More on personality problems

I discussed some of my problems with the word personality and how it is used in an earlier post.

This morning, I found an wonderful post by Robert Priddy that put the matter well. He says:

Against the belief in a ‘hard core’ of self it is held that we do not have – or experience – any stable, single, united self. We have no permanent identity because our entire psycho-physical personal existence is a dynamic and changing flow of bodily growth and decay, mental perceptions and memories. According to this, the belief in an ‘unchanging’ self – one always having the same identity – is a conception that has been developed and embodied in culture and languages and taken over during the socialization process. The interactive physical and social environments influence both body and mind, while the perception of oneself is also variable. People behave in different ways according to situations, not always showing the same character traits or responses. One who is truthful to most people may be deceptive or untruthful in other circumstances, so there is no unvarying self involved.

The way in which the mind construes a fixed identity (or ego) was described phenomenologically and convincingly by Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1940s essay ‘The Transcendence of the Ego’. Wittgenstein is also illumining on the subject, also pointing out that – because we have substantive words (nouns) for self, ego etc., we are bewitched into the false notion that these (an many other such) words also represent something substantial. The self is a construction of the mind, and when one looks at the concept and our experience most carefully, one finds that the idea of an eternal self is just as false as that of an earth-centered universe and all that mental baggage handed down without due critical examination from such as Aristotle, Plato and others before them. (Source)

I very much agree with Priddy’s analysis. And also, I want to say a bit more. Priddy’s words describe the general problem with terms like personality, ego, self, or identity.

What I think gets missed in general descriptions of the problem is a clear micro-analysis of how these problem concepts (and many others) actually function within human cognition.

I accept, or posit, that human cognition can be fairly well-described as a network of associated semiotics. Single semiotics are the basic units of this cognitive network. How they are associated in different individuals will differ, sometimes greatly.

When someone speaks of their “personality,” I believe they often are reifying a cluster of mutually referential semiotics. Priddy’s description says it well—they are “bewitched into the false notion that these…words…represent something substantial.”

Instead of saying words, I generally prefer semiotics because it is a more inclusive term, encompassing words and all other signs that communicate.

When someone reifies the semiotics of “personality” or “self,” they are in a very significant way making a “fetish” of those semiotics. They are turning them into a “thing” that seems to have a life of its own, that can be referenced in ways that are essentially false (or fetishized) and misleading.

I believe this process can be glimpsed in a hazy way from afar in general terms, but that it cannot be clearly seen unless we are able to observe its micro-functionality. That is, we can vaguely know that we are using terms like personality in misleading ways, but we will not fully grasp how this is happening until we have a method to observe those semiotics as they actually functions in real-time in a real “moment” (short period of time up to 10 seconds or so).

The only way I know of to do this is FIML practice because only FIML allows one mind to stop and query another mind in the “moment.” Only FIML forces us to see the network of cognitive semiotics as they actually function in real time.

FIML cannot be done alone exclusively because there is no way to check your work when you are alone. Semiotics communicate. You can and do use semiotics to communicate with yourself and you can gain insight into them while you are alone, but you will never be able to see large parts of your semiotic network as it actually functions in real-life without the help of a FIML partner.

Fetishized semiotics part two

In a previous post, we discussed how semiotics can become fetishized and why that matters. In today’s post, I want to continue that discussion.

A fetishized semiotic(s) provides symbolic focus to the person who entertains it. It provides coherence within their semiotic networks of thought and communication.

Fetishized semiotics also generate or provide motivation for those who entertain them.

Since semiotics are fundamental to all communication, fetishized semiotics often serve to bond people into easily understood groups.

A person with a fetish for prostitutes, for example, will generally find it easy to get what they want while also bonding with others who have similar desires.

The same can be said for people who want a lot of money or status. Ethnic groups and religions often fetishize the semiotics of their cultures and histories.

A scientist might fetishize the semiotics of being a scientist.

A human ego, in most senses of the word and certainly in the Buddhist sense, can be described as the “fetishized semiotic(s) of ‘self’.” Or more precisely, as the “fetishized agglomeration of the semiotics of ‘self’ of an entity that lives in this world primarily within semiotic networks.”

When small “selves” (small in the Buddhist sense) become fetishized egos, or big selves, the entity in question will often feel that life has a focus or energy it did not have before. This is especially true if the person is part of a group that communicates about that ego and supports it through ceremonies, shared beliefs, values, etc.

Big selves, or egos, supported by groups are usually semiotically quite simple. This is a place where we can see the value of thinking in terms of semiotics.

The big self is simple—it wants one or two things and will marshal all of its (often considerable) mental powers to attain it. Other behaviors surrounding the core of the big self may be complex, but the basic big self is usually pretty simple. It wants respect, or power, or some ideal that often is a pretense for getting respect and power.

The formula can be different, but basically that is how it is.

Early communists in Russia and China, for example, all professed high ideals, and some of them meant it, but in both countries the revolutions were seized by the most ruthless actors and the high ideals were replaced with mass murder.

