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Excessive Traits and Behaviors (World Mental Health Congress, June 2021)

Uploaded 6/21/2021, approx. 11 minute read

Thank you very much everyone. My name is Sam Vaknin, I am the professor of psychology in the Southern Federal University in Rostov-On-Don and I'm professor of psychology and the professor of finance in the outreach program of SIAS-CIAPS, Centre for International and Advanced Professional Studies.

I apologize for this lengthy introduction. It is in my contract. I must tell you all this, or I will be fired and never participate in these conferences again.

Today what I would like to discuss is an issue in psychology or in the study of psychologywhich is really much neglected.

And that is the fact that when things are taken to extreme, when things are radical, when they go to the end, they are indistinguishable from their opposites.

I call it the paradox of excess.

Every single thing when you take it, radicalize it, when you push it to the very limit, to the very end, it becomes its exact opposite.

So, for example, extreme weakness is actually indistinguishable from active evil. Unbridled pleasure is often experienced as pain.

When a child or a pet witnesses, inadvertently, accidentally, witnesses sex, the child or the pet, perceives the sex as an act of aggression.

And they react accordingly. The child starts to cry, the pet starts to bark if it's a dog.

They perceive the sex, which is a pleasurable activity, as a form of aggression.

So, unbridled pleasure, pleasure which is unbounded and unmitigated and taken to the extreme or to the end, is often experienced as pain.

Anyone who ever had an orgasm knows very well that it's very difficult to tell the difference between pain and pleasure in some instances, some pleasurable instances.

Similarly, exaggerated, possessive love is the identical twin of hate.

Sigmund Freud was the first to observe this. He coined the word ambivalence. It's when two competing, mutually exclusive emotions coexist in the same person.

So, we have love and we have hatred in the same person, towards the same target. We can love and hate mother, we can love and hate our spouse, we can love and hate our political leader.

When love is taken to extreme, when it's exaggerated, it assumes a possessive streak. It's about owning. It's about possessing. It's about controlling. It's about manipulating. And ultimately, it leads to hate.

It is the paradox of excess.

Everything in psychology that is taken to its end and to an extreme becomes its very opposite.

Consider, for example, dependence. When dependence is ubiquitous, it becomes actually the opposite. It becomes a form of control.

The dependent person, theoretically, is the person without control, is the person who is being controlled.

But a dependent person, when the dependence is taken to its logical conclusion, a dependent person is actually in unmitigated control.

Dependence that is taken to its extreme, to its radical end involves emotional blackmail. It involves neediness. It involves clinging.

These are all forms of control.

The codependent, for example, in interpersonal relationships, the codependent controls his or her intimate partner. The codependent controls the intimate partner by becoming helpless, learned helplessness, by becoming needy, by blackmailing the partner emotionally, by guilt tripping the partner, by clinging to the partner.

So we see that dependence in its radical form is actually control. It's control freakery.

Similarly, uncompromising freedom, being fiercely autonomous, uncompromisingly self efficacious, insisting on one's independence at all costs, being addicted to freedom. So uncompromised freedom is a form of addiction. We perceive addiction as a loss of freedom. The opposite of freedom is ostensibly and theoretically addiction.

So when we say he's an addict, we mean to say he had lost his freedom of choice and his free will.

But one can become addicted to freedom. One can lose one's freedom by becoming addicted to freedom.

And addiction to freedom is a form of slavery.

Psychopaths, for example, are addicted to freedom. They are defiant. They are contumacious. They are reckless. They are impulsive. My way or the highway.

The psychopath is a freedom addict. He defies rules and authority. He refuses to adhere to social mores and conventions.

And in this addiction to freedom, he becomes a slave, a slave to his own impulses. He also very frequently loses his freedom when he's, for example, incarcerated.

So uncompromising, uncompromising freedom is a lack of freedom. It's an addiction.

Let's proceed.

Unblemished beauty, unblemished beauty, impeccable beauty, a beauty that is perfect.

It's actually repulsive.

We need to have some imperfections in a face, in a building, in a sculpture, in a painting. We need these imperfections in order to be attracted to the object.

When the object is too perfect, when everything is in its exact place with mathematical harmony that is uninterrupted, it's repulsive.

In 1970, a roboticist by the name of Masahiro Mori, a Japanese, of course, coined the phrase uncanny valley. He said that in the future, when robots become indistinguishable from people, when robots become androids, when they are endowed with artificial intelligence that renders them human or pseudo human, at that point, he said, people will begin to feel uneasy around robots. Robots will discomfort them. Robots will frighten them.

He said, precisely because future robots are going to be perfect, precisely because of this perfection, people will feel somehow menaced. They will feel discomfited. They will feel that something is awry and something is wrong and something is creepy.

Perfection is repulsive. Perfection is creepy. Perfection leads to the uncanny valley.

It is imperfection that is attractive.

