The Ego Boundary as Problematic

Vision, a Loose End

There is a story of the person whose young life was ruled by the doctors' opinion that she manifested the underdeveloped ego condition known as "borderline personality." This young person has had a Vision, and with it the inspiration and grasp to run her life coherently and responsibly. But this won't do, for someone in authority finds her reality principle beyond the bounds of the possible or acceptable, preferring to jam up her process, even scheming to hasten her untimely demise. Rather than blame her for society's excess, moral insight ought to reflect the problematic of personality fragmentation back onto social reality, onto an opacity of vision rendering inarticulate social psychology.

The conjuncture of label and convention, that stereotypes the person whose process is non-standard as mad, informs, more than anything else, the distortion of people's standard cognitive maps. And everyone is potentially non-standard: Human beings who should be using their minds to perceive the infinite are humbled to accommodate constricted conceptions of what it is to be human. People routinely exhibit, if you will, a disconnect of themselves from their full beings, so that they are stuck on being less than themselves. Yet, by engaging the social process, a person could roust up and recover energies and levels of process, could re-circuit and reconnect.

The ideal should be mental liberation, that to be fully human is to explore the richness and extent of mind's possibility. In a world of people nervously maintaining disconnected beings, the common experience of such exploration is to find yourself in the peculiar contradiction of seemingly interfering with another's personal space. People's crossed-up standards have it that you are acting mad, "acting out," or whatever, so that you are seen as a burden upon those people's rationality. The social impact of such attitude is that the competition of psychological space amounts to a process of the mutual trashings of people's beings.

When society first faced the penetrations of scientific psychology, the ignorance of and deceits about process were so extreme that direct discussions of process were generally dysfunctional. The leaders of society cling with nostalgia to a culture of corruption, but the time has passed when Vision serves as a choice target: Today, defenses are more transparent and personal need is more susceptible to discussion. A person can, under mental stress or to personal advantage, bug you about your ego constructs, but better to talk need and responsibility and not too much mind-business. What naturally arise, to the foreground of your interpersonal contact, are the conditions of your social being and the activity you engage in on its behalf.

Blind-Siding People

You may think that you freely stake out your ego boundaries, that you manage them like a kind of personal property, but this is a fictional account. In fact, people establish their ego boundaries relative to the social dynamics accessible to them, cutting and trimming to fit the niches available. For example, one theoretical homily says that if you have a temperament that inclines you to establish boundaries one way, when your allotted gender role doesn't mesh, you have a miserable problem. If you lack input into society's role expectations, you lack control over the forces that shape patterns of ego boundary structure.

The way you set up your boundaries reflects your personal history, with old traumas and abusive experiences being exhibited in softened forms in personal interactions. To recognize that you are blind-sided by an aspect of reality is to identify a liability, a vulnerability to intrusion and abuse, in the guise of a problem. In contacting the personality hole, a person manifests an etiology of conditioned responses to abuse, going through denial and self-deprecation and secondary abusive behavior patterns. In the usual case, where you engage explosive energies without adequate social sanction, you find that you make problems for yourself and others as you disrupt and rearrange your relation to the role expectations of society.

People worry about their boundaries, precisely because they find themselves detached from Vision: They have to face abuse and liberate their personal space. Individuals, blind-sided by a partial and one-sided development, then find that social boundaries fetter their response to alternative themes of culture. Society, too, has its blind side, as in our Orientalist view of Arabs, where boundaries are defined by romantic / vilifying conceptions of the Oriental that reflect the unfinished business of the Crusades. While people are told to see a shrink and enticed to "shrink their problem down to size," they are not adequately informed as to social confrontation and struggle, as to the social Vision needed to achieve true growth.

People construe boundary work narrowly as a remedy for being blind-sided, as a technology for self-actualizing via boundary demarcation. Personality holes can't be managed by an object relations approach leaning on schemes for interactive structure that blithely deny social dynamics, absent reorganizing the abusive situation, absent questioning authority itself. Social planning will channel you, mechanical and electronic definitions encumber you, and, for shame, you won't rebel, you'll succumb, you'll attune your boundaries to avail the possibilities imposed. Your imperative is to identify the social dynamics and to relate your maturation to involvements with the maturation of society.