I am convinced that many of those most ruthless communists—who definitely had fetishized what they were doing—actually believed that their high ideals might one day come to be. But that first it was necessary to liquidate millions of “bad elements” and terrorize the remaining population into complete submission.

This all too human mix of idealism deferred to the future blended with extreme cruelty in the present illustrates another aspect of the fetishized self, or fetishized semiotics—the big self diminishes others, even becomes blind to them.

The fetishized ego sees itself with its own peculiar clarity and also it completely fails to see others except as aspects of its own fetish. Thus Bolsheviks and Red Guards murdered and terrorized tens of millions of people, often with very little feeling and always with massive self-delusion.

Mitta Sutta: A Friend

“Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. Which seven? He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you’re down & out, he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.”

translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu


Repost: Why Smart People Are Stupid

This short article by Jonah Lehrer shows yet another reason that FIML works so well.

From the article: “The problem with this introspective approach is that the driving forces behind biases—the root causes of our irrationality—are largely unconscious, which means they remain invisible to self-analysis and impermeable to intelligence. In fact, introspection can actually compound the error, blinding us to those primal processes responsible for many of our everyday failings. We spin eloquent stories, but these stories miss the point. The more we attempt to know ourselves, the less we actually understand.” (Emphasis added.)

Be sure to read the whole article as that is just a piece of the argument. I chose it because it is relevant to the introspective aspects of Buddhist, and other, practices.

For the record, I am very fond of introspection. But introspection, as we have said many times on this site, without a way to check our work has a strong tendency to lead us astray.

FIML practice helps us correct our very numerous mistakes in assessing the thoughts and stories of other people. At the same time, FIML practice disabuses our own minds of the many errors we hold about ourselves based on our mistaken stories about others.

We have claimed many times that FIML practitioners will be amazed at how often they are wrong about the thoughts and intentions of their partners. The linked article well supports this assertion.

The psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, as quoted in the article says: “My intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy as it was before I made a study of these issues.”

I believe him. This is how our minds (don’t) work.

FIML will probably not correct your general tendencies toward bias and misplaced confidence, but it will vastly reduce the number of mistakes you make about your partner (and thus yourself). This may not seem like all that much, but it is actually a huge benefit because when you have clarity with your partner, you gain a kind of emotional and psychological security that is deeply satisfying.

Humans are social beings, interactive social beings. When you gain verifiable clarity with your FIML partner you upgrade this fundamental aspect of your being far beyond what is possible by any other means I know of. FIML practice greatly reduces our need to rely on mistaken interpretations of our own making as well as the mistaken interpretations of the cultures to which we belong.

For Buddhists, this helps us to avoid the mistakes inherent in pure introspection as well as the mistakes inherent in accepting the generalities of the Buddhist tradition as it has come down to us today.

Repost: Dynamic semiotics, interpersonal semiotics

We discussed semiotics last week in the post Semiotics and FIML. In a post few days ago we linked to the essay by Daniel Chandler Semiotics for Beginners.

What I want to do today is follow up on those posts and discuss how to use semiotics in a dynamic way. How to use it in dynamic interpersonal situations to increase our understanding of both semiotics and our interpersonal relationships. Doing this will also help us better understand ourselves because the self is constructed out of semiotic elements and it appears most strongly in dynamic interpersonal situations.

One of the problems or deficiencies I see in a good deal of literature on semiotics is concepts pertaining to it tend to be static, based on structures and the general relations between semiotic elements rather than how those elements actually function in the moment. I am pretty sure that most people who spend time thinking about semiotics well-understand that semiotics describes a realm that is very dynamic and very fluid. And yet still, much of what we read is general analysis, a stable abstract schema intended to map or describe something other than itself. Nothing particularly wrong with this because a semiotic map would be a wonderful thing to have, but this approach is limited in that it cannot readily capture the functioning of semiotic parts as they occur in a moment of real life.

In like manner, a good deal of Buddhist literature treats the Dharma as a static map of “reality.” Buddhists try to learn this map and apply it in different circumstances. Again, not a huge problem, but lacking in a method for tackling real moments, as they arise, with something more than general rules or static formulas. Most psychology has the same problem. The DSM maps static traits, while there are few, if any, ways of dealing with dynamic moments as they arise in real life.

The only way I can see to tackle real semiotics or really do Buddhism or psychology is to find a way to deal with semiotics as it is happening. That is to say, to grasp semiotic elements in the moments during which they actually are arising in real life.

(A normal, static way of approaching semiotics might be to apply a semiotic map to the transcript of a recorded conversation. In Buddhism, it might to use a Buddhist slogan or formula to negotiate an emotionally difficult moment. In psychology it might be to use a diagnostic survey to “understand” what “problem” a patient is having and then applying a formulaic method for treating that “problem.” All of these approaches surely have some utility but they are also a bit like trying to catch a fish with a broken hook.)

How then can you or anyone actually “grasp semiotic elements in the moments during which they actually are arising in real life”?

