Australian General Semantics Society Inc.




Seminar Summary - 27 May 2012


"Sanity - Unsanity - Insanity"

What does Korzybski have to say about the "sanity spectrum"?
What is it like to descend into psychosis?
How can we use GS formulations to "drive ourselves sane"?

Led by Mr Robert James
at Pauline and Gavan's salubrious Seminar Centre: "Clifftop View".

Catching Up

As "GS practitioners", we "always" have some GS Diary entries to share with the group.

Notions of Sanity - Unsanity

General Semantics - a "Therapeutic Discipline"?

We agreed that the body of GS formulations comprises a powerful therapeutic resource, but that we, as practitioners and advocates of the discipline must not purport to offer therapeutic services. People wanting to share their thoughts, experiences and insights are welcome in our group, but must take responsibility for their own actions and personal development.

Clarifying: Personality Disorders

We considered these at some length, trying to identify clinically-significant behaviours as opposed to the "everyday silliness" that afflicts most of us from time to time, and as opposed to real "unsanity" and "insanity" issues.

Personality disorders are a class of personality types and enduring behaviors associated with
significant distress or disability, which appear to deviate from social expectations particularly
in relating to others.

Typically associated with substantial disturbances in some behavioral tendencies of an
individual, usually involving several areas of the personality, and are nearly always associated
with considerable personal and social disruption. They can be classified thus:

Cluster A (odd or eccentric disorders)
  * Paranoid personality disorder: irrational suspicions and mistrust of others.
  * Schizoid personality disorder: lack of interest in social relationships,
  * Schizotypal personality disorder: odd behavior or thinking.

Cluster B (dramatic, emotional or erratic disorders)
  *  Antisocial personality disorder: a pervasive disregard for rights of others,
  *  Borderline personality disorder: extreme "black and white" thinking,
      instability in relationships, self-image, identity and behavior often leading to self-harm
      and impulsivity. This is diagnosed in three times as many females as males.
  *  Histrionic personality disorder: pervasive attention-seeking behavior including
      inappropriately seductive behavior and shallow or exaggerated emotions.
  *  Narcissistic personality disorder: a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration,
     and a lack of empathy. Characterized by self-importance, preoccupations with fantasies,
     belief that they are special, including a sense of entitlement and a need for excessive
     admiration, and extreme levels of jealousy and arrogance.

Cluster C (anxious or fearful disorders)
  * Avoidant personality disorder: social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, extreme sensitivity
    to negative evaluation and avoidance of social interaction.
  * Dependent personality disorder: pervasive psychological dependence on other people.
  * Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: rigid conformity to rules, moral codes and
     excessive orderliness.

Depressive and Passive-Agressive
  * Depressive personality disorder –
         a pervasive pattern of depressive cognitions and behaviours beginning early adulthood.
  * Passive-aggressive (negativistic) personality disorder –
         a pattern of negative attitudes and passive resistance in interpersonal situations.

Specific approaches
• Individual psychotherapy has been a mainstay of treatment: Long- and short-term.
• Family therapy, including couples therapy.
• Group therapy for personality dysfunction is probably the second most used.
• Psychological-education may be used as an addition.
• Self-help groups may provide resources for personality disorders.
• Psychiatric medications for treating symptoms of personality dysfunction.
• Milieu therapy, a kind of group-based residential approach, has a history of use in treating
  personality disorders, including therapeutic communities.

The management and treatment of personality disorders can be a challenging and
controversial area, for by definition the difficulties have been enduring and affect multiple
areas of functioning: This often involves interpersonal issues, and there can be difficulties in
seeking and obtaining help from organizations in the first place, as well as with establishing
and maintaining a specific therapeutic relationship.

On the one hand, an individual may not consider themselves to have a mental health problem, while on the other, community mental health services may view individuals with personality disorders as too complex or difficult, and may directly or indirectly exclude individuals with such diagnoses or associated
behaviours.  Apart from all these issues, an individual may not consider their personality to be disordered or the cause of problems: While this perspective may be caused by the patient's lack of insight into their own condition preventing them from experiencing it as being in conflict with their goals and self-image (it may therefore be termed ego-syntonic, it is also recognized that there is not in fact a distinct or objective boundary between 'normal' and 'abnormal' personalities. Frustratingly, there is substantial social stigma and discrimination related to being diagnosed.

