INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

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MENTAL DISTURBANCE
VIEWED FROM AN
ARTISTIC PERSPECTIVE

Elliot Benjamin

In my previous Integral World article: The Artistic Theory of Psychology [1], I gave the following description for a basic framework of what I have referred to as “The Artistic Theory of Psychology,” where I described creative art as “various forms of creativity, inclusive of visual art, music, poetry, fiction, acting, creative philosophy, creative mathematics, and much more”:

  1. The successful creative artist resonates with the highest levels of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human potential.
  2. There are people labeled as mentally ill who have the potential of becoming successful creative artists.
  3. A sensitive, understanding, and supportive educational environment may be conducive to enabling a mentally disturbed person with creative artistic potential to significantly develop and actualize this potential in life (cf. [1]).
Living one's life alienated from Reality may in a number of cases actually be one step closer to a naturalistic definition of mental health.

I received a very interesting response to my article from someone who is making a documentary called The Wounded Healer about a New York City “agoraphobic photographer/ healer/ shaman who takes pictures of himself and of the city out his window” [2]. Through this response I learned about “The Living Museum,” which is a therapeutic haven for artistically inclined mental patients in a well-known psychiatric facility in New York City [3], and which is very consistent with the ideas I wrote about in my Artistic Theory of Psychology article.

In recent years, a number of studies have demonstrated a strong relationship between the personal characteristics of the creative artist and bipolar (initially referred to as “manic-depressive”) “illness” [4]. But if we take the Artistic Theory of Psychology as a temporary assumption, then our view of what is referred to as “mentally ill” must be drastically altered. For think of the meaning of the typical characterization of persons labeled psychotic or schizophrenic—“alienated from reality,” “inappropriate affect,” “in his own world,” etc. (see the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for a full listing of the characteristics that are designated to fall under the schizophrenic classification [5]). I contend that each of these three phrases could characterize the common day-to-day experience of the creative artist.

To begin with, what does it mean to be “alienated from reality”? From the perspective of an artistic theory of psychology, this phrase may have some positive and constructive meanings. For one, it could mean to not be unconsciously tied to a mediocre and soul destroying day-to-day existence, where people are earning their living by doing tasks for which they have little or no interest, motivated by their economic necessity of animal survival, while ignoring their true desires and passions in life. This point is emphasized in the work of Ernest Schachtel [6], who was strongly influenced by the work of Eric Fromm [7]. Schachtel distinguished between “embeddedness-affect” as “completely accepting the closed pattern institutionalized in the particular culture or cultural subgroup to which the individual is born and in which he is living,” and “activity-affect” as “active coping with a tension or active relating to the environment” (cf. [6]). Schachtel also distinguished between “autocentric” and “allocentric” perceptions. He described autocentric perception as involving “a close relation, amounting to a fusion, between sensory quality and pleasure-unpleasure feelings,” and allocentric perception as “one of profound interest in the object, and complete openness and receptivity toward it, a full turning toward the object which makes possible the direct encounter with it and not merely a quick registration of its familiar features according to ready labels” (cf. [6]). Furthermore, Schachtel described the concept of “secondary autocentricity” as being “in a closed pattern of life, by which man seeks to re-establish something akin to the security of the womb after the object world has emerged for him in the exploratory play and learning of childhood” (cf. [6]). It is thus apparent that Schachtel was emphasizing what I have described about the commonly experienced mediocrity of day-to-day existence and our economic necessity of animal survival, that I refer to as “Reality” [8].

In the context of my definition, Reality is primarily concerned with money; i.e. accumulating the necessary means to buy one's food and shelter one's body. Although these requirements are absolutely essential for any kind of life at all, along with Schachtel, I believe that based on the dire economic conditions that besets much of our world, the majority of humankind feeds themselves and shelters their bodies at the expense of their very souls. The exception to this is the successful creative artist. For the successful creative artist, as I have defined him or her, feeds both his/her body and her/his soul. The successful creative artist earns a living, but does it while developing his or her own creativity. The successful creative artist is well-integrated into her/his society, and is a fully functioning human being. The experience of earning a living while developing one's deepest creative potential is the highest mode of human existence from my present perspective; it can also represent the “self-actualized” human being in Maslow's terminology [9], the vision logic and higher states of consciousness in Wilber's terminology [10], the second and third tiers in Spiral Dynamics terminology [11], the creative artist who achieves a balanced and “renunciate” view of life in Otto Rank's terminology [12], the “possible human” in Jean Houston's philosophy [13], and the “conscious evolutionaries” in Barbara Marx Hubbard's philosophy [14]. However, if we look at the vast majority of humankind, we find the above descriptions of the “possible human,” which I will summarize as a “self-actualized human being,” to be a very rare phenomenon.

