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Notes Psychology

Chapter 9: The Present Outcome of Psychoanalysis (The Denial of Death)

Otto Rank’s insight into neuroticism is a key argument in Becker’s book. According to Rank, the neurotic is close to the truth, spiritually. Psychoanalysis tries to get people to see beyond the illusions of their senses, but with the neurotic, it is a different kind of problem.

Neuroticism

While the neurotic refuses to acknowledge the truth of existence, he also sees reality too plainly, without ways of repressing it, and without appropriate defence mechanisms, and that is why he suffers. Each person is neurotic to some extent, but the healthiest and happiest types are the best at repression, and so they are furthest away from neuroticism.

Becker’s point, and it is based on Rank’s work to a large extent, is that there are two different truths to existence. One is the creatureliness, finitude and despair of it all, and the second is the acceptance of the general order of things.

The happy person knows how to accept things as they are better than the neurotic, they can adopt social roles and play the same games everyone else is playing, without constantly thinking about the deep truth of existence, that man is a beast and that he is decaying and subject to accident and death. The depressed person, the neurotic, cannot avoid seeing this deep truth of existence, so they find it difficult to fit in to society.

Kierkegaard identified a type of man who was content with living a trivial existence, he called him “immediate man” or a “philistine.” This type of man understands his finitude as a creature, he does not bite off more than he can chew. He spends his life trying to solve the problems right in front of him, but not other problems.

By doing this, he is protected, because as soon as man lifts his head off the ground and looks upwards, as soon as he wonders about the meaning of everything, and tries to take all the perplexity and beauty and terror of the universe in, he is in trouble. The neurotic tries to do this, he tries to forfeit his role as a creature like all other creatures, to pay the role of God, but that is a role that he can never successfully play.

The essence of being normal is to refuse reality. But if the neurotic does not display any troubling outward symptoms, he is considered normal – it is not simply what takes place in the mind that defines normalcy, but what is exhibited socially.

A neurotic lifestyle is any lifestyle that constricts growth, forward movement, and the free exploration of new possibilities that the person desires and needs.

Some neurotics look for salvation in a love relationship, they become completely passive and dependent, they become fearful of venturing out on their own, of living without their partner no matter how they are treated by their partner. But these “safe” heroics tend to fail, which is why this person often seeks help. They cannot lie to themselves about their own potential, and when they feel their safety is choking them, they feel guilty – it is the guilt of an unlived life.

There is also the neurotic symptom of mischaracterizing reality through phobias, obsessions, and compulsions. This is when the world of action is narrowed down too much and is fetishized.

This is the person who washes his hands three times or washes them until they bleed. Or the person who is afraid to go out into the street or in any kind of transportation. This is all an attempt to keep the world safe. The neurotic does not feel big or strong enough to take on the world, so they engage in compulsive behaviors to rectify this feeling.

Another way of putting it is that the neurotic needs a way to absolve himself of guilt, death, and meaninglessness. The phobia or obsession is a way of easing the burden of his life’s tasks. By engaging in simple, repetitive behavior, the neurotic can distract himself from negative feelings by creating a simple world which gives him the meaning he needs.

The irony is that by trying to avoid death, the neurotic kills off so much of himself, and shrinks his world so extremely that it is as if he is already dead.

The Creative Neurotic

There is another type of neurotic person, he too takes in too much of the world, but he has a difficulty narrowing it down. This is the creative person. These people feel their isolation and individuality. They stick out and are not built well for society, for programmed cultural action.

Because they cannot fetishize, the world becomes a whole problem to be solved. To partialize the world means to bite off only what one can chew, the problem with the creative person is that they bite off too much.

To summarize the problem, Rank explained it as a conflict of opposites. One sickness was in being too embedded into the world, this is the sick “healthy” person who is too well-adjusted to society. The other sickness is the neurotic, the one too removed and disconnected from society. The ideal is somewhere in the middle.

The Problem with Psychology

What psychology does, is that narrows down the reason for why a person is unhappy to the person themselves. But then the person is tuck with themselves. The problem is not the person, it is the natural world and man’s relationship to it as a symbolic animal trying to find his place in it. No amount of analysis allows the person to figure out who he is, why he is here, why he must die, and how he can make his life a triumph. When psychology pretends to offer itself as a full explanation of human unhappiness, it becomes a fraud and makes the situation of modern man more difficult to overcome.

As for religion, it is both better and worse than psychology.

We can conclude with Rank that religion is “just as good a psychology” as the psychology that pretended to replace it. In some ways it is of course even better because it gets at the actual causes of universal guilt; in some ways it is much worse, because it usually reinforces the parental and social authorities and makes the bind of circumstantial guilt even stronger and more crippling.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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