Perfect harmony, for example. Perfect harmony is death. Perfect harmony is entropy.

When we come to a place of perfect harmony, there's no motion. There's no change. There's no movement. There's no evolution. There's no propagation. There's no appropriation.

Perfect harmony is static. It's not dynamic. It's forever. It's sempiternal. It's infinity. It's eternity.

And therefore, it's not human.

Perfect harmony is death and entropy.

Only disorder, disharmony, is meaningful.

Consider a row of six matches. If the six matches are in perfect harmony, each one separated by an identical distance from the next one, there is no meaning or information to this configuration.

But if you separate two matches and then another two matches and then add four matches and they are separated, the distances between them are not equal, we have two matches plus two matches equal four matches.

So eight matches are arranged in perfect harmony, perfect distance between them. These eight matches do not contain information and are meaningless.

But if you separate these matches to a side, then another group of two, then a group of four, these eight matches have meaning. They convey information. They create order. Disharmony creates order.

Similarly, sex with numerous partners, promiscuous sex is actually a lonely form of sex. It's masturbation. It's masturbating with another person's body.

Ironically, the more partners you have, the less discriminate you have about your sexual partners, the more lonely you are in your sexual practices.

And of course, here is sex driven to its extreme sexual behavior that is unbridled, dysregulated and unboundaried, leads to a profound sense of loneliness, even within the act itself.

Too much learning is a form of stupidity. It's a form of escapism. It's a form of avoiding reality. Learning is at its apex and most efficacious when it helps us to obtain and secure favorable outcomes from our physical and human environment.

Learning, erudition, studies, they are important because they help us manage well within the physical, natural environment and with other people.

But too much learning is escapism. It becomes highly theoretical. It leads nowhere. It's dissociated and disjointed and disconnected from reality and it becomes a form of escapism.

And escapism is stupidity because escapism guarantees wrong bad outcomes in life.

Fun, which is too frequent, is boring. We seek fun as the antidote to boredom. When we are bored, we want to have fun.

But if we have too much fun, if we take fun to extreme, if we engage in fun too often and too frequently, fun becomes routine and routine is boring. And interminable lists like this are boring also.

So I will stop here.

These are the paradoxes of excess that psychology is ill-equipped to deal with because in psychology, we tend to generalize.

We say love, we say sex, we say harmony, we say beauty, we say freedom, we say dependence, we say possession, we say pleasure. We use these words, we say weakness, we use these words as though they are monovalent, as though they have a single valence, as though they have a single meaning.

But these words designate qualities, patterns of behavior and traits that have always two faces. They're always ambivalent. If you push them too far, they become their own opposite.

And I want to finish by dwelling upon this first paradox of excess.

Extreme weakness is indistinguishable from evil, from evil conduct.

And I want to talk about this for a few minutes.

Weakness of character is indistinguishable from evil, from wickedness.

Weak people are cowards, weak people are craven, weak people cowardly sacrifice moral principles and values.

Weak people are often highly suggestible. They are eager to please their people pleasers, they're eager to conform to society at any cost. They unthinkingly follow the mighty and the rich, wherever the mighty and rich may lead them.

The main preoccupation of the weak is how to abrogate responsibilities and obligations, how to avoid accountability, how to surrender their freedom of action and free will to strong men and stronger institutions.

Weakness entails corruption. Weakness is about compromise, a bad kind of compromise. It's about deception. It's about dependence. It's about giving up on your essence and your values, as well as the ability to morph and to shape shift in order to fit in.

The weak are amorphous. They are fuzzy. They're blurred. They cannot be trusted.

Weak people cannot be trusted because they have no core. They have no identity. They have identity disturbance. They are easily swayed.

Weak people end up committing the most appalling atrocities and transgressions against themselves and against others, even their nearest, dearest and loved ones.

So when we say anything in psychology, we better qualify it. We better qualify it by saying to what extent, what is the intensity of the parameter that we're discussing, the trait, the behavior, the choice.

Only then will we know what we're talking about because again, there's a paradox of excess.

When we push these parameters to the extreme, they become their very opposites. It's useless and senseless to talk about dependence in relationships because dependence in its most egregious form is actually control.

So we should talk about control dynamics, not about dependence dynamics. So similarly, it's useless to talk about freedom or freedom of action or free will because when pushed to the psychopathic end, it becomes defiance. It's a form of slavery, antisocial, etc.

We need to be a lot more specific when we discuss the human, the dimensions of human existence because humans, human beings are paradoxical beings. They embody at the same time every conceivable dissonance and they are fighting with their dissonances.

Human existence is a constant fight against dissonance and a constant experience of loss.

Thank you for listening.

Thank you, Sam. Thank you so much for your wonderful speech. Thank you. And your valuable time for us. And let me know if any of you are having any questions on his presentation.

Once again, thank you, Mr. Sam. Thank you for your speech. Thank you. Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you. Thanks.

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