Rather, we find most people living under the “rule of Reality,” and a few people “alienated from Reality.” In my view, both of these forms of existence are sadly imperfect, but if I had to choose one over the other I may very well choose to be alienated from Reality. Why? Because I believe that living one's life alienated from Reality may in a number of cases actually be one step closer to a naturalistic definition of mental health, utilizing the criteria of the successful creative artist, than is living one's life under the rule of Reality. This can also be interpreted in the language of Ken Wilber's Integral philosophy and the related ideas of Spiral Dynamics as the transition into higher levels of consciousness from the lower level pre-rational levels of consciousness (cf. [10], [11]), and it is especially relevant and well described in Stanislav Grof's formulations of “spiritual emergency” [15]. This brings us into another classic schizophrenic personality description: inappropriate affect.

How often in my own life have I had to suffer the experience of being in “inappropriate affect.” I think back to the various social situations in which I have engaged: parties, potluck dinners, weddings, social get-togethers, holiday celebrations, etc., and I think about all the feelings I have had which were “different” from the seemingly jolly fun-loving people surrounding me. I have always had a classic introvert or “loner” personality when it comes to how I generally feel in light social situations [16]. In my younger years I rarely was able to successfully put on an act; i.e. to be a way that I was not feeling at the time. It is not that I am always feeling heavy and deep; quite to the contrary I can be quite silly and childlike. But when I'm supposed to be light, carefree, and happy with people I do not know and cannot relate to on some kind of an authentic level, then I'm afraid that I may very well exhibit a strong case of “inappropriate affect.” For I may become sullen, morose, and temporarily depressed, unless and until I am able to find someone whom I can authentically relate to and have a conversation about something that is real to me. I believe this experience of mine is very common in the world of the artistic person—successful or not (cf. [16]). But I also believe that the way of handling this experience of feeling “different” in social situations is very critical in regard to whether or not someone gets labeled as being sensitive, as being creative, or as having “inappropriate affect.”

It is possible to come from a perspective of having self-confidence in your abilities and your feelings, knowing that you cannot relate to this particular social situation because you are “you,” and that it is OK to feel this way. I gradually learned how to respond to uncomfortable social situations more in this way as I entered my middle-age years and started to feel more successful in life, and my new-found abilities are continuing as I progress through my elder years. I am generally labeled as being sensitive and creative, and not as mentally ill. But many foreigners to the social graces are not as fortunate as I have become, and may not have any kind of loving support when they come home from their social get-togethers (I generally have had the good fortune of being involved in romantic relationships with women who have understood and accepted this part of me). They may begin to see themselves as “below” other people, as unable to have fun and make friends, and internalize the messages they sense about themselves from other people—that they are “different,” that they are “abnormal.” This is very convincingly portrayed in the descriptions of the introverted personality and of the “loner” in the books Party of One by Anneli Rufus and The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney (cf. [16]). Once a person believes he or she is “abnormal,” it may be only a matter of time before he or she does indeed become “abnormal.” The premise that our experiences follow from our beliefs is quite dominant in a variety of current new age circles and spiritual organizations, ranging from Wayne Dyer [17] to Neale Donald Walsch, author of the Conversations with God book series and founder of Conversations with God spiritual organization [18], to Harry Palmer, founder of Avatar [19]. Perhaps this form of the self-fulfilling prophesy contributes to the at-risk potential creative artist's alienation from the social graces becoming increasingly more bizarre and extensive, until he or she is no longer able to function in society and must be put in a mental institution and labeled as having “inappropriate affect” (cf. [8]).

