Psychologists Wrong to Discard Earlier Wisdom (Part 1 of Interview with Sandy Ghazal Ansari)

Uploaded 11/29/2021, approx. 23 minute read

So good morning to me and good afternoon to you. Good morning.

Good afternoon. It's an interconnected world.


Such a pleasure to see your face.

Well, there's the rest of me, but we'll start with the face.


So we're here with Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited. He's a professor of finance and psychology and a very, very well-known YouTuber.

Thank you for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.


And my background is I'm an educational therapist. I work with twice exceptional children, which means children who are gifted and or have maybe a learning disability or on the autism spectrum or other issues of self-regulation.

And I have a learning center in San Diego. I also have some psychoanalytic training, four years of didactics or a few certificates, not the full psychoanalytic training, but just the modified version.

And I'm also a second year doctoral candidate at Rice Davis Graduate School in Los Angeles, which used to be in the 1920s, a Jewish orphanage. And now it's a trauma-informed neuroscience-based and psychodynamic institute.

So a very unique hybrid. As you know, it's very hard to find universities that are comfortable with psychodynamic thinking.

Yes, that's quite true since psychology has the pretension to be a science, an accurate science.

So modern psychology in universities all over the world is trying to pretend to be the equivalent of physics, which I find anywhere between ridiculous and dishonest.

So they dispense with the wisdom of the ages. And now they're trying to obtain grants by providing research projects which are quantitative and statistics-based and so on.

And they think they capture psychology through this.

So it strikes me a lot like pseudoscience, honestly.

So at your university where you teach in Russia, are they comfortable with psychodynamics oriented in that such way?

I teach in Russia, in Southern Federal University, which is one of the five federal universities of Russia. That's the highest tier of university in Russia.

But I also teach in the outreach program of CS. CS is a consortium of Ivy League universities, including the United States. And so I'm exposed to both West and East. And so in the East, psychology is widely perceived to be an offshoot of philosophy. Indeed, logistically and administratively, many psychology departments in the eastern part of Europe and in Asia and in big parts of Africa and so on and so forth, many psychology departments are actually part of the philosophy faculty. Where psychology does belong, because psychology is a form of literary art, a form of capturing the essence of what it is to be a human, using essentially texts. That psychology should be textual. All the attempts to quantify, to render it statistically significant, they make me cringe. And I'm exposed to this thrust when I work with Western universities in the outreach program. The outreach program is called CEAPST, the Center for International Advance and Professional Studies. And I designed the curriculum for finance and I designed the curriculum for some of the curriculum, I'm sorry, for psychology.

So we are working only with post-grads, not with, you know, lower level academic degrees. So we have only post-grads, post-doctrines and so on and so forth.

And I am exposed there to pressure, to convert psychology into some kind of physics or chemistry or biology, something ostensibly objective, measurable, quantifiable, something which can be captured with software, something which can yield outcomes that could be translated commercially somehow, so that governments and corporations would be willing to shell out funding to kind of support these efforts.

So there are two competing psychologists nowadays. There is, there are schools of psychology mainly in continental Europe and that is not limited to Eastern Europe, but for example, in France and so on.

So there are schools of psychology which are focused on what it is to be human, what makes human tick and how they function and why they function the way they do, etiology and so on.

And there are schools of psychology which try to render psychology impersonal, kind of a mass phenomenon akin to physics.

So I belong firmly in the first school, I'm old fashioned.

And are you comfortable with challenging your university when you're met with pressure?

I think a compromise can be struck. For example, I've just finished designing a curriculum.

Are there any technical problems?

Can you hear my voice at least?

I can hear your voice and I can see my own face.

Well, you're getting the best parts of the interview. I don't know. My face is not exactly.

So, I think a compromise can be struck. For example, I've just finished designing a curriculum for youth sexuality, regarding youth sexuality, for CIAS, for the other outfit.

And so the curriculum is comprised of equal measures, descriptive, textual, qualitative research, structured interviews, psychological testing of individuals or groups, etc.

Which is a descriptive qualitative approach, but also coupled with a lot of statistics.

So I think we can marry the two, as long as we don't pretend to be an exact, natural, accurate science.

Such a pretension is con artistry. Simple. Pure and simple. I mean, it renders psychology a pseudoscience.

And it had made, I mean, consequently, people had lost trust in psychology. The trust in psychologists had been much higher in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, even 80s than it is today.

People had trusted psychologists much more than they do today.

