Resilience, Revenge & Reality:
Examining the Story “Over and Over”

by James L. Knoll, IV, M.D.*

To Whomever finds this note..The story of this movement, this action, must be examined over and over.

-Unsigned note, attributed to Richard Tropp,
left at Jonestown, November 18, 1978

Introduction

Child at tableI am once again honored to be asked to submit a manuscript to the journal, this one with the goal of touching upon a few personal reflections and lessons learned from my study of the Jonestown
tragedy. I say “a few” because there are so many things to learn here, that time and space must necessarily set limitations on me. In an earlier article, I explained that my fascination with Jonestown grew out of my childhood, and specifically after seeing it detailed in Time magazine as an impressionable young boy.[1] As an adult who has become a forensic psychiatrist, it has been a strange return to the beginning for me, as I have taken another look through my adult eyes. Here I present to you just three general topics which come to mind after reconsidering Jonestown some 31 years later.

Please forgive some of the digressive philosophical/psychological ramblings if they seem to go too far afield; it is just my custom and annoying habit to continually step back and view things at the “meta” level. In addition and as usual, I apologize if any of my comments offend – I take the blame, but offense was never my intent. In sum, I am simply grateful to be able to have met many beautiful Jonestown affiliated people, and to be able to express myself in writing here.

Resilience


Barn’s burnt down –
Now
I can see the moon.

– Masahide (c. 1688 Samurai)[2]

In forensic psychiatry, one is heavily exposed to the more traumatic and tragic aspects of the human condition, particularly when working on criminal cases. Very often, the deed has been done, the tragic has unfolded, and there is no turning back. One is left only to perform a retrospective analysis of how it could have happened. On rare occasions, one might have a chance to witness a fellow human being demonstrate amazing resilience, and thereby achieve a triumph of the human spirit. In this sense, a triumph of the human spirit is less about external outcomes, and more about an internal experience. In terms of mental health, resilienceis the capacity to cope with stress, trauma and tragedy. In other words, to be resilient is to bend rather than break – and to be made somehow stronger and more flexible by the process. This sentiment was put most clearly over 2,500 years ago by Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching: “The hard and inflexible are friends of death. The soft and yielding are friends of life.”[3]

Because of psychiatry’s necessary focus on the psychopathology and symptoms of trauma, it has been only recently that phenomena such as resilience have been studied. In the past, resilience was largely thought to occur only rarely, yet more recent research suggests that it is actually a common reaction among healthy adults exposed to serious trauma. Such resilience has been associated with an enduring capacity for positive emotion and generative experiences. Interestingly, there does not appear to be a single “resilient type” of person. Instead, there are likely multiple and unexpected ways for survivors to be resilient.[4] Indeed, resilient coping appears to be multifaceted, relying on many variables such as personality, affect regulation, coping, ego defenses,and various other protective factors.[5] Each of us relies on our own individual strengths and innate proclivities to bounce back from a traumatic experience.

The field of traumatology has grown rapidly as a result of large-scale tragedies over the last decade. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression were frequently observed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.[6] Yet, the research on resilience following the 9-11 attacks remains relatively sparse. Available research does suggest that resilience may be more prevalent than previously believed. In a study examining the prevalence of resilience (defined as having either no PTSD symptoms or one symptom) among 2,752 New York area residents during the six months following the 9-11 terrorist attack, resilience was observed in over half (65.1%) of subjects.[7]

How do resilient people adapt and/or change their worldview to cope? The early research seems to suggest that after a major trauma, people’s belief systems are impacted and may be modified. For example, they may experience changes to their view of the world “as they knew it,” their views on humannature, spirituality, and their own identity. Certainly, a grief and recovery process is a necessity, but many will still need to assimilate or accommodate new values.[8] In essence, it appears as though the resilient survivor copes, in part, by developing new valuesand beliefs in order to achieve an emotional equipoise. Resilient persons may also find a way to turn the trauma into a “psychic reorganizer,” whereby the trauma becomes the stimulus and opportunity for positivechange.

