Tuesday, June 27, 2017

THE EGO STRUCTURE IN THE HINDU JOINT FAMILY

The observations on the ego structure or personality characteristics which I present here have been forced on me both in the field of psychiatric practice as well as of social and administrative interactions in general. They may have no more validity than some of the early psychoanalytic formulations. Planned, prolonged research work is essential to refute or substantiate these statements. But, it is one aspect of the culture I belong to, that it is not considered essential for any particular scientist to be at any particular post for any foreseeable length of time in order to implement certain tasks, nor has indispensability and essentiality any value as applied to a person or a work. All I can say is that my work and nerves suffered before I made a conscious dissection of my experiences. Both have been better after I understood certain elements of our  personality structure.

The following are some of the important items of background in which in individual develops in the Hindu joint family. 

a. Exposure to social relationships is spread over a number of persons - grandparents, uncles, aunts, parents, sibs, etc. The parents do not have the explicit and implicit privilege of being the sole agents for structuring social relationships and regulations for the child.

b. As the individual grows up he or she progresses through an unending series of dependency relationships with a large kinship circle although with varying degrees of intensity and duration. There is no point of time at which one can look forward to relatively free and full independent individual responsibility. 

c. Marriage does not connote a landmark to the development of a fully independent unit. It marks the beginning of a new set of relationships - the recurring decimal of dependency relationships.

d. The everlasting and ever recurring dependency relationships are governed by concepts of inhered status. A relatively rigid status concept is divorced from the concept of role.
This dissociation between status and role runs through the whole social fabric. A status is sought after because of its inherent advantages rather than because of one’s fitness to play the corresponding role. A person might like to send his son to the medical college because of the status attached to it rather than because of the son's essential fitness for it. An attendant will not sweep and a sweeper will not attend. There is little incentive to play more than one role, thus considerably limiting total energy output.

e. A people evolve a philosophy and a philosophy conditions the people. A child in the family is inevitably, if never persistently or systematically, exposed to certain concepts about life, existence, death, etc. Very rarely is a child excluded from participation in the full social life of the family - discussions, quarrels, compromises. A very deceptive permissiveness in the manner and method of exposure covers up the tenacity with which these concepts influence a person from birth to death, especially in moments of crises. The Gita and Ramayana display the ideal. Pseudosophisticated denials of allegiance to this ideal or the concepts they illustrate, especially by certain intellectuals in their contact with Western colleagues, does not alter this point of reference from the lowest to the highest in the land: Concepts of Dharma, Maya, Karma, Atma or Soul, God. Rebirth and the great legends of Ramayana and Mahabharata have great relevance to understanding of the Hindu personality - much more so than is the understanding of Greek Mythology or the Bible for assessing the British patient. 

f. Sex differences operate within the above concepts. As of old, so today, a variety of attitudes is possible and prevalent. It can produce a Prime Minister or an extremely docile, tyrannised servant of the joint family.

This background has a bearing on the personality characteristics that develop therein. The description requires clarification of the orientation, the point of view from which the description is being made, since all description is comparative. The description here is from the point of view of characteristics that have bearing on psychotherapy and possibility of group cohesion. No more value judgement is implied. Moreover, it must be remembered that each culture produces plus characteristics and cues and minus characteristics and cues when viewed from particular points of view. In general it is also true that there will be a larger number showing the negative rather than positive features from point of view of personality maturity.

The Ego-Structure

In an earlier paragraph I had already pointed out the disadvantages of describing a personality structure in terms like the ego developed in a different set of referents. However, for the present, I shall content myself with proceeding on the existing pattern.

Ego boundaries 

I. The concept of ‘mine’, ‘not mine’ is poorly developed. In an average, large, joint family what rightly belongs to one and what does not is never clearly demarcated. Such insistence will be branded as selfishness. When this person comes out, as in hostel life and so on, two opposite trends come to the fore: very defensive hanging on to one's own self and possessions or a very liberal misuse or overuse of one's own and other’s time and property. As stated, this question of ‘mine’ - ‘not mine’ boundary applies not only to material possessions but also to the time, thoughts and emotions too. This attitude can be quite stressful for group existence where all have similar anticipations. 

Another corollary to this is that one's efforts need not be commensurate with the rewards. There is no relationship. You may earn more, but you may eat less. Those who work less and eat more are naturally more numerous. You need not work if you so choose. A detached, efficient work ungeared to the benefits from it becomes the ideal. The cultural enforces it, the philosophy supports it. If you work ten times harder then the next, then it is no special virtue.

II. Basic strength of the ego: In the joint family the child, then the adolescent is a uniquely valued one. The child is rarely exposed to the need to wait for anything or to stand any frustration for any length of time. Any educative frustration attempted by one member of the family is soon mollified by the protective attention by another member.

Moreover, someone or other is always telling the child that it is the best - if not really the best, then the neighbour’s children are not so good either.