Of course, this picture is not meant to describe all patients in mental institutions, but I do believe that this scenario does accurately describe the essential difficulties of some of our creative artists, especially those involved in the creative arts of poetry, fiction, play writing, and composing music (cf. [4]). Often, the alienated person will indeed exhibit emotions that have nothing to do with the external situation—such as laughing at sad events and crying at happy events. But I contend that by this point, he or she is likely to be already past the stage where his or her feelings could be accepted as different from others yet still legitimate. He or she may then become a potentially creative and artistic person not possessing enough self-confidence in himself or herself to accept who she or he truly is and to live with his or her differences from her or his fellows in society.

Last, we must examine the most common of all the descriptions of the psychotic person, which is that the psychotic lives “in his own world.” Again, it is interesting to look at the successful creative artist for a justifiable comparison. We could choose the novelist, the musician, the painter, the pure mathematician, and many other examples. Lets take the novelist—as almost everybody has at least at one time in their lives been so caught up in a good novel that they lost track of their own life until they finished reading the story. If you have ever had this experience of being so lost in a novel that the characters became as real to you as the characters in your own life, then try to think of what it must have been like for the writer of this novel. Try to think of how lost this writer must have been in his or her own novel; in all those fascinating and magnificent characters whom she or he has created for your reading pleasure. Think about how he or she must have been living with these characters day and night—for years. Can you conclude otherwise than that your admired novelist lived in his or her own very private world? I can vouch for the likelihood of the novelist living in his/her own private world, from my experience of writing my semi-autobiographical novel 33 years ago [20]. I also know that this is what my son Jeremy has continually experienced during his immersion in his own novels [21]. Certainly you will not disagree that the creative artist has a whole world that is very real and special to her or him, that he or she keeps all to herself/himself—until he or she is ready to share it with others. But now this private world is labeled by our American society as a good thing, as something artistic and creative. However, in the case of our unfortunate psychotic, living in one's own world is labeled by our American society as “sick” and “bad.” I believe that a crucial difference is the artistic expression and communication of one's private world to others, plus the ability to move in and out of one's private world into the world of external reality [22]. This can also be described in terms of “ego strength” and “resilience” [23], which generally relates to possessing an ability to successfully deal with the stresses in life that commonly trigger emotional and behavioral disorders. This quality of resilience can be strikingly seen from my son Jeremy's struggling actor blog excerpts in his quest to become a successful Hollywood actor [24]. I believe resilience is a primary factor that enables the successful creative artist to withstand the severe challenges of what I have described as The Reality Argument ([8]), and consequently avoid the pitfalls of mental disturbance.

In regard to helping a potential creative artist who is suffering from mental disturbance, the therapeutic value of art is well known to all art therapists and is movingly illustrated in the free-style drawings of Elizabeth Layton and Marion Milner [25]. Lawrence Kubie strongly argued against the notion that “madness” in the form of unconscious conflicts is a necessary ingredient for artistic creation, as he focused instead on the natural creative associations in “pre-conscious” mental activity [26]. And it is consistent with Kubie's beliefs, from the perspective of an artistic model of mental disturbance, that the foundation of the traditional medical model of “mental illness” is severely lacking, as has been forcefully described by both R. D. Laing and Thomas Szasz ([22], [27]). The artistic model of mental disturbance is one that has severe philosophical and psychological opposition to the traditional medical model and to the status quo of society. For if one does not accept what is considered to be “normal” in society as any kind of ideal, then how can one accept what is considered to be “abnormal” in society as breaking from this false ideal (cf. [22], [27)])?

I am not saying that everybody in a mental hospital is a frustrated creative artist.

In regard to our potential creative artists who no longer seem able to work their way through the many obstacles they have encountered in life, I am not saying that everybody in a mental hospital is a frustrated creative artist. What I am saying is that some people in mental hospitals may very well be superficially diagnosed as psychotic and schizophrenic, and have a depth of untapped creative artistic potential inside of them. A number of research studies lend support to the theory that significant creative artistic potential may occur in people with bipolar (manic-depressive) tendencies (cf. [4]). The creative artistic potential of some of these people with bipolar tendencies may be far more than that of the more ordinary “normal” person who is visiting them and of the hospital staff member who is giving them their medications. I believe that this creative artistic potential in many cases could still be actualized in the world, if the necessary self-discipline, self-confidence, and self-understanding could be developed in the context of a nurturing and supportive social atmosphere, which is at the heart of my Artistic Theory of Psychology [1].

