The naturalist conception of “vulnerability” comes from the susceptibility of the organism to be injured (vulnus), by un external agent. The transformation of the concepts of causation and of the genesis of structures of reality is taking place gradually and leading us to a different way of conceiving psychopathological vulnerability.
New vision of life, as in Jonas’ book The Phenomenon of Life, considers life as a “system of relationships constituted both by the organism and the environment”, and he adds: “appropriation becomes a universal principle of identity.” Strictly, what becomes ill is not the organism but the living system, which includes the organism, its ecologic niche and the behavioral communication between these two poles. From this view comes the concept of “resilience”.
In humans, the realization and personalization of life is constructed by the process of the comportment being structured by an appropriated informative relation between the subject and the situation. Mental illness consists in a de-appropriation of behavior: it is an alienation of the dynamics of appropriation of the subjective dimensions of behavior or of the executive dies-appropriation of ordinary life resources, generating de-personalization and de-realization, a threat against personal autonomy.
In humans, mental vulnerability is conditioned by:
The level of symbolic formalizing attained by the brain. The Biographical maturity builds up with the progression of the mentality type and its related world type. The progression in subject’s autonomy and the affective maturity of the person.
Historically, the basic concept of psychopathological vulnerability was derived from the paradigm of the XIXth century body medicine, from which psychiatry developed. This paradigm took shape under the influence of the epochal positivism, and so involved two basic principles: a) scientific knowledge must be based on “objective facts”, not on theoretical speculation and also be checked against reality; and b) diseases are destructive modifications of organisms, negative “effects” produced by external “causes” acting on the inner structure of organisms. The naturalist conception of “vulnerability” comes from this paradigm, as the susceptibility to be injured (vulnus) in the neuro-psychic apparatus, which would be the agent of our behavior over the environment.
As a consequence of this vision, initially applied only to anatomical medicine, psychopathology was characterized as those subjective symptoms suffered by the patient and considered by the doctor to be only signs or clues to some underlying disease, from which symptoms came. Hence, a trend to equate psychopathology and semiology began, a mere exploration of those signs that pointed to or made explicit a disease.
However, the XXth century evolution of psychiatry, medicine and science in general has taken us to another conception about psychic life, and about organic life as well. A transformation of the concepts of causation and of the genesis of structures of reality is taking place gradually and leading us to a different way of conceiving psychopathological vulnerability. The evolution of anatomical biology into physiological biology, for instance, has led us to consider disease more as functional damage, a physiological disturbance, than as physical or anatomical injure. This dynamical conception of life does not only apply to the inner workings of the organism, but also to the whole phenomenon of life, now considered as an exchange between organism and environment. Only recently it has been increasingly accepted that organisms are systems open to environment, whose structures depend on the exchange of matter, energy and information with their surroundings in order to become and remain being what they are, as von Bertalanffy stated at the 1950s.
An organism lives due to the incorporation of matter and energy from the environment by means of his behaviour. This process demands the organism to discriminate when behaving what can be assimilated from what cannot, what is friendly from what is unfriendly. So, an informative distinction has to be made among different structures of environment and, simultaneously, one has to discriminate between one’s own organism and what is alien to it. These informative distinctions are the essential core of both sensory functions and intelligence of living organisms. They constitute the organizing foundation of the living behavior, upon which rests life and health of the whole organism.
Behavior is not a product of the organism but, instead, the process that gives form to the organism. In his recent book The Emergent Life, biologist Pier Luigi Luisi writes: “living organisms create their own environment (niche), and environment creates the life of the organism (in a reciprocal) co-emergency, the aim of which is to maintain the balance of self-identity”. Similarly, Hans Jonas in his book The Phenomenon of Life, considers life as a “system of relationships constituted both by the organism and the environment”, and he adds: “appropriation becomes a universal principle of identity.”
