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Articles    H4'ed 10/14/09

Paradigm Assessment Schemata

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Andras Angyal, a little known theorist but one that Maslow thought was brilliant, presented a holistic psychological model for the personality. People either operate in a biopositive mode or a bionegative mode. A biopositive mode is characterized by the trend towards autonomy and the trend towards homonomy, whereas a bionegative mode is characterized by the pattern of vicarious living and the pattern of noncommitment. For an organism to survive it must manifest the trend towards autonomy and the trend towards homonomy. The trend towards autonomy consists of establishing oneself as independent, self-sufficient, self-governing, in control, secure, etc. The trend towards autonomy maintains the organism's internal integrity. The trend towards homonomy consists of seeking to become one with one's environment--be that nature, society, other individuals, God, etc. The trend towards homonomy maintains the organism's integration and successful cooperation with the other forces in its environment. Both trends are necessary for the organism to survive and function successfully. A common misconception is that homonomy and autonomy exist on opposite sides of a spectrum--that the increase in one necessitates a decrease in the other. This is not the case. While they can be trends that compete for attention--like the desire to eat and the desire for sex--they are not mutually exclusive. The success of one bodes well for the other. You can have a lot of both--and ideally you would have a lot of both--or you can have little of either--as would be detrimental for an organism.

Under certain conditions, however, these systems can impugn upon one another and give rise to a bionegative mode of operating in the world. The bionegative system exhibits two patterns--the pattern of noncommitment and the pattern of vicarious living. The pattern of noncommitment arises as a result of the individual having an inconsistent/difficult environment from which rational and successful adaptations are not easily formed. The individual does not trust the world because the world has not proven itself trustworthy in the individual's experience. Such individuals focus on the existential issue of good and evil--because the world is threatening. Actions become ritualistic and thoughts become dogmatic--trying to maintain control in a world of chaos. The main neurosis associated with this pattern is obsessive compulsive disorder.

The pattern of vicarious living arises as a result of the individual feeling rejected and that its true self is unacceptable. The individual thus creates a false, social self that is acceptable but feels unfulfilled because no one really knows/loves the real self and it is not seeking its true joy in life. Such individuals focus on the existential issue of life and death--because they have killed their real selves. The main neurosis associated with this pattern is hysteria. We all have both--it is merely a matter of degree. We would only consider individuals with very high examples of one of these, to the point that it impairs functioning significantly, to have an antisocial or mental problem.

Angyal seems to think that the two systems are different and that the individual alternates between them--but it seems obvious to me that the latter bionegative system is explainable as a functioning, or misfunctioning, of the biopositive system. The pattern of noncommitment is the result of the trend towards autonomy being overemphasized and overpowering the trend towards homonomy--the individual is obsessed with protecting itself because it does not feel safe and thus remains guarded, constricted, and at times hostile. The pattern of vicarious living is the result of the trend towards homonomy being overemphasized and overpowering the trend towards autonomy--the individual is obsessed with being accepted by others because it does not feel loved and thus sacrifices its own internal integrity to please others. The problem with both patterns is that, while they are to some degree rational adaptations, they ultimately do not provide the individuals with true happiness or give them what they really want. The noncommitting individual does not achieve autonomy but instead stagnates and becomes weaker as a result of not being able to live in harmony with its environment, and the vicarious individual is never really loved or accepted for who it is as a result of hiding its true identity away--the exposure of which is a source of much dread.

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From this we can create a schemata that can then be used to assess any given worldview or paradigm by where it falls on an axis between homonomy vs. noncommitment and an axis between autonomy vs. vicarious living. The homonomy/noncommitment axis can be used to assess epistemology--whereas a biopositive epistemology is pragmatic (reason based) and develops principles to fit evidence, a bionegative epistemology is dogmatic (faith based) and organizes evidence to fit principles. The autonomy/vicarious living axis can be used to assess ethics--whereas a biopositive ethics is idealistic (romantic) and affirms life, self, sex, pleasure, the body, the world, the mind, the spirit, power, etc, a bionegative ethics is nihilistic (fatalistic) and masochistically renounces these things. In a sense, the bionegative system seems to set ideals through reality (superego) rather than phantasy (id) (thus confusing facticity for transcendence--facts for values--sensation for impulse--the significant/contextual for the fundamental/purposeful) and to interpret the world through phantasy (id) rather than reality (superego) (thus confusing transcendence for facticity--values for facts--impulse for sensation--the fundamental/purposeful for the significant/contextual).

I co-authored a paper on the use of Angyal's holistic model to create a typology of personality disorders:

ANGYAL, A. (1965) Neurosis and treatment. New York: Wiley.

LESTER, D. (1995) Theories of personality. Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis.

If you identify with the message of this article, please email it to people, tell your friends, even print out copies to pass around. Together we can raise awareness. Thank you.
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Ben Dench graduated valedictorian of his class from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in the Spring Semester of 2007 with a B.A. in philosophy (his graduation speech, which received high praise, is available on YouTube). He is currently (more...)
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