An Anatomy of Madness - Part 1
The Ingredients for Psychosis and the Inklings that Exist in You
Perhaps the most striking idea introduced in this book is that human beings value their self-esteem more than they do their sanity. When the modern medical models attempt to explain schizophrenia and other psychoses, they explain it as a series of qualities in an alien being who is somehow separated from the rest of humanity. In reality, the responses of schizophrenics to their environments are precisely human in nature.
This essay is a summary and synthesis of my notes and thoughts from the book “How to Become a Schizophrenic” by John Modrow (1992). He argues that it is not the person who is abnormal or unhealthy, but rather it is an insalubrious environment that ellicits abnormal behaviours and thought patterns. In fact, the author makes the radical statement that we all have and are vulnerable to some degree of these dysfunctional behaviours. What distinguishes the “normal” person from the schizophrenic is that the normal person has psychological defence mechanisms to protect the ego from a complete annihilation of self-esteem that characterises the core of the disease.
The “Schizophrenogenic” Family
In this first part of the book, the author describes different features of a “schizophrenogenic” environment that have to do primarily with the family. In fact, Dr. Lyman C Wynne of the National Institute of Mental Health found that assessing the parents’ behaviour could reliably predict schizophrenia in their child to a significance level of 0.000002 (meaning this is the probability that that correlation was due to chance. Since it is an extremely low number we can assume that the parents’ behaviour can reliably predict psychosis in the children).
While it is not magnificent revelation that the way one is raised can contribute to mental illness, Modrow more importantly describes how this occurs has primarily to do with self-esteem and the factors that influence it. Everything the schizophrenic does it to avoid or mitigate the “panic state” in which the individual is tortured by the conviction that he is worthless human being with no redeeming value.
In a schizophrenogenic family, that is, one that encourages psychosis in an individual, the individual is stripped of his autonomy by a parent who refuses to properly emotionally connect with him and thus nurture his self-esteem. Autonomy and self-esteem are intrinsically linked. If a person is led to believe he is incapable of doing important things independently, and effectively, they will be psychologically stunted. This serves the parent who can make him even more dependent on him emotionally, financially and physically. In a relationship described as a “skewed family,” a parent, usually the mother, is unable to distinguish between the emotions and needs of the child, and her own. This contributes to the child’s lack of autonomy. As the child attempts to deal with the conflicting emotions of pleasing the parent, while struggling to recover some autonomy, the guilt and resentment brew aberrant behaviours that can present as psychosis.
It is known that not all siblings of schizophrenic children experience schizophrenia or psychosis. Is this evidence that the idea of family environment as a powerful cause for the disease is incorrect? No. Because it is incorrect to assume that a parent has the same kind of relationship with each of their children. Each relationship is slightly different and the circumstances and of course some personalities might be more vulnerable than others. In all cases, however, it was found that the children who are closest to their parents in schizophrenogenic families, are most in danger of schizophrenia, whereas the “invulnerable children” who do not develop schizophrenia despite coming from schizophrenogenic parents, are always the most distanced emotionally and physically from their parents.
The Behaviour Cascade of Psychosis
“At this point it must be noted, that although people have been known to face death with calmness, resignation, and sometimes even with joy, no one can experience anything but abject terror as his or her mind disintegrates into madness” - John Modrow, How to Become a Schizophrenic, 1992