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A demanding if not always well-organized study of why we persist in lying to ourselves. Psychoanalyst Shengold, whose fifth book this is (the best known is Soul Murder, 1989, about children whose parents have emotionally crippled them), develops a kind of phenomenology of such major and common emotional delusions as narcissism, malignant envy, paranoia, and even love (which often involves idealization of the other, accompanied by a suspension of critical judgment). We all are more or less under the sway of such delusions, Shengold observes; in the psychotic they take over the personality, while in the neurotic they coexist with more rational and less grandiose self-conceptions while remaining mentally split off from them. He illustrates the major kinds of delusions with a few case studies and through extensive allusions to and citations from major works of literature, particularly by Sophocles and Shakespeare (there is also a somewhat rambling chapter devoted to Samuel Butler, the misanthropic 19th-century English novelist and essayist). Shengold's basic thesis concerns ""the universal...retentions of delusions as a residue of the earliest mental functioning"" and the claim that delusions ""tie us to our early mental impressions of parents, to whom we cling as indispensable to our existence."" They are the fruit of the desire to remain parented forever. Shengold has too little to say here about how the psychoanalyst or therapist might most effectively help ""surface"" and work with the patient's delusions. However, this book, which is almost entirely free of the kind of convoluted prose that too often characterizes psychoanalytic writing, will help clinicians focus on their patients' and their own deepest, largely submerged self-myths, and how they contribute to resistance (in both the colloquial and psychotherapeutic senses) to insight and change. Informative and thought-provoking, but of interest largely to clinicians.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.