November 18, 2008 was the 30-year anniversary of the Jonestown tragedy which occurred deep in the jungle of Guyana. After California Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown on a “fact-finding mission,” a volatile situation that had been building finally exploded. Ryan, three journalists and more than 900 Jonestown residents were dead at the end of the day.[9] The Jonestown tragedy has become woven into the fabric of our culture, and many misunderstandings and inaccuracies have become part of the tapestry. Perhaps the most visible parts of the tapestry are the cultural icons of “drinking the Kool Aid,” and the frightening charisma of Jim Jones. In reality, Jonestown was not a mass suicide, but is more accurately described as a mass murder, followed by the suicides of Jim Jones and a few of his inner circle administrators. The Jonestown mass murder-suicide was the result of a complex constellation of historical, cultural, and psychological factors that continue to haunt and perplex.[10]

Another myth about Jonestown was that everyone there was a “brainwashed” cult member who had no will of his or her own. In reality, there were “a variety of reasons why people had joined Peoples Temple. For some, it was a political statement; Jones offered the promise of a socialist society free of materialism and racism at a time when such a society was particularly attractive. For others, the Temple offered religion, structure, and discipline – a way to escape the violence of the ghetto and the dead end of alcohol and drugs.”[11]

Tim Carter joined Peoples Temple in 1973. After surviving combat as a marine in the Vietnam War, he returned to America in search of greater meaning. He was driven by an internal need to become a part of something positive and greater than himself: “We shared a passionate idealism to make the world a better place. We were a reflection of the economic and political and cultural realities and dynamics of the Civil Rights and Vietnam War generation.”[12]

In 2007, Mr. Carter graciously spent time with me to help me get a better understanding of the Jonestown tragedy. He provided a true insider’s view, rich with contextual detail and heartbreaking tragedy. He gave a gripping and enlightening talk on a panel we did together at the 38th annual meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.[13] The presentation was extremely well received, and Mr. Carter was directly responsible for this. After meeting Mr. Carter, it became apparent to me that he was a supreme example of resilience and triumph of human spirit. After all, here was a man who had survived deadly combat as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam – more of a survival accomplishment than most of us encounter in our entire lives – and then ends up surviving the unbelievable Jonestown tragedy. I asked him to help me and other readers better understand how he was able to bounce back from a lifetime of trauma that would seem to have crushed many of us. What Mr. Carter told me will hopefully be the main subject of another article; however, for now please let it suffice for me to say that I found him to have an abundance of positive coping skills. Among them were an emotional openness (once you earned his trust), intelligence, a certain spiritual groundedness and a great sense of humor (very key). I found him to have a zest for life, and a generally positive disposition.

Mr. Carter allowed two colleagues and me at our forensic conference to ask him endless questions that were on our minds. He was gracious, poised and intelligent in his answers to us. He easily opened his mind to our feedback and hypotheses. We probably kept him talking a bit too long (and by a bit, I mean way too long), but I hope I was able to make up for this when he joined my forensic faculty dinner that evening-another memorable experience. I felt as though I was talking with an old friend – he was that nice a person. One of my forensic fellows (trainees) happened to have been born and raised in Guyana. It was fascinating to hear them speak about the country, and particularly the native Guyanese people’s initial and long-term reactions to the Jonestown tragedy. It was also apparent that Mr. Carter had never stopped learning – a key coping mechanism – and was a wealth of wisdom and memorable aphorisms. I’ll share one he offered me that I often find myself quoting to others: “I’m not a big fan of ‘perfect’ people. I can’t learn very much from them.” I think of him every time I pull this one out. Since we are all essentially flawed to the core, I have plenty of opportunity to quote him.

Revenge

 “He piled upon the whale’s hump the sum of all the general rage and hate. and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.

-Herman Melville, Moby Dick[14]

So they’ll pay for this. They brought this upon us. And they’ll pay for that. I — I leave that destiny to them.

– Jim Jones
Q 042, the death tape

The theme of revenge is solidly present among the many themes and lessons of Jonestown, but may not have received the full attention it is due. Jones’ quote captured near the end of the death tape clearly reveals this. “So they’ll pay for this.” Payback – a sentiment as old (and destructive) as mankind. The desire for revenge “is a ubiquitous response to narcissistic injury.”[15] And so it should be of interest that an emotion as intense and ubiquitous as revenge has received such little study relative to other emotional drives. Both psychoanalysis[16] and forensic psychiatry have merely skimmed the psychological surface of this destructive cognition.