In later life this leads to:


a) Inability to wait for any length of time without becoming anxious and irritable. Personal time flies fast, social time is eternal.
b) The ego requires constant external supply of esteem for its stability. If no one has the time or patience to say that he is a good lad, why then, he himself has to proclaim it. Friends, events etc., exist and are valued only to the extent they supply the almost insatiable narcissistic needs. Deep, durable friendships become difficult and threatening especially outside the family in-group. Measurement of others according to some criteria or other, and finding the others deficient to some extent becomes a satisfaction. If left alone for any length of time without external approval, some degree of anxiety is bound to develop. Infinite patience and absolute indifference to praise or blame, then become the ideal and a few represent this note.

III. The readiness to assume individual responsibility for anything at all is not well developed. 

IV. Dependency anticipations have been already referred to. From psychotherapeutic point of view this has great relevance. In the West (UK, USA) the goal of maturity is an independent existence. There, unacceptable and unrecognised dependency longings become the focus of psychopathology, and psychotherapy attempts to resolve these dependency needs in a manner satisfying the requirements of a culture that idealises individual independence. In the Hindu (Indian) environment the ideal of maturity is satisfying continuous dependency relationships. Independency longings can cause neurotic anxiety. The goal of psychotherapy becomes the resolution of these independency strivings in a manner that satisfies the requirements of a culture that idealises individual submergence in complex interdependence.

In the use of the word ‘dependency’ relationship we can already discern the language distortion and interpretation distortion I spoke of. A Western value judgement is unwittingly thrust on the people. There is no real equivalent word conveying the same value judgement. One speaks of ‘Bandha’; ‘Sambandha’; ‘Bandhavya' - bond, bondship, kinship etc., not of dependency. It would be hazardous to import this word dependency into the Indian psychotherapeutic scene.

If an Indian asks you for a scholarship or a favour on short acquaintance, and sometimes even with angry insistence, he does not recognise dependency. He is only expressing his anticipations of closeness, bondship. One can reject the claim but one will be misreading the action if the word dependency is used. This is more than a mere nuance - it could make all the difference to psychotherapy or even social and administrative relationships as between Indians themselves.

The word dependency is not palatable. Dr Doi rightly pointed out that as opposed to the Japanese the Indian does not respect and acknowledge dependency and idolises independency. Dr E. Hoch pointed to the Indian ideal of health Swastha - as standing on one’s own feet. Dr Doi feels that this is the common heritage of Indo-European culture as opposed to the Polynesian culture where dependency is openly acknowledged.

V. The constant interdependency environment also produces a great need for company. To be left alone for any length of time becomes stressful. Neighbours are required even if it is only to argue with. This intense need for people is such that it constricts other perceptions. For instance, solitary immersion in the beauties of nature or the study of local fauna or flora, bird watching are not a popular pastime. The relationships with persons become more important than the objective for which the whole group is formed. For a medical student the observation of patient’s colour, temperature and pupil are important but relatively less then what the supposed attitudes of the Professor are to himself as the student. This also results in the frequency with which unsupervised work gets neglected.

This intense personal involvement is offset by a most exaggerated public denial of all personal involvement in any work. Thus selection even to the most important executive posts in the country is conducted by Committees, one of  the basic qualifications of the Committee being that all its members must forswear all personal knowledge of the candidate they are selecting for a particular post. One would adopt a completely different approach if one were appointing one's own cook or mason.

In psychotherapy the therapist must be constantly alive to all this and bring to the fore the positive, constructive aspects of the relationships.

VI. The role of culturally idealised concepts cannot be underestimated except at the peril of superficial generalisations regarding the Indian or that the Hindu no more follows the Gita than the Englishman does the Bible. It is not a question of following the Gita or the Ramayana but of the concepts they clarify and ego ideals and lapses they portray and the identifications they produce in the Hindu mind. The gentleman in the saville-row suit, whose daughter does the twist, and who does not believe in stupid Hindu fatalism (we Hindus are superstitious!) especially in a club frequented by foreigners will be consulting the astrologers about his next promotion. Especially a crisis brings this to the fore. The very emancipated young woman runs back to her mother for protection of her unwanted and unforeseen troubles. This conceptual framework, and the identifying figures are constantly kept alive in the popular mind and the Indian psychiatrist who neglects this aspect can but touch a fraction of the problem that faces him.