And I attribute this to the impersonalization and medicalization of psychology.

People go to a psychologist or to a therapist or to a psychiatrist, even, because they feel egodystonic, they feel uncomfortable, they feel distressed, they need help, they need support, they need support.

And what they're getting instead, they're getting pills, which often don't work, but they're getting pills.

They're getting insurance forms, and they're getting drafted into mass studies or mass research.

So people gave up. People simply gave up. They're getting much more support from peers in online forums than they do from so-called professionals.

There's a divorce, there's a cousin between the profession and its ostensible or alleged beneficiaries.

And this is unfortunate, and it is the fault of the profession, 100%.

Have you noticed among your students that they actually have a hard time penetrating psychodynamic or psychoanalytic material?

They don't want to hear about it because students nowadays, I've been teaching for almost 50 years, I started teaching at age nine, I was sent to university when I was nine.

So I started teaching in my primary school and then secondary school. So I've been teaching for 50 years.

So I'm able to compare generations of students.

Students nowadays, and I can generalize, I can generalize because I work with students from well over 40 countries in two settings, one of them is East, one of them is West.

So I think I'm in a pretty unique position to generalize, or at least to observe.

Students nowadays are goal-oriented. When I say goal-oriented, I'm being very politically correct because the right phrase is money-oriented.

They don't want to learn anything. They are not curious. They are absolutely averse to anything that is extracurricular, anything that can't be translated immediately into commercial success or into money-making.

So when you try, when I try as a professor to mention, for example, psychoanalysis or psychodynamic theories or even more contemporary topics, more contemporary approaches in schools, even something like, for example, internal family system or trauma-related studies, for example, dissociation studies, there is strong aversion and resistance.

What the heck am I going to do with dissociation studies? There's no money in them.

And so they want to learn CBT because there's a lot of money in CBT. They want to learn manipulative psychological techniques, for example, the psychology of advertising. It's a hit, psychology of advertising or psychology of business.

So everything else falls by the wayside.

And I'm not being absolutely not limited to psychodynamic studies or psychoanalysis. It's everything. Everything that smacks of theory is dead in the water.

And today, students waste the first year, two years, they waste, and I'm saying waste judiciously, they waste more time on statistics than they do on the amazing insights of pioneers like Sigmund Freud and others.

And so they come out knowing how to create a random distribution, but they have no idea what makes people tick.

And they learn a lot about the biochemistry of the brain and neuroscience, which are fledgling, highly speculative disciplines with exaggerated claims that rely on thin air and therefore also bordering a lot on pseudoscience.

So they learn a lot of this because there are grants and there are employment opportunities and it's very prestigious to say I'm a neuroscientist.

And so today I analyzed, for example, the curricula of several European universities. I was asked by a ranking organization to compare curricula of Western universities to curricula of universities in Russia, the Balkans, Eastern Europe.

So in the West, from Switzerland, westwards, let's say, they dedicate much, and I mean much more time, to statistics, mathematics, and so on and so forth, and other sciences than to anything remotely resembling psychology.

And that's true for the first three years.

Actually, in many of these faculties, they graduate with a BS, not with a BA, but with a Bachelor of Science.

So today, majority of students who study psychology in most Western countries graduate with a Bachelor of Science, not with a Bachelor of Arts.

And that tells you a lot about the shift.

There's also medicalization, there's a huge influence of pharmaceutical companies, of insurance companies.

The DSM itself is a concoction, is an offspring of coercion by the insurance industry.

So the picture in the West is very polluted, very, very corrupted, very contaminated, and I'm saying West judiciously because that's not the picture in the East, not even the picture in China or Russia.

Sam, when did you start to read Freud? And what were you thinking when you were reading Freud? Where were you at in your life?

Like most people who dabble in psychology, I started with my own mental health issues. I was diagnosed twice with a personality disorder.

I was looking for literature. There was a scarcity of literature about the topic, which was narcissism. I was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.

Very few years after it had been introduced into the third edition of the DSM. So there was absolutely nothing, a dearth of literature.

And so I had to go back and back and back and of course I went through Kohut and others, and finally I reached the source and the source was Freud.

On narcissism, his essay, 1914.

And so I read the essay and I went from there.

What was the name of the essay? I'm sorry?

On narcissism.

On narcissism. It was published in 1914. It was then revised in 1915.

So that was the third text I had read on narcissism.

The first was Loewe, Alexander Loewe, 1974, very thin tome on narcissism.