Yet consider how revenge “hides” in plain sight, at least in Western culture. For example, Greek mythology is “awash in revenge themes.”[17] Revenge is the central motive in at least twenty of Shakespeare’s plays, and a main theme in many of today’s Hollywood movies. The success of movies such as the Death Wish series, and more recently the Kill Bill series, speaks to the public’s fascination with, and indeed their delight in, “the sweet taste of payback.”[18] That there exists a strong, primal universality of the revenge theme hardly requires in-depth socio-anthropological study. And perhaps its readily evident nature, its conspicuousness, allows it to become more easily dismissed by psychological science. Across almost every culture, the taking of revenge, when “justified,” has assumed “the status of a sacred obligation.”[19] But in many cultures, across the centuries from before biblical times, there has always been the principle of functional symmetry in seeking redress, such as the Old Testament’s admonition of an eye for an eye. Was such a functional symmetry present in the Jonestown tragedy? Of course, I would argue that it was not. It is sometimes the case that the narcissistic injury which is utterly intolerable is “essentially nihilistic: nothing matters, all is despair.. all goodness and substance are obliterated, so that nothingness defines the domain.”[20] This is the obliterative mindset – destroy everything, embrace nothingness.

There may come a point when the vengeful individual is unable or unwilling to re-emerge from his “heroic” fantasy of ultimate revenge, with an emphasis on the concept of fantasy. As he comes closer to turning fantasy into reality, he must undergo a process in which he comes to increasingly accept that he will be sacrificing his own life, and potentially others. It may be that this obstacle is easier for him to overcome where: 1) his catastrophic thinking leads him to believe violent homicide-suicide is his only option; and 2) his nihilistic, obliterative mindset has caused him to feel that his “self” is already dead, and the death of his body is of little consequence. These dynamics have the ultimate effect of undermining his capacity for undistorted judgment, finding meaning in life, and sublimating aggression. Now he is able to override his survival instinct, and reach the point of “willingness to sacrifice one’s body.”[21] Prior to this point, his narcissistic inaccessibility led him to be imprisoned in his own revenge fantasies, which served as a faulty/failing life preserver for his drowning ego. But once he reaches the stage of genuine willingness to sacrifice himself and others, there are no further attempts to reach out to the other. Rather, the individual becomes a vortex into which all data is taken and re-configured to substantiate the grounds of the revenge fantasy. He stands as a living example that narcissism needs no exchange, but requires the other to collapse into it.

Human aggression, as an expression of revenge, may be traced back to the “fight or flight” response – the psycho-physiological link designed to enhance survival. But at this point in the stage of our evolution, affronts to our self-esteem, status, dignity or narcissism are responded to “as though they were a threat to our survival.”[22]We have maintained the physiological hard-wiring, which is available for excessive use in situations that do not involve survival of the body, but instead survival of the ego. I use the term “ego” here to represent the mind’s tendency to create the illusion that there is a “self” or identity that desires to sustain itself, seek pleasure and avoid narcissistic (ego) injury just as zealously as one would attempt to avoid harm to the physical body. This ego survival instinct becomes “sublimated into striving for an enduring sense of self which is an object of value in a field of social meanings.”[23] Thus, violent revenge may be viewed as a “fight response” to a particular “perceived threat to the sense of self,” its pursuit of pleasure and its various “immortality projects.”[24] Because the self or ego must be defined in the social-meaning field, it is the “other” on whom we depend for our highly valued identity. In individuals with vulnerable, fragile egos, conflict with the other arouses fantasies of, and sometimes actions to, dominate and/or obliterate them. The individual whose ego is damaged may harbor and nurture destructive rage that eventually transforms him into an “avenger.” Indeed, it is the frustration of the need to “preserve a solid sense of self” that is often “the source of the most fanatical human violence [as well as] the everyday anger that all of us suffer.”[25]

