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The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness [Kindle Edition]

R. Laing , Anthony S. David
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

First published in 1960, this watershed work aimed to make madness comprehensible, and in doing so revolutionized the way we perceive mental illness. Using case studies of patients he had worked with, psychiatrist R. D. Laing argued that psychosis is not a medical condition but an outcome of the 'divided self', or the tension between the two personas within us: one our authentic, private identity, and the other the false, 'sane' self that we present to the world.

Editorial Reviews


"Dr. Laing is saying something very important indeed. . . . This is a truly humanist approach."
—Philip toynbee in the Observer

"It is a study that makes all other works I have read on schizophrenia seem fragmentary. . . . The author brings, through his vision and perception, that particular touch of genius which causes one to say Yes, I have always known that, why have I never thought of it before?'"
Journal of Analytical Psychology


"Dr. Laing is saying something very important indeed. . . . This is a truly humanist approach."
—Philip toynbee in the Observer

"It is a study that makes all other works I have read on schizophrenia seem fragmentary. . . . The author brings, through his vision and perception, that particular touch of genius which causes one to say Yes, I have always known that, why have I never thought of it before?'"
Journal of Analytical Psychology

Product Details

  • File Size: 465 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (January 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00341852W
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #438,830 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
67 of 69 people found the following review helpful
This book is a very clear and engaging introduction to the existential conception of the person. It uses the insights of Sartre, Heidegger and Hegel to reconsider those people generally called crazy, and shows that what is often called madness is better understood as meaningful gestures of communication from people who have been wrongly ignored. It is a great introduction to existentialism, it will help you understand yourself, it is a deep critique of the mental health profession, and it is a real pleasure to read. I often use it in courses in existentialism or intro to philosophy because of its clarity and because it shows the deep relevance of philosophy in general and existentialism in particular to everyday human life. This should be essential reading for everyone!
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
In this valuable study, Dr Laing proposes to examine the way some individuals are very proficient in acquiring a false self in order to adapt to false realities and to give an account of specifically personal forms of depersonalisation and disintegration. It is no small task for the therapist to articulate what the patient's "world" is and his way of being in it in order to outline his psychopathology. The author states that if we look at his actions as signs of a disease, we impose categories of thoughts on the patient in our effort to try to explain his mental state and it isn't easy for the therapist to transpose himself into the patient's strange and alien view of world in order to understand his existential position.

Dr Laing states that many patients suffer from "ontological insecurity" because they feel insubstantial, the ordinary circumstances of life constituting a continual threat to their own existence. He mentions personalities like Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett and Francis Bacon. Then Dr Laing proceeds by giving the account of three forms of anxiety encountered by the ontologically insecure subject: engulfment, implosion and petrification. To illustrate these three forms, the author describes the case of Mrs R. who suffered from agoraphobia and schizohphrenic withdrawal.

Interestingly enough, the schizoid individual constantly feels vulnerable as he is exposed by the look of another person and that is why he fears live dialectical relationships with live people and prefers to relate himself to depersonalised persons or to phantoms of his own fantasies, thus the distinction between the "embodied" and "unembodied" self. Such an individual is afraid of the world, frightened that any impingement will be total and engulfing.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside the world of the psychotic February 15, 2000
This is Ronald Laing's brilliant first work, written by the eminent psychiatrist at the tender young age of 28. I must say that it contains one of the most eloquent and compassionate descriptions of the process by which an individual retreats from the world of consensual experience and enters the fantastic world of psychosis. Laing provides a detailed theory of this process in his dichotomy between the "false" and "real" selves (based on the existentialist notions of inauthentic and authentic existence, respectively). (Laing explains that the "false self" is best thought of as a "system of false selves".) Beginning with the eccentric neurotic and "schizoid" individuals, Laing explains how these individuals, from a sense of ontological insecurity, progress into the schizophrenic stage of acute psychosis. He harvests the profound insights of existential philosophers (Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, et al) and applies them to his psychoanalysis.
While I find his explanations of the schizoid individual pretty compelling, they become more and more difficult to follow as he approaches the schizophrenic stage. (In fact, the last case presented in his book of chronic schizophrenia, "The Ghost of the Weed Garden", is downright depressing, and his idea of the schizophrenogenic family (as opposed to schizophrenogenic mother) of this girl seems somewhat unfair to the family members of this chronically psychotic individual.) Most people today would agree that schizophrenia (or "the schizophrenias", whatever the disease/s is/are) is best explained in terms of physiology; however, Laing offers an excellent existential analysis of the "illness" and provides insight into the unique perspectives of the borderline psychotic and psychotic individuals.
All in all, this is a beautiful exposition of the schizoid/schizophrenic mode of being-in-the-world.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The engine of the Sixties! Or, one of 'em. September 22, 2005
This book felt to me strangely intimate, and understanding when I first read it. Laing, who was a clinical psychiatrist, presents case studies of people who feel overly self-conscious and self-critical, fearful to be on the street alone, hiding from social contact -- common enough feelings which he treats with supreme empathy, not judgement or haste to reform. He explains in the preface his analysis is based on existenstial thought, yet, he avoids the amoralistic tendencies of this genre of philosophy. His emphasis is more on the process of alienation of self from self, and inner self from outer self, into a "split." He gives analysis of the so-described schizoid and schizophrenic personality, attempts to analyze why a person slips into so-called "psychosis" -- in his analysis a schizophrenic person is forming a logical reaction to an untenable situation. Here he leans on other writers, such as Gregory Bateson's double-bind theory.

Laing's writing is poetic in some places, and is literate in a way psychology books seldom are. i recommend this book highly to anyone who wants to know more about their own behavior, and others'.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars illness
an important book describing personal insecurity in mental illness
Published 7 days ago by Frederick Mazie
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic for a reason.
This should be mandatory reading for Psychology majors, and anyone who wants to work in the mental health field. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Privacy Concerns
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
After all these years it continues to be an amazing contribution to human thought
Published 3 months ago by Eugenia deheinzelin
5.0 out of 5 stars Laing uses poetic language with great power of clinical penetration...
Laing uses poetic language with great power of clinical penetration and wisdom.
Published 6 months ago by Antonio Sapienza
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
Very interesting depiction of madness.
How the author suggests the nature of the modern world interacts with modern man is intriguing.
Published 11 months ago by DangerousDave
5.0 out of 5 stars Exactly how described.
This book was in excellent condition and was advertised appropriately. It has been extremely helpful in researching a condition and the price was amazing. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Lyn lewis
5.0 out of 5 stars PERFECT!!
This book arrived super-fast and in way better condition than I thought it would. I prefer old/vintage books so sometimes it can be a challenge to find popular ones this in tact. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Echoe53
5.0 out of 5 stars A phenomenological-existential analysis of schizophrenia...
R.D. Laing begins this book with a methodological point. Science must begin with a description of its object, but objects can be described in different ways. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Brian C.
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly amazing
Laing gives a unique perspective upon schizophrenic person that no other psychologist has ever given. This is a must have for a psychiatrist.
Published on February 23, 2013 by Vladimir Snigur
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting
It is a very interesting book, and also helps to understand yourself (even if you are not a schizoid person). Some findings of the author apply more or less to everyone. Read more
Published on October 20, 2012 by Dimitri K
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