R. D. Laing, Philip Larkin, and exploring the psyche

When I was reading psychology in college, I remember being impressed with R. D Laing. Forty years later I vaguely remember that he believed that the person labeled as mentally ill was simply the one acting out the illness of the family. Finding The Politics of the Family on my daughter’s bookshelf made me curious to revisit his work. Much of this writing seems dated–definitely coming out of the revelations of the sixties–but I found the following passages extraordinarily thought-provoking. Maybe you will, too, despite the pesky overuse of commas! This is from the chapter on “Family Scenarios”:

Laing “One way to get someone to do what one wants, is to give an order. To get someone to be what one wants him to be…is another matter. In a hypnotic (or similar) context, one does not tell him what to be, but tells him what he is. Such attributions, in context, are many times more powerful than orders (or other forms of coercion or persuasion). An instruction need not be defined as an instruction. It is my impression that we receive most of our earliest and most lasting instructions in the form of attributions. We are told such and such is the case. One is, say, told one is a good or bad boy or girl…it is not [even] necessary to be told to be what one has already been ‘given to understand’ one is. The key medium for communication of this kind is probably not verbal language…

One may tell someone to feel something and not to remember he has been told. Simply tell him he feels it. Better still, tell a third party, in front of him, that he feels it…” Continue reading “R. D. Laing, Philip Larkin, and exploring the psyche”