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COVID-19: Will We Become Psychotic Narcissists? (37 Int. Conf. Psychiatry & Psychosomatic Medicine)

Uploaded 6/27/2020, approx. 34 minute read

Dear colleagues, thank you for the previous presentations. I was fascinated to learn about new treatments for trauma and stress and all the other topics, most of which are directly related to the pandemics.

A study published two weeks ago had shown that one-third, a whopping one-third, 34% of the adult population in the United States now suffer from diagnosable clinical depression, a major depressive episode, and in two-thirds of these cases it's coupled with anxiety disorders.

There's a tsunami coming our way, a tsunami of mental health issues.

But my thesis in this presentation is that depression and anxiety are the tip of an iceberg and that there are much more fundamental psychodynamics are happening under the surface, and these are long-term, irreparable, irretractable and irreversible.

If I'm right, the very composition of human psychology and the attendant mental health phenomena is going to change, at least for a few years, if not for an entire generation.

So my name is Sam Vaknin. I'm a professor of psychology in Southern Federal University in North Stovandon in Russia and a professor of finance and a professor of psychology in the Outreach Program of SIAS-CIAPS, Center for International Advanced and Professional Studies. Apologies for the self-promotion and let's get straight to the point.

My presentation deals with a much neglected aspect of the pandemic and that is the issue of habituation and habit forming during the pandemic and how it affects other dimensions and aspects of mental health.

We all form memories, but we tend to form more resilient and long-term memories, memories that resonate with us internally in schema, memories that interact with cognitions, memories that affect our moods, regulate our emotions.

So more important memories, more psychodynamically functional memories are formed in familiar settings. The brain tends to compartmentalize. It takes in new sights, new sounds, new smells, new people, new places, compares them to previous experiences and then catalogues them in a sort of taxonomic system.

When the familiar environment is severely disrupted, as is the case in this pandemic, we have a problem with memory formation. Memories also go hand in hand with habits.

Memories, our memory is a daisy chain. It incorporates schema. Each memory goes with an attendant emotion, with a cognition, and with values and beliefs about the world, often values and beliefs that subtly alter our perception of reality, what the early psychoanaly is called psychological defense mechanisms.

So the pandemic disrupted both. It disrupted our habits and it disrupted the settings within which we had been operating all our lives. It disrupted familiarity. I will come to it in a minute.

When we are deprived of the familiar, when we no longer can go to the corner pub, to our favorite library, those of us who still read books, when we no longer can see the people we love and the people we have interacted with regularly for years, for months, for decades, when the familiar is disrupted to this extent, when we are deprived, when there is experiential deprivation, like in a deprivation tank, you know.

When this happens, we compensate and there are various ways to compensate.

First of all, we compensate by dissociating. We numb ourselves. We anesthetize ourselves. We put ourselves into a comatose, a suspended animation state.

It's like living inside a movie, like observing ourselves from the outside.

We will come to it a bit later. It's a form of dissociation which is commonly known as depersonalization or derealization and it's usually coupled with dissociative amnesia.

So we tend to lose time. We tend to feel increasingly more unreal and we tend to feel that we are losing our personality, our uniqueness, our boundaries are diffusing and we kind of disappear into a cloud of molecules.

Another typical response is freeze. We freeze.

It's one of the four typical responses, fight, flight, freeze and form.

So we freeze.

Losing all familiar objects, all familiar places and all familiar people within a set of disorienting circumstances, such as the pandemic, faced with utter unmitigated uncertainty and an implacable invisible enemy, that's a combination that's enough to make one freeze.

It's a threat. It's perceived as a ubiquitous threat, existential threat. It's not very different to the experience that people had when they had reached Auschwitz, the extermination camp.

And so we freeze. We deny, we shut out reality, we shut out external reality, but we equally shut out our internal reality. We numb ourselves. We disappear.

And then the last type of response, which comes a bit later, is we attempt to form new familiarity. We try to create new habits. We reorganize our physical space in ways which would remind us of things. We go through old records, old documents, old family photographs. We try to cling to the vestiges and the remainders and relics of a past now gone in its entirety.