These conceptions led us to understand an allergic reaction not as an effect caused by some allergen on the organism, but as a disharmony of the communication between the immune system and environment. An anaphylactic shock can kill the organism because of the disproportionate reaction of the organism itself, not because of the potency of the allergen, which ordinarily is minor. The example out of somatic pathology can enlighten, by analogy, our understanding of phobic psychopathology, in which the phobic reaction is not an effect caused on the human individual by the real threat posed by any object or situation. The pathology of the phobic lies in the “inadequacy between patient’s behavior (panic, paralysis, avoidance, fleeing) and the real features of the present situation”. It is a pathology based on inadequacy of the perceived information by the phobic patient, information that actualizes the situation with a sense of menace and danger, of vital impossibility. It is quite (just quite) akin to a hyper allergic reaction.
Strictly, what becomes ill is not the organism but the living system, which is the whole behavioral system that includes the organism, its ecologic niche and the behavioral communication between these two poles. «Nobody feels or considers himself ill due to an anatomic or functional disturbance of his organism, but only when the disturbance disrupts everyday living performance in the world». On the other hand, psychiatrists are presented daily with major illnesses based on panic about imagined symbolic situations which are only felt menacing by the patients.
The concept of “resilience”, inspired by the resistance of metals against structural deformation produced by external forces, can only be rightly applied to material and mechanical vulnerability, but not to vulnerability particular to life, which is based on information from the senses. As it is known, the vision of the natural organism that arose in the XVIIIth century, the early Modernity, was a mechanical vision. A vision that endured, someway, up to the XXth century. Even Freud stated his discoveries using words as conscious and unconscious “mechanisms” of the psychic “apparatus”. But today, the vision of the self-organization of life is sustained on Information theory.
Francisco Varela’s “autopoiesis” vision of life has gradually imposed itself on theoretical and practical biology from the second half of the XXth century on, due to its being consistent with current paradigms in every scientific discipline, where old metaphysical substantialism has been overcome by the dialectical and communicational horizon of the Systems theory. This replacement of the “ontological paradigm of substantialism” derives from the evolutionist vision of every structure in the universe, not only living organisms, and also from Field theory, in the form of a dynamic structuralism characterized by epigenetic causality within processes of emergence.
Today it is feasible, within this methodological and ontological vision, a “mereological” vision that distinguishes particular properties of every dimension of a system from global properties, that rest upon the whole system. If substantialism considered identity of entities as the egalitarian manifestation of the unity of an ideal underlying essence; Systems theory emphasizes a notion of identity constituted by differentiation from surroundings (the field), as Niklas Luhmann puts it in Complexity and Modernity. In the old paradigm, essences and structures which constituted the identity of entities were eternal. In the current paradigm, structures are in every case evolutive products of dynamic processes. New structures are born by “epigenetic processes of emergent causality” from prior ontological levels which are then structured back into a new ontological synthesis.
In reality, as contemporary science perceives it, there are no “things-in-themselves” but only processes. Just as Whitehead stated, at the beginning of the XXth century, in his book Process and Reality. According to this vision, concrete real entities are not the origin of the causal dynamics between them. Just the opposite, dynamic processes of a force-field create topological borders onto which concrete forms get actualized, as Whitehead himself posited. The creation of local structures by differentiation in relation to the field is not based on sameness but on difference. “To differ” should be here understood as a correlation between two structures which are related to one another by means of an operative contrast between their differentiated forms. We could say that any entity bases its own structural identity on difference. When, by evolution, the difference between forms becomes evident enough, when the explicit distinction of the difference appears, then the “informative communication” takes place. These creative differences of forms generate entities, generate things. The distinction between different forms transmits information to different forms. As Lynn Margulies highlighted, the passage from differentiating structures to distinguishing them in communication should be considered the moment in evolution when life first materialized, with its sensitive sensibility and the subsequent development of human intelligence.
In human life, the information system of communication between Person and World constitutes the ontological dimension in which psychopathology and mental vulnerability appear and manifest. This dimension includes perception of sensory significance and mental intellection, the grasp of the sense by which things affect us, and also creative fantasy!
