Time and Trauma

And I think of that “Groundhog Day” movie with Bill Murray in which he repeats the same day, again and again, with only minor changes. If you’ve seen the movie, Murray finally breaks out of what appears to be an infinite loop only when he changes his ways, his approach to life, his mentality. He becomes a better person and even gets the girl.

When is the USA going to break out of its infinite loop of war? Only when we change our culture, our mentality.

A “war on terror” is a forever war, an infinite loop, in which the same place names and similar actions crop up again and again. Names like Mosul and Helmand province. Actions like reprisals and war crimes and the deaths of innocents, because that is the face of war.

~W.J. Astore, Happy 4th of July! And a Global War on Something

* * *

The impression we form is that it is not that linear time perception or experience that has been corrupted by trauma; it is that time “itself” has been traumatized — so that we come to comprehend “history” not as a random sequence of events, but as a series of traumatic clusters. This broken time, this sense of history as a malign repetition, is “experienced” as seizure and breakdown; I have placed “experienced” in inverted commas here because the kind of voiding interruption of subjectivity seems to obliterate the very conditions that allows experience to happen.

It is as if the combination of adolescent erotic energy with an inorganic artefact … produces a trigger for a repeating of the ancient legend. It is not clear that “repeating” is the right word here, though. It might be better to say that the myth has been re-instantiated, with the myth being understood as a kind of structure that can be implemented whenever the conditions are right. But the myth doesn’t repeat so much as it abducts individuals out of linear time and into its “own” time, in which each iteration of the myth is in some sense always the first time.

…the mythic is part of the virtual infrastructure which makes human life as such possible. It is not the case that first of all there are human beings, and the mythic arrives afterwards, as a kind of cultural carapace added to a biological core. Humans are from the start — or from before the start, before the birth of the individual — enmeshed in mythic structures.

~Mark Fisher, Eerie ThanatosThe Weird and the Eerie (pp. 96-97)

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Facing Shared Trauma and Seeking Hope

I came across this nugget of inconvenient truth:

“Indeed, a wave of research over the last 20 years has documented the lingering effects of slavery in the United States and South America alike. For example, counties in America that had a higher proportion of slaves in 1860 are still more unequal today, according to a scholarly paper published in 2010. The authors called this a “persistent effect of slavery.”

“One reason seems to be that areas with slave labor were ruled for the benefit of elite plantation owners. Public schools, libraries and legal institutions lagged, holding back working-class whites as well as blacks.”

This is from The New York Times. It is Part 4 of a series by Nicholas Kristoff, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It”.

It brought back to mind a few similar examples of this type of historical effect. A short while ago, an intriguing book was published that included this topic. It is The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally. I learned of the book from a book review by David Dobbs, also in The New York Times. I have since read it and I must admit it is one of the best books I’ve read recently, right up there with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I appreciated what the author accomplished for similar reasons as with Alexander’s book, telling data in support of keen insight.

The data is overwhelming. The way Kenneally brings it all together makes you feel the full weight of history. Institutions and social orders, cultures and social capital, injustices and traumas, they can and often do persist over centuries. This what people mean when they speak of oppression. They don’t just mean a single generation who loses opportunities of betterment. It’s not just about individuals, but entire societies. It continues to impact the descendants for as long as the social conditions sustain it. This is the moral obligation we face. The actions we take now will echo into the distant future. We choose whether to continue systems and cultures of oppression or to end them. Every generation makes that choice, century after century.

The past is never just past. This is particularly true with trauma. It is hard to forget large-scale atrocities that leave deep imprints. Societies can be forever changed. Kenneally mentions an anthropologist who, during the 1990s, stayed with an African tribe in an area that had high rates of enslavement. The memory of slavery was still apart of their experience. Many of them could point to the homes of people who lost family members to slavery. And sometimes they could even name the people who had sold them into slavery, sometimes members of the same family committed the act (“Almost 20 percent of slaves had been betrayed by people to whom they were close.” Kindle Location 2304). These people couldn’t forget.

There are many enduring effects to this. One of these is easier to think about. It is the resulting economic problems. This relates to the example I began with. Areas that experienced slavery and the slave trade in centuries past still have problems with underdevelopment, poverty, and inequality. Some might dismiss this as simply being a continuation of what came before, that these places always were bad off. That is a too convenient excuse and also false (Kindle Locations 2295-2302):

“In order to find a connection between slavery and modern economies, Nunn asked if the differences in economic well-being today could be explained by differences that existed before the slave trade. Were the countries that were already poor the same countries that were more engaged in the slave trade? In fact, Nunn found the opposite : Regions that lost the most people to slavery had once been among the best-developed economies and best-organized states on the continent, with central governments, national currencies, and established trade networks. It was the states that were least developed and had higher degrees of violence and hostility at the time of the slave trade that were better able to repel slavers and not suffer the long-term effects of the trade.

“Could the relationship between modern poverty and historical slavery be explained by the subsequent effects of colonialism or by the natural resources possessed by a country? Nunn found that although those factors appeared to have an effect, neither was as powerful. It was slavery that mattered, and it mattered greatly.”

Another enduring effect connects to that. As has been observed by many, economic development along with wealth and equality seem to be intrinsic qualities of a culture of trust (see Fukuyama’s Trust). Kenneally writes (Kindle Locations 2327-2352):

They began with the intuition that trust could be a channel through which slavery still affects modern economies. But their goal was to find evidence for it. Of course, trust is a crucial part of any economy: Societies must have some degree of trust in order to be able to trade. At the most basic level, if people don’t trust one another, they are less willing to take a chance in business, whether it involves a simple exchange of goods or a complicated contract. But no one in economics had ever tried to measure the relationships among history, trust, and the economy before. After all, trust was an element of culture, and “culture” was a vague, fuzzy concept. Nunn and Wantchekon defined it as simply as they could: Culture, for their purposes, was the rules of thumb people used to make decisions. Do I trust this person ? Do I distrust him? People from different cultures use different rules of thumb to make such determinations.