And these are the three typical responses, dissociation, freezing or habituation, new habit forming.

But that presents a problem, because new familiarity, the new familiarity, the new habits, the new spatial organization, harking back to the past via the mediation of objects such as old family photographs, old home videos, all this makes the world narrow. We call this process in clinical terms, constriction. It constricts the world. It makes it more narrow. And the reason it makes it more narrow is that when you form a new habit, you tend to latch on to a single object or two. You don't immediately take in everything. You tend to act more like a laser beam than like a light bulb. You focus on something. You're pinpointed.

And so in the process of habituation, the initial phase is actually shutting out the world, shutting out the majority of reality, focusing goal orientation, goal focusing on a single object, a single aim, a single goal, a single activity, a single person, a single place. And this constricts the world.

If you take into account lockdown restrictions and the time it takes to construct new habits and the initial space and number of objects incorporated in it, all this is very limited.

And all this raises a serious question with regards to the ability of people to habituate effectively.

And so this is the first effect. We narrow down. Suddenly, we develop a tunnel vision. Suddenly, making coffee becomes our entire world. We are emotionally invested in these new habits and processes.

However, tiny, minor, frivolous, tangential and fringe they are. It's a process of cathexis, emotional redirection of emotional, what Freud called and Jung called libido, the life force.

So again, making coffee, I don't know, watching a movie at precisely four o'clock, your glass of wine at the end of the day.


Now, all these things exist in normal day to day function, but they acquire disproportional importance when they are the only habits in the world.

When actually, you are denied access to familiar objects, familiar places, and familiar people.

And you have to develop new familiarity, which essentially, mostly, involves only you.

It's a solipsistic, autistic activity.

And so there is a drop in self-efficacy.

The fewer the objects we interact with, the fewer the people we chat with, we sleep with, we talk to, the fewer the social interactions, the fewer the challenges of the unpredictable and unexpected, and the less self-efficacious we are.

Self-efficacy is a muscle. It's a use-it or lose-it.

And so if you don't do new things, if you don't develop yourself, you don't challenge yourself, usually through the agency of other people. Other people are the agents of change. If you don't do any of this, your self-efficacy drops, and you feel it. You feel that you are less self-efficacious. You feel that your goals are becoming smaller and smaller. You feel that you are, you feel this narrowing tunnel vision down thing. You feel that you are, you are becoming microscopic, rather than macroscopic.

You, in a way, become your own object, manageable object.


And so there's a drop in self-efficacy. And there's an increase in dissociation, which I mentioned before, depersonalization, derealization, dissociative amnesia. And the combination of these two create a disjointedness, a discontinuity in existence.

You feel discontinuous. You feel that, I don't know, from eight o'clock to ten o'clock was a different person than from four o'clock to six o'clock in the afternoon. You feel you are not, you're not your self, what Jung called the constellated self. You feel that there's no thread, there's nothing lying, connecting who you were in the morning to who you are in the evening to where you're going to be at night.

And you're beginning to feel like an assemblage of people. You're beginning to feel like a hive, a hive person or swarm person, very similar to a swarm of bees or locusts or ants. You're insecticides in a way.

And so you're trying to compensate for this.

And one way to compensate for this is confabulation, because dissjointedness and discontinuity, personal discontinuity, we'll come to it in a minute, is a part of a larger clinical phenomenon known as hyperreflexivity.

But because they make you feel that you are not one, they disrupt your unitary mindedness, your upset.

So because they're like that, what you try, what people try to do, they try to bridge the lost time and the lost identity.

People with borderline patients with borderline personality disorder describe this all the time. They say it wasn't me. I was on autopilot. I was observing myself from the outside. It felt unreal.

And they don't maintain the same values from day to day. They don't maintain the same decisions, same opinions. They don't maintain sameness.

And in technical terms, this is known as identity disturbance or identity diffusion. It's actually a diagnostic criterion in the alternate model of borderline personality disorder in the fifth iteration of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published in 2013.

So identity disturbance and identity diffusion are reaction to external shocks, external shocks to the system.

By the way, not only in individuals, in collectives as well.

