Article: Self-obsession is a new addiction (Ontological Addiction Theory)

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Article: Self-obsession is a new addiction (Ontological Addiction Theory)

Post by anjali » Tue Nov 20, 2018 2:40 am

https://theboar.org/2018/11/self-obsession/
Research from the University of Derby has identified being self-obsessed as a new type of addiction, citing social media usage as an exacerbating factor. Dr William Van Gordon, a lecturer in psychology and a chartered psychologist, is behind the development of the new ontological addiction theory, and says it explains the third ‘missing’ type of addiction.

Among the scientific community, there is a general acceptance of two forms of addiction: chemical, for example a reliance on drugs, cigarettes or alcohol, and behavioural, such as an addiction to gambling or video games. However, his new theory proposes a third type of addiction – ontological addiction, which is the addiction to how we believe we exist.

Dr Van Gordon states: “Previous models of addiction have largely overlooked the possibility of being ‘addicted to ourselves’, yet ontological addiction meets all of the criteria for a genuine form of addiction.” For example, people with the condition often experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to overcome it, often leading to relapses following interventions, and over time it can cause exhaustion in the people it affects.

The scientist, who practiced as a Buddhist monk for 10 years, derived the theoretical underpinnings of his ontological addiction theory from the Buddhist philosophical perspective that all phenomena, including the self, do not manifest inherently or independently. He explains: “The tendency to become addicted to self is probably something that human beings are born with. However, we cement or weaken our ego and belief in self-hood, depending on how much we live out our lives through the lens of ‘me, mine and I’.”
...
A couple of journal articles elaborating the idea of ontological addiction:

http://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/27995/1 ... ffiths.pdf
Published as: Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Cavalli, G. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Ontological addiction: Classification, aetiology and treatment. Mindfulness, 7, 660-671.

Abstract
Despite the fact that there is increasing integration of Buddhist principles and practices into Western mental health and applied psychological disciplines, there appears to be limited understanding in Western psychology of the assumptions that underlie a Buddhist model of mental illness. The concept of ontological addiction was introduced and formulated in order to narrow some of the disconnect between Buddhist and Western models of mental illness, and to foster effective assimilation of Buddhist practices and principles into mental health research and practice. Ontological addiction refers to the maladaptive condition whereby an individual is addicted to the belief that they inherently exist. The purposes of the present paper are to: (i) classify ontological addiction in terms of its definition, symptoms, prevalence, and functional consequences, (ii) examine the etiology of the condition, and (iii) appraise both the traditional Buddhist and contemporary empirical literature in order to outline effective treatment strategies. An assessment of the extent to which ontological addiction meets the clinical criteria for addiction suggests that ontological addiction is a chronic and valid – albeit functionally distinct (i.e., when compared to chemical and behavioral addictions) – form of addiction. However, despite the protracted and pervasive nature of the condition, recent empirical findings add support to ancient Buddhist teachings and suggest that addiction to selfhood can be overcome by a treatment process involving phases of: (i) becoming aware of the imputed self, (ii) deconstructing the imputed self, and (iii) reconstructing a dynamic and non-dual self.
https://akademiai.com/doi/abs/10.1556/2006.7.2018.45
From the introduction:
...Ontological addiction is defined as “the unwillingness to relinquish an erroneous and deep-rooted belief in an inherently existing ‘self’ or ‘I’ as well as the ‘impaired functionality’ that arises from such a belief” (Shonin et al., 2013, p. 64). In line with the growing integration of Buddhist principles into Western treatment settings, aspects of the theoretical underpinnings of OAT derive from the Buddhist philosophical perspective that all phenomena, including the self, do not manifest inherently or independently (Shonin, Van Gordon, Singh, & Griffiths, 2015). The Buddhist teachings assert that human beings – and all phenomena they interact with – are marked by the property of “emptiness” or “non-self” (Tsong-Kha-pa, 2004). Emptiness (Sanskrit: śūnyatā) does not mean that phenomena do not exist or are not perceptible to the human mind but implies that they exist in dependence on all other phenomena and that they manifest only in a relative sense (Thurman, 2005). Thus, it could also be said that “emptiness” somewhat paradoxically implies “fullness,” because the attribute of interdependent existence that infers that a given phenomenon is empty of an independent self, means that by default, it signifies the existence of all other phenomena (Van Gordon et al., 2016a). For example, a tree exists in reliance upon (among other things) (a) water (i.e., that in turn relies upon rain, oceans, and rivers); (b) air with an appropriate composition of gaseous elements (i.e., that in turn relies upon respiration in other life forms); (c) nutrients and minerals (i.e., that in turn rely on the decay of organic matter); and (d) light of an appropriate composition, temperature, and intensity (i.e., that relies upon the sun and the filtering effect of the earth’s atmosphere). If any one of these contributing phenomena were absent, then the tree would not exist. Similarly, the tree is integral to the existence of all other phenomena. The tree is “empty” of an inherently or independently existing self but is “full” of the universe.