If trust is absent, a well functioning society becomes impossible. Some would argue that absence of trust can only be blamed on the local population, not outside forces, but the fact that these once were well functioning societies gives the lie to that claim. The point of causation is most clearly attributed to slavery itself. as shown in the author’s analysis (continuing from above):

“Building on Nunn’s finding that the countries that lost more of their populations to the slave trade over one hundred years ago were also the poorest today, Nunn and Wantchekon examined the Afrobarometer, a survey project that measures public attitudes to different aspects of African daily life, like democracy, employment, and the future of citizenship. It is comparable to a Gallup poll, and it includes seventeen countries. The researchers found that overall, people tended to have more trust in those who were closer to them— for example, friends over government officials. This was a universal pattern. But it was also the case that the groups that were most exposed to the slave trade over one hundred years ago were also the groups with the lowest levels of trust today. Modern Africans whose ancestors lost the most people to slavers distrusted not just their local government and other members of their ethnicity but also relatives and neighbors much more than Africans whose ancestors were not as exposed to the slave trade.

“Did the slave trade give rise to a culture of mistrust that was passed down from the slave era even to individuals who live in the same places today? There are good reasons to believe that it might have. For those who witnessed the ways an innocent bystander might be swept up by or somehow betrayed into the slave trade, it would have made more sense to distrust people, as a general rule. People who automatically distrusted others were probably more likely to do well, or at least to not be enslaved . Wariness would also have been a smart strategy to teach the next generation.

“There’s another way this terrible correlation could be interpreted: Perhaps the slave trade made people not less trusting but less trustworthy. Perhaps people weren’t trusted in countries like Benin because they didn’t deserve to be trusted. After all, chiefs turned on their own people, and families sent some of their own literally down the river. Was a culture of betrayal passed down as well as a culture of distrust? This could partially be the case. Nunn’s analysis reveals that ethnic groups and local governments in the regions that were most affected by the slave trade in the past are also least trusted today. People whose ancestors were more affected by the slave trade were more likely to report that they did not approve of their local councilors, who were corrupt and did not listen to constituents. As Nunn explained , it’s quite likely that this is an accurate assessment of the local councils in these areas. Nevertheless, when they controlled for this effect, there was still a significant amount of distrust in countries most affected by the slave trade— regardless of whether the object of trust was truly worthy.”

A culture of trust is easier to destroy than to re-create. Once trauma becomes society-wide dysfunction, healing those shared wounds will be a slow process. The reason for this is that it hits people at the most personal level, their social identities and relationships (Kindle Locations 2430-2444):

“It seemed that both families and social institutions matter but that the former is more powerful. The data suggested that a region might develop its own culture of distrust and that it could affect people who moved into that area, even if their ancestors had not been exposed to the historical event that destroyed trust in the first place. But if someone’s ancestors had significant exposure to the slave trade, then even if he moved away from the area where he was born to an area where there was no general culture of mistrust, he was still less likely to be trusting. Indeed, Nunn and Wantchekon found evidence that the inheritance of distrust within a family was twice as powerful as the distrust that is passed down in a community.

“This accords well with our personal intuitions about families: The people who raise us shape us, intentionally or unintentionally. The people who raise us were likewise shaped by the people who raised them, and so on. Similarly, the way we treat other people, even our offspring, is shaped by the way we were shaped. This is not to say that our peers don’t affect our attitudes, nor does it mean that the society in which we choose to live doesn’t contribute as well. Obviously, the older we get, the more we develop the ability to shape ourselves. Family history doesn’t necessarily determine who we become, but this body of work suggests that the effect of a family may be so powerful that it can be replicated down through many generations, over and over through hundreds of years. It’s no wonder that so many people choose to study the distant histories of their families to understand how they work today . If genealogists believe there isn’t enough in their daily lives or their culture that sufficiently explains who they are— either to others or to themselves— it may be because they are right.

“In fact, the legacy of a family may be so powerful that it will not only last over extraordinary periods of time but extend over great distances as well.”

In regards to slavery in the United States, this last insight may point to an even further problem.

Africans who weren’t enslaved lost family members and had their functioning societies destroyed, but they maintained their family structures and cultural traditions. This did offer a pathway of transmission for trauma. At the same time, it also offered a certain kind of social stability. These people remember who they are and where they came from. They don’t suffer historical amnesia, as do many Americans. Trauma remembered allows for the opportunity of healing.

African-Americans, on the other hand, didn’t just lose their freedom. They lost everything. They lost their communities, traditions, and every other aspect of their social identities. Once enslaved and brought to America, they sought to rebuild the social bonds that had been lost. However, the slave system and the racial order that was built on it continually destroyed those social bonds or at the very least made it a challenge to maintain them over the generations. Slave families were regularly separated and this enforced instability continued for centuries, for longer than African-Americans have known freedom. They weren’t allowed the extended kinship ties that were traditional in Africa nor were they even allowed to develop dependable nuclear families.

If families are a major factor in passing on culture, what happens when a culture of oppression has been forced onto an entire people such that the foundations of family are undermined? African-Americans adapted to this challenge. Once free, they created new social bonds that could help them face the nearly insurmountable odds set against them. After slavery, the ruling white society continued to send black men off to other forms of unfreedom, from prisons to chain gangs. Their communities were ghettoized and racialized social control kept them trapped in poverty. So, they turned to the people around them and developed extended social networks (see Carol Stack’s All Our Kin; also see The Myth of Weak and Broken Black Families).