But this righteous anger is, in reality, a vainglorious “pseudo-power,” as it is merely a reaction to intolerable feelings of powerlessness and humiliation. Nevertheless, there comes a point in time when this pseudo-power is the only defense the avenger has left to ward off the annihilation of his sense of self (ie., his identity and self-esteem). This is why, when the potential avenger’s ego is threatened or hurt “in such a devastating way. the only thing that remains is to persist in the ‘unremitting denunciation of injustice’.”[26] For certain individuals, there is no turning back or giving up on the “crusade,” because there is a perverse “honor” in refusing to normalize the perceived injustice.[27] This is, in fact, the “hidden logic of the. avenger” (p. 83-84)[28] – to sustain a perversely heroic “refusal to compromise,” an insistence “against all odds” lest his heroic fantasy and fragile ego surrender to the reality of a “self” (or lack thereof) that he finds intolerable.[29] These concepts may help explain, on certain levels, Jones’ comment: “So they’ll pay for this. They brought this upon us. And they’ll pay for that.” He cannot turn back. Surrender, or even cooperation with authorities, is too much of a humiliation to his fragile ego. Making “them” “pay for this,” is not only a way of maintaining control, but also feeds his ego as he had transformed the event into a heroic, “revolutionary” refusal to compromise (in his fantasies).

The psychotherapy literature on revenge suggests that fantasized revenge is a familiar cognition in the daily life of humans. It is not at all uncommon for patients in psychotherapy to communicate, either consciously or unconsciously, fantasies of revenge. In the treatment of the various stress response syndromes, “clinicians may encounter intrusive and persistent thoughts of vengeance associated with feelings of rage at perpetrators.”[30] While the revenge fantasies most often have the emotional content of “hate,” and “fear,” in persons with fragile egos, fear may easily devolve into frank paranoia. Thus, the prognosis of the individual with strong revenge fantasies will always have to consider his particular ego strength, along with the usual forensic factors of social/situational stressors and appropriate risk factors. In very disturbed individuals, revenge fantasies may even include “rage at the self, leading to either suicide and/or homicide-suicide.”[31] Other research findings suggest that people, even today, generally believe in the “utility of aggression.”[32] In particular there is research evidence suggesting that strong anger can serve as an attention-focusing emotion, making it difficult to think about other things. Angry thoughts can thus be a vicious cycle; “the more people think about them the angrier they get, and the angrier they get, the harder it is to think about anything else.”[33] The psychotherapeutic challenge would seem to be the fact that rumination on revenge fantasies may prevent the individual from “engaging other strategies (e.g., trivialization) that would have allowed them to move on and think about something else.”[34]

Here we are in a position to distill and summarize some of the main purposes of an individual’s obsession for revenge:

1. The revenge fantasy helps the individual with a fragile ego obliterate an intolerable reality and aversive self-awareness. His rumination “dominates thought and impels action much as an addiction or erotomania does.”[35] The avenger could be said to have “fallen” into romantic/idealized hate. Just as Captain Ahab believed he had been “dismasted” by the whale, he reached the final stages of narcissistic inaccessibility (no one could reason with him any longer), and plunged irretrievably into a “romanticized” downward spiral of reality-destroying nihilism and death.

2. The revenge fantasy serves as a defense against feelings of shame, loss, guilt and powerlessness. The individual not only denies his powerlessness, but also goes even further, gaining “virtually limitless power. An eye for an eye soon gives way to a life for an eye.”[36]
In this way, revenge “is an attempt to restore the grandiose self (p. 605).”[37] The revenge taker, in effect, becomes God-like by maintaining “control” over lives, acting “heroically,” and demonstrating his awesomely destructive power. Yet because the taking of revenge is merely a reaction to overwhelming feelings of powerlessness and humiliation it is in reality only a “pseudo-power,” and the opposite of true inner strength.

Reality

I call on you to quit exciting your children, when all they’re doing is going to a quiet rest [Children and adults continue to scream and cry in the background].

– Jim Jones
Q 042, the death tape

Reality means you live until you die. The real truth is, nobody wants reality.