And then I read Kohut's work, but Kohut, the father of modern studies of narcissism, was very narrow in his perception.

He was of course committed to self-psychology. So he was kind of twisting everything to fit into the box.

So I didn't get a wide angle.

And then I went back to Freud and he was the third text I read.

And I was struck, I was struck by this men's synoptic viewwas an unmitigated genius.

Not to say that everything he had said was true and not to ignore the fact that he had contradicted himself like six times an hour.

I mean, you can find texts of Freud from various periods which kind of contradict each other a lot.

This is the hallmark of a fertile mind. That's the hallmark of an active mind, a mind that's always evolving, which is the scientific methodology.

The scientific way is to contradict yourself all the time when you gain new information or new insights.

And Freud was never ashamed to say, I got it wrong. I got it wrong. Now I think differently. Here's what I think now, what I'm thinking now.

And so I fell in love with the mind of this man. I mean, an amazing mind, amazing mind.

And finally I've read the whole edition. I mean, Ferenzies version. I mean, Ferenzies edition. All 37 volumes.

Badly translated, mind you, because I know German. I could compare to the German and they had to come up with neologisms and so on.

But I read the whole thing.

So you read it in English.

I read it in English. I read it first in English.

I couldn't get my hands on the German edition. I was in Israel at the time. So I read it in English and parts of it in Hebrew, some volumes in Hebrew.

And then when I left Israel and so on, I was able to lay my hands on the German edition, which is now parts of which are available online.

So I realized that the Ferenzies work.

And so there were a lot of words which they grappled with. They couldn't kind of, they couldn't.

So, for example, I don't know. besetung, investment in German, became something else, became sublimation.

So they kind of, they were struggling with the language a lot.

And on several occasions, the main serious mistakes. They misrepresented Freud.


Yeah. The edition is fraught with extreme difficulties, methodological and so on.

Because Freud was, above all, a literary genius.

He should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

His writing is lucid, effervescent, amazing, enlightening. It's equivalent, I would say, to sacred writings. To books like the Bible.

I mean, it's stunning writing in German. It's exceedingly beautiful. It's luminous.

And to translate it to another language, it killed. It killed most of the spirits and most of the, and they got some words absolutely wrong.

I mean, and so that's the general comment.

Now what happened with Freud is we threw the bathtub with a baby and with a bathroom and with the apartment and with the building and with the neighborhood.

We just, like, withdrew everything. We kind of, we ignore everything this man had said, despite the fact that recent findings in neuroscience and brain studies and other findings from psychological studies tend to support many of the things he had said originally.

And no, I'm not a Freudian. I'm not a, if anything, I'm more, more And no, I'm not a Freudian. I'm not a, if anything, I'm, I would be identified with object relations schools.

Yes, I noticed you integrate object relations into your magnum opus just so beautifully.

I mourn and I grieve the fact that psychology faculties all over the West, luckily it's limited to the West, all over the West, had dispensed with 100 years of wisdom. These were wise people, many of them with hands-on experience.

Freud was a practitioner. Winnicott was a pediatrician. These people had a lot of hands-on experience, much more than their detractors, by the way, much more than their detractors who never soiled their hands with a patient.

And of course, not everything they said is rigorous. And of course, they used literary metaphors. And of course, no one had ever captured an ego and interrogated it.

So these are clearly analogies and metaphors and similes.

No one claims that these people had described some objective entities that can be captured and then investigated with physical methods. No, no one is saying this.

But to dispense with this cumulative wisdom of one century and to replace it with sterile statistical analysis, which at best apply to populations and never to individuals, is an act of folly, simply act of folly.

I have no other word to describe it. It's mass suicide, mass intellectual suicide.

Now, within this century, there were enormous disagreements.

If you adhered, if you adhered to Gantry, Bayland, Winnicott, then you instantaneously disagreed vehemently with Freud. If you accepted the Jungian conception of the self, you were at odds with object relations.

These people did not agree among themselves. It's not like the Communist Party, where there was a doctrine. These people were life, mercurial intellectuals, and they fought each other, tooth and claw and nail, and they disagreed.

Like Melanie Klein and Anna Freud, that was a really interesting battle over who's the true daughter of psychoanalysis.

Even I could say that Anna Freud herself and her father, for example, they had a big debate whether sublimation is a defense.

Freud said, it's not a defense. Anna Freud said, it is a defense, Daddy.