Look what's happening to the United States. How it's grappling with its identity now, racial identity, other identity, the questions of freedom, question of constitutionality. I mean, such external, massive external systemic shocks create identity disturbance and identity diffusion.

And one of the main tools to cope with it with this is confabulation.

Trying to bridge the breaks and the schism and the fractures and the fault lines in the personality and the identity is often done by inventing narratives, concocting, conjuring up stories, storylines, scripts, movie scripts.

Confabulations are not lies. Confabulations are speculations as to what could have been reasonably, what is plausible, what is probable.

For example, if you suddenly missed half an hour, the last thing you remember was half an hour and then you suddenly kind of woke up half an hour later. You're bound to ask yourself, what has happened in this half an hour?

And so, what you would tend to do normally is confabulate. You would say, well, I find myself in the kitchen half an hour later, probably I wanted to make coffee. This probably I wanted to make coffee is a confabulation, of course. It's speculation. You can't prove that you went to the kitchen to make coffee. Maybe you went to the kitchen because you heard a noise. Or maybe you went to the kitchen because you were under a wayside.

But you confabulate. People confabulate when they are faced with a fracturing fragmentation or in this case, I would say, implosion of identity.

Now, everything I'm describing, everything I've just described, these are crucial elements in psychotic disorder.

I have been describing hitherto the rudiments of psychosis.

Psychosis is about confusion between internal and external objects. That's one aspect and one element.

But psychosis mainly is about hyper-reflexivity or hyper-reflection, depending which text you adopt.

And hyper-reflexivity and hyper-reflection involve all these dissociation, disjointedness, discontinuity, confabulation, drop in self-efficacy and so on.

So, in a way, my thesis in this presentation is that the pandemic is pushing all of us to become more and more technically, clinically speaking, psychotic.


Let's talk a bit more about discontinuity, hyper-reflexivity and dissociation.

They are not only at the core of psychotic disorder. They are also defining whole marks, dimensions, aspects and features of several personality disorders.

Mainly, narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. Both narcissists and borderlines feel discontinuous. They don't feel that they have a single unitary life. They feel that they stumble from one episode and anecdote to another in a totally incomprehensible universe. They have an external locus of control.

In the case of the borderline, the locus of control depends crucially on issues of rejection, humiliation, abandonment and so on. In the case of the narcissist, the external locus of control depends crucially on narcissistic supply, the regulation of fantastic grandiosity.

But both of them feel discontinuous. And they are discontinuous, of course, precisely because they depend on external input, on feedback from the outside, from other people in order to regulate their internal environment.

For the borderline, the narcissist to feel continuous, they need to continuously interact with people, but not just with any person. They need to interact with someone who is willing to help them to regulate their internal environment.

Again, in clinical jargon, clinical language, we would say that this kind of person is performing ego functions.

So the narcissists in the borderline outsource their ego functions from the outside. In the absence of an external environment, they cease to exist in the most profound sense of the word. They don't exist. They are not there. Their existence becomes an absence.

When what they experience is their own absence. Can you imagine how terrifying this is?

And this is exactly why I suggest that narcissistic personality disorder and to a large extent borderline personality disorder is an attenuated form of dissociative identity disorder and that it borders on psychosis.

Where I differ from Kernberg and others is that because borderline personality disorder is now widely perceived to be a failed attempt to create pathological narcissism or to leverage pathological narcissism, because borderlines are failed narcissists.

They, in the early development as children, they try to become narcissists and they failed. So they remain borderline. They have the grandiosity, but they also have empathy. They also have emotions. They're very vulnerable. Consequently, they're dysregulated and labile as far as moods and emotions.

The narcissists succeeded to create the firewall of grandiose narcissism, whether it's compensatory or not, egosyntonic, doesn't matter, but he succeeded to create a moat, a fortress, a firewall, use any metaphor you want. He succeeded to isolate himself both from his external environment and from his internal environment.

So he's not triggered like the borderline. The borderline is a failed narcissist, the borderline is a failed narcissist.

But if the borderline is a failed narcissist, then the borderline is further from psychosis, not near psychosis. It's the narcissist.