This source of strength, within their inheritance of injustice and oppression, is not to be dismissed. These communities still struggle against the legacy of slavery. Bigotry still lives on and racial bias remains institutionalized. Yet these people aren’t mere victims to be pitied. Just imagine what they might accomplish if they were ever allowed to heal from centuries of shared trauma.

Part of the reason so many African-Americans left the South was because they hoped to leave behind the very oppressive social orders that had kept them down for so long. If not for the mass exodus to the northern states, the civil rights movement may never have happened. They had to escape the persistent culture of poverty and inequality. By changing their environments, they were able to begin to see new possibilities and organize around new visions. Now many of their descendants are returning to the South for jobs and cheaper housing. This could in turn transform that old Southern society built on slavery, and so transform all of American society that has been complicit in the continuing racial order.

I’m not sure what specific hopes this offers, but there is a potential there. Some things persist over centuries while other things become transformed. Positive changes only ever happen when entire systems are shifted toward a new balance. One thing that seems clear to me is that this country is in the middle of a shift, whatever that might entail. Remembering the past lights the path toward a different future. That future will be determined by the choices we make now. What kind of world will we leave for the generations that follow after us?

Western Society and Collective Trauma

I see Western society as possibly the most traumatized society on the planet.

Europe was once a place of tribal people with polytheistic and animistic religions. Almost everything we think of as Western was introduced to the West from elsewhere, mostly from North Africa and the Middle East, but also from Asia: imperialism, colonialism, high art, philosophy, mathematics, astrology, science, etc. None of that originated in Europe.

Instead, Europe’s native society was destroyed through genocide. What was left was a wounded people. Europe is a war-ravaged land and the scars of violence have never healed. Even war-ravaged Africa has survived more intact with its original cultures than Europe has. The East as well has maintained more of its native culture. Few populations on the planet were as utterly decimated by cultural genocide as happened with Europeans.

The dysfunction seen in Western society is that it is a traumatized society. Trauma at that scale doesn’t heal easily, if ever. There is no way to turn back. The cultural genocide was so complete that almost all of the native traditions have been lost forever. When cultural genocide is committed, the soul of a people is murdered. Europeans are the walking wounded, the descendents of the victims of one of the world’s largest genocides.

I’m very serious about that. The past millennia of war and occupation really fucked up Europe. America then inherited that fucked up society. We Westerners are a maimed and scarred people.

Society and Dysfunction

on anxiety & modernity by isthmus nekoi

I still think about trauma these days, although I tend to think more about the anxiety spectrum. There is afterall, something very fetishized or at least, detached about anxiety. Anxiety is not an emotion oriented towards something present, but rather, is future oriented. Anxiety is our fear of the future. It is a ghost fear, a fetish fear, it is at once less present yet more pervasive than fear itself. It is fear intellectualized, no, grotesquely magnified beyond reason by a reason derailed.

Modern society has no roots, no history, no grounding. We drift in a perpetual freefall, this strange sensation of exhilaration, panic, and numbed boredom, that tight feeling in our chests, the wind in our faces. The dream and the nightmare of the modern man, his most deepest desire and most fervent fear, that which lies below our perverse fusion of lust, anxiety and reason, is the belief that he might actually be falling into something…

+ + +

atomic-bomb

 – – –

Nice article!

It makes me think of certain people: Arnold Mindell, Paul Shepard, Derrick Jensen, etc.  I’m also reminded of someone like Carl Jung.

Both Jung and Reich were students of Freud and also both were interested in the significance of UFOs in terms of society.  Jung saw UFOs as a symbol of change, of potential.  UFOs became popular during a very traumatic era of world history.

I mention all of those people because they either have an alternative view on trauma or they see the problems of modern life as being part of a larger context.  Paul Shepard would trace the problems of society back to the beginning of civilization.  Along with Derrick Jensen, Shepard would say our traumatized state isn’t merely personal nor merely an issue of our human condition but instead about our relationship to the larger world.

That is where I see the ideas of Jung and Mindell fitting in as they present humans as being essentially interconnected.  The problems of society can be seen in the individual, and vice versa.

I would add that, similar to Shepard’s view, the Axial Age was a particularly traumatic shift in society.  That was the historical period when cultures were clashing and urbanization was developing.

The foundation of the modern self was being set at that time.  For example, religious practitioners of the time were attracted to a rootless lifestyle with ascetic monks and preachers who would travel from town to town.  Also, this is when people started idealizing a perfect world that was located elsewhere.  This world and human nature was flawed.

It seems to me that the industrial age and the 20th century international conflicts are the delayed effects of the Axial Age.  The ideals of that time (equality, freedom, etc.) took a couple of millennia to fully take hold.  But humans have never really adapted to this social change in a healthy way and maybe it isn’t even possible.  The human animal simply isn’t designed for modern civilization.

Of course, people are traumatized.  All of human society is traumatized.

Related to the above article, here are some additional thoughts from another blog and from a forum thread:

The Mad Liberation Front from the Red Star Cafe blog

R.D. LaingWith the exception of Freud’s eccentric disciple Wilhelm Reich, it was not until after WW II that a school of  psychology appeared that was willing to take Freud’s hypothesis of collective insanity seriously and to launch out along a different route. R.D. Laing, whose background was as much Existentialist-Marxist as it was Freudian, was among the first to assume an adversarial position on the issue of insanity.

Convinced that the mad, or at least some portion of those designated schizophrenic, may be a rare and endangered species desperately in need of protection, Laing argued that psychological breakdown could be the first step toward enlightened breakthrough. It might be an incipient assertion of true sanity by those who were still at least resilient enough to feel the pain of society’s oppression. It is therefore the psychiatrist’s responsibility to take the side of the mad against wrong-headed social authority.