And he said, no, daughter, you're wrong. And she prevailed, by the way.

Despite everything she prevailed, today we consider sublimation to be a defense.

So it was a life movement. It was not ossified, not fossilized, not the grandchildren of this movement disagreed with the progenitors and the fathers of the movement.

And there was a lot of, so it's intellectually, it's challenging and stunning to go through all this.

Now, I personally, as I said, I'm closer to object relations, although I'm eclectic. I'm eclectic. I borrow from object relations, what I think could be useful.

I discard other things for myself. I mean, I don't feel comfortable with other things.

But I borrow from many other things. I borrow from internal family system approach. I borrow from, I mean, the Cartman drama triangle.

I think there are nuggets everywhere, even in behaviorism, even in, there are nuggets everywhere, gold nuggets.

Some of the terms, I feel there's just a bit of reappropriation on your part.

But at the same time, it illuminates it, like, for example, the term project of identification, where you use to describe what the narcissist is doing.

You know, there could be other analysts that would disagree with the definition of, or the way that you're using it.

But there would be others that would agree, or it's a more simplified term.

Nevertheless, just by way of having so many case examples, you know, you set the term in a direction that is lasting.

One of the beautiful things about psychoanalysis and then psychodynamic theories and self psychology and even ego psychology and then object relations schools and all this cornucopia of intellectual endeavors, which culminated in the 60s and 70s in the United Kingdom, and then and then died and petered out, because the United States took over with its money and statistics and pretensions to science.

One of the beautiful things that happened that was happening there.

Nothing was cast in stone.

For example, there have been major debates about introjection.

What is introjection?

So there were those who said that introjection is just another name for internalization.

And there were those who made a clear distinction between internalization and introjection. And there were those who said that internalization was only the first phase in introjection.

First step.

So you had three schools.

Similarly with projective identification, there are several schools. Similarly with projective interjection, which is a much neglected area.

Similarly with obscure concepts such as narcissistic mortification. So it's a very rich field to mine.

And it's a huge pity that it is not being mine all the time.

Take, for example, the concept of internal objects, internal objects, essentially, is a clinian concept. Melanie Klein.


But is there any way to talk about the human mind? Is there any way to meaningfully discuss the human mind without assuming that there is something in here and something out there? I mean, is there any meaningful way? Can we say any meaningful sentence without this distinction between in and out, internal and external?

And if you do agree that there is something demarcated and delineated and separated from the outside, whatever that something may be, why not call it internal objects? Or group of internal objects? Why not use this term? Why the aversion to use this term?

And if you do agree that there are internal objects, doesn't extend to reason that these internal objects are reactive, both to the environment and to other internal objects.

Now pay attention. I am not now taking sides. I'm not saying Klein is right, this is wrong. I'm not saying anything.

I'm going back to rudiments, to fundamentals. It's not possible to discuss the human mind without external, internal distinction.

And then if we do this, there's something inside. And if there's something inside, why not call it internal object? And if it is an internal object, doesn't extend to reason that some of these objects were created owing to interaction with the environment and others were created owing to some internal processes.

It's all very logical. It all makes eminent sense. Moreover, it can't be otherwise, simply cannot be otherwise. And it's supported by many studies, both in neuroscience and in psychology, but let's leave that aside.

So that's why, for example, I keep using the phrase internal objects and I keep discussing the confusion which reigns in narcissism and in psychotic disorders between internal and external objects.

So I'm not coming from a specific school. I'm coming from common sense. And psychology that is not based on common sense is a fallacy.


Because humans have common sense and humans are the topic of the subject of psychology. We are not studying laptops. We are studying humans. And humans believe they have, let's be more precise, common sense. They are guided by the delusion that they have common sense.

So we need to go with the flow. We need to go with the subject.

There's the same mistake in economics. I used to be economic advisor to governments before I entered the field of psychology.

And so in economics, we have this ideal person. There is this rational person in economics. It's a person, an idealized version of a person, who makes consumption and savings decision 100% rationally.

Of course, there's no such thing.

Consequently, all of economics had gone awry and yielded totally wrong results.

Until the course was corrected and modified with behavioral economics.

So now we know about bounded rationality. We know that people are not rational. The rationality is bounded and affected by irrationality.

So there's a recent book called Noise by Kahneman and others. So economics and psychology went the same way.

Psychology also, and here the primary scene is with Jung mainly.

Psychology also created a series of obstructions, a series of obstructions which were useful for theoretical conversation. But led us astray and the mistake was corrected only decades later.