The narcissist is the one who is close to psychosis.

The distinction between narcissism and psychosis is very fuzzy, very blurred, because they share so many features.


And I would like to focus in this presentation on one of these features, which is crucial in habit formation and habituation.

And I will quote at length, expansively, from an article which summarizes well the issue of hyperreflexivity, hyperreflection.

So by the way, hyperreflection is a medical term. So I prefer hyperreflexivity.

So American Journal of Psychotherapy, volume 67, number three, 2030. The article is titled Psychotherapeutic Implications of Self-Disorders in Schizophrenia. It was written by Leonor Irazabal, apologies if I mispronounce, and I'm quoting from the section about hyperreflexivity.

He mentions that hyperreflexivity is often conflated and sometimes confused with self-consciousness, rumination, meta-cognition, and even self-focused attention or mindfulness.

But he begs to differ, and I fully agree with you. I'm quoting, hyperreflexivity is a disorder of psisyony or pre-reflective self-awareness.

IPSI, which derives from ipse, Latin for self or its self, ipsiety refers to a crucial sense of self-sameness and of existing as a subject of experience that is normally implicit in each act of awareness.

The central phenomenon of the schizophrenia spectrum disorders is a disturbance of the very mindedness or first-person perspective that characterizes any experience.

What he is saying is that when you experience life, when you go through anything, through day to day, when you do things, when people talk to you, when you make coffee, whatever you do, it's always you that is doing it. And somewhere in the back of your mind, there is this sameness, this mindness, this eye-ness, this continuity and unitary core or kernel or experience that underlies, envelopes, glues together, comprises and is the backbone and spine of life itself or experiencing life. It's the experiential engine, the operating system, so to speak.

These are my words, not his.

Continuing with the article, Sas, Parnas and Zahavi in 2011 have recently made clear that hyper-reflexivity is not at its core an intellectual, volitional or reflective kind of self-consciousness. It's not something you control, just happens to you.

The authors explain that it occurs in an automatic fashion and has the effect of disrupting awareness and action by means of an automatic popping up or popping out or phenomena in processes that would normally remain in the background of awareness.

All of us have experienced this. When we suddenly kind of wake up, it's like we move to a meta, a level of meta-existence and we look at ourselves and say, I am doing this. My God, did I just say this?

You know, you have this, especially if you do something which is ego-dystonic or ego-discrepent or ego-incongruous, then you're kind of, kind of a shock.

Back to the article, reflectivity implies a stance towards oneself within an articulation of the subjective experience, similar to that which takes place in a psychotherapy context.

In this way, the reflecting subject gets closer to his subjective experience.

On the contrary, the person, so just before we proceed with the article, what he's saying, he's making a distinction between hyper-reflexivity and reflectivity.

Reflectivity is controlled and it's an attempt to see yourself on the outside. It's an attempt to articulate, to put into words usually, a subjective experience. It's kind of scientific study of yourself and this is of course the essence of psychotherapy.

And now about hyper-reflexivity.

Continuing with the article, the person with schizophrenia, instead of articulating implicit processes, views his own subjective experience as something concrete, takes an external observational point of view, objectivizing the experience.

Self-observation from the external point of view makes the individual a mere spectator of his experience, which then loses its first-person mode of presentation, that is from within, to quote reflectivity.

We do stand, we do observe ourselves, but we observe ourselves. We experience even this process of observation as subjective. We don't create a break or a schism or a divide or a gap between the observer and the observed. We don't become Cartesian. We don't adhere to the cart. We don't break the world.

But in schizophrenia, we do. The people with schizophrenia do. They have hyper-reflexivity. So they kind of stand outside, stand aside, and they observe themselves as though they were some kind of object, as though it were a scientific experiment, as though they were, I don't know, a particle, or a planet, or a star, or some insect. And they study themselves dispassionately, and with no emotions or investment of any kind. And they are the mere spectators, and they talk about themselves in the third-body singular, usually.

And I want to tell you that this is very common among narcissists. This is precisely how narcissists experience themselves.