In humans, the perceived sensory form - as was shown by Gestalt Psychologie research at the early XXth century - it is both at once delimitation and distinction, dynamically reversible from “figure” to “background”, and conversely. This very dialectics are today hold by neurobiologists as Edelman and Tononi in order to understand conscious processes, as in their book A Universe of Consciousness, in which they wrote: “Consciousness is not a thing but a process, at the same time continuous and changing continuously. (…) A quick diminution in the uncertainty of information (due to a process of) spontaneous re-entrance interaction (…) of integration and differentiation (…) that depends on attentive vigilance.”
In exogenous psychoses, the disturbance of the level of vigilance in the conscious process produces a regression of the organization of information, from the “epicritic” level to the “protopathic”, a loss of discrimination and synthesis of semantic structures of thought, language and behaviour. This loss of differentiation of significant forms, a loss that both expresses and constitutes the psychic disorder, destroys the performing structure of behaviour. And a “diffuse and mild cerebral deterioration”, as dotage entails, increases the vulnerability of suffering transient disturbances of consciousness, triggered by abrupt changes in the place of residence.
From a communicational approach to psychopathology, symptoms are not the presence of signs or clues that point to hidden and pre-existing causes of mental illness, as empiricist semiology pretends. No! Psychopathological symptoms are behaviours organized by inadequate structures of information, that destroy or hinder the performance of one’s own life.
They generate derealisation and depersonalization! As Viktor von Gebsattel pointed to in his Medical Anthropology, “derealisation and depersonalization are but the two sides of a single disorder of communication”. López-Ibor (Sr.) already stated in his book Neuroses as mood illnesses that “symptoms of neuroses (…) express the illness on one hand but, on the other, they are illness itself.” And Wyrsch wrote in “The Person of the Schizophrenic”: “a symptom can be considered from three different points of view: (…) as it can be when doing research on at the laboratory, separately from the patient; (…) as we observe it in the patient himself, and finally, as the patient experiences it, either because it happens to him, (…) or because he contributes to its becoming.” Last method, phenomenology, shows us the truly structure of symptoms, not being merely signs.
The structure of life and health depends on the appropriateness of behaviour. As Gadamer rightly turns our attention to in his book The Hidden Character of Health: “we experience (…) health (…) as what is measuredly appropriate.” Within the field of behaviour, the word appropriate refers both to what is adequate to the subject of behavior himself and to what is adequate to the reality of circumstances where and with which the subject behaves. Natural life is a self-constructing process by appropriation that organisms perform using resources from their ecologic niche. But in humans, natural life is also “cultural”, being sustained not just by what is appropriated but by the process itself. As Arnold Gehlen wrote (in The Man): “the capacity to transform nature into culture allows men to perform their two main vital goals: first, to discover the world, to appropriate it and work it out. Secondly, they must make themselves suitable to their self-appropriation.” The last of two constitutes the making of the second human nature: naturalized culture or Nurture.
Pathology is always a structural and functional expropriation, not mere disturbance. It is an alteration of the constitutive singleness of an organ’s or of somebody’s (organic subject, person) functional identity. Alteration and appropriation are antonyms! And psychopathology is a process of alienation of something that the subject or his behavior owned once, and thus they alter. Psychopathological vulnerability is rooted in the process of appropriating oneself and reality! Appropriation depends both on brain’s biological organization of information and on the strict semantic structures that actualize the biographic sense of the structures we perceive or think over. As it happens, for instance, in the case of our beliefs.
ILLNESS AND PSYCHOPATHOLOGICAL VULNERABILITY
Somatic illness involves the loss of functional coherence of the organic systems that are necessary to build and maintain organism’s proper unity. It involves, for example, a threat or disturbance against the dynamic integration of “homeorhesis”. Correspondingly, mental illness consists in a de-appropriation of behavior: it is an alienation of the dynamics of appropriation of the subjective dimensions of behavior or of the executive appropriation of ordinary life resources. This can easily be perceived in “phobias”, in which the patient either does not appropriate worldly resources (within the phobic situation) or does not appropriate his own body expressive forms (“dismorphophobia”) or lives his own body in an alienated and alienating way (“anorexia nervosa”).