“We live”, said Laing, in the midst of  “socially shared hallucinations…our collusive madness is what we call sanity”.

orwell’s 1984 and the early theories of wilhelm reich (starting post by peebo in a thread on the Wrong Planet forum)

it appears to me that one of the main premises of george orwell’s 1984 is the idea of sexual repression rendering the population open to oppression by the party. the repression of freely expressed sexuality by the party is clearly an overt theme in the novel. junior anti-sex league, winston and julia’s “subversive” affair, etc. this idea is very similar to the ideas put forward by wilhelm reich in his “the mass psychology of fascism”.

http://www.whale.to/b/reich.pdf

reich’s main point in this book is that oppressive fascist regimes are manifest only in situations where sexual repression is endemic in a society. he covers more than this, but this is the main thrust. i wonder whether orwell had been exposed to reich’s ideas, or whether they just came to a similar conclusion independently?

The Paranormal and Psychology

A hallucination may occur in a person in a state of good mental and physical health, even in the apparent absence of a transient trigger factor such as fatigue, intoxication or sensory deprivation.

It is not widely recognised that hallucinatory experiences are not merely the prerogative of the insane, or normal people in abnormal states, but that they occur spontaneously in a significant proportion of the normal population, when in good health and not undergoing particular stress or other abnormal circumstance.

The evidence for this statement has been accumulating for more than a century. Studies of hallucinatory experience in the sane go back to 1886 and the early work of the Society for Psychical Research [1][2], which suggested approximately 10% of the population had experienced at least one hallucinatory episode in the course of their life. More recent studies have validated these findings; the precise incidence found varies with the nature of the episode and the criteria of ‘hallucination’ adopted, but the basic finding is now well-supported.[3]

[…]

The main importance of hallucinations in the sane to theoretical psychology lies in their relevance to the debate between the disease model versus the dimensional model of psychosis. According to the disease model, psychotic states such as those associated with schizophrenia and manic-depression, represent symptoms of an underlying disease process, which is dichotomous in nature; i.e. a given subject either does or does not have the disease, just as a person either does or does not have a physical disease such as tuberculosis. According to the dimensional model, by contrast, the population at large is ranged along a normally distributed continuum or dimension, which has been variously labelled as psychoticism (H.J.Eysenck), schizotypy (Gordon Claridge) or psychosis-proneness.[25]

The occurrence of spontaneous hallucinatory experiences in sane persons who are enjoying good physical health at the time, and who are not drugged or in other unusual physical states of a transient nature such as extreme fatigue, would appear to provide support for the dimensional model. The alternative to this view requires one to posit some hidden or latent disease process, of which such experiences are a symptom or precursor, an explanation which would appear to beg the question.

 
 

A person diagnosed with fantasy prone personality is reported to spend a large portion of his or her time fantasizing, have vividly intense fantasies, have paranormal experiences, and have intense religious experiences.[3] His or her fantasizing may include extreme dissociation and intense sexual fantasies. People with fantasy prone personality are reported to spend over half of their time awake fantasizing or daydreaming and will often confuse or mix their fantasies with their real memories. They also report several out-of-body experiences.[3]

Research has shown that people who are diagnosed with fantasy prone personality tend to have had a large amount of exposure to fantasy during childhood. People have reported that they believed their dolls and stuffed animals were living creatures and that their parents encouraged them to indulge in their fantasies and daydreams.[3]

 
 
 
Transliminality (literally, “going beyond the threshold”) was a concept introduced by the parapsychologist Michael Thalbourne, an Australian psychologist who is based at the University of Adelaide. It is defined as a hypersensitivity to psychological material (imagery, ideation, affect, and perception) originating in (a) the unconscious, and/or (b) the external environment (Thalbourne & Maltby, 2008). High degrees of this trait have been shown by Thalbourne to be associated with increased tendency to mystical experience, greater creativity, and greater belief in the paranormal, but Thalbourne has also found evidence that transliminality may be positively correlated with psychoticism. He has published articles on transliminality in journals on parapsychology and psychology. 
 

The categorical view of psychosis is most associated with Emil Kraepelin, who created criteria for the medical diagnosis and classification of different forms of psychotic illness. Particularly, he made the distinction between dementia praecox (now called schizophrenia), manic depressive insanity and non-psychotic states. Modern diagnostic systems used in psychiatry (such as the DSM) maintain this categorical view.[1]

In contrast, psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler did not believe there was a clear separation between sanity and madness, and that psychosis was simply an extreme expression of thoughts and behaviours that could be present to varying degrees through the population.[2]

This was picked up by psychologists such as Hans Eysenck and Gordon Claridge who sought to understand this variation in unusual thought and behaviour in terms of personality theory. This was conceptualised by Eysenck as a single personality trait named psychoticism.[3]

Claridge named his concept schizotypy and by examining unusual experiences in the general population and the clustering of symptoms in diagnosed schizophrenia, Claridge’s work suggested that this personality trait was much more complex, and could break down into four factors.[4][5]

  1. Unusual experiences: The disposition to have unusual perceptual and other cognitive experiences, such as hallucinations, magical or superstitious belief and interpretation of events (see also delusions).
  2. Cognitive disorganisation: A tendency for thoughts to become derailed, disorganised or tangential (see also formal thought disorder).
  3. Introverted anhedonia: A tendency to introverted, emotionally flat and asocial behaviour, associated with a deficiency in the ability to feel pleasure from social and physical stimulation.
  4. Impulsive nonconformity: The disposition to unstable mood and behaviour particularly with regard to rules and social conventions.
 

Psychoticism is one of the three traits used by the psychologist Hans Eysenck in his P-E-N model (psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism) model of personality.

