Book notes
The Divided Self

The Divided Self by R. Laing

Read in January 2019

"An ontological secure person has his sense of the world, his identity and other beings in the world as an autonomous individual."

The Existential-Phenomenological Foundations for A Science of Persons

The term schizoid refers to an individual the totality of whose experience is split in two main ways: in the first place, there is a rent in his relation with his world and, in the second, there is a disruption of his relation with himself.

Key step of analyzing such situation like this is to consider this first:

We all know from our personal experience that we can be ourselves only in and through our world and there is a sense in which ‘our’ world will die with us although ‘the’ world will go on without us.

So, experiencing your own life as a human being is a really important factor. We are concerned specifically with people who experience themselves as automata, robots, machinery or even as animals.

For cases like this, Doctor’s approach should be without prejudgement.

The Existential-Phenomenological Foundations for the Understanding of Psychosis

Psychiatrist should try to see behaviours of patients as expression of their existance rather then signs of a disease. They might be more than just some odd behaviour and lead to a better understanding.

Ontological Insecurity

An ontological secure person has his sense of the world, his identity and other beings in the world as an autonomous individual.

If a position of primary ontological security has been reached, the ordinary circumstances of life do not afford a perpetual threat to one’s own existence. If such a basis for living has not been reached, the ordinary circumstances of everyday life constitute a continual and deadly threat.

Three forms of anxiety encountered by the ontologically insecure person:


Engulfment is felt as a risk in being understood (thus grasped, comprehended), in being loved, or even simply in being seen. To be hated may be feared for other reasons, but to be hated as such is often less disturbing than to be destroyed, as it is felt, through being engulfed by love.

The main manoeuvre used to preserve identity under pressure from the dread of engulfment is isolation.


The individual feels that he is empty and any contact with reality is a dreadful threat because it destroys his own being.

Petrification and depersonalization

A person may have come to anticipate that any possible relationship with another will have the latter consequences. Any other is then a threat to his ‘self’ (his capacity to act autonomously) not by reason of anything he or she may do or not do specifically, but by reason of his or her very existence.