  • You can’t do it alone because when you are alone you have no way of checking the validity of those elements.
  • You have to do it with someone who cares about you, who will help you, and who wants to do the same thing.
  • You both have to have the same plan to quickly grasp those semiotic elements as they arise because if you wait too long, you will be relying too much on your faulty memories, which tend strongly to forget semiotic elements after a few moments or to turn them into static bits of a “reality” that never was.

Analyze your own mind. For how long can you reliably recall everything that was/is in your conscious mind? In a dynamic situation, it’s not going to be very long. Our working memory can’t handle that much data. You probably can hold a decent memory of what is in your mind for no more than a few seconds.

Since we are going to be working with a partner on dynamic semiotics, we won’t need to remember absolutely everything. We will just need to remember things like why we said something, why we used a certain tone of voice, why we made a gesture, why we chose a certain word, etc.

That makes it easier. We could make it even easier if we just sat around with our partner and discussed the semiotics of static things; for example, the semiotics of flags, or national groups, or bicycle fashions. Well, nothing is perfectly static, but you probably get the idea. It is interesting to do stuff like that, but after a point it’s pretty boring.

What is much more interesting and vital is to find a way to discuss semiotics that arise during dynamic interactions with your partner. This will really help you understand what semiotics are and how they function. It will also help you understand Buddhism and human psychology much better.

This is what FIML does. FIML is a method for partners to grasp and understand the dynamics of semiotics as they arise (or very quickly thereafter).

Doing FIML enhances Buddhist practice because it helps partners understand more precisely how something in real life is empty, how it arose, why it arose, how it might create delusion, why it is impermanent, why it is a klesha, and so on.

For people who want to optimize their psychology and their relationship with their partner, FIML greatly improves communication. It helps partners identify and understand transient destabilizing emotions while strengthening deep bonds between them. If partners believe they have psychological problems, FIML will help them understand how those problems actually arise and how they actually impact the moments of their lives. By frequently replacing transient, mistaken emotions and interpretations with better data, FIML partners will gradually relieve themselves of the suffering that comes from poor speech habits, mistaken interpretations, and a static view of the self and others.

FIML is fundamentally a technique for correcting inevitable interpersonal communication mistakes. FIML can be better understood if partners also have a basic understanding of semiotics.

Please see How to do FIML for more.


One topic my partner and I go back and forth on is conversation.

We both wonder—though I do more than her—why so much conversation among adults is so limited.

My extended family, for example, is so limited in what we can say to each other that we resemble people at the beach who never do anything more than sit in the sun and occasionally toss beach balls to each other. If you push even just a little on any topic, you will be met with silence. If you try to move deeper into almost anything, people perceive the effort as threatening, or so it seems. And it has been like this for decades. My extended family is highly restrictive with respect to speaking and listening and nothing seems to ever change that. They are “nice” people but they do nothing to help each other think, reason, or explore the world of the mind. I wish I could say that I have been a saint with them all my life, but I haven’t. I do realize that for years I contributed to the problem by breaking too many “rules” and appearing threatening (I assume) to them.

And if you look beyond my family, the same is true with almost any group. Buddhists get stuck on pretending to be compassionate or empathic. Christians have to watch what issues forth from the mouth, or whatever that quote is. Both systems of thought demand keeping your lips together, if not always your legs. I wish Buddhism would augment the bad speech thing with a bad listening thing.

Group communication is so dependent on shared semiotics that if you do anything to push at those limits, you will be expelled from the group. How many readers have been to an academic conference? One that is large enough to roughly represent the fullness of whatever the latest consensus is but also small enough that you can view the sycophancy? They often function as nothing more than group-bonding and fealty-display sessions.

One of the causes for the stultifying limitations on conversation or discussion within groups is people simply do not know how to go beyond established limits without appearing challenging, aggressive, or destructive. This happens one-on-one within groups and not just in group sessions. Most all of us have been deeply trained to fear being different, saying something that might be taken wrong, that might reflect badly on us and not be forgotten. The training is so deep the fear permeates even families and small temples.

FIML can fix this if enough people do it, but even without FIML, I hope more people will think about this. The person who is trying to say something different or more or extra should be seen, much more often, as someone who is sharing a gift, not issuing a threat.

My extended family is filled with smart, caring people and I love them all, but dang do they suck at saying almost anything about anything.

Repost: FIML and practical semiotics (with a new intro)

Intro: We use the word semiotics quite frequently on this site. The basic meaning of semiotics is “the study of signs,” communicative signs. Semiotics deals with how signs are made, used, and understood. Signs can be anything that communicates—language, gesture, expression, writing, photos, movies, music, behaviors, gifts, tone of voice, etc. Anything that communicates.

Semiotics is also very much about what signs mean. When you use a sign to communicate (and you always use signs when you communicate) with your partner it will mean one thing to you and very possibly something else to them. FIML practice is designed to make sure that the signs you send to your partner are understood as you mean them, and vice versa.

When we emphasize the importance of the meaning of communicative signs on this site, we are using the word semiotics in a slightly unusual way. We could use the word semantics or some other word that we make up. But we like the word semiotics because it always implies at least two meanings (the sender’s and the receiver’s, or yours and