High levels of this trait were believed by Eysenck to be linked to increased vulnerability to psychoses such as schizophrenia. He also believed that blood relatives of psychotics would show high levels of this trait, suggesting a genetic basis to the trait.

Critics of the trait have suggested that the trait is too heterogeneous to be taken as a single trait. For example, in a correlation study by Donald Johnson (reported in 1994 at the APT International Conference) Psychoticism was found to correlate with Big Five traits Conscientiousness and Agreeableness; (which in turn correlated strongly with, respectively, MBTI Judging/Perceiving, and Thinking/Feeling).[citation needed] Thus, Costa and McCrae believe that agreeableness and conscientiousness (both which represent low levels of psychoticism) need to be distinguished in personality models. Eysenck also argued that there might be a correlation between psychoticism and creativity[1] .

 

Openness to experience (Wikipedia)

Openness to experience is one of five major domains of personality discovered by psychologists.[1][2] Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity.[3] A great deal of psychometric research has demonstrated that these qualities are statistically correlated. Thus, openness can be viewed as a global personality trait consisting of a set of specific traits, habits, and tendencies that cluster together.

Openness tends to be normally distributed with a small number of individuals scoring extremely high or low on the trait, and most people scoring near the average. People who score low on openness are considered to be closed to experience. They tend to be conventional and traditional in their outlook and behavior. They prefer familiar routines to new experiences, and generally have a narrower range of interests. They could be considered practical and down to earth.

People who are open to experience are no different in mental health from people who are closed to experience. There is no relationship between openness and neuroticism, or any other measure of psychological wellbeing. Being open and closed to experience are simply two different ways of relating to the world.

The NEO PI-R personality test measures six facets or elements of openness to experience:

  1. Fantasy – the tendency toward a vivid imagination and fantasy life.
  2. Aesthetics – the tendency to appreciate art, music, and poetry.
  3. Feelings – being receptive to inner emotional states and valuing emotional experience.
  4. Actions – the inclination to try new activities, visit new places, and try new foods.
  5. Ideas – the tendency to be intellectually curious and open to new ideas.
  6. Values – the readiness to re-examine traditional social, religious, and political values.

Openness has also been measured, along with all the other Big Five personality traits, on Goldberg’s International Personality Item Pool (IPIP). The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) measures the preference of “intuition,” which is related to openness to experience.

 

PSYCHOSOMATIC PLASTICITY: AN “EMERGENT PROPERTY” OF PERSONALITY RESEARCH?

by Michael Jawer

Proceeding from this framework of mind-body unity, let us return to the Boundaries concept propounded by Hartmann. The mind of the thin-boundary person, he suggests, is “relatively fluid,” able to make numerous connections, more flexible and even dreamlike in its processing than the thick-boundary person, whose processing is “solid and well organized” but not prone to meander or make ancillary connections.23 It is not surprising, therefore, that thin-boundary people exhibit the following characteristics1:
 
● A less solid or definite sense of their skin as a body boundary;
● an enlarged sense of merging with another person when kissing
or making love;
● sensitivity to physical and emotional pain, in oneself as well as
in others;
● openness to new experience;
● a penchant for immersing themselves in something-whether
a personal relationship, a memory, or a daydream;
● an enhanced ability to recall dreams; and
● dream content that is highly vivid and emotional.
 
The fluidity evidenced by the thin-boundary personality roughly equates to Thalbourne’s concept of “transliminality,” defined as “tendency for psychological material to cross thresholds in or out of consciousness.”24 Thalbourne has found that the following are part of the personality cluster of the highly transliminal person:
● creativity;
● a penchant for mystical or religious experience;
● absorption (a bent for immersing oneself in something, be it a
sensory experience, an intellectual task, or a reverie);
● fantasy proneness;
● an interest in dream interpretation;
● paranormal belief and experiences; and
● a heightened sensitivity to environmental stimulation.

 

Thin and Thick Boundaried Personalities

Studies show that one’s personality type plays a big role in the intensity of the dream experience and the amount of dream recall present in our waking life. The two types are described as thin boundary and thick boundary personalities. A Hartmann study shows that those who are classified as the thin boundary type tend to experience longer dreams, with a higher intensity of emotion, feeling, color, vividness, and interaction in them than did those classified as thick boundary types.  Those who are considered to be thin boundary personalities tend to have a heightened emotional sensitivity within their dream states.  The best way to describe this idea is that every type of emotion a thin boundaried person has is much more exaggerated within their dreams, which leads to the possibility of more nightmares.  They do not differentiate dreams from reality like a thick boundaried person does.

What differentiates the the two boundary types is a separation between mental process, thoughts and functions. Those with thin boundary type tend to often merge thought with feeling, have a difficulty with focusing on one thing at a time, daydream or fantasize, experience forms of synaethesia, have more fluid sense of self and tend to “merge” more with those who are close to them.
Those with thick boundaried personalities have much more separation between what is real and what is imaginary. They tend to have a distinct focus on one thing at a time, differentiate between thoughts and feelings, real and fantasy, self and others, lack strong memories from childhood, well organized and has a strong sense of self.
It is not to say that thick boundaried people do not suffer from nightmares, it is just that they seem to seperate the two worlds of dreams and thier waking life much more so.  They also tend to do the same between their emotions and thoughts.
 
