THE LIFE OF THE SELF: Toward a New Psychology by Robert Jay Lifton

THE LIFE OF THE SELF: Toward a New Psychology

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Lifton's proposed new model--the ""paradigm shift"" he perceives in post-Freudian psychology--evolves from his studies of the death-obsessed lives of Hiroshima victims (Death In Life) and Vietnam veterans (Home From the War). In place of sex and the instinctual drives which were at the heart of 19th-century depth psychology, Lifton suggests that ""ultimate violence and mass death"" have become central to contemporary experience; they must be the starting point of new psychological breakthroughs. From his own intensive work with ""survivors,"" Lifton has come to believe that death--how we deal with it or deny it--affects the quality and vitality of our living. To Lifton ""survivor"" designates a psychic condition, an ethos which, thanks to the holocausts of the 20th century, has tainted us all. He believes with Beckett and Vonnegut that we are experiencing a breakdown in our entire ""web of images, rituals, institutions and material objects,"" a process of desymbolization leading to chaos. As a result, it is not repression but ""psychological numbing"" which threatens to become today's adaptive--ultimately maladaptive--response. Lifton justly observes that traditional psychoanalysis has evaded the subject of death and dying. Since only renewal and growth can counter death-anxiety, he implies that this evasion may ultimately cost us our humanity. Though individual death is absolute and final, Lifton believes that symbolic immortality ""as an expression of continuity"" must be urgently, imperatively recreated for the sake of our cultural and psychic wholeness. Lifton doesn't spell out the radical social restructuring this would involve, but it's implicit in the passionate advocacy of his work.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1976
Publisher: Simon & Schuster