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Shared psychotic disorder
Mass illusion of absolute attachment to a cause

September 6, 2002
The Iranian

It has been an apparent phenomenon that when an individual is incorporated into "Mass Unconsciousness", he/she descends to loss of personal awareness and yields to conformities of the collective mind.

This phenomenon is evident in mass movements all around the world such as revolutions, religious rituals, or spiritual followings. What we share psychically (on subconscious level) is a vast sea of archaic information as studied and demonstrated by C.G. Jung, the renowned Swiss psychiatrist.

The human mind has a reservoir of collective references in an image form called "Archetype". During his lifetime, Jung found that almost all these archetypes were shared amongst all humans from various race, ethnicity, culture, and social status.

One could define archetype as a primordial image representative of a mythological figure, which can frequently conjure up in dreams revealing hidden feelings, desires, values, and sometimes events. A few examples of archetypes are: mother, virgin, trickster, shadow (Syzgy), Mandela, angel, divinity, devil, serpent, and many alchemical symbols discussed in Jungian and analytical psychology.

When a powerful archetype such as a "leader", "master", or "guru" or any such authoritative figure presents himself to us, we are usually subdued by his exceedingly compelling presence. This particular archetype hits a chord deeply indented within us.

To refrain from simplistic or rather awkward phrasing, I must say that a mechanism of self-projection starts to manifest itself. Our prolonged or existential hope to be redeemed by a sublime savior who seems to cast an invincible and eternal will power awakens.

The range of such attractions is from a mere attachment to fatal fanaticisms, which normally comprise homicides, genocides, and mass or para suicides. The risk of seeking the "path" outside of oneself is to be averted from awareness and misled into all sorts of psychologically conniving and insane situations, which are usually justified to be of a superior value or cause.

It is astonishing how destructive and atrocious the collective mind-power can be in terms of its historical evidence such as the Nazi movement, current Middle-East drama, or the Armenian massacre by the Ottomans.

One can elaborate on the charisma or hypnotic qualities of a mass leader/master, but the equation is not complete until the mentality and idiosyncrasy of the mass has been exposed to profound analysis. What indeed lies in the mass unconscious, which can transform itself into a docile slave of a master whose ways maybe inhumane or plain cruel and barbaric? What is this latent or dormant inclination within us to commit unimaginable acts of revenge, punishment, and destruction?

If indeed Hitler was a "demonic" archetype or the devil himself, we may subsequently assume that there is a potent diabolical archetype lurking inside each of our souls sustaining itself on deceit, manipulation, pretense, and pathological denial. Once there is a trigger, this confined beast is awakened to devour anything that comes its direction.

The counter-archetype to "Evil" would be the "Divine" which also symbolically inhabits the unconscious and can be the most potent and intrinsically dangerous archetype of all. This is so due to the boundless interpretations, illusions, misrepresentations, and fraudulent masks associated with such an existentially significant symbol.

One is rather culturally and spiritually predisposed to the influences of this primordial emblem named "Creator", and therefore apt to get fascinated by someone who claims to have almost all the answers. The truth is that a holy man often gets to commit the most horrific crimes due to his credulous reputation and high religious standing as regarded by the masses.

Believers and followers through a variety of pretexts and excuses that exempt the master from moral responsibility and usual repercussion of his acts, frequently rationalize such crimes.

There is an old mythical anecdote about a meeting between Kiser and Moses in which the latter learns of moral exemptions of Kiser due to his being a prophet and, subsequently, convincing actions. In this little anecdote, Kiser murders and destroys property but is justified within his deeds according to his predictions. He excuses his baffling behavior by rationalizing his motives in murder and destruction.

Actually the moral of the story is to abstain from pre-judging a master's actions based on insufficient "mystical" knowledge. Moses still being a mortal man is not allowed to question Kiser who is an immortal prophet. Indubitably, this is the attitude in many modern day disciple-master relations.

You may not question a master's action because you, as a disciple, lack sufficient insight while he possesses an unsurpassable clairvoyance as the "enlightened". Queries seem to be prohibited in a mass belief system; one has to obediently succumb to an absolute dogma of "faith". Hence, one is always robbed off of direct personal experience and attainment of empirical validity by acting on commands. One has to spontaneously jump into "it" without assessing the depth and consequences of such a plunge. Thus a follower always misses the stop signs or checkpoints of self-evaluation.

This mass illusion of absolute attachment to a cause is a neurosis in and of itself, since all other personal aspirations or beliefs take second place compared to a collective will. Historically, mass movements can be attributed to a primitive, undifferentiated, or uneducated collective mentality. In all such movements, there is a binding subservience and submissiveness; the infrastructure is always disposed at the impulse of its superior layers.

What is quite intriguing is the follower's immutable conviction for carrying out his subordinate's neurotic directives and whims such as the case of Nazis, David Korosh's cult, the AUM movement, the Solar Temple, and some modern day spiritual sects that are highly controversial in this aspect. The underlying factor for such spiritual and moral bondage to a neurotic and maladaptive psyche is our own self-projections on issues of power and authority, achievement, self-attainment, superiority, and self-righteousness, which are seemingly mastered by another.

Such projections are so severe on an archetypal level that in most cases separating or drawing the truth from an amalgam of illusions can almost prove impossible. The master's disorder in most cases is "megalomania" or extreme and delusional "self-aggrandizement" while the disciple or follower's projected or shared disorder is "self-abasement" and "inferiority" being the flip side of the same coin.

Shared psychotic disorder or "Folie à Deux" is a diagnosed psychological disorder that implies a psychosis essentially superimposed by delusions onto a previously healthy person, who now shares them. This disorder is usually shared between two persons living closely with each other; sometimes this phenomenon affects a whole family. In mass movements there are always various charges of emotion; there is guilt, shame, fear, insecurity, and grandiosity to name a few.

This is exactly why in today's psychology there is extreme overemphasis on individuation and self-integration as the ultimate aim. Individuation helps make the invisible traps and snares more perceptible to the eye; it gives them tangibility and offers us the confidence to bypass what is hazardous to our psyche. The crux of the secret maybe that one should become liberated from seeking titles such as "disciple" or "master"; one should be courageous enough to cast aside the desire to be recognized. Only then may true learning begin.

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By Leila Farjami

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