 
by Ernest Hartmann, Robert Harrison, and Michael Zborowski
 
There are a number of suggestive studies indicating that people with thin boundaries may be not only creative and open, but may have a series of other interesting and so far poorly understood characteristics.  For instance, there appears to be a relationship between thin boundaries and multiple chemical sensitivities (Jawer, 2001).  There is also a correlation between thin boundaries and a belief in or tendency to experience paranormal phenomena. Factor V of the BQ – see table 3 – appears to pick up this aspect of thin boundaries and has been labeled “clairvoyance.”.  Groups of people who characterize themselves as shamans or psychics score thin on the BQ (Krippner, Wickramasekera, Wickramasekera, & Winstead, 1998).  Thalbourne and his collaborators, in their studies of persons who experience paranormal phenomena, have devised a “Transliminality scale” to measure these traits ( Lange,  Thalbourne, Houran, & Storm 2000;  Thalbourne, 1991).  Preliminary analysis suggests a high correlation (r = 068) between thin boundaries and the Transliminality Scale.
These relationships may be worth exploring further, since two very different hypotheses may explain them.  The most parsimonious view would be that all “paranormal” phenomena are imaginary, and that people with thin boundaries simply have better or looser imaginations, are more suggestible, or are more sensitive with a tendency to elaborate creatively on their sensitivities.  On the other hand, we could consider the possibility that phenomena such as telepathy, now considered paranormal could be related to transmission of information using perhaps portions of the electromagnetic spectrum which we are not usually able to detect.  Under unusual circumstances our ability to detect such information could be altered slightly, and quite possibly there might be inter-individual differences in the ability to detect information of this kind.  If so, it is possible that persons with thin boundaries who are sensitive in so many other ways, may also be sensitive to detecting such portions of the spectrum.

 

You don’t have to be crazy to believe in the paranormal but does it help?

by Chris French

Psychopathological Tendencies and Paranormal Belief/Experience 

    * Paranormal beliefs/experiences correlate with tendency towards bipolar (manic) depression

Dissociativity 

    * Dissociativity has been shown to be related to the tendency to report a wide range of paranormal and anomalous experiences

Fantasy Proneness 

    * fantasy-prone individuals spend much of their time engaged in fantasy, have particularly vivid imaginations, sometimes confuse imagination with reality, and report a very high incidence of paranormal experiences

Schizotypy 

    * Multidimensional
    * Different factors of schizotypy relate to different factors of paranormal belief/experience in complex ways (e.g., Irwin & Green, 1998-1999)
    * Unusual Experiences factor most consistently related to paranormal beliefs/experiences
    * Concerned with aberrant perceptions and beliefs
    * Sub-clinical tendencies towards hallucinations and delusions

Does Paranormal Belief/Experience = Psychopathology? No! 

    * High levels of belief/experience in general population
    * Correlations around 0.6
    * Believers scores raised but not typically to pathological levels
    * Atypical groups of believers (e.g., psychical research groups) have quite low levels of schizoptypy

A Link with Childhood Trauma? 

    * Both fantasy proneness and tendency to dissociate are associated with reports of childhood trauma
    * Defence mechanism?
    * Paranormal belief also correlates with reports of childhood trauma

 

Dissociations of the Night: Individual Differences in Sleep-Related Experiences and Their Relation to Dissociation and Schizotypy

by David Watson

I examined the associations among sleep-related experiences (e.g., hypnagogic hallucinations, nightmares, waking dreams, lucid dreams), dissociation, schizotypy and the Big Five personality traits in two large student samples. Confirmatory factor analyses indicated that (a) dissociation and schizotypy are strongly correlated―yet distinguishable― constructs and (b) the differentiation between them can be enhanced by eliminating detachment/depersonalization items from the dissociation scales. A general measure of sleep experiences was substantially correlated with both schizotypy and dissociation (especially the latter) and more weakly related to the Big Five. In contrast, an index of lucid dreaming was weakly related to all of these other scales. These results suggest that measures of dissociation, schizotypy and sleep-related experiences all define a common domain characterized by unusual cognitions and perceptions.

 

by Shelley L. Rattet and Krisanne Bursik
 
Do individuals who endorse paranormal beliefs differ from those reporting actual precognitive experiences? This study examined the personality correlates of these variables in a sample of college students, 61% of whom described some type of precognitive experience. Extraversion and intuition were associated with precognitive experience, but not with paranormal belief; dissociative tendencies were related to paranormal belief, but not precognitive experience. The importance of conceptualizing and assessing paranormal belief and precognitive experience as separate constructs is discussed.
 
 
by J.E. Kennedy
 
Paranormal beliefs and experiences are associated with certain personality factors, including absorption, fantasy proneness, and the Myers-Briggs intuition and feeling personality dimensions. Skepticism appears to be associated with materialistic, rational, pragmatic personality types. Attitude toward psi may also be influenced by motivations to have control and efficacy, to have a sense of meaning and purpose in life, to be connected with others, to have transcendent experiences, to have self-worth, to feel superior to others, and to be healed. The efforts to obtain reliable control of psi in experimental parapsychology have not been successful. Given the lack of control and lack of practical application of psi, it is not surprising that those who are by disposition materialistic and pragmatic find the evidence for psi to be unconvincing. When psi experiences have been examined without a bias for control, the primary effect has been found to be enhanced meaning in life and spirituality, similar to mystical experiences. Tensions among those with mystical, authoritarian, and scientific dispositions have been common in the history of paranormal and religious beliefs. Scientific research can do much to create better understanding among people with different dispositions. Understanding the motivations related to paranormal beliefs is a prerequisite for addressing questions about when and if psi actually occurs.

 

by Joe Nickell
 
Despite John Mack’s denial, the results of my study of his best thirteen cases show high fantasy proneness among his selected subjects. Whether or not the same results would be obtained with his additional subjects remains to be seen. Nevertheless, my study does support the earlier opinions of Baker and Bartholomew and Basterfield that alleged alien abductees tend to be fantasy-prone personalities. Certainly, that is the evidence for the very best cases selected by a major advocate.
 
