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More on sense of self vs. identity

1477 Views 1 Reply 2 Participants Last post by  Milan
The following is the opening of an excellent book entitled "The Betrayal of the Body" by Alexander Lowen, an analyst who pioneered Bio-Energetic Therapy. I transcribed this about a week ago, meaning to post it but didn?t. Then I just read Janine?s recent interesting post, ?Sense of self, not identity, in jeopardy?, and thought about this. I think he?s basically talking about the same thing as Janine, though it?s slightly confusing because he uses the word ?identity? to cover both bases. Please note that in talking about depersonalization he is not talking about the disorder that we call by that name, as such. However, there is definitely a relationship. The same is true of his use of the term schizoid. Here it is:

Normally, people don?t ask themselves, Who am I? One?s identity is taken for granted. Each person carries in his wallet papers that serve to identify him. Consciously, he knows who he is. However, below the surface a problem of identity exists. On the border of consciousness he is disturbed by dissatisfactions, uneasy about decisions, and tormented by the feeling of ?missing out? on life. He is in conflict with himself, unsure of his feelings, and his insecurity reflects his problem of identity. When dissatisfaction becomes despair and insecurity verges on panic an individual may ask himself, Who am I? This question indicates that the fa?ade through which a person seeks identity is crumbling. The use of a fa?ade or the adoption of a role as a means to achieve identity denotes a split between the ego and the body. I define this split as the schizoid disturbance which underlies every problem of identity.

For example, a famous artist walked into my office and said, ?I am confused and desperate. I don?t know who I am. I walk down the street and ask myself, Who are you??

It would have been meaningless to reply, ?You are the well-known painter whose work hangs in many museums.? He knew that. What he complained of was a loss of the feeling of self, the loss of contact with some vital aspect of existence that gives meaning to life. This missing element was an identification with the body, the foundation upon which a personal life is erected. My artist patient became actively aware of this missing element in a dramatic experience. He told me:

?The other day I looked in the mirror, and I became frightened when I realized it was me. I thought, This is what people see when they look at me.

The image was a stranger. My face and my body didn?t seem to belong to me?.I felt very unreal.?

This experience, in which there is a loss of feeling of the body, with accompanying sensations of strangeness and unreality, is known as a depersonalization?.Fortunately, this episode was short-lived in my patient. He was able to reestablish some contact with his body, so that the feeling of unreality disappeared. However, his identification with his body remained tenuous, and the problem of his identity persisted.

The feeling of identity stems from a feeling of contact with the body. To know who one is, an individual must be aware of what he feels. He should know the expression on his face, how he holds himself, and the way he moves. Without this awareness of bodily feeling and attitude, a person becomes split into a disembodied spirit and a disenchanted body. I will return again to the case of the artist.

As he sat opposite me, I saw his drawn face, his empty eyes, his tightly set jaw, and his frozen body. In his immobility and shallow breathing, I could sense his fear and panic. He, however, was not aware of the gauntness of his face, the blankness of his eyes, the tension in his jaw, or the tightness of his body. He did not feel his fear and panic. Being out of touch with his body, he only sensed his confusion and desperation.


To me, the key statement in this passage is that a personal life is founded upon an identification with the body. The book is about what he calls the "schizoid disturbance" (again, not to be equated with the DSM Schizoid Disorder), in which this identification is severely disrupted and the person dissociates from the body as a defense against childhood terror, becoming in effect a "disembodied spirit and a disenchanted body". I know that his description of the schizoid disturbance is a dead ringer for the way I was prior to the onset of DP following an LSD trip, and the way I still am.
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