Your "Self"? No Such Thing! (with Benny Hendel)

Uploaded 8/31/2022, approx. 20 minute read

Well, with your suggestion of what's wrong with the concepts of self, individual and personality, I'm not totally surprised, and I'll tell you why. I'll say it again, what's wrong with the concepts of self, individual and personality?

I come from a place where this professor went around from university to university, holding lectures where he pronounced that there was no I. He said it in Hebrew, of course, and in Hebrew, it's even more elegant. He said, ein, ani, ein is alef yud nun, ani is alef nun yud. He said, there is no I.

And he said to this lady in the front row, you know, you and I have much more in common than me today and Adit Semach when he was seven years old.

So, absolutely agree. Regrettably, Adit Semach took this from David Hume.

David Hume wrote exactly this text more or less.

The redhead, the Scottish redhead.

He wrote it in 1739. So in 1739, Hume wrote, there is no, he wrote actually self-fiction, there is no self. And I have so very little in common with myself in my youth.

Ah, okay.

He said actually.

And I fully agree with Adit Semach and with David Hume and so on and so forth.

I think men is a river, not a lake. Men flows, pantave, heraclitus, pantave, you cannot enter the same river twice. And you cannot meet the same person twice.

So you can't meet yourself twice.

Of course you cannot meet yourself twice.

Consequently, psychology will never ever be a science. It's a pseudoscience because the subject matter is mutable, constantly changes and is transformed in substantial and meaningful ways over periods of time.

But that's beside, that's another issue, another topic altogether.

There are many current day scholars, for example, James Giles of Canada, and he says that there is no such thing as self, there's no such thing as personal identity.

Ah, Philip Bromberg, who came up with the self-states theory. Jung himself had the concept of complexes, which were divorced from the rest of the self, so in effect he described multiplicity of selves.

In object relations theory we have what was called egonuclei, and this egonuclei ultimately merged and integrated, but you spend a lot of time as a child having multiple egos.

Some personalities, there's another theory, some personalities. There's a theory with ego states, ego state therapy even, and there is something called internal family system which also involves a multiplicity.

So what I'm trying to say, multiplicity of states, what I'm trying to say is that this is not a new idea at all.

The opposition to the rigid concept of a core identity that is immutable, not changing, that is not amenable to modification via the environment, it's very reminiscent of Darwinian evolution, where all the change in Darwin's work, all the change is internal through mutations, the environment has no impact on genetics, and today we know it's not true, today we are more Lamarck than we used to be, and we know that the environment does modify genetic expression and by inconsequence modifies heredity.

It's the same in psychology.

There was this perception of a core unitary rigid self that is formed latest age six, and you are like that from the lifespan.

Can we call it suchness?

Each person would have a certain suchness.

There would be yes, there would be suchness, there would be handelness and a vacaniness, and it would be for life.

Now, if you consider for a minute, following fire, a man, you should always ask yourself in which cultural social context was a theory developed?

Of the self? Of the self being valid?

Being a unitary core thing.

This was developed by Germans and Austrians at the turn of the 19th century, in the beginning of the 20th century. These people lived under Kaiser Wilhelm in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Habsburgs. These people lived in a middle class with extremely rigid values, Victorian in effect. These people who had invented the concept of self, their mindset was hierarchical, fixed, rigid, disciplinarian, etc.

Of course they created a picture of psychology, which was... I don't understand.

What happened before that? Didn't people know that I'm I and you are you?

No, there was no concept of self. There was I, of course there was I, but there was no concept of self.

Concept of self was single-handedly invented by Freud and Jung later.

You mean the term self?

Not only the term, the perception that there is a unitary core that never ever changes and so on.

On the very contrary, in the Middle Ages, the church offered you a way to not be you. You were sinful and the church offered you numerous ways to be.

Observations, indulgences, pressure, etc. Changing your faith.

A change, the concept of change, personal change, was the core ideology in the Middle Ages.

You're right, you're right, yes.

You can change and you're...

Substantially changed.

You're asked to change, you're invited to change.

