Drawing by Sydney Cash 1972
“Self” is the consummate même for our time. From the moment we acquire language and first utter the word”I”, we are haunted by the private, insidious question, “Who am I.”
Psychologists have been delimiting the meaning of self since that field of endeavor announced itself, a hundred and thirty years ago. In 1890 William James, one of the first self-designated psychologists, published “The Principles of Psychology.” He opens with this statement: “The Empirical Self of each of us is all that he is tempted to call by the name of me.”
In my first contact with schizophrenia, as a medical student, I discovered how slippery that sense of self could be. I learned to identify such slipperiness as depersonalization or identity diffusion. Interesting as academic concepts, but to those suffering that instability of self is like being on a ship tossing furiously in an unremitting storm.