 
 
by Per Andersen

While most of the studies of the psychopathology of UFO witnesses have demonstrated no pathological patterns in general, many of the studies nevertheless have discovered some specific personal traits for various groups of witnesses.

It has been difficult in most studies uniquely to characterize these personality traits of UFO witnesses and to describe them in a simple way. To that it should be added, that traits described in different studies vary a great deal from each other.

In a [U.S.] Fund for UFO Research-sponsored experiment, 9 witnesses were tested for psychopathology (MMPI) and their personalities were described by Dr. Elizabeth Slater. All nine had reported UFO abductions. The most significant aspect of the experiment was, however, that Dr. Slater did not know what the 9 persons had in common (if anything) (Bloecher 1985).

Dr. Slater did in fact find some similarities between the nine subjects, although these were played down by the sponsors. She described the subjects as a very distinctive, unusual and interesting group. They did not represent an ordinary cross- section of the population from the standpoint of conventionality in lifestyle. Several of the subjects could be labelled downright “eccentric” or “odd”. They had high intellectual abilities and richly evocative and charged inner worlds — highly inventive, creative and original.

What then about “ordinary” UFO witnesses that have not been abducted or in regular contact with space beings, but have experienced what I would label low strangeness sightings of UFO phenomena? For these groups of witnesses also some special personality traits have been identified in various studies.

Over [a period of] 17 years, Dr. Leo Sprinkle [University of Wyoming] tested 225 persons reporting mixed UFO experiences ranging from a light in the sky to being abducted. A study of these 225 witnesses showed that they had profiles with certain unique characteristics. Witnesses exhibited a high level of psychic energy, a tendency to question authority or being subject to situational pressure or conflicts, and to be self-sufficient and resourceful. Other characteristic were: above-average intelligence, assertiveness and a tendency to be experimenting thinkers (Parnell 1988).

Another major study of 264 persons did not find any significant differences between witnesses of various types of sightings (Ring 1990). However, the research showed that UFO witnesses reported more sensitivity to non-ordinary realities and having a higher tendency towards dissociation. It also documented that UFO witnesses and people with near-death experiences had very similar personality traits. There also seems to be a significant relationship between having UFO sightings and the personal belief system of the witnesses. This has been documented by T.A. Zimmer who found relationships between sightings and belief in occultism and science fiction (Zimmer 1984, 1985) as well as Spanos et al from the University of Ottawa. They found that witnesses to low-strangeness sightings had a tendency to esoteric beliefs and belief in UFOs (Spanos 1993).

 

by Martin Kottmeyer
 
It seems logical at this point to ask if the psychology of nightmares can throw any light on what is happening in alien abduction experiences. While not all the puzzles of nightmares have been solved, psychology has recently made significant strides in understanding why some people develop them and others do not. In building a profile of nightmare sufferers Ernest Hartmann developed a conceptual model termed boundary theory which expands on a set of propositions about boundaries in the mind formulated by a handful of earlier psychoanalytic theorists. It is from Hartmann’s study “The Nightmare” that we will develop the blueprint of our argument. (8)
 
Boundary theory begins with the axiom that as the mind matures, it categorises experiences. It walls off certain sets to be distinct from other sets. Boundaries become set up between what is self and what is non-self, between sleep and waking experiences, between fantasy and reality, passion and reason, ego and id, masculine and feminine, and a large host of other experiential categories. This drive to categorise is subject to natural variation. The determinants of the strength of that drive appear to be biochemical and genetic and probably have no environmental component such as trauma. When the drive is weak the boundaries between categories are thinner, more permeable or more fluid. When the boundaries become abnormally thin one sees psychopathologies like schizophrenia. Hartmann discovered individuals who suffer from nightmares have thin boundaries. >From this central mental characteristic one can derive a large constellation of traits that set these people apart from the general population.
From earliest childhood, people with thin boundaries are perceived as “different”. They are regarded as more sensitive than their peers. Thin character armour causes them to be more fragile and easily hurt. They are easily empathic, but dive into relationships too deeply too quickly. Recipients of their affection will regard them as uncomfortably close and clinging and they are thus frequently rejected. Experience with their vulnerability teaches them to be wary of entering into relationships with others. Adolescence tends to be stormy and difficult. Adult relationships — whether sexual, marital or friendships — also tend to be unsettled and variable. A slight tendency to paranoia is common.
 
One-third will have contemplated or attempted suicide. Experimentation with drugs tends to yield bad trips and is quickly abandoned. They are usually alert to lights, sounds and sensations. They tend to have fluid sexual identities. Bisexuals are over-represented in the nightmare sufferers’ population and it is rare to find manly men or womanly women in it. Macho pigs apparently do not have nightmares. They are not rule followers. Either they reject society or society rejects them. They are rebels and outsiders. There is a striking tendency for these people to find their way into fields involving artistic self-expression; musicians, poets, writers, art teachers, etc. Some develop their empathic tendencies and become therapists. Ordinary BLUE or white collar jobs are rare.
Hartmann believes the predominance of artists results from the fact that thin boundaries allow them to experience the world more directly and painfully than others. The ability to experience their inner life in a very direct fashion contributes to the authenticity of their creations. They become lost in daydreaming quite easily and even experience daymares — a phenomenon people with thick boundaries won’t even realise exists. This trait of imaginative absorption should also make nightmare sufferers good hypnotic subjects. (9)
Boundary deficits also contribute to fluid memories and a fluid time sense.
 