But not change in minor ways. Substantially changed from a sinner to a saint.

Because in the medieval perception of humanity, there were two states. Either you were a sinner or you were not a sinner or even saint.

And so these were the organizing principles of mankind's soul or psyche. And you could transition from being a sinner to being a saint.

While in the psychology of Freud and Jung, if you were a sinner by age six, you were a sinner for life.

Oh, really? I mean, if you developed a specific self, it was like... There was no hope for redemption?

Not after six years old. After six years old, which is called the formative years, you developed what Jung called a constellated self and it was with you for life.

That's it. It's interesting. Constellation in Hebrew is mazal and mazal is the constellation.

That was your luck, your fortune.


And I'm asking myself, why did they create such a rigid theorem, such a rigid way of looking at human beings?

Because they were living in a society that regarded human beings like that, a society which was hierarchical, dictatorial, rigid, Victorian.

That was also the time when people had to receive family names so they would be recognized.

Yes, it was a regimented society. Bureaucracy was first created by Bismarck.

And then you had Weber, who was a theoretician of bureaucracy.

Human beings became atoms. They became cogs and wheels in a big machine.

Identity numbers are very important. For instance, if you want to know whether I am I, ask me what my identity number is and then the Benny Handel of yesterday will definitely be the same as the one of tomorrow because tomorrow I'll have the same identity number as the day before yesterday.

So this unitary core is counterfactual. It's not true. People are not like that. People do change.

And so my perception is that man is a river, not a lake.

And so I came up with a new theory in essence in psychology that is now gaining foothold in the mainstream and possibly will replace the paradigm of self and individual.

And my work is, I call it pseudo-identity.

So here's pseudo-identity.

Yeah, I will explain it in a few sentences.

First of all, I say that human beings have an operating system. The operating system is internal and the operating system makes decisions about which Benny Handel will interact with any specific environment.

So I'm saying that there are many, many Benny Handels. I call them self-states after Philipp Kompen. They are self-states. There are many of them. There are many of them simultaneously.

It's not that they all exist simultaneously. They are co-extant.

But there is an operating system that says Benny Handels number seven should come to the fore because of the...

So how does the operating system decide which Benny will come to the fore, which Benny will be?

It takes in cues, information from the environment and information from inside, internal cues. It puts them together and it says Benny Handel seven is the best suited to deal with this set of circumstances, with these constraints, with these boundary conditions, with these specific people who happen to be here, etc.

So Benny seven is best suited. Benny seven, come here, go out and take care of things.

I have an example. Benny Handel used to be a radio announcer and Benny Handel three was now we're going to play a symphony by Tchaikovsky. Benny Handel seven would be, excuse me, do you know where Tchaikovsky Street is? Which is a totally different Benny Handel.

The Benny Handels, the self-states, they of course have a lot in common, but they have specific sets of skills and traits and behaviors and even facial expressions and so on that are sufficiently differentiating from each other.

And there is an operating system that decides based on the reality, internal reality and external reality, because sometimes another Benny Handel will appear because internally he became depressed. So there will be another Benny Handel who will tackle the depression in order to guarantee survival.

So what is the principle? How does the operating system decide which Benny would take charge?

At a given moment.

At a given moment, reactive to a specific environment and to specific internal processes.

What is the decision making procedure of that operating system? It's something called self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is a concept in psychology that says that people try to extract the best outcomes from any given environment. This is called self-efficacy. You're efficient, you're efficacious.

The operating system is asking the question, only one question, which Benny self-state is best suited to the environment, taking into account his internal state, best suited to the environment in the sense that he will likely obtain the best outcomes if he takes over.

So then the operating system suppresses Benny Handel III, who is not best suited, and bring forth Benny VII, who is likely to get better outcomes from the environment.

The next thing is, what happens if Benny VII and Benny III are equally qualified to tackle this specific environment with these specific people, the internal states of depression or anxiety or love or fear? What happens if you have two self-states which can tackle the situation equally? It's a stalemate.