OAT deviates from the ontological stance adopted in prominent Western psychological theories of human behavior that, to a greater or lesser extent, imply that the “self” exists as a discrete entity (Van Gordon et al., 2016a). For example, Rogers’ (1959) humanistic schema of the self includes the dimensions of self-worth, self-image, and ideal-self that each plays a role in the formation of an individual’s sense of self-concept. Similarly, social psychological theories are invariably constructed on the assumption that there exists a relational self (Smith & Mackie, 2007), and theories of human motivation, such as self-determination theory, assume that individuals have evolved a tendency to grow and master their environment as part of integrating new experiences into a coherent sense of self (Ryan & Deci, 2017). A further example is Jung’s (1981) theory that is arguably situated closer to the Buddhist model (Van Gordon et al., 2016a), but nevertheless asserts that there exists a locus of self that cannot be definitively located.
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Re: Article: Self-obsession is a new addiction (Ontological Addiction Theory)

Post by Wayfarer » Tue Nov 20, 2018 7:33 am

I think there’s a some truth in it, but I really dislike the use of ‘ontology’ in this context. Plain old self-centredness or egocentrism are perfectly valid descriptions. And also the author should read this sutta.
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Re: Article: Self-obsession is a new addiction (Ontological Addiction Theory)

Post by narhwal90 » Tue Nov 20, 2018 12:57 pm

As a general rule I find that use of the word "ontology" outside of a Scrabble context means all useful dialog is over.

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Re: Article: Self-obsession is a new addiction (Ontological Addiction Theory)

Post by anjali » Tue Nov 20, 2018 9:27 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Tue Nov 20, 2018 7:33 am
I think there’s a some truth in it, but I really dislike the use of ‘ontology’ in this context. Plain old self-centredness or egocentrism are perfectly valid descriptions. And also the author should read this sutta.
Yeah, I get what you are saying, although I do have to say, "ontological addiction" is a catchy phrase. As I was scanning through a bit of the papers, I was thinking, what's wrong with describing it in terms of narcissism? On doing a search on narcissism and addiction, I came across this article on Narcissism as addiction to Esteem by Baumeister and Vohs. It's not really the same notion that is presented by van Gordon, et al (the notion of reifying a self), but does touch on the idea that self-centeredness can be viewed as an addiction.

For some grad student/academic in the field of psychology/psychotherapy, it might make an interesting paper to survey the field.
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Re: Article: Self-obsession is a new addiction (Ontological Addiction Theory)

Post by Wayfarer » Tue Nov 20, 2018 10:50 pm

Speaking of 'ontological', are you familiar with the phrase 'cartesian anxiety'?
Cartesian anxiety refers to the notion that, since René Descartes posited his influential form of body-mind dualism, Western civilization has suffered from a longing for ontological certainty, or feeling that scientific methods, and especially the study of the world as a thing separate from ourselves, should be able to lead us to a firm and unchanging knowledge of ourselves and the world around us. The term is named after Descartes because of his well-known emphasis on "mind" as different from "body", "self" as different from "other".
Richard J. Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis.

My feeling is, this is certainly a very accurate insight. What I think is behind it is an inevitable consequence of liberal individualism, which is foundational to modern democratic cultures.

Whereas traditional Christian culture emphasised the sacrifice of self for the benefit of others, once the religious underpinnings began to disappear, then the individual ego becomes, so to speak, the center around which everything revolves. That is what is behind that sense of 'cartesian anxiety' which, I think, is a much deeper issue than the specific narcissistic disorder that those articles purport to describe. David Loy's essays on 'lack' are much nearer the mark in my view.
Ontological addiction refers to the maladaptive condition whereby an individual is addicted to the belief that they inherently exist.
I think the term 'inherent existence' really only makes sense in the context of Buddhist dialectics.
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Re: Article: Self-obsession is a new addiction (Ontological Addiction Theory)

Post by anjali » Wed Nov 21, 2018 6:24 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Tue Nov 20, 2018 10:50 pm
Speaking of 'ontological', are you familiar with the phrase 'cartesian anxiety'?
Cartesian anxiety refers to the notion that, since René Descartes posited his influential form of body-mind dualism, Western civilization has suffered from a longing for ontological certainty, or feeling that scientific methods, and especially the study of the world as a thing separate from ourselves, should be able to lead us to a firm and unchanging knowledge of ourselves and the world around us. The term is named after Descartes because of his well-known emphasis on "mind" as different from "body", "self" as different from "other".
Richard J. Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis.
No, I wasn't familiar with the phrase. I like it. No doubt scientific inquiry has led to knowledge of ourselves and the world, just not the kind that leads us to "a firm and unchanging knowledge of ourselves and the world around us."
Whereas traditional Christian culture emphasised the sacrifice of self for the benefit of others, once the religious underpinnings began to disappear, then the individual ego becomes, so to speak, the center around which everything revolves. That is what is behind that sense of 'cartesian anxiety' which, I think, is a much deeper issue than the specific narcissistic disorder that those articles purport to describe. David Loy's essays on 'lack' are much nearer the mark in my view.
Ontological addiction refers to the maladaptive condition whereby an individual is addicted to the belief that they inherently exist.
I think the term 'inherent existence' really only makes sense in the context of Buddhist dialectics.
I'm not sure about that. Even in a materialist view, there is no inherent existence of a person--just an ever changing materiality where consciousness--and a sense of self--is merely an emergent property of a dynamic complex system. I guess it depends on how inherent existence is defined.