To be considered a candidate for the hypothesis that one is a victim of alien abduction a person must present certain symptoms. Among the factors which are looked for are conscious memories of an abduction, revealing nightmares, missing time, forgotten scars, or dramatic reactions to seemingly trivial stimuli like distant nocturnal lights. The last four factors act as screening devices to yield a population of boundary deficit individuals. This is blatant in the case of people whose candidacy is based on nightmares of aliens. It is subtler in the other symptoms.
People who have thin boundaries in their time sense virtually by definition will experience episodes of missing time. People with fluid memories could easily lose track of the event that led to the creation of a scar. People with weak ego-id boundaries and a sense of powerlessness probably would over- react to distant inexplicable lights as symbols of power. These candidates, in turn, are subject to further screening by their performance under hypnosis. The thicker the boundary, the less likely it is that a convincing narrative will emerge or be accepted as emotionally valid. We would predict the final population of abduction claimants would be biased in favour of a high proportion of boundary-deficit personalities.
 
The evidence that abductees have boundary-deficit personalities is, if not definitive, reasonably convincing. The points of correspondence between abductees and nightmare sufferers are several and consistent.
Ufology regards the Slater psychological study of nine abductees as an experimentum crucis for the view that abductees are victims of real extraterrestrial intrusions. It affirmed not only the normality of abductees, but offered a hint of traumatisation in the finding that abductees showed a tendency to display distrust and interpersonal caution. It is time to remind everyone, however, of what Slater’s full results were reported to be. Slater found abductees had rich inner lives; a relatively weak sense of identity, particularly a weak sexual identity; vulnerability; and an alertness characteristic of both perceptual sophistication and interpersonal caution. (10)
All four of these traits are characteristic of boundary-deficit minds. Clearly the abduction-reality hypothesis is, in this instance, unparsimonious. It fails to explain the presence of rich inner lives, weak identities and vulnerability. (I reject Slater’s post hoc attempt to account for the weak sexual identity via childhood trauma induced by involuntary surgical penetrations as undocumented, and just plain weird.) It should not be over- looked that Slater volunteered the opinion that her test subjects did not represent an ordinary cross-section of the population. She found some were “downright eccentric or odd” and that the group as a whole was “very distinctive, unusual, and interesting”. (11)
This nicely parallels Hartmann’s observation that boundary- deficit personalities are perceived as “different” from “normal” people. Slater’s study does indeed seem to be an experimentum crucis, but the conclusion it points toward is perfectly opposite from what ufologists have been assuming.
The boundary-deficit hypothesis evidently can also be invoked to explain the unusual proportion of artist-type individuals that I discovered in testing Rimmer’s hypothesis. Roughly one-third of abductees showed evidence of artistic self-expression in their backgrounds in my sample population, as you may recall. Hartmann’s study would also lead us to expect an unusual number of psychotherapists among abductees. In a recent paper, Budd Hopkins reported that in a population of 180 probable abductees he found many mental health professionals: two psychiatrists, three PhD psychologists and an unstated number of psychotherapists with Master’s degrees. (12)
 
by Neil Douglas-Klotz
 
Recent studies in cognitive psychology suggest that Western psychology still struggles for the language to describe the difference between a “psychotic” and a “spiritual” state in a nuanced way (for instance in the new anthology on psychosis and spirituality edited by Isabel Clarke, 2000). For instance, Claridge (2000) and others have sought to define a new personality type called “schizotypy” which is neutral with respect to illness or pre-disposing to illness and yet describes a person prone to “skinlessness” (or weakened cognitive inhibition), enhanced access to internal and external events, the reduced ability to limit the contents of consciousness and “transliminaliy.” In this view, the difference between non-pathological “psychoticism” and actual “psychosis” depends on history, circumstances and genetic pre-disposition.
 
Clarke herself (2000) proposes a “discontinuity” theory, which states that polarization of psychotic states and spiritual ones is a false dichotomy. She combines work by Kelly (the “personal construct theory”) as well as Teasdale and Barnard (“interacting cognitive subsystems,”1993) to suggest, among other things, that a “transliminal experience” means operating beyond a construct system and that, from an informational processing model point of view, a transliminal experience is created by a breakdown between the implicational and propositional subsystems of the mind. According to Clarke, the advantage of mystics of all traditions, many of which also include a very practical ability to this model is that it brings psychosis into the realm of universal human experience.
 
In both of these models, however, the attempt to describe a spiritual or mystical state in terms of modern psychology suffers from the need to begin with the Western language of pathology. In other words, does the mere presence of transliminality, reduced ability to limit the contents of consciousness, and the other definitions offered really describe the diverse experiences of the great mystics of all traditions, many of which also include a very practical ability to handle interpersonal relationships and accomplishment in the world?
 
Recent studies in cognitive psychology suggest that Western psychology still struggles for the language to describe the difference between a “psychotic” and a “spiritual” state in a nuanced way (for instance in the new anthology on psychosis and spirituality edited by Isabel Clarke, 2000). For instance, Claridge (2000) and others have sought to define a new personality type called “schizotypy” which is neutral with respect to illness or pre-disposing to illness and yet describes a person prone to “skinlessness” (or weakened cognitive inhibition), enhanced access to internal and external events, the reduced ability to limit the contents of consciousness and “transliminaliy.” In this view, the difference between non-pathological “psychoticism” and actual “psychosis” depends on history, circumstances and genetic pre-disposition.
 
Clarke herself (2000) proposes a “discontinuity” theory, which states that polarization of psychotic states and spiritual ones is a false dichotomy. She combines work by Kelly (the “personal construct theory”) as well as Teasdale and Barnard (“interacting cognitive subsystems,”1993) to suggest, among other things, that a “transliminal experience” means operating beyond a construct system and that, from an informational processing model point of view, a transliminal experience is created by a breakdown between the implicational and propositional subsystems of the mind. According to Clarke, the advantage of handle interpersonal relationships and accomplishment in the world?