«Psychopathology is a behavioral alienation due to an information that de-realizes the world, the subject or their mutual appropriation». Before, we should accept that the human being always perceives everything as some-thing, a thing on its own appropriate terms. Similarly, he perceives himself as a subject on his own appropriate terms, a subject who owns his life, his actions and his lived experiences. The presence of something with this feature of ownness is what constitutes the experience of reality. The loss of this feature either in the world or in oneself results in derealisation or depersonalization of behavior, and besides, reifications and personifications of partial dimensions of reality or personhood take place. There are symptoms in which it prevails the loss of the reality feature in general. In other symptoms, it can prevail the allocation of the reality feature into some concrete part of the whole, either into worldly things or into sub-personal aspects. Every psychopathology entails a mereological mistake about information!
If we favour those paradigms that are rooted in “ontological dualisms”, it becomes impossible to integrate different dimensions of life coherently because we tend to reify natural (body) and cultural (psyche, soul, mind) human dimensions into entities in themselves, not just different but completely opposed. This reifying dualism corresponds to the naïf ontology of everyday perception and common sense, outside scientific knowledge. This vision has been nearly overcome in every science (the revolution of paradigms by Kuhn). As Antonio Ferraz reminds us in his book Being Human at the XXth century, the “mental field is not something made by combination, in which unity is both consecutive and external to its own elements. It is a field of communication, in which unity is constitutive and intrinsic.”
Neither has this topic been adequately addressed by “holistic paradigms of monism”, in which one dimension is reduced to another, or ignored or denied in favour of another dimension. This is the case of both Bergson’s “vitalism” (introduced in psychiatry by such a wise man as Minkowski) and Heidegger’s “existentialism” (introduced by his disciple Medard Boss) that ignores the bodily aspect of the subject. But neither does “biologism”, that denies cultural dimensions of human behavior and perceives behavior as the sole product of organic causation, even of brain causation produced by genetic dispositions. The revolution of epigenetic has shown experimentally that activating or silencing genes (editing) depends on multiple factors, from biological to behavioral ones.
Along XXth century and within the dialectic-communicational approach, psychiatry has gradually introduced several dimensions of the behavioral system into psychopathology and vulnerability. First, the two poles of the communicational system Person-World, which contribute actively shaping the informative encounter. It is the interactive circle between movement and perception, described by von Weizsäcker in his book “Die Gestaltkreis” (The Circle of the Form), and experimentally confirmed in the neurophysiology of sight, the apparently most passive sense. If the microsaccaddes of the eye are suppressed, an ecstatic figure fixed on the retina disappears. Some years earlier, the work of Jean Piaget pioneered the study of genetic epistemology, from which first came the pragmatic constructivism that shows that “subject” and “object” are the result of an emergent difference from the initial “lack of dualism” of the pragmatic operations of a first-year baby with his environment. Due to a very long and complex process at least fifteen years long, the ontology of everyday life-world takes shape.
At the 1970s the works of Zubin and Spring provided a more interactive conception of vulnerability, between organism and environment, including social network and ecological niche besides premorbid personality.
From this perspective, based on the works of Zuckerman also at the 1970s, the issue of the skills or capabilities to face life adverse situations and handle them appropriately has become relevant. Now, it is called coping. It involves the sense of not being overwhelmed by the situation. This is a more interactive and dynamic vision of vulnerability, a vision that includes a notion of a subject that involves himself in the shaping of information, according to cognitivism. From the phenomenological and anthropological approach this situation was always considered to be obvious, as can be read about in the excellent book Antropologia della vulnerabilità (1997) by Stanghellini:
- Binswanger contributed with Heideggerian inauthenticity and passivity.
- Von Gebsattel pointed to the loss of tension between object and subject, an anergic relationship, a factor that contributes to the way the world appears.
