long
and confusing and reflect angry, fearful or passive accounts
of attachment experiences and unresolved for loss and
trauma (Bateman & Fonagy; Dozier, Stovall & Albus,
• In contrast, individuals diagnosed with Schizophrenia tend
to use dismissing / avoidant attachment strategies
associated with the closing down of positive and negative
affect and the avoidance of emotionally valenced
memories (Dozier et al., 1992).”

I think one way of looking at this is that the individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia have the same problem in integrating opposites as do those with borderline personality disorder, but they tend to use a different dysfunctional coping strategy:  attempting to close down the affect, which then emerges in the form of voices and such, at least when it does emerge.

I then read an article this morning with a bit of a different angle on things, “The Presence Of Spirits In Madness:  A Confirmation of Swedenborg in Recent Empirical Findings.  It was written by a psychologist, Wilson Van Dusen, who had spent a lot of time talking with people’s voices, and he talks about the difference between what seem to be “low” and “high” spirits.  He identifies “low spirits” as mostly harmful, but also as having the possible positive function of making conscious the person’s weaknesses and faults.  (In other words, it has a function much like automatic critical thoughts which are experienced by most of those who don’t hear voices.) 

Most people troubled by voices seem highly motivated to “not hear” the voices, and I believe this relates to a tendency to just want to avoid the negative affect that comes with knowing weaknesses and faults.  On the other hand, some people who still hear voices but who have learned to not be bothered by them seem to not be avoidant of learning about things that might cause negative affect:  instead they look past any exaggerations made by the voices and then actually use the voices as clues about where their weaknesses and faults may be, then they take appropriate action, and end up thanking the voices for their assistance in creating awareness of areas that needed attention. 

So there is a way to “integrate” even the lowest sort of voice, as being of possible help.  As for the “higher” voices, I think it is also true for all of us that when our consciousness is working at its highest level, it seems to be “not us” because it certainly rises past our usual level of function.  But I guess that’s a whole other discussion.

I have thought for awhile that what are often called “spirits” are the same phenomena as what people in complexity theory might call self organizing phenomena – but that’s another discussion too.

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