It's been a while since I've read Loy's discussions on lack. Doing a quick review, I don't think the authors of OAT would disagree with these comments by Loy,
This sense of being a self that is separate from the world I am in is illusory—in fact, it is our most dangerous delusion. Here we can benefit from what has become a truism in contemporary psychology, which has also realized that the sense of self is a psychologicalsocial-linguistic construct: psychological, because the ego-self is a product of mental conditioning; social, because a sense of self develops in relation with other constructed selves; and linguistic, because acquiring a sense of self involves learning to use certain names and pronouns such as I, me, mine, myself, which create the illusion that there must be some thing being referred to. If the word cup refers to this thing I’m drinking coffee out of, then we mistakenly infer that I must refer to something in the same way. This is one of the ways language misleads us.

Despite these similarities to modern psychology, however, Buddhism differs from most of it in two important ways. First, Buddhism emphasizes that there is always something uncomfortable about our constructed sense of self. Much of contemporary psychotherapy is concerned with helping us become “well-adjusted.” The ego-self needs to be repaired so it can fit into society and we can play our social roles better. Buddhism isn’t about helping us become well-adjusted. A socially well-adjusted ego-self is still a sick ego-self, for there remains something problematical about it. It is still infected by dukkha.

This suggests the other way that Buddhism differs from modern psychology. Buddhism agrees that the sense of self can be reconstructed, and that it needs to be reconstructed, but it emphasizes even more that the sense of self needs to be deconstructed, to realize its true “empty,” non-dwelling nature. Awakening to our constructedness is the only real solution to our most fundamental anxiety. Ironically, the problem and its solution both depend upon the same fact: a constructed sense of self is not a real self. Not being a real self is intrinsically uncomfortable. Not being a real self is also what enables the sense of self to be deconstructed and reconstructed, and this deconstruction/reconstruction is what the Buddhist spiritual path is about.
And I don't think Loy would disagree with the view of OAT that grasping at a self is a kind of addiction, and that the more one grasps (is addicted to) a self, the more maladaptive suffering one experiences. In fact, the OAT authors echo Loy's comments by stating, "recent empirical findings add support to ancient Buddhist teachings and suggest that addiction to selfhood can be overcome by a treatment process involving phases of: (i) becoming aware of the imputed self, (ii) deconstructing the imputed self, and (iii) reconstructing a dynamic and non-dual self."

Perhaps the value in OAT, if there is one, is to see it as a treatment methodology. The authors of OAT seem have focused their clinical work on self addiction within the social media context. One assumes (I haven't read the papers in detail) that the authors have some sort of treatment approach in the therapeutic context based on OAT for working with self obsession.
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Re: Article: Self-obsession is a new addiction (Ontological Addiction Theory)

Post by Wayfarer » Wed Nov 21, 2018 10:41 pm

Very good. Actually I think the convergences between David Loy's thinking and OAT are clear, and also can really see the rationale for the analysis in respect of social media, in particular.
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Re: Article: Self-obsession is a new addiction (Ontological Addiction Theory)

Post by jmlee369 » Thu Nov 22, 2018 7:00 am

Might be worth noting that Dr Van Gordan and his frequent collaborator Dr. Edo Shonin were controversial figures during their time as Buddhist "monastics" (ordination lineage unclear). I only bring this up because their time as monks is frequently mentioned in their biography.

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Re: Article: Self-obsession is a new addiction (Ontological Addiction Theory)

Post by anjali » Thu Nov 22, 2018 7:58 am

jmlee369 wrote:
Thu Nov 22, 2018 7:00 am
Might be worth noting that Dr Van Gordan and his frequent collaborator Dr. Edo Shonin were controversial figures during their time as Buddhist "monastics" (ordination lineage unclear). I only bring this up because their time as monks is frequently mentioned in their biography.
Oh my. :shock: Who would have thought that reporting a science article would lead to such an interesting development regarding the researchers.

On doing a bit of digging, I came across Edo Shonin's response to the controversy: https://edoshonin.wordpress.com/an-inte ... eview=true. Elsewhere on that website is a extensive discussion on The meaning of Lineage in Buddhist Practice. Skimming over it, I found the discussion unsatisfactory. People can come to their own conclusions by doing the necessary due diligence for themselves.

However, for the purposes of evaluating the OAT model, I am agnostic about the controversy. The model stands for falls on its own merits.
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