- Minkowsky put forth his ill-developed intuition about “destruction feelings” as the expression of a distortion in the phenomenon of possessing. This phenomenon of possessing (appropriation) is a vital aspect of our personality.
- Finally, Stanghellini himself, basing on XXth century anthropology, attempts a psychopathological (anthropological) definition of vulnerability: it is, “at the same time the stimulus for, the limit of and the threat against personal autonomy; the radical eccentric placement of the person, the estrangement of the person from his body, his world and his history that carries within the very possibility of choice, but also the fall into depersonalization.”
All the main topics of contemporary anthropology are concerned: autonomy, authenticity, freedom, eccentricity, alienation and appropriation, personalization and depersonalization. But Stanghellini focuses his discussion rightly on the “problem of autonomy”, a radical ontological concept of the person.
Autonomy is rooted in the freedom to choose values when living by oneself. In the last analysis, the freedom of bestowing values upon things and facts from the intimacy of a person’s core. (Quite) independently from society’s normative “having-to-be”. Here, Kraus’ understanding of depressive personality vulnerable because its hyper-normativity must be emphasized, a nuanced contribution to Tellenbach’s description of the depressive person who is included into his own hyper-orderliness as a simple remainder.
In the case of psychopathology what is disturbed is the own person (himself) and the act of owning his personal life. What is lost is one’s own freedom of choice (“dependencies, philias, compulsions”), the freedom of moral criteria (“obsessive-compulsive neuroses”), the freedom to appropriate life resources (“depression, phobias”) or the space of action in the public domain (“agoraphobia”) or the very time to live (“anxiety”). Or it can be lost the enjoying appropriation of the world (“anhedonia”) or the owning of one’s body expression (“dismorphophobia”), or verbal semantic expression about one’s feelings (“alexithymia”), or the experience of the self-preserving character of the body (“hypochondria”), or the experience of “being” an adequate body (“anorexia nervosa”), or even the owning of one’s very thoughts and actions (schizophrenia).
In humans, mental vulnerability is conditioned by:
- The level of symbolic formalizing attained by the brain: which configures the meaning bestowing structures of reality that get organized as the “basic ontological forms of the world”. This “field of reality” sustains vulnerability to psychoses or Logopathies. The operative level of the field of real behaviour depends on two factors. First, the brain’s biological degree of maturation and its correlative intellectual endowment. And it depends also on the mentality type and its correlative world type, structures which we get to hold by biographical maturation along childhood. The definitive maturity of the brain is accomplished roughly at thirteen years old, a situation which enables the beginning of adolescence, a period which comes with a critical attitude and that aims to the constitution of an autonomous personal identity. An inadequate cerebral maturation produces a vulnerability to either not attaining an intellectual fulfillment (oligophrenia), or to losing it temporarily (exogenous psychoses) or definitely (“brain deterioration”, “dementias”). Biographical immatureness, with its lack of independence and insufficient autonomy, facilitates personality disorders to appear, and paves the way for neuroses and more serious Thymopathies to develop at adolescence.
- Biographical maturity builds up with experience the progression of the mentality type and its related world type. From fantastic mentality and a magic world at the first childhood to an experiential-personal mentality and a real and reality-producing world, adequate to adulthood. Between these, dogmatic mentality and mythical world at the second childhood, and rationalist mentality and ideological world at adolescence. This process shows that information about “how is the world” (its forms of space, time and causality) transforms from one stage to the next, but the attitudes towards the world, the ambitions in relation to life, and the very way of being a subject are transformed accordingly. Together they all configure ways increasingly more mature of motivation and realization of behaviour in each new stage.
- Personality and character: mentality and “worldview” that are acquired at childhood and adolescence from the social group of inclusion, inside of which the first biographic maturation takes place, affects the constitution of both the regular and basic mentality and personality. It is a kind of universal imprinting. It either favours or hinders the development of “one’s character” as an affective “temper” by which one is established onto the world”. The social structures to which the child belongs will heavily condition his amount and kind of maturation, and also his degree of psychopathological vulnerability. Particularly, structures that heteronomously hamper the autonomic development of the person; as Erich Fromm described in his book Being and Having (1976). A meagre autonomic degree entails a greater vulnerability to depersonalization. The opposite situation entails independence from surroundings and commandment over situations: a coping skills increase.