Self as Violence

A person must invoke self-examination and insight to stake out her boundaries, but completion of the task devolves upon a problematic of social control. Lacking a critical handle on social psychology, the person is left to her own occasional social position along with the vigorous application of a kind of rugged individualism, where she hangs tough and manages a sphere of influence. Nor will conventional social psychology do it, as that paradigm is constricted in its world view, catering to the values of the elite and denying the full moral texture of social conflict. The person is abandoned to, is isolated in a position of manipulating the behaviors around herself, be it by individual conditioning methods or those of social conditioning.

The verbal portion of control rests upon sense or metaphor that is autochthonous, rooted in a person's individual location in the matrix of experience. A person defines her terms in the spirit of magic, articulating the truth as she feels it, in order to create a spell which imposes her business on the world. This New Age freedom of the imagination, actually, of the exploitation of imagination, is preeminently a social fact that arises from the liberation process that empowers the counter-culture. Far from arising in primordial, mystical truth, these definitions are gut statements of the new reality that is coming up, and meaningful precisely when placed in social context.

In a jungle-like world of selves fighting for psychological turf, a person encounters a corrupt and patriarchal dynamic, a logic of protection. The necessity of altering the "rules of the game" calls forth a regime of punishing experience, and is so burdensome that few would care to take on this task directly. The actual shape of the battle against abuse takes form within, and needs the safety of, the activity of reworking the social dynamics of the ego boundary. You can't make do with changing yourself, important as this may be, you must change the habituation patterns of society, must make space for your full being, by knowing how to change institutions.

When a person is vulnerable and crossed and embittered, a carnivorous harshness obtains, she develops a hot, mean negativity, where disorganized irrationality rises to the surface. Right you may be, but a savage empowerment-by-violence brings a harsh and melodramatic defense of self, where you are intemperate, the perpetrator of bad karma. Making your judgments and solidifications of thinking in such a mode reduces you to a primitive instrumental level, to a logic that diminishes you, to an ego that is an excrescence of challenges and reactive process. The dialectic of destructive negative dynamics, of abrasion, can only be countered in a social compact for a safe space.

Uneven Development of the Boundary

Ultimately, a person may even take to an imperial mode of setting her ego boundaries, based on a kind of "territorial imperative." Flagrant indulgences in ruthless boundary setting provide for an elite yuppie-ism and the exploitation of others' spaces and blood. Usual indulgences -- and nobody has a manual of boundary regulations -- provide for irregular delineations deriving from the idiosyncrasies of personal space management. There is no guarantee, no expectation even, that networks people create out of social convenience will reflect work programs for the common good; there is an overhead of fluff.

In the absence of an appropriate social aspect, the function of a therapy practice is to counsel support systems, to provide environments for the staking out of ego boundaries in the usual mode. The form of the therapy product follows the function of the therapy practice, openings to the creation of boundaries being only occasionally informed as to social responsibility. The intent may be excellent, but the person doing therapy and the person receiving it both subordinate themselves to the mediocrity of social passivity and accommodation. The best of therapy practices, emphasizing the most acute and appropriate concerns, is limited by the lack of coherent or complete networking to the struggle for social justice.

The divide-and-rule psychology of the establishment is reflected in the typical therapy situation, where the client's interests are counterpoised to those of other persons in the environment. The therapist is empowered by the state licensing power to a categorical authority not checked or balanced by a democratic recourse or petition of grievance. She can leverage her opinions, if she will or, even, if she is heedless, in an essentially brainwashing mode, foisting changes in the lives of third parties by indirection. The opportunity for predation is so great that the CIA has adapted this technology of personality manipulation for control of its personnel.

The predominant conception of ego boundary work impacts different aspects of growth and life unevenly. Many internal processes are handled quite sensibly, but the impact on the environment is uncontrolled and the transfer of training through boundary delineations is eclectic and unprincipled. The Vision, that penetrates this system of rationalization, the linkage to class struggle, that represents a critique of the boundary system's marginality, both challenge the coherence and wisdom of such conception of ego boundary work. You find a systemic disorder of social psychology, its decalage, or failure of balanced development, whose remedy demands a rethinking of the ego boundary idea itself.

Commerce in Abuse