The Divided Self Book Summary By Ronald D. Laing

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The Divided Self is a book that examines the often complex relationship between one's physical body and psychological functioning.

Written in 1960 by R.D.

Laing, this book provides unique insight into the lives of individuals who have questioned the “truth” of their bodies, analyzing both the practical and emotional repercussions of such detachment.

Throughout his writing, Laing offers valuable insight into topics ranging from dissociative identity disorder to schizophrenia, providing readers with an in-depth look at how a “divided self” can profoundly affect one's life.

The Divided Self also examines how factors such as emotions, beliefs and social influences can shape our views of ourselves as well as our mental health.

By delving into this topic, readers gain a greater understanding of how to navigate these difficult realities and develop new ways to live authentically with one’s true self.

Book Name: The Divided Self (An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness)

Author(s): Ronald D. Laing

Rating: 4.3/5

Reading Time: 18 Minutes

Categories: Psychology

Author Bio

The Divided Self by Ronald D.

Laing was a hugely influential text in the mental health field.


Laing, who wrote multiple books during his lifetime, is one of the most significant modern psychiatrists of our time, as well as being a key player in the anti-psychiatry movement.

He spent much of his career studying schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions through the lens of existentialism, producing texts that changed the way psychiatrists approach mental health diagnosis and treatment in profound ways.

Exploring R. D. Laing’S Groundbreaking Ideas On The Experience Of Trapped Inside One’S Own Body

The work of R.D.

Laing is one of the most important contributions to psychology made in the last century.

According to Laing’s theories, some individuals can become trapped inside their own mind and body, unable to act or sense with their own will – a warning sign of potential mental illness.

His research into this phenomenon led him to develop groundbreaking ideas about how we can understand and approach mental health issues that are still used today.

Through studying the cases among his patients, Laing was able to explain why some individuals may feel as though they cannot lift a piece of paper or be afraid that they will be absorbed by other people.

He even offers explanations for those who do not show any concern for the wellbeing of their physical bodies.

With The Divided Self Book Summary, you will gain insight into Laing’s invaluable work and how it continues to shape our understanding of mental illness today.

Children Develop A Sense Of Identity Through Parental Interaction And Projection

Most of us can remember the start of becoming aware of our individual personalities in early childhood.

It often begins when children become aware and recognize themselves as distinct beings, separate from the people they encounter each day.

This realization typically takes place during infancy, often growing gradually as children start interacting with their parents and guardians.

As babies introduce themselves to the concept of being an individual, many will begin to understand basic needs and behaviors like crying or giggling that it brings, displaying unique personality traits that are only their own.

In response, parents typically treat them as if they have a fully-developed sense of self even before it has been established (like interpreting their behaviors as expressions of personality).

This interaction between parent and child creates a safe journey to understanding oneself — forming an increased perception of being distinct and separate from others while still receiving the love and nurturing needed throughout those essential steps.

All these processes contribute towards developing a strong sense of self among most individuals taken place in early childhood, not necessarily at birth but soon thereafter.

Understanding The Needs Behind ‘Perfect’ Kids: Why Being Too Obedient Or Honest May Not Be A Good Thing

If a child seems “too good” or preternaturally obedient, it may be indicative of an emerging psychological problem.

This could be especially true if the child isn’t naturally obedient but has been conditioned to act this way due to lack of response from their parents or guardians.

Children who don’t express their needs, such as never crying when hungry, can lead to a weak sense of self down the line.

If these children never receive responses from their guardians then they don’t get many of the interactions that would help them create a stronger sense of themselves.

In addition, overly honest children might not necessarily have a sense of morality, but rather might just not be able to distinguish their own wishes from those of other people.

They may fear that others can read their minds and thus feel there is no point lying—a sign of serious psychological issues.

Meanwhile, children who only do what they’re told may lack the initiative to do something on their own due to an overall lacking in understanding where they end and other people begin.

Therefore it is important to take note if your child starts exhibiting such behaviour, as it could reference an emerging psychological problem.

Make sure you are looking out for and responding to your child’s exclamations – it could make all the difference in helping them build a safe sense of identity and self!

The Fear Of Disappearing: How Ontological Insecurity Keeps Us From Stepping Into The Social World

Many people suffer from an insecurity so profound that it’s difficult for them to even recognize themselves in the mirror – ontological insecurity.

They aren’t just anxious about their bodies, minds or social skills, but instead have a fundamental uncertainty about who they truly are.

To feel real and alive in this world, such individuals need to feel recognized by others.

The author of The Divided Self recounts one such patient: a woman who expressed her identity through “the ghost of the weed garden” and was very panicked and insecure when she was alone on the street.

In fact, this phenomenon is seen even in infants before they have developed a sense of self; they can become scared and cry when their mother leaves the room, afraid that they too might cease to exist without someone who knows them.

Social connection provides these individuals with tremendous reassurance – after all, when we interact with others, we usually accept and treat them as real irrespective of how they view themselves.

For many people suffering from ontological insecurity, other people may be their most powerful tool to attain a sense of realness in this world.