– Chuck Palahniuk

Psychotherapists can confirm that when one is in the midst of an emotional trauma, the basic human need for deliverance is often overwhelming, and may be experienced as the pull of a system of guarantees. This pull is never greater than when one has come face to face with a trauma that has threatened to dissolve those guarantees. Spinoza’s fundamental insight into emotion is the starting point which takes one to the heart of what we are as subjects: emotional beings forced by that fact to seek the emotions that will release us from the burden and suffering of other emotions. Trauma reveals that fact in a way that puts emotion on trial. We may replace one emotion after another, seeking the one that will resolve the problems of the psyche. Besides the simple root desire to avoid pain lies another challenge that encourages us to flee: the tragic event often possesses the power to destroy the value we place on ourselves, and the qualities by which we have defined our character. We define ourselves in terms of our service to values, which thereby become properties of our moral character. Our perception of our worth and identity often emanate from those values that we refuse to compromise. But often, in the face of a profoundly tragic event, defenses and “character armor” collapse under the infinitely dense mass of reality. Reality and its undistorted meanings are then more fully available to the subject. Paradoxically, to know the actual truth of one’s emotional constitution depends on taking precisely those actions that will engage the core conflicts. Indeed, it might be said that we aren’t what we know about ourselves – we’re what we do in the face of that knowledge. This, then, becomes the difficult truth that now defines one’s relationship to oneself.

It is rather common that via the media we are repeatedly informed, not only of how we are perpetually in the midst of a terrible crisis, but also that “these are the worst times” that humans have ever endured. Of course, anybody who has read even a modest amount of history is forced to marvel at this statement. From a psychological standpoint, the underlying message being conveyed here is: “These are the worst timesI have ever faced.” In other words, my experience of the world and reality is the most important experience – my world is the world. However, there is one reality to which we are all subject, that rolls in over us like a thunder cloud as soon as we develop some reality testing. This is a reality that we spend an inordinate amount of psychic time and energy trying not to know – the reality of death, or non-existence. There comes a point where the child finally understands the concept of death to the extent that he or she can. Yet still, from this point through the teen years, this concept is seldom, if ever, entertained. When it is considered, it is most certainly not in the context of any significant depth. Parents should recall here the teenager’s infamous feelings of “invulnerability.”

However, as adulthood begins, life makes this reality more difficult to ignore. The process of aging becomes an exercise in making peace with this concept – this inescapable reality. It is how the individual makes this peace that will determine how he will relate to his world with his remaining years. There are various options available. One can simply opt out of this dilemma via various means: different forms of denial, blind adherence to religious dogma, intoxicants, addictions, etc. Alternatively, one can attempt to genuinely make the peace through other means: surrender/acceptance, non-dogmatic spirituality, raising children, mentoring the next generation, etc. Obviously, the latter strategies may require much more out of us than we either have or are willing to give. In either case, death is the ultimate blow to the ego – the supreme narcissistic injury.

Consider society’s present day fascination with vampires (see our most recent form of this obsession in the Twilight series). Who are vampires? People who never die, get to act out sexually and aggressively, and have little to no limitations. Plus they get to do all this
while dwelling in an ambiance of style, glamour and sex appeal. But even more interesting is the vampire trend of the past several decades. Gone are the days of the hideous Nosfaratu. Who is Bela Lugosi? Now every vampire is either Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, or even younger and more attractive. In essence, we see society’s ultimate regressive fantasy – an absence of limits on beauty, power, sex, instant gratification and no fear of aging or death. But as mentioned previously, all this is still fantasy, not reality. It is a way, in fact, for us to briefly escape reality. Why do we need to do this, and why does it appear that we are doing so with greater and greater force and frequency? Well, frankly, one can in fact overdose on reality.

According to psychological science, our defense mechanisms are automatic psychological processes that protect us from anxiety and awareness of internal or external dangers.[38] They mediate our reactions to emotional conflicts. Some defense mechanisms are almost always maladaptive (eg., denial, acting out, etc.), while some are more mature and adaptive (eg., humor, altruism, etc.). Just as our immune systems protect us from outside, potentially harmful/pathogenic invaders, our defense mechanisms protect our minds from unacceptable assaults by reality. Yet in truth, reality is not assaulting us – it merely is. Reality is always
neutral, and it is we who bring our own reactions, emotions, stories (helpful or not), to interpret reality in a way that we can tolerate. Or, as Eckhart Tolle has put it: “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”[39]

