Solipsism syndrome.

dave the solipsist

A few times throughout my life, usually when overtired/anxious (and once when VERY high), I’ve had this peculiar (and terrifying) feeling of being the only person in the universe (the time I was high and it happened it was even worse–I was disembodied consciousness, a singularity in space/time–I finally came to the conclusion at the time that I must be God and must have created the entire universe and everything in it from my mind–talk about narcissism lol!). It’s a rather frightening experience, if truth be told. If you’ve ever experienced it, you’ll understand the overwhelming feeling of immense and indescribable loneliness, even though your rational mind is telling you it’s an illusion and isn’t true.

I was thinking about this today for some reason so I looked it up on Google. I found out this feeling of nothing else existing except your own consciousness is a fairly common dissociative experience called solipsism syndrome. It’s a form of derealization. I never knew it had a name.

Some Eastern religions are built around the concept of solipsism and many philosophers throughout history have considered it a possibility too. Of course I don’t believe in it but during the few times I’ve experienced it, it does feel very real.

A similar phenomenon is the feeling/belief that everyone else is just yourself in another incarnation and/or is a projection of yourself. Solipsism seems extremely narcissistic, even though it has nothing to do with NPD and is a fairly common experience in both psychotic and dissociative conditions, drug intoxication (especially psychedelics and dissociatives), and PTSD and C-PTSD. It’s also common in astronauts who spend long periods of time living in space.

solipsism+syndrome

I read this story today and wanted to share it.

The Egg
By: Andy Weir

You were on your way home when you died.

It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”

“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.

“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”

“Yup,” I said.

“I… I died?”

“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”

“More or less,” I said.

“Are you god?” You asked.

“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”

“My kids… my wife,” you said.

“What about them?”

“Will they be all right?”

“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”

You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”

“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”

“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”

“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”

“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”

You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”

“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”

“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”

“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”

I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.

“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”

“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”

“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”

“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”

“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”

“Where you come from?” You said.

“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”

“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”

“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”

“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.

I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”

“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”

“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”

“Just me? What about everyone else?”

“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”

“All you. Different incarnations of you.”

“Wait. I’m everyone!?”

“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.

“I’m every human being who ever lived?”

“Or who will ever live, yes.”

“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”

“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.

“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.

“And you’re the millions he killed.”

“I’m Jesus?”

“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.

“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.

“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”

“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”

“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”

“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”

“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us a ‘universe’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” (Albert Einstein)

Advertisements

Derealization and depersonalization in NPD and BPD.

Worlds_Collide___Phaeton___by_Meckie
Worlds Collide-Phaeton: by Meckie at Deviantart.com

A common symptom of both NPD and BPD is dissociation: a splitting or fragmenting of the personality not very different from what occurs in the Dissociative disorders such as DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and Psychogenic Fugue. It usually happens in response to a severe loss of supply or major narcissistic injury, or a sudden awareness of oneself as not oneself (realizing your false self is not who you really are–which happens when a narcissist becomes self aware). These disorders themselves, especially NPD, are dissociative in nature because a split in the personality has occurred. In the narcissist, it’s a substitution of the original personality for a false one.

Borderlines, rather than having a false self per se, are more like chameleons, adapting their personalities to fit the people and situation around them. That’s why Borderlines can seem so changeable.

I first started to experience dissociation as a young child. I remember at age 4, waking up for breakfast and walking down to the kitchen where my parents were already eating, and seeing colored specks like glitter falling all around me. When I asked my parents if they saw the “glitter,” they just looked at me like I was crazy. I also had dreams that would continue after I awoke and often felt I was living in a dream. Maybe that’s the case with most young children though. I also remember hearing music from TV shows late at night after everyone was asleep that couldn’t possibly be coming from anywhere, as this was in the 1960s and no one had the capability to record a show on VCR yet, nor was there TV after midnight or so–all we’d get in those days was a test pattern until morning.

I remember at around the same age, banging my head against the wall in the family room to relieve some kind of congestion in my head. I think it may have been to relieve those odd feelings of unreality–not much different than the way a Borderline will sometimes cut herself to “feel alive.” In fact, this may well have been an early symptom of my BPD (and I always thought it was autism).

Most people have probably experienced dissociation, perhaps under the influence of a drug. Sometimes people experience it on hearing shocking news that could be either tragic or fortuitous–like hearing one’s child just died, or winning the lottery.

But for people who have certain personality disorders (as well as people with various dissociative disorders and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, and also those with PTSD and C-PTSD), dissociation is both common and chronic. It’s also severe enough to sometimes interfere with functioning.

Q: So what does dissociation FEEL like?
A. Because something so ungrounded in the tangible and everyday reality is so hard to explain in words, I’m not sure if these descriptions of what it feels like will make a lot of sense, but I’ll try.

Derealization.
I’ve actually experienced this the most. The world seems odd and dreamlike. Reality seems somehow “off” the way things are in a dream. In a dream, a familiar scene can look the same as it does in reality, but at the same time there’s this feeling of offness and otherworldiness about it. When I was younger and used to ride the subway, sometimes I couldn’t look up at the people because they all seemed like masks…sinister, somehow. It’s a very weird feeling but not always unpleasant. Sometimes that dreamlike oddness about everything is sort of compelling and interesting.