Briefly these concepts are:

a) Dharma: A man is said to be good and mature if he acts according to a set, objective code. Acting according to one's conscience is a Western notion. The word Atma has nothing much to do with conscience in the Western sense. “My whole conscience tells me this is wrong but I must do this as this is my Dharma”. Dharma also implies appropriateness of action according to Kala (Time), Desa (Place), Patra (person and fitness)

b) Karma: This refers to propulsions derived from a previous birth to the effects of present deeds and attractions of the future. Fatalism is not equivalent to Karma.

c) Maya: this refers to the illusion of real knowledge of the universe and its causes whereas we are heavily limited by our sensory system. The concept of reality so readily taken for granted by the Western psychiatrist and patient in the setting of their culture cannot be forced on the Hindu scene.

d) Relative independence of the various personality functions is assumed. The various sensory modalities emotional conative cognitive, and added to this the spiritual dimension of personality are granted some independance. Integration of personality functions is the Western aim. But some degree of dissociation and ideally a detachment of the higher from the lower functions is the ideal. One can speak of ‘My body is suffering. I can only watch - I do not mind. My eyes weep but I am helpless’. The witness function of the Ego - emphasised by Hindu thought is an important step in psychotherapy. One is encouraged to be first a nonparticipant ‘witness’ of one's own reactions, before corrections can occur.

The body-mind, psychosomatic correlations are taken for granted far too much I should say despite gross experiences to the contrary. I do not think that the state of experimental evidence has come to a pitch where other conceptual models can be outlawed as heresy.

e. The explicit and implicit acceptance of higher consciousness or powers other than the human and the capacity of the individual to be in contact with and guided by them is another point. The all-embracing psychological and psychophysiological explanations of the Western psychiatrist which have acquired authenticity and respectability in a certain historic setting are not taken as axiomatic by the Hindu except as a polite formality. 

A young engineering student, a patient of mine, son of a very able and modern surgeon developed very schizophreniform symptoms. He used to worship in the temple of a Snake-God, who also represented the chieftain of Divine Armies. One of his symptoms was a hallucination of a snake rising out of a corner in the room. He was sure that it was a sign of the God’s anger. I suggested that perhaps this God was there to protect him and show his favour and would go away when the need was over. I merely took the other aspect of his own statement. Anyway, this boy who was ill for 3 to 4 years has gone back to his studies and is doing well. When I mentioned this example, a psychoanalytically trained Indian Psychiatrist said that the thing was a hallucinatory projection of an undesirable symbol arising out of original anxiety etc. This he thought would be giving a scientific angle and my explanation was supporting superstition. It can be seen, I merely avoided replacing one so-called delusion by another so-called scientific explanation.

f. The most successful of our people have consciously adopted these concepts and texts and had the most massive impact on our people and students of mental health cannot avoid responsibility for a close study of cues that have a high motivational and operational value for our people. Mr Gandhi’s example can be given. When our political scene was rich with brilliant economists, constitution makers and so on groomed in the West, results were very sterile and arid. Gandhi with his instinctive, direct and sincere understanding and practice of the positive cues and codes of our own culture introduced a massive motivational dynamism unprecedented our later day history.

Needless to say that these concepts operate at different levels for different people. In fact the Gita lays heavy emphasis on constitutional differences. In the vast majority of the less mature people these concepts act as powerful cushions against anxiety in critical times, in the more mature they have led to amazingly successful contributions to the development of highly creative individuals.

g. The ego-ideal - the successful leader qualities derive from these family constellations and these concepts. A successful leader has to have the characteristics of the successful joint family elder. Since, in and out of the family, anticipations and habits formed in the joint family continue to operate at all levels of life in the country, leadership qualities too have to be studied from this angle. I might say that Western Experts and Advisors get quite perplexed when monetary rewards do not seem always to produce a better result. Their anticipations and expectations are very different. Complaints, often justifiable, of some Indian Scientists that they are not well paid do not always correspond to facts - good pay in India does not necessarily attract a good man or produce a better result. The joint family does not produce a work-reward correlation. The most efficient and respected leader with the most powerful influence in a group is the very detached person immune to praise or blame, with readiness to forgive and accept and even protect all default and who can forge ahead with others like-minded. The hard worker who seeks proportionate reward faces frustration till he learns the lesson. The defaulter looks surprised if anyone suggests he does not belong to the bandwagon. Whenever a venture is succeeding you can look for these qualities and you can confidently seek the source in the concepts mentioned and in the very necessary background of our people, their anticipations and thoughts. Ours is a complex civilization. Mere cataloguing of the numerous characteristics of our people from trait questionnaires drawn up in the West will give a very contradictory and distorted picture. The Kiplingesque, importunate, docile, dependent, untrustworthy Indian and the firm, gentle but stern and unflinching Gandhian Indian are two facets of the same coin. At the same time very close studies are needed both for psychotherapeutic purposes as well as for the understanding of group dynamics in India in the present era of technologic and other cooperative ventures between different cultures. Work is being done - its systematisation requires very close cross-cultural work.

Before closing this paper I must clearly state that all this has reference only to what might be considered as cultural determinants of personality and illness. It does not deny but merely complements our understanding of other more universal determinants like physiological mechanism of anxiety, response to tranquilisers and so on. When one speaks of Western and Eastern it would be naive to ignore the common biological heritage of humanity.

From the standpoint of statistically minded scientific discussions this is a very unsatisfactory paper. Even as an impressionistic document this does not convey much coherent thought as could extended description of individual cases and concepts.

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