The Divided Self Commentary

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‘The Divided Self’ by R. D. Laing
Commentary

In ‘The Divided Self’, Laing examines schizoid and schizophrenic people and attempts to make their situation more understandable in existential terms. In order to understand Laing’s work, a person must first understand the concept of existential phenomenology, in which a person is characterized by his way of being-in-the-world. It involves the way he reacts to his environment and himself as a part of his world. It must also be mentioned that a person can not interact with the world, without having relatedness to others in the world.

Part One
Laing begins by stating that a schizoid is one that is divided into different parts, between himself and his world, and within his own self, which limits his ability to interact with his world as a whole being, and places him in isolation. This sense of isolation is only enhanced by the use of psychiatric words that makes him appear as an object, or a list of ‘symptoms’ of his ‘disease’. One must not characterize the patient prematurely, labeling them using psychiatric words that distance them from the psychiatrist immediately, and splitting the patient into different mental parts, rather than looking at him as a whole being. It is necessary for a patient to be seen as a whole being-in-the-world, rather than be split even more, as this is how the patient’s existence is confirmed, as a man cannot exist without his world. To try to comprehend the schizoid experience, Laing used the example of an optical illusion, involving two profile faces and a vase. It is one image, however it can be perceived as two things, depending on the point of view it is looked at. One person may see the two faces, whereas another will see the vase. The way in which the image is viewed will change a person’s reaction to it. As with the vase and two faces, a person can also be seen as different things. A person can be seen as someone just like themselves, a whole being interacting with the world, or as a series of biological systems working together to create an organism. One has different relationships with each of these, and will describe and interact with each one differently. Looking at a human being as an organism doesn’t allow for any examination of the person’s emotions or desires, however only sees them as a complex object of energy. Depersonalizing the patient in such a way does not allow for an existential understanding. The psychiatrist’s relationship to the patient is very important. It is the case that they may focus on their own relationship with the patient, rather than the patient’s way of being in his world. By bring his complaints and thoughts, the patients brings his whole existence into the situation, and his own experience of being may be completely different from the person’s idea of his being. Every being has a beginning and an end, with a body that connects him to a certain time and place. This connection also connects him to others, while at the same time allowing him to be separate from them. This relatedness is essential to our being, and therefore it’s potential lies in everyone, without this we are isolated from others and therefore not complete.

According to Van Den Berg, certain jargon belittles patients by labeling them and isolating them even more from their fellows. This jargon entails that psychotics are unable to reach the specific requirements put in place in order to be considered a standard human being. Although someone may be labeled as ‘psychotic’, this does not necessarily make him mentally unstable and dangerous, but rather deluded in the sense that what they are saying is the truth in his world. As Laing states, it is difficult to create a set list of signs and symptoms that all psychiatric patients will fit into. Instead, the psychiatrist should approach the patient as he would any clinical case, with kindness, respect and curiosity in order to observe any signs of mental...
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