Consider, for example, the concept of the individual, which is essentially a Jungian concept, the constellated sales and so on.

Individuation. Jung was the first to suggest the process of individuation. Later on, picked up by others who studied child psychology. But he was the first to suggest it.

He talked about the constellated sales and so on. The concept of individual is all wrong. It's absolutely wrong.

Because it assumes self-sufficiency, mental self-sufficiency and solipsistic space.

It's like individuation happens and that's it. It's an inexorable process. And it leads to the creation of an atom of humanity called the individual.

But of course, today we don't have this approach. Today we have a relational approach.

Whereby the individual, what we used to call the individual, is actually the intersection among multiple interactions with multiple other units, so-called objects or people.

So the concept of individual led us astray for a very long time.

The concept of personality, which to this very day no one knows what it is.

The whole, you know, huge study programs about personality and so on and so forth, I have yet to hear a good definition of personality.

The concept of core identity. What on earth is this?

I, for example, in my work, I suggest that we don't have a core identity. We don't have a core. We don't have a self.

And of course, consequently, we don't have, you know, everything that emanates from the self.

But instead what I suggest is that we have an assemblage of self-states. And that there is a kind of traffic cop, traffic policeman who uses or leverages or deploys the self-states according to environmental cues.

Now, this sounds a lot like multiple personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder, but it's not.

It simply means that there is an aggregate of potentialities. Each one of them, when it presents to the world, can be perceived as what we call personality.

And this potentiality is actualized in accordance with environmental cues, for example, stressors.

Now, that's a much more flexible one. It involves dissociation to some extent, permeable dissociative ones, but it's much more flexible.

It allows us, for example, to understand trauma much better. It allows us to unify huge parts of clinical psychology under one umbrella because, for example, dissociation and trauma can replace what we call today personality disorder.

So it's an example. You don't have to agree or disagree, but it's an example of the kind of thinking that is closer to reality, more grounded.

The concept of individual is not grounded. The concept of self is not grounded. It is counterfactual. It's counterfactual because we are not atons and we are not, we are the outcomes of our interactions, we are relational.

So this is a proposed, the correct usage of terms and so on and so forth. There's been all the time, there have been debates, all the time. There have been debates about each and every single word we're using.

Even the ego, there were huge debates about the ego as well into the 50s and 60s.

Is the ego unitary or do we have ego nuclei? Are we born with an ego or do we develop an ego?

I mean, nothing was agreed. Even Freud had three versions of what is the ego.

And I hear that Mark Somes has taken Freud's idea of the id and the ego and flipped it upside down where, and kind of Mark Somes, neuropsychoanalytic, and where he says that it's the ego that's unconscious and the id that's conscious and sort of like he went into Freud's literature and kind of saw that Freud was like trying to battle this concept and trying to figure it out. And he flipped it on its head and then now he's taking a lot of Freud's work to another level with that.

There was, I mean, Freud himself was not constant on the concept of ego as you will know.

And today we have this ignorant perception that Freud's model was trilateral.

Like we had id, ego and superego, but the superego was part of the ego. Superego is a part of the ego. It's not separate from the ego. It's a part of the ego. Later on it was recast as the seat of the introjects, mainly parental introjects, but in Freud's work, the ego, the superego is a part of the ego. It's a layer of the ego.

So it's actually a binary model. Id, ego, and part of the ego is a superego.

And then there's a question of the connection between superego and conscience.

And even in Freud's work and later work, big parts of the ego were unconscious. And even in Freud's work and later work, big parts are unconscious.

Bayland, Bayland in his work in the 50s, he proved pretty conclusively that some functions of the ego cannot be conscious, but they must be unconscious.

And so, and I also don't think that this, for example, this distinction between conscious and unconscious, like these are two separate domains and you have to allocate, you have to allocate constructs or structures to one of them.

This is not Freud at all. Freud believed there is a seamless interaction between the conscious and the unconscious. That's why you have abreaction in therapy.

Freud believed in a total integration between conscious and unconscious.

He also believed that all structures are partly this and partly that, the ego included.

And, for example, when he described primary processes versus secondary processes, he allocated several primary processes to the ego.

Okay, so it's, you know, generations pass. People don't study these things anymore. They hear buzzwords and catchphrases. It's the age of Twitter, 140 characters.

And so everyone is using these words.

So, inappropriately. And it's a great damage. It's a great pity.

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