Pillars of Madness: Part III, Role Casting Control

Part III

There are four extraordinarily useful ideas amid the massive tangle of publications on madness, these contributed by four men of genius in the practice of studying and changing seemingly irrational human actions—

[1] The Temperament Base of Madness (Ernst Kretschmer)
[2] Distracting Automatisms (Pierre Janet)
[3] Role Casting Control (Jay Haley)
[4] Disarming Confessions (Alfred Adler)

[3] Role Casting Control

In the wake of Adler’s magnificent elaboration of Schopenhauer’s rule, Jay Haley, an American word analyst turned counselor, told us at mid-century that self-defense entails a peculiar kind of communication that occurs in those families in which low self-esteem abounds and high self-esteem does not, communication in which family members are exchanging irrational messages while involuntarily and inadvertently denying that they are doing so. Thus he defined defensive behavior as “self-disqualified relationship-defining tactics”, or as “paradoxical role-casting communication”, all family members continuously trying to gain control of defining family roles, including their own, while automatically denying that they are doing so.

Haley’s revolutionary idea, that defenses consist in strategic role control, multiplied the utility of the then little used ideas of Eric Berne and Edmund Bergler, both contemporaries of Jay Haley. Berne said that defensive behavior consists in the provocative tactic of twisting family conventions to an absurd degree while disqualifying such behavior as involuntary and unintentional. And Bergler said that in order to escape being charged with and found guilty of a major crime (that of being unworthy) the defendant uses the disarming tactic of confessing to a lesser crime (that of being irrational). Both Berne and Bergler saw defenses as tactical, Berne, like Adler, seeing tactics as provocative; Bergler, also like Adler, as disarming. (This is not to say that Berne did not start a groundswell of lay usage of his so-called “transactional analysis,” but it is to say that not many clinicians joined the cult that formed around Berne. In many respects the “TA” cult of Eric Berne resembled the “EST” cult of Werner Erhardt and the “Dianetics” cult of L. Ron Hubbard, the “Gestalt Therapy” cult of Frederick Perls, and the “Operant Conditioning” cult of B. F. Skinner, each pretending to have invented a new method of correcting irrational behavior, when in fact they simply renamed some method that had been invented by those who preceded them. Incidentally, all of these men seem to be of the same temperament; they, like Freud, were Promoter Artisans, which in part explains their boldness in proposing and promoting their versions of “psychotherapy.”

Another forty years would elapse after this concept surfaced before it enabled us to understand madness more fully. For it was then that word analyst Jay Haley told us that these defensive social arrangements are tactical messages that are exchanged by those who are caught in a continuing struggle to determine who gets to define interpersonal relations, who, that is, gets to cast themselves and others into reciprocal roles. It is a constant struggle for role-control. Absurd rituals, then, function to maintain social order by keeping the persons who practice absurd rituals as defenses in charge of the roles others in their circle play. Jay Haley, a protégé of Milton Erickson, said that madness entails a continuous (and desperate) struggle on our part as we try to control the definition of the relationships we are willing to maintain with our companions, especially with the members of our nuclear family. We involuntarily and inadvertently try to maintain control of the roles we play in our family and the reciprocal roles that the members of our family play, else our dark secret of shameful unworthiness will be revealed.

About Keirsey

Dr. David Mark Keirsey is a scientist that is interested in how and why the world works. The first half of his professional career was as a Computer Scientist, specializing in Artificial Intelligence. Notably, he was part of a team who created the software for the first operation of an autonomous cross-country robotic vehicle. In the current latter part of his career, he has broaden his interest to include all of science, mathematics, computation, and the history and future of the world. His plan is to write at least three books, two of which are tentatively called Mathematics Itself and Existence Itself. The third is a book on Leadership. Currently he is part of a web-based company, Keirsey.com to develop interactive team and human personality tools based on his father's best-selling work on human temperament. He is a Architect Rational in temperament.
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5 Responses to Pillars of Madness: Part III, Role Casting Control

  1. Sigrid Marie Refsum says:

    Theme of Role Casting seems in line with the works of family therapists like Sharon Wegscheider, who defined roles of members in alcoholic families, as well the focus on working with the patient’s network, demonstrated by Finnish psychologist Jaakko Seikkula and family therapist Tom Andersen.

  2. Outstanding post, I believe people should learn a lot from this site its rattling user genial . “Choose your pleasures for yourself, and do not let them be imposed upon you.” by Lord Chesterfield.

  3. Pingback: The Pillars of Madness: Part I, Temperament Base of Madness | Professor Keirsey's Blog

  4. Pingback: Pillars of Madness: Part II, Distracting Automatisms | Professor Keirsey's Blog

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