Still, most of us who remain unenlightened need our defense mechanisms. Defenses and fantasies protect us from too much reality. We all at some level want to go back into the “psychological womb” – yet at the same time greatly fear it as we would have to give up all of our autonomy to do so. This fantasy of “returning” to a painless existence surrounded by unconditional love and instant gratification is much like a dream in that it allows us to continue to “sleep,” and avoid the pain of reality. As a forensic psychiatrist, I was struck by the movie No Country for Old Men. In the movie, the Coen brothers show people acting out their instinctual (in this case aggressive) impulses as if they were just everyday happenings. The message seemed to be that this was simply “normal” behavior for these characters. In fact, it is my contention that this concept frightens and unnerves us more than the latest high-budget “slasher” or monster movie. The reason is that the behaviors are brought out in the open and presented as not particularly unusual. Indeed, based on my experiences as a forensic psychiatrist, there are in fact many individuals for whom severe violence really is commonplace behavior. However, with the exception of law enforcement and odd characters like myself, most people are not exposed to this type of behavior in their everyday lives. Understandably, many may simply pretend it doesn’t exist, or otherwise ignore it. If they did not shield themselves in such a manner, it would turn their worldview on its head. Recall that at the end of No Country, the sheriff has seen and dealt with too much reality, is overwhelmed by it, and decides to retire.

Another excellent cinematic example of our struggle to accept reality as it is and to relinquish unhelpful illusions is the classic movie The Matrix. This movie had, and continues to have, mass appeal. I contend it is not just because of the special effects. In The Matrix, the characters literally have to be painfully born again, and give up the comforting unreality of the Matrix for the harsh reality of the world as it truly is, which in the movie had deteriorated into a barely recognizable landscape. One character in the movie even betrays all his comrades just to be able to get back to the fantasy world of the Matrix where all his wishes were to be gratified (eg., fine food, wine, cigars, etc.). Another factor that affects this tug of war (fantasy vs. reality) is the culture in which the child is growing. In other words, how attuned is the culture to accepting reality versus fantasy. In general, the culture that has been very successful materially tends to favor illusion over reality. Such civilizations develop a protective bubble of unreality over the culture. But the culture that continually favors fantasy, and extends the bubble of illusion like a warm protective blanket over its members will eventually be doomed. Why? Because at some critical juncture, their vision will be so obscured by fantasy that they will not be in a position to make some critical response required by reality. They will have literally covered their heads, and will not see what is coming at them with the necessary clarity. Another way to avoid reality is submerge oneself in a group. Many fragile egos are able to join together and form one (seemingly) more powerful “self” that promises to protect against reality and extend fantasy. We can see this not only on the smaller scale of cults, but also on the larger scale of entire countries.

Conclusions

My study of the Jonestown tragedy and all that surrounds it has been an example of one of the many ways I have tried, to the best of my limited abilities, to clarify my view of reality. Indeed, I must acknowledge that certain aspects of my travails in forensic and correctional psychiatry have always seemed to taunt and mock with the question: “Can you find the beauty in absolute ugliness?” Can one stare into the abyss, walk away and continue onwards with an appreciation for the beauty inherent in life? Admittedly, this is far easier said than lived. The harsh truth is that it is no easy matter to acknowledge and live with “the full extent” of one’s helplessness and “insignificance in the machinery of the universe.”[40] To do so requires a firm acceptance of what is, and that oneself is not at the center of it. As regards the subject of reality, and our ability to see it clearly, we are now in a position for me to summarize some of the main points I have tried to make, some learned from my experiences as a forensic psychiatrist, and in particular from my study of human tragedies such as Jonestown:

  1. Extreme selfishness is the true cause of what humans label “evil.”
  2. What we don’t know about ourselves, we do – to the other.
  3. Our power of self-awareness is a double edged sword.[41] It has allowed us to become aware that we are not the center of the universe, and that our lives are limited, maybe even too limited. Depending upon what degree we allow ourselves, we are also aware that we don’t know what the purpose of life is. Knowledge of mortality and lack of knowledge about purpose is the driving force behind most of human misery. Religious belief, particularly of the dogmatic variety, has been invented to grapple with precisely these problems and the uncertainty they bring.
  4. In the evolution of human consciousness, death is the root fear – the lowest common denominator driving human pretensions to happiness and causing most all suffering.[42]
    1. This fear of death is actually the ego’s (or the “self’s”) fear of annihilation, and desire to transcend the boundaries of reality.
    2. The ego’s fear of annihilation leads to “immortality projects” that promise to sustain it. The ego’s goal is to deny that one is utterly subject to the will of the universe.
    3. Ego defenses are all ultimately aimed at controlling the fear that arises from the reality principle, ie., the suffering inherent in life.
    4. As soon as the child sees that it is commonplace in the nature of life/reality to disappoint and cause suffering, ego defenses come into existence. Reality is thereby shaped and distorted.
    5. The ego wards off fear of annihilation by creating the illusion that there is a “self” that can sustain itself, become “permanent,” and control reality.
    6. Some technological advances are extensions of ego defenses in this manner – they allow the ego, briefly, to believe that it has some form of control and/or permanence. They are “prosthetic” ego defenses.