One of my major contributions to this approach is to suggest that it is possible to have binary systems, because until now everyone, Philip Bromberg and Giles and all the names I mentioned, they suggested that there's only one self-state at any given time. And I'm saying it's not true. It's possible to have two self-states competing, arguing, conflicting.

And being co-present?

Yes, because they're equally qualified and they both want to manifest and to express, and so they begin to have a fight, an internal fight. And this I call it the binary system.

And the binary system gives rise to mental health disorders. I actually succeeded to show direct linkage between binary systems and narcissistic personality disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, stuttering. Possibly, yeah, it's called somatization.

If the stuttering is...

You know why I thought of that?

Because in Hebrew, we say legam, which means gum, you have the same syllable legam, gam, gam. And gam is also, and gam is also, so you have two forces competing in your psyche and you don't know which to bring out.

So for a long time, I've been thinking that stuttering may stem from the fact that you don't know how to say what you want to say, so you say it in doubles or in triples.

Two self-states are trying to obtain monopoly of you. And because they're equally qualified to deal with the environment, they create a stalemate. So the stalemate may somatize, may manifest in physically stuttering paralysis.

Roy describes states of paralysis. Your hand can be paralyzed. The body can take over.

And we have today, scholars like Van der Kalk and so on, they clearly say that trauma can create somatic bodily manifestations. And so the binary system explains almost all mental forgiveness. It's when there is no consensus as to which self-state will take over.

In narcissism, for example, there is a false self and a true self. The false self is the facade, compensatory facade, compensatory facade that the narcissist is trying to show the world at great, at perfect, at brilliant, and this and that. Internally, he feels inferior. So he's compensating.

These two self-states are equally efficacious. And so this creates a lot of dissonance in the narcissist most of the time. But if he is in certain environments, the false self is much more qualified. And then the narcissist is at peace.

So when the narcissist, for example, is an artist, and he has an audience, and he's playing the violin, and the audience is appreciative, and they clap, the false self is much better qualified to deal with this situation.

The false self? The false self. That's the facade.

The facade, the time, brilliant, fire, fire, and dissonance. It's much more qualified.

Right. At that point, the narcissist is at peace. He feels wonderful. He feels elated. There's no conflict, no dissonance.

Because the real self is put to sleep.

Yes, because it's not relevant. It's not efficacious with this either.

But the possibility of a binary system gives rise to mental illness.

One of the main problems in previous theories of self-states, they couldn't account for mental illness. Because think for a minute, if the operating system operates on the basis of efficacy, the basis of efficiency, you would never have mental illness.

You know when to take out this one, and when to bring about this.

Mental illness means you are not efficient.

Something's not working.

You're not efficient.

So if you have only a one-state situation where the operating system chooses Benny 3 and Benny 7, Benny will be perfect forever. There will be no problem whatsoever.

But what happens if Benny develops a mental illness? How to explain this? Did the operating system fail? How could it fail? It knows which Benny suits which.

So my explanation is they're actually competing Benis, multiple Benis who are competing. And the operating system is unable to decide between them, because they're all equally efficacious.

I won't tell you why, but I think I know what you're talking about.

Yes, everyone knows what I'm talking about, because my work is based on much, much closer to reality than the concept of self.

Because these are obstructions. The concept of self is an obstruction. Anyone will tell you that they had situations where they didn't recognize themselves. Anyone will tell you, I can't believe I did this. It's so not me.

Yes, true. It wasn't you.

It was somebody else who is also you.

Yes, it's a self-state.

And this leads to the question of switching. How is the switch taking place?

So I came up with a large upon concepts of collapse and mortification.


Collapse and mortification.


Collapse is when the self-state no longer yields self-efficacious outcomes, fails. The self-state fails. The self fails. This creates mortification. Mortification means enormous fear, enormous apprehension, anxiety, dysfunction, paralysis, etc.


Angst, exactly.

And yes, angst is a much better word.

And then the operating system switches. It disables, deactivates the failing, the collapsed state, and introduces another state which will be more self efficacious.