At the same time, the process of maturation involves the following dimensions:
- A progression in subject’s autonomy: from a complete physical and biological dependency at the first year of life, and the psychological heteronomous dependency of first and second childhood to the final development of one’s autonomy at adolescence. And afterwards, an active unfolding of the adult’s self-managing independence, capable to build the personal structures of life: his ground, his own experience of reality, his own criteria based on reality, his way to live, etc. Any insufficiency when struggling to be a constructive subject of one’s own personal world will entail some vulnerability in different aspects of life, that corresponds to the psychopathology of the personal unfolding into the world. From pathological shyness to “avoidant personality”, from the development of “sociophobia” to “autism”, and in the middle ground any kind of impotencies and dependencies.
- The affective maturity of the person: closely related to the last two topics, affective maturity will build up the distance from environmental stimuli and from one’s impulses. On this behalf, one can go ahead from being invaded by emotions that trigger impersonal reactions to unfold one’s own feelings for realities that ask for personal answers. In order to accomplish it, one must distinguish real dimensions from its affective surrogates, and so preventing to turn a negative feeling from becoming an absolute abstraction; because if it is not prevented then it becomes a negative humour or affect that is referred to the whole world. “The sad feeling attached to a loss in one’s life gets transformed into a melancholic humour that entails a sense of having lost the whole life-world or every personal capability to reach it.”
- The development of steadiness of character or affective temper, by moulding autonomy and affective maturity when taking an “active” and self-constructive stance towards life, which becomes one’s living territory. The process endows the subject with greater coping skills against misfortune and also an improved skill to deal with or to take upon oneself negative circumstance, but without getting trapped into them.
- The greater the degree of personal maturity achieved and stronger the steadiness of character developed, both entailing greater independence and freedom of action, the lesser psychopathological vulnerability the person will display in relation to Thymopathies, from anxiety to depression. It must also be reminded that many psychoses begin as neuroses or thymopathies, when the negative feelings become generic and turn into a humour that denies any constructive affect in relation to the world. This non-sense or twisted sense imbues the whole “psychological field” of the patient, and reshapes the ontological forms of the life-world, which then embodies as a “real fact” this negative sense. This is the case, for instance, of psychotic depression, in which the feeling of “vital impossibility” (Glatzel) turns into a delusion of being already a dead corpse, as in Cotard’s syndrome. Every ontological alteration of a subject’s world is going to carry with a radical change in his living territory, and a personal answer will be mandatory. This answer can move from a “maturely taking upon oneself” to “hopelessness or despair”, or the intermediate “giving up with resignation”. In psychoses, the person will try to build a new world as a narrative, most of the time a delusion without self-realizing properties or, in rare cases, he might build for himself a new personal identity with adaptive results, as Wyrsch described in The Person of the Schizophrenic.
From Conrad and Wyrsch onwards, the basic schizophrenic disturbance has been increasingly (within the constructivist paradigm) referred to the “loss of passive transcendence of the preverbal, preconscious, prereflexive and pragmatic intentionality; the activity that brings forth different forms of ontology, with the involvement of the natural subject in an empiric transcendence towards the distinctive operative nature of the concrete object”. This loss is not a breakdown neither of the reason nor of the predicate logic but a loss of foundation of reason and logic onto pragmatic ontological forms of the natural world, which have disappeared. The specific vulnerability to suffer this kind of de-ontologization of the world is currently still unknown, despite it seems quite clear that it depends on a diffuse functional disorder of the brain. The loss of natural ontology leads the patient to compulsive hyper-reflexive thinking and to rationalism, as Blankenburg masterfully demonstrated. Secondary reflection contributes to self-objectivation, which reminds us what Gadamer sentenced: “illness self-objectifies, but health doesn’t.”