They experience themselves as objects, not as subjects. They are out hunting and gathering narcissistic supply to feed, to feed this external experiential entity, this construct known as the false self.

And this is precisely why I often compare narcissism to religion. It's like the false self is some deity, some divinity that is outside the narcissist. And the narcissist is a servant, an adherent, a worshiper. The narcissist has to make daily sacrifices to this God, to this idol, the false self, starting with the most profound fundamental sacrifice, himself.

The narcissist sacrifices his true self to the false self. This is how narcissism is born and created.

And then he continues to sacrifice narcissistic supply, and it's a demanding old testament deity, the false self. It's very sadistic. It's allied with the superego, with the inner critic.

So the narcissist does not dare defy the false self. The false self also provides the narcissist with rewards and gratifications, like experience of grandiosity, experience of being superior, and so on.

But it's crucial to see the similarities between schizophrenia, which is essentially a psychotic disorder, and pathological narcissism, which only serves to substantiate, because the experience in both cases is identical.

It stands to reason that the psychodynamics and the constructs and the structures involved probably are the same.

The line is very thin. Narcissists are, most of the time, I venture to to claim psychotic. It is possible to argue that no reflectivity takes place in the initial stages of perplexity, says the author, the realization that something is going wrong.

He says that initial stages when the schizophrenic, for example, realizes something is going wrong, there's no reflectivity. There's a confusion about meanings, as often occurs in the preliminary states of psychosis.

The author says, this self-objectification leads neither to self-regulation nor to self-understanding, as reflectivity would certainly do. It leads to distress. It leads to anxious feelings of depersonalization until the psychotic breakdown occurs.

And this process of objectification finally results in pathological attributions or explications of the implicit.

Folks, 2001.

So, I postulate, and I couldn't find any equivalence in the literature, but so probably it's a new suggestion. I postulate that there is a continuum, there's a spectrum.

The borderline tried to become narcissist and failed. The narcissist is on the verge of psychosis, but never process the boundary, never becomes fully psychotic. There's never a full psychotic breakdown. But the narcissist always titters on the verge.

Indeed, any psychiatrist will tell you that people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder often experience psychotic breaks and psychotic micro-episodes under stress, including the stress of therapy.

This is also common among borderlines, but the nature of the psychotic breakdown is very different. With a borderline, the psychotic breakdown has subjective content, subjective views. The borderline experiences her psychosis, not as ego-alien, not as something external to her. She experiences her psychosis as a continuation of inexorable processes which preceded the psychosis.

Not so with the narcissist. The narcissist in this sense has what's likely called at the time schizoid personality, schizophrenic personality. He's very much psychotic, classic psychotic.

The narcissist experiences the psychotic break as ego-alien. As something that came out of nowhere, he's going to vanish into nowhere, into deep space, has no reason and rhyme, and is connected to nothing inside himself, to no psychodynamic process.

Narcissist experiences the psychotic break as though it's happening to someone else.

In this sense, I would say that the borderline psychotic break is closely allied to her dysregulated emotions. It's a kind of dysregulated emotional psychotic break, or psychotic break induced by dysregulated emotions.

While with the narcissist, the psychotic break is much more cognitive and it's much more dissociative.

Ironically, one of the diagnostic criteria of borderline personality disorder is dissociation, and I think it's a big miss, a big lacuna, a big deficit in the diagnostic and statistical manner, that they fail to recognize. Dissociation is much more severe with narcissism. It's an all pervasive, ubiquitous process, background process, foreground process, and finally, ultimately, psychotic process.

The article continues. Normally, when one deliberately observes one's experience, it appears as separated, discrete content or episodes, although it retains a sense of continuity as being mine.

It is just this tacit sense of continuity of experience in Husserl's terminology, implicit synthesis of inner time consciousness.

This is what is lost in schizophrenia, folks, said it in 2010. Since this implicit synthesis is necessary to form meaningful patterns known in German as Bichthalmann, the patient's subjective experience will appear not only disintegrated or fragmented, but ultimately meaningless as a whole.

Ask any narcissist, they will tell you, that this is precisely how the experience lies. As a meaningless sequence, meaningless sequence of disjointed moments that have nothing to do with each other.