NOTES

[1] See Elliot Benjamin (2013), The Artistic Theory of Psychology. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net

[2] See http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/674201142/the-wounded-healer-documentary

[3] See http://www.columbiajournalist.org:80/www/6-an-art-asylum-within-an-asylum/story

[4] See Nancy Andreasen (2005), Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius. New York: Dana Press; Kay Jamison (1993), Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. New York: Free Press Paperbacks; Mark Runco & Ruth Richards (1997)(Editors), Eminent Creativity, Everyday Creativity, and Health. London: Ablex.

[5] See American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text revision)). Washington, DC: Author.

[6] See Eric Fromm (1955). The Sane Society. New York: Rhinehart; and Eric Fromm (1956). The Art of Loving. New York:; Harper.

[7] See Ernest Schachtel (1959). Metamorphosis. New York. Basic Books.

[8] See Elliot Benjamin (2008), Art and Mental Disturbance. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 48(1), pp. 61-88.

[9] See Abraham Maslow (1962), Toward a Psychology of Being. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.

[10] See Ken Wilber (2000), Integral Psychology. Boston: Shambhala.

[11] See Don Beck & Chris Cowan (1996), Spiral Dynamics: Managing Values, Leadership, and Change. London: Blackwell.

[12] Otto Rank (1932), Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

[13] See Jean Houston (1982), The Possible Human. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher.

[14] Barbara Marx Hubbard (2001), Emergence: The Shift from Ego to Essence. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Pub. Co.

[15] See Stanislav Grof & Christina Grof (1989)(Editors). Spiritual Emergency, Los Angeles: Tarcher.

[16] See Anneli Fufus (2003), Party of One. New York: Marlowe & Co.; Marti Olsen Laney (2002), The Introvert Advantage. New York: Workman.

[17] See Wayne Dyer (1997), Manifest Your Destiny. New York: Harper.

[18] See Neale Donald Walsch (1995), Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue: Book 1: New York: G. P. Putnam & Sons; see also Walsch's Conversations with God Books 2 and 3, as well as the rest of the Conversations with God books, which are all readily available on Amazon; for a critical experiential analysis of Conversations with God, see Elliot Benjamin (2004), On Conversations with God. ICSA E-Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 2, http://cultinfobooks.com

[19] See Harry Palmer (1994), Living Deliberately. Altamonte Springs, Florida: Stars'Edge International; for a critical experiential analysis of Avatar, see Elliot Benjamin (2005), On Avatar. ICS E-Newsletter, Vol. 4, No. 2. http://cultinfobooks.com

[20] See selected chapters from my semi-autobiographical novel: The Maturation of Walter Goldman, in Elliot Benjamin (2013), Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Exposé. Natural Dimension Publications: Swanville, Maine (available at www.lulu.com) Additional chapters from my novel will be included in my book The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health, which I expect to be publicly available by the end of 2013.

[21] See Jeremy Benjamin (2006), After. Richmond, KY: Wings ePress; and Jeremy Benjamin (2009), If I Catch You Reading This. Protland, OR: Inkwater Press.

[22] See R.D. Laing (1967), The Politics of Experience. New York: Ballantine Books; Frank Barron (1972), Artists in the Making. New York: Seminar Press, 1972

[23] See Jane Loevinger (1977), Ego Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; Frederick Flach (1988). Resilience. New York: Fawcett Columbine.

[24] See Elliot Benjamin (2012), The Creative Artist, Eccentricity, and MentalDisturbance: Part 1: The Journal of a Struggling Actor—my Actor/Write Son. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net; and see Jeremy Benjamin's (2012/2013) struggling actor blog at http://journalofastrugglingactor.wordpress.com/2012/05

[25] See Marion Milner (1957), On Not Being Able to Paint. New York: Tarcher; Barry Panter, Mary Lee Panter, Evelyn Virshup, & Bernard Virshup (1995)(Editors), Creativity and Madness: Psychological Studies of Art and Artists. Burbank, CA: Aimed Press.

[26] See Lawrence Kubie (1958), Neurotic Distortion of the Creative Process. New York: Noonday.

[27] See Thomas Szasz (1961), The Myth of Mental Illness. San Francisco: Harper Collins.




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