Specific factors to thymopathic or neurotic vulnerability:
The Thymopathic field: the distressing sense-structures. If the field of psychotic vulnerability is the one which encompasses logos-structures, the understanding of “significant forms”, then the field vulnerable in neuroses is the one that encompasses sense-structures, those that inform the “way of being affected” in one’s own life by the qualities of objects and the facts of a subject’s life-world. These senses that affect us are actualized affectively not just cognitively, they are felt not just comprehended, as it is the case with meanings.
Sense configures a person’s affectivity. Affectivity is not simply structured by modal features (“quale”) of real objects that passively impact on a person, as objectivistic thinking holds. The sense depends equally on the subject’s attitude, of what he purports and hopes about. And also depends on the way of purporting and on the way of trying to fulfil his goals. All those variables are conditioned finally by the “sensed context of the situation”, which depends on the structure of both personality and world.
The conflict of identities: if alteration constitutes the ground of every pathology, what is threatened in psychopathological vulnerability is one’s own identity. The alteration of oneself, the possibility of being oneself no more. At a biological level, identity is defined and grounded by genetics and endomorphic structure. Even at this level, informational conflicts may arise, as it happens to be the case with cancerous cells. But at the psychological level the problem of identity is far more complex.
At the very beginning of symbolic thinking, to the biological identity is added a “social identity” as the social recognition assigned to an individual that grants him a place in some category of the human group. It is the identity of belonging to group structures, such as ethnic group, clan, tribe, country, family, social class, gender, institutional role, etc. This social level usually favours conflict between biological identity and behavioural identity on the midst of human groups, as it happens in conflicts about sexual gender. The social conflicts that homosexuals and transsexuals suffer. But also conflicts between masculine and feminine gender, in society or in relationships. Conflicts about rights and duties, about different possibilities, about power and submission.
In addition, with the historic emergence of “personal consciousness” from one’s autonomy of criteria for one’s own life, the possibility of self-configuring biographical destiny; in this dimension springs a new field of conflict of identity. Conflicts, inside the subject himself, between performing behaviour from oneself and thus giving shape to a personal identity, in opposition to the sameness that sustains social identities; and on the other hand, the need for social recognition. This is not a conflict with outside society but an inner one, inside one’s reflexive mind. It happens because the person has already constituted a set of personal criteria but he has not released them from the sphere of social recognition. Every social phobia and all dependencies involve this conflict.
Personal freedom also generates conflict when a person misleads independence of his own criteria from social criteria for the ambition of an unconditioned executive freedom in front of the structures of reality, structures with and where we make our freedom real. This conflict between the absolute ambition of personal freedom and the need to take reality into account in order to make our lifes is a very frequent feature of contemporary Western mind-set, a feature that easily produces “anxiety” as a threaten of ceasing to be a person free of having anything. And it also produces “depression” because of the frustration of particular projects, lived as constitutive of my being a person.
But, perhaps, the greatest of all current identity conflicts, arises from the frequent belief and conviction, in our Western society, that our main purpose in life is to “self-produce oneself”, to generate with our behaviour our “being”, as opposed to “not being”; so either being everything or nothing. This absolutely impossible task to accomplish -that somebody who has not yet come to be must be able to reach the goal of giving to himself the whole and true selfhood, instead of unfolding one’s own personality in the constitution of a personal way of living- engenders the basic conflict of “anxiety”, the mood of everyday existence that consists in “having to be fleeing from not being”. As Baudrillard wrote: “We no longer stride for glory, but for identity”.
The conflict, as a contradictory structure between two opposed needs that cannot be given up because they are both absolute and impossible to make real at the same time, is the nucleus of every psycopathological structure. It must be kept in mind that the experience of needing is always referred to something indispensable to be. And this “to be or not to be” refers to the very identity of a real entity. As a result, in every informational conflict, as it precisely happens to be the case with any psychopathologic symptom or structure, the very identity of the living subject is at the stake.