And then there's the question of what happens if you have seven penny handles of 700 penny handles. We don't know how many penny handles there are. How do you still feel that you are a penny handle?

So of course, all these penny handles.

Let's talk about Walter Mette.


Walter Mette. How do you still know that you are a water? It gets close to home. How does Walter Mette knows that he's Walter Mette? So Walter Mette knows that, I mean, has this feeling that he is one, has this feeling of continuity because he shares memories and because he shares resources. All the self-states, for example, can access the imagination of Walter Mette. All the self-states can access his intelligence and his memories.

Does he also have hopes?

Hopes, these are effects.

Yes, they can access his effects. Aspirations, which is another word for hopes.

They all access the same databases. They share the same databases.

And this creates a feeling of togetherness, a feeling of teamwork, kind of. And this is the continuity that we are feeling.

But the self-states don't share all the memories. The self-states don't share all the memories. So there is something called dissociative partition. Only some of the memories are shared, a big portion, 80%, 90%, 60%.

But some memories are unique to each sub-state and they are not shared.

Now finally, why do people fracture? Why do they fragment into self-states? Why isn't it right? Maybe people really start off fragmented and then become a unitary self. And this self is for life. Maybe he's right. Maybe I'm wrong.

I mean, why do I think that it's much more likely that people are fragmented?

They start out fragmented?

Everyone agrees that they start out basically fragmented, more or less.

Because of the different influences they have from the father, from the mother, from the...

Because they, for example, at some point they realize that mother is not the same as they are. So there's already one object there.

A break. There is a break.

A break, a schism and so on. So more or less everyone agrees that in the initial few months of life, we are all fragmented somehow.

There's a debate how, but then the prevailing theories, multiple is that there is a process called synthesis or integration. And all these fragments form finally a unitary whole.

And I'm saying, no, they don't form a unitary. They form an assemblage, a group, a troupe, like a theater troupe of sub-states, ensemble, ensemble of sub-states for life.

And then the question arises, and that's the final question. I mean, I can't go into all my work, but the question arises, why? Why there's no integration? Why don't I believe in integration? I don't believe in integration because of dissociation and because of trauma.

Life is full of traumas from a very early age. Traumas, dissociations, when your needs are not met, when you are frustrated, when you are humiliated, when you're shamed, etc., they create a failure of synthesis and integration.

They create something which is called realization deficit.

So this forces the child to actually maintain self-states, so that each of these self-states can cope with an unmet need or a problem or a frustration or a trauma.

The amazing thing, what I find amazing, is that everyone agrees that the first few years of life are exceedingly traumatic, just separating from mother at age six months to two years. It was two years in my case.

This process is exceedingly traumatic, just this.

So everyone agrees that there is trauma, massive trauma in early childhood and so on, but then they're going to say, okay, there is enormous trauma, but it doesn't matter, which is shocking. Of course it matters. It does not allow a synthesis. It does not allow a constellation. It leaves us broken for life.

And then we take these fragments and we use them to cope with reality as best we can.

So we can say that we are actually, as we said earlier, we are an ensemble, we are a kaleidoscope of fragments working together.

Yes, that's precisely what I believe.

I believe we have a series of narratives. I believe self-states are essentially narratives.

We have a series of narratives because in early childhood we learned that we are going to be frustrated. We're going to be traumatized. We're going to suffer pain.

Many of our needs are not going to be met. We've learned this.

So we said, okay, we're going to create solutions for each of these situations, multiple solutions.

These multiple solutions include what we call ego functions, the ability to cope with reality, the ability to regulate your sense of self-worth in the face of adversity, in the face of conflict, the ability to test your environment and to get cues from your environment.

So there are these solutions, these solutions and narrative solutions. It's a story. It's a story of telling yourself about who you are.

And then as the environment fluctuates and changes and flows, you use your resources as self-efficacious.

I think it defies belief, logic and observation to say that people are the same from age 6 to age 90. This is mind-boggling. I find this mind-boggling.

And yet this is what we teach in university.

So this is my work.

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