The term 'personality disorder' encompasses a wide range of issues, each with different a level
of severity or disability; thus, personality disorders can require fundamentally different approaches and understandings. At one extreme lie self-harm and self-neglect, while at another extreme some individuals may commit violence and crime. There can be other factors such as problematic substance use or dependency or behavioral addictions.

One end of the Spectrum: "Insanity"

Insanity, craziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviours characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of social norms, including a person becoming a danger to themselves or others, though not all such acts are considered insanity. In modern usage insanity is most commonly encountered as an informal unscientific term denoting mental instability, or in the narrow legal context of the insanity defence. In the medical profession the term is now avoided in favor of diagnoses of specific mental disorders; the presence of delusions or hallucinations is broadly referred to as psychosis. Mental illnesses are generally described as psychopathology.

A more informal use of the term insanity is to denote something considered highly unique, passionate or extreme, including in a positive sense. A notable example has been the use of the phrase 'insanely great' in the launch of the Apple Macintosh, subsequently also used to describe one of its developers. The term may also be used as an attempt to discredit particular ideas or their proponents, such as in politics.  This s just another example of a multiordinal word - it has multiple meanings.


We considered the story of William Hogarth's set of paintings "A Rake's Progress", literally depicting inmates at Bedlam Asylum in the 18th century, and how the story of the young man's decline is applicable to our own time (2012).


The life and times of Vincent van Gogh was considered - his short, tragic but creative life with a far-reaching influence on 20th Century life.  Some contemporary concerns leading on from this were the old chestnut of "Nature versus Nurture", and the evils of modern society.  This lead onto our ...

Special Feature:

Shauna Winram's play:
            "Van Gogh's Boots: A Guided Tour through Psychosis"

We watched and considered a DVD recording of Shauna's play written in 1997 and produced by Van Gogh's Cobblers in 1998 and 1999. The play was shown at various festivals in Sydney, Newcastle and Melbourne, as well as featuring at numerous mental health conferences.

It depicts Shauna's first psychotic episode in 1991 and involves two performers (Shauna Winram and Catherine Stuart) who give an inside account of how a simple trip from Tasmania to Sydney can turn into quite a spectacular ride when it becomes a quest whose ultimate outcome could be the survival of the human race itself!

Vampires, angels and the second coming all make an appearance, as our hero fights to 'stay humble' with the dawning realisation that her thoughts are what will determine the outcome of Armageddon. Van Gogh's Boots is essentially a pretty honest recounting of what it is like to go to the heart of madness. It is the tale of a twenty one year old in search of her natural mother, and her tribe, and shows how madness can perhaps hold its own truths, even while it  distorts reality in unpredictable, disturbing, (yet somehow fascinating) ways.

"Van Gogh's Boots" was directed by James Manser. The Sydney Jung Society worked through this performance when it featured at the 1998 Newtown Festival.

Shauna Winram, a friend of Robert and Jeanne in Canberra, has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a Masters of Analytical Psychology degree and is currently studying psychology at the ANU. She spent many years making art, and continues to write when she finds she can no longer avoid it.

We considered some GS formulations in relation to Shauna's remarkable depiction of this experience.  In particular, we observed issues of identification, where matters of everyday experience were confused with high-order abstractions, and reality with fantasy.  We thank Shauna for her generous sharing of this intense personal journey with us.


Where most of us are sometimes: "Unsanity"!

Why do we say this?  What constitutes Korzybski's notion of "unsanity" in our own lives ... ?

Several personal case studies were considered.

Remember some issues from David Hewson's seminar last month ...

  1. Either/Or – Black and white thinking
  2. Filtering
  3. Fact-inference confusions:
    a. Emotional reasoning,
    b. Fortune telling,
    c. Mind reading,
    d. Personalising.

Where we'd like to be: "Sanity"

Does this imply "perfection" or "absolute rationality"?

How did Alfred Korzybski's work advance "The Manhood of Humanity" and promote "sanity"? ...

Questions we still did not quite resolve ...

*** * ***

Next Meeting:

June Sun 17
" Viewpoints"
We will consider the many types of viewpoint,
and how they relate to GS formulations,
how this formulation can be used to reduce disagreement, etc.
We may view some of Milton's 2002 seminar on DVD.

To be led by David Hewson.
10:30am - 4:30pm at Bonnet Bay, Sydney, Australia




(Updated 27/05/2012)

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