In closing, I would like to share one of my favorite quotes by the famous Irish novelist Joyce Cary, which seems appropriate given the subject matter discussed above:

“The truth is that life is hard and dangerous; that he who seeks his own happiness does not find it; that he who is weak must suffer; that he who demands love will be disappointed; that he who is greedy will not be fed; that he who seeks peace will find strife; that truth is only for the brave; that joy is only for him who does not fear to be alone; that life is only for the one who is not afraid to die.”

Acknowledgments:

The author would like to acknowledge Walter A. Davis, Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University for his extremely helpful insights and writings. I would also like to thank James Knoll, III, M.D. for his unflagging guidance, wisdom and love.

 


(James L. Knoll, IV, M.D. is Associate Professor & Director of Forensic Psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University & the Forensic Fellowship training program at the Central New York Psychiatric Center. He has worked as a forensic evaluator for the courts, corrections, and the private sector. He is the author of over 90 articles and book chapters relating to both psychiatry and forensic psychiatry, and is the Co-Editor of the Correctional Mental Health Report.

Dr. Knoll has collaborated with the FBI to publish guidelines for reducing Workplace Violence, and is currently the medical board President of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), Central New York Chapter. His areas of expertise include: Psychiatric Malpractice, Suicide, Psychological Autopsies, Stalking, Domestic Violence, Mentally Ill Offenders & Correctional Mental Health Issues, Sanity, Competency, Detection of Malingered Mental Illness, Violence Risk & Threat Assessment, and the Analysis of Inappropriate or threatening Communications.


References

[1] Knoll J: The Jonestown Tragedy: What Have We Learned in 30 Years? The Jonestown Report; November 2008, volume 10.

[2] Stryk L: Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter. New York, NY: Grove Press, 1995.

[3] Lao Tzu: The Tao Te Ching. Translated by Brian Walker. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

[4] Bonanno G: Resilience in the Face of Potential Trauma. Current Directions. Psychological Science, 2005; 14(3): 135 – 138.

[5] Agaibi C, Wilson J: Trauma, PTSD and Resilience. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2005; 6(3): 195-216.

[6] Galea, S., Ahern, J., Resnick, H., Kilpatrick, D., Bucuvalas, M., Gold, J., et al. (2002). Psychological sequelae of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. New England Journal of Medicine, 346, 982-987.

[7] Bonanno G, Galea S, Bucciarelli A, Vlahov D: Psychological Resilience After Disaster: New York City in the Aftermath of the September 11th Terrorist Attack. Psychological Science, 2006; 17(3): 181-186

[8] Jordan K: What We Learned From 9/11: A Terrorism Grief and Recovery Process Model. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 2005; 5(4):340-355.

[9] Stephenson D: Dear People: Remembering Jonestown. Heyday Books: Berkley, Calif., 2005.

[11] Krause C: Foreword. In: Layton, D: Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the Peoples Temple. New York: Anchor Books, 1998.

[12] Carter T: The Big Grey. In: Dear People: Remembering Jonestown (D. Stephenson, ed.). Heyday Books: Berkley, Calif., 2005.

[13] Knoll J, Carter T, Leonard C, Crowder J: Mass Murder & Mind Control: Understanding the Jonestown Tragedy. 38th annual meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law; Miami, Florida, October 20, 2007: 155.

[14] Melville H: Moby Dick: Chapter 41, 154.

[15] Lafarge L: The Wish for Revenge. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 2006; 75: 447-475, 447.

[16] Rosen I: Revenge – The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name: A Psychoanalytic Perspective. J Am Psychoanal Assoc, 2007; 55: 595-620.

[17] Rosen I.

[18] Cargill C: Revenge is a dish best served cold.
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Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on December 26th, 2020.
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