We Must Recognize The Dilemma Of Ontologically Insecure People: They Need Others To Feel Real, But Any Connection Might Threaten Their Identity

The Divided Self outlines how social interactions can be incredibly daunting for those with a weak sense of self.

People who are ontologically insecure often avoid getting too close to others, afraid that too much similarity between them will lead to the dissolution of their boundaries.

They need others to feel real and validated, yet every connection threatens their sense of identity.

Take, for example, a therapist who has had a “eureka moment” about one of their patients, expecting the patient to be elated by this newfound understanding only to have them look at them in shock and refuse any further contact.

This is due to the realization that if someone else can understand them so well, then it could mean that they no longer exist as distinct individuals and have merged with another person – a thought which feels frightening for someone already struggling for a strong sense of self-identity.

Even seemingly expressions of love or concern from another person can dismantle the barriers between two people so drastically that an ontologically insecure might struggle to comprehend where they begin and the other person ends – giving rise to questions like “am I really my own person, or do I belong to somebody else?”

As illustrated by The Divided Self, it can be hard for someone with an ontologically insecure nature to open up without fearing annihilation – but understanding and encouragement from others may gradually help build up these broken boundaries.

How Ontologically Insecure People Create A False Self To Survive The World

Ontologically insecure people often feel the need to preserve their sense of identity, even if human contact threatens it.

To do this, they inherently turn inward and find a way to split off part of their personality.

This can be achieved through total isolation or other means.

For example, these individuals may try to appear completely unintelligible in order to obscure their true feelings and thoughts from those around them.

Rather than hiding out of shame (as neurotic individuals would do), these folks are actually protecting themselves by keeping a firm grasp on their innermost feelings.

Even so, they still have engagements with the outside world – thus the false self is born.

Through this alter ego-type persona, an ontologically insecure person can interact with others without compromising themselves or having to worry about being understood or liked by somebody else – someone threatening.

It keeps their actual self from exposure while providing a facade that follows society‘s conventions.

For instance, at a party one might see a seemingly pleasant façade; yet internally, it lacks approval for participating in idle conversations as required by social norms – thereby removing oneself from potential harm caused by vulnerable exposure.

In time, the false self takes on an autonomous life of its own, which could further threaten the security of one’s real self and how one views him/herself going forward.

The Inescapable Isolation Of Disembodiment: How An Invisible Inner Self Leads To Detachment From The World

For some people, there is a precarious separation between their bodies and the world.

This detachment can begin as early as childhood, with a person feeling that their body does not belong to them.

They view their body as belonging to their false self and when in danger of being hurt or maimed, they do not feel any real concern for it.

This detachment from the body can lead to an even more profound disconnection from the world around them, making them feel like a ghost – invisible and powerless to those around them.

Those suffering from disembodiment have limited chances to interact with the outside world, as anything that requires use of the body must be done through their false self – a threadbare connection at best.

The false self might appear to live a normal life but beneath the surface lies an inner self that remains hidden.

Such pervasive feelings of detachment can shut some people off from the world altogether whilst others are barely surviving on this fragile, fleeting connection between body and environment.

The Benefits Of Isolation: Emotional Detachment And An Undiluted Sense Of Identity

Being detached from the world can offer certain temporary advantages, as illustrated in The Divided Self.

Those with an ontologically insecure sense of identity may choose to lead a life of isolation in order to safeguard their fragile self-image.

The detachment offers certain perks.

Firstly, it enables one’s inner self – which does not identify with the body – to feel independent and free from bodily needs such as food, warmth or sexuality.

It also opens up possibilities for a person to indulge in fantasies and to believe that they have exceptional talents that are never verified or corrected.

Since the true self never interacts with anyone, it is able to remain honest and undaunted by external pressures that require deception in order to manage stress and expectations.

Over time however, this kind of lifestyle can become lonely and damaging if left unchecked; so it should be noted that although detaching from reality can be seen as beneficial in some cases, this should ultimately always be avoided due to potential long-term risks.

How Delusional Thinking Can Lead To A Split Personality And Schizophrenia

The Divided Self highlights the potential for an individual’s identity to become fractured, leading to schizophrenic behavior.

It all starts when the inner self is kept from interacting with the outside world and thus perceives itself as insubstantial and unreal.

At the same time, the false self is actively engaging in this very world which makes it appear increasingly real, independent and powerful to the inner self.

Soon enough, delusions of a stranger living within them start to form as they go years without being able to communicate or receive feedback from anyone else.

Without that connection, their delusional thoughts slowly become their reality.

Suddenly, strange ideas they have about reality cross the line of (in)sanity and lead them into a schizophrenic state.

Wrap Up

The final takeaway of The Divided Self is that many people misunderstand the experiences of those with acute schizophrenia.

By taking some time to learn about and understand these individuals, their words can start to make a lot more sense.

Not only do we come out of this understanding the struggles that those with schizophrenia face, but we also have an eye-opening perspective on our own assumptions about how the world works.

In essence, it brings us closer to both understanding mental illnesses as well as becoming more aware of how little we know about what’s truly universal in our experience.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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