Depersonalization.
This definitely causes me serious panic attacks. I first had episodes of this at about age 9 or 10 and thought I was going crazy. I felt oddly disconnected from my body, like I was floating. People talking to you sound like they’re coming from either a great distance or out of a tube. You can’t focus on what they’re saying because you’re freaking out and panicking but trying to hide it to keep from appearing as crazy as you feel.

I think people with NPD and BPD (as well as the Schizoid, Schizotypal and Paranoid PD’s) who do not improve or try to change, are probably at high risk for developing psychotic disorders and even schizophrenic like conditions when things are going badly for them, there’s been a massive loss of narcissistic supply, or when the person becomes gravely ill or very late in life.

Is BPD a real disorder or should it be eliminated as a diagnosis?

bpd_treatments
The myriad ways experts “see” borderline personality disorder. (click to enlarge)

There’s a great deal of confusion and disagreement in the professional literature about the nature of Borderline Personality Disorder. The blogger BPDTransformation (whose blog is excellent if sometimes a little on the scholarly side), who was cured of BPD, thinks the label should simply be done away with and that BPD doesn’t really exist at all–the label being merely a placeholder for a group of symptoms that are widely variable, and that experts can’t even agree on. He believes BPD is categorized as a Cluster B (dramatic/emotional) disorder only because mental health experts can’t decide where else to put it.

The stigma of BPD as a Cluster B disorder.

borderline_stigma

The problem with labeling BPD in the Cluster B category of personality disorders is the stigma that classification carries–that people with BPD (like those with NPD or ASPD) are evil, untrustworthy, selfishly manipulative, grandiose, dishonest, lack empathy, and really no better than people with malignant narcissism or even ASPD. (It sure doesn’t help any that an obviously sociopathic criminal like Jodi Arias has a diagnosis of BPD, when she more likely fits the criteria for high spectrum [malignant] narcissism, at the very least.) Insurance companies assume anyone with a Cluster B disorder is incurable, and therefore will not pay claims where a person is diagnosed with a Cluster B disorder. This is very damaging to those of us with BPD who have either successfully learned to modify and control our symptoms–or have even been cured, as BPDTransformation has been. People continue to believe we are lying about the success of the treatments or therapy we have received. Borderlines who have never been treated may find it difficult to find a therapist willing to work with them.

BPD is far more amenable to deep insight therapy than NPD (which is extremely difficult to cure but not impossible for non-malignants) and light years away from a disorder like ASPD (antisocial personality disorder), which can probably not be cured. Because the symptoms of BPD are so disagreeable to the sufferer (and not just to others), it is common for borderlines to present themselves for therapy, unlike people with NPD or ASPD. The vast majority or borderlines are unhappy with themselves and the way their lives have turned out. But many therapists won’t work with borderlines (other than with behavior modification treatments like DBT) because they know insurance companies will not pay such a claim.

What are borderlines on the border of, anyway?

tightrope

The name “borderline” itself is confusing. What are borderlines on the border of anyway? Neurosis and psychosis? A normal sense of self and Narcissism? Mexico and the United States?

The experts are all over the map on this, with some recent theories stating that BPD is actually a less adaptive, more ego-dystonic form of narcissism. But the original term “borderline” actually referred to the belief that the disorder was on the “border” between psychosis and neurosis:

[…]It is called borderline because it was originally thought that people were on the ‘border’ of psychosis and neurosis. BPD is also sometimes called Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (Borderline type). Approximately 75% of people given this diagnosis are women and 50% have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse.

Because BPD is more commonly diagnosed in women than in men, it’s also been referred to as the female form of narcissistic personality disorder (which is more commonly diagnosed in men than in women).

Psychotic, neurotic, both, or none of the above?

bpd (1)
Credit: Judgybitch/Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

The reason why BPD is sometimes regarded as the midpoint between neuroses (mild and easily treated anxiety or depressive disorders) and psychoses (disorders where the victim is out of touch with reality, such as schizophrenia and the manic-depressive form of bipolar disorder) is because people with BPD can, when emotionally upset, display psychotic or delusional symptoms such as splitting (black and white thinking), dissociation (feelings of unreality either about the self or the environment), magical thinking, severe paranoia, delusions of grandeur or persecution, and sometimes even hallucinations and disorganized speech or thought. However, for a borderline, these psychotic symptoms don’t last and as soon as the emotional crisis has passed, the borderline’s “sanity” normally returns. Antipsychotic medication can be helpful, but isn’t always necessary, as it usually is for a truly psychotic individual.

Others have speculated that BPD is really a severe form of PTSD or C-PTSD caused by trauma, and should be treated the same way as PTSD. Personally, I think it’s more long-standing than a reactive disorder like PTSD and is a true personality disorder, but it does make sense that BPD may have originally begun as a form of PTSD at an early age, often due to sexual abuse.

There is so much confusion and contradiction in the literature about BPD that I’m slowly coming around to BPDTransformation’s way of thinking that it should possibly be removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until mental health professionals can get a better handle on what BPD actually is, and whether it’s even a valid diagnosis (or simply a group of symptoms that could indicate several other disorders). There should at least be more agreement among the professionals at any rate.