The world starts afresh every minute, like Alzheimer's. It's like dementia, in a way.


I'm continuing to quote from the article.

Therefore, hyper reflection relates to a circuit of self-observation that is not reflective, but rather is a process of self-observation.

Monetary and paying attention to oneself in an automatic manner. The subject experience becomes a pervasive object of attention from an external perspective, losing its first-person mode of presentation.

The schizophrenic is alienated from his self. He is observing it like some kind of scientific experiment. There's no first-person involvement, because there's no first-person.

Same with the narcissist. Same with the narcissist, I cannot emphasize this enough. The narcissist has no ego, no first-person experience. There's no one there. Nobody is there. It's a hall of mirrors, a kaleidoscope.

There is an observer, but this observer is detached, distinct, separated, alienated, and has nothing to do with the narcissist.

The article continues, the self-experience becomes explicit with an unfamiliar object-like quality.

Yes, from this viewpoint, hyper reflexivity could be better understood as a hyper-objectification or self-objectification.

What in this context has been called disembodiment and hyper-reflexivity, the two forms of conceptualization mentioned above?

He says, might together be defined as a characteristic process of reification, which culminates in the psychotic episode of Schizophrenia, Herviak, and Fuchs, 2010.

And he says, I'm sorry that I'm interjecting all the time, because the language is very complex and very clinical, and all of you are professionals. Not all of you are involved precisely in these fields.

So again, please accept my apologies if I'm perceived as condescending. I'm not just trying to be helpful.


So what the author says is that some scholars relate to all these things as disembodiment, and some scholars relate to all these things as hyper-reflexivity, but the two forms of conceptualization understand that there is a break between an objective observer and a subjective self, and that in the case of schizophrenic, there was no constellation of the self. There's no unitary self inside.

So the observation is ongoing and has more kind of features of a scientific study.

But the author suggests another way of looking. He said, maybe all this is reification, and maybe this reification leads to a psychotic episode of Schizophrenia.

In other words, maybe reification is a precursor to psychosis.

And then he explains, I'm continuing from the article, the word reification, which stems, like many other things, by the way, from the German verdinglicheuch.

Reification means making an idea, abstract idea, into a thing, converting an abstract into concrete, separating something from the original context in which it occurs.

And here it refers to the conversion of an experience that is turned into a thing, treating that which is implicit as something tangible, as if it were a separate object when it is not the case, of course.

So this was the article, which I strongly recommend.

Let's go back to our daily life, to the pandemic and the effects of the pandemic, the topic of this presentation.

I suggest that this disorientation, this dislocation, the reactions to this external, massive ubiquitous, opal vasey, external shock, the uncertainty, the fear, fear, mortal fear, all these, the stress, so enormous that it should lead to the triggering of extreme narcissistic defenses.

And then I suggest that should the narcissistic defenses be strong enough, it would lead to a transient form of narcissism, or what was called by Millman, acquired situational losses.

And then I suggest that pathological narcissism is actually a form of psychosis, a form of psychotic disorder.

So to cut a long story short, I'm proposing that the pandemic's external, opal vasey, multidimensional, multifaceted, multifarious shock created a cascade which started with disorientation and is going to end in severe narcissistic psychosis, psychosis founded on narcissistic defenses.

And of course, the accompanying features, the tip of the iceberg are depression and anxiety, because the patient feels her own disintegration. She feels the reduction in herself efficacy. She experiences the constriction of her world, the narrowing down. She is vanishing. The lockdown, the pandemic, made us all feel so helpless that we started to feel that we are vanishing.

Of course, depression and anxiety are erupting. I suggest that the next wave will be self-destructive, to self-destruct, because how long can you survive feeling your own disappearance? How long can you survive experiencing your own vanishing, your own disintegration?

We have this typical cascade of reactions in people with terminal cancer, stage four and five cancer.

The Kubler-Roz cycle of five stages of grief, coupled with severe depression, anxiety, and finally, self-destructive tendencies.

Many of these patients asked for euthanasia or just stop taking the medication or try to commit suicide, if they can.

And all this has to do with habits, habit formation, habituation.

As I said, when I started my presentation, let me see, just the time is, yeah, I still have a few minutes.

When I said, when I started my presentation, these are the crucial pillars and foundations of memory and identity.

There was a famous experiment where students were asked, students were asked to take a lemon home, lemon, yellow, small, brown, home, and to get used to the lemon, to caress the lemon, to hug the lemon, to talk to the lemon, and to do other unmentionable things to the lemon. Three days later, these students were able to single out their lemon from a pile of almost identical lemons. The students seemed to have bonded with the lemon.

Is this the true meaning of love, bonding, and coupling? Do we simply get used to other human beings, to pets, to objects?

The thing is that habit forming in humans is reflexive. We change ourselves and our environment in order to attain maximum comfort and well-being. It is the effort that goes into these adaptive processes, the cathexes, that forms the habit. It's what we call sunk cost. It's the investment in forming the habit which actually cements the habit, ossifies it, makes it a rigid, reactive pattern.

The habit is intended to prevent us from constant experimenting, which is wasteful. It intends to shield us from risk taking. The greater our well-being, the better we function, the longer we survive.

Habits can be thought of as obsessive compulsive rituals intended to reduce and to fend off anxiety and to provide cognitive closure. They also have a pronounced social function, the foster bonding, touch, group interdependence.

Actually, when we get used to something or someone, we get used to ourselves. In the object of our habit, we see a part of our history, all the time, all the effort, that we put into this person, into this place, all the things that have happened to us in this pub and in this restaurant and in this trip. We are everywhere. We are like a cloud, a diffuse cloud. We subsume and consume and assemble and digest and assimilate everything into us and wein turnget assimilated by others.

Habits are us. It is an encapsulated version of our acts, intentions, emotions, reactions, sense up, sensory input. It is a mirror reflecting that part of us which formed the habit in the first place, hence the feeling of comfort.

We really feel comfortable with our own selves through the agency of our habits and habitual objects and places and people.

Because of this, we tend to confuse habits with identity. Habits lead to identity, form identity, and gender identity.

It is not possible to have an identity without habits.

Just observe any dementia patient and you will see that it is true. No habits, no identity.

So, yes, there is a close linkage between habits and identity, but they are not the same.

But people confuse them. And this is the danger in this pandemic, is we are taking away from people the habits and they confuse habits with identity, so they are feeling that we are taking away from them their identity.

Look at the reactions to the lockdown everywhere, the protests. People are protesting not that they can't go to the pub, not that they can't travel on vacation or staycation. People are protesting because they feel their identity had been taken away from them.

When we ask people, who are you? Most people resort to communicating their habits. Ask anyone, who are you? They will tell you about their work, about their loved ones, about their pets, their affiliations, their friendships, their hobbies, their place of residence, their biography, accomplishments, material possessions.

Material possessions. This is who they are, they think.

And Sartre called this propensity to conflate and confuse what you have with who you are. He called it bad faith.

In other words, people refer to their derivative or secondary identity rather than to their primary or autonomous identity.

A stable sense of one's kernel, one's core of the self, one's self-worth.

And surely all these externalia, paraphernalia, they don't constitute identity, but people emotionally react as though they do.

Removing this object doesn't change who you are, but you feel changed all the same.

Removing these places, removing familiar people from your life, make you feel that you have lost track of who you are. That's the disorientation that happens, for example, after divorce or after you had discovered that your spouse had cheated on you, committed adultery, the spouse suddenly becomes not familiar. Removing familiarity removes, counterfactually, but intuitively removes identity.

Habits make people comfortable and relaxed, but they're not part of one's identity in the truest, deepest sense.

Still, people feel that they are.

The question is, is it really important if they are or are not? Is it important if habits are identity or habits are not identity?

What everyone will tell you that habits, they feel that habits are identity. I think it doesn't matter. I think this nitpicking, clinical nitpicking, academic, theoretical nitpicking, identity, habits, it doesn't matter.

People feel that who they are is what they do. What they do on a daily basis is who they are. Where they go regularly is who they are. Who they meet regularly is who they are. Their family is who they are.

Take away these elements, and they don't feel who they are. They don't feel the same. They don't have sameness. They become hyper-reflexive.

They have a psychotic reaction. It's precisely the thesis of my presentation.

Pandemic is going to do this to people.


See, it is this simple mechanism of deception that binds people together.

Take, for example, the most basic, allegedly basic, constensibly basic, totally fallacious, but still we think it exists. Motherhood is also a total invention of the 18th and 19th century. Like childhood, also an invention of the late 19th century.

These are social constructs that don't have any foundation, biological or otherwise, but motherhood. A mother feels that her offspring are part of her identity because she is so used to her children that her well-being depends on the children's existence, on the children's availability, on their health, on their happiness. Any threat to her children is perceived by the mother as a threat to her own self.

In other words, she conflates and confuses her children with who she is, with herself, with her identity. She constellates, to use Jungian terms, she constellates them into herself.

Her reaction, the mother's reaction, is therefore very strong and enduring and can be recurrently elicited by threatening her children.

The truth, of course, is that her children are a part of the mother's identity, but in a superficial manner. Removing the children will make her a different person.

No one is disputing this, but it will make her a different person in the shallow, phenomenological sense of the word.

Her deep set, true identity, true nature, true character, temperament, whatever you want to call it, this will not change. If her children were to die tomorrow in a horrendous accident or in the pandemic, children do die at times.

The mother goes on living, essentially unchanged.

The quiddity is not touched.

But what is this quiddity? What is this kernel of identity that I'm referring to? What is this immutable core?

This immutable entity, which is who we are, what we are, and which ostensibly is not influenced by the death of our loved ones, for example, or pandemic or inability to go out, what can resist the breakdown of habits that die hard?

It is what we call our personality.

Personality, this elusive, loosely interconnected interacting pattern of reactions to a changing environment. It's like the brain, neuroplastic.

It's difficult to define, difficult to capture. Like the soul, many believe that it does not exist, that it is a fictitious, convenient, conventional idealization. Yet, we know that we do have something, a steering, and we call it personality. We feel it, we experience it. It sometimes encourages us to do things.

At other times, our personality prevents us from doing it. It can be subtle, can be rigid, can be benign, malignant, open, closed. There are many possibilities. Its power, the power of the personality lies exactly in its looseness, fuzziness. It is able to combine, recombine, and permute in hundreds of unforeseeable ways, reactively usually. It metamorphoses, and the constancy of these changes is what gives us a sense of identity. Change gives us a sense of identity.

Actually, when the personality is rigid to the point of being unable to change in reaction to shifting circumstances, is when we say that the personality is disordered. Rigidity, inability to react to change, is disorder.

One is a personality disorder when one's habits substitute for one's identity. Compulsive, obsessive disorder. Routine, ceremonies, which substitute for self, for self-functioning. Narcissism, supply, supply, supply, no wonder. Such a person with personality disorder identifies himself with his environment, taking behavioral, emotional, and cognitive cues exclusively from outside, not from inside. His inner world, so to speak, vacated. There's nobody there. His true self is an apparition, a convention, a theorized figment of theory. It's not really there.

Psychodynamically, it has no effect, cannot be observed. A person with personality disorder is incapable of loving, incapable of living, is incapable of loving because to love another person, one must first love oneself. And in the absence of a self, that is impossible. And in the long term, such a person is incapable of living. This life is a struggle towards multiple goals, a striving, a drive, and something. In other words, life is change. Life is permutation.

And he who cannot change, cannot live. And this is where the pandemic is driving us to become more and more narcissistic.

Our narcissistic defenses are triggered so badly. Dissociation and associated features that we may end up having a pandemic of psychotic disorders and psychotic-like disorders, characterized by narcissistic features, such as grandiosity for reality testing, depression, anxiety, they are even features of psychopathy. This is where we're going.

Depression and anxiety are like fever and cough in COVID-19. They're the symptoms. They're not the disease. The disease is yet to come.

Thank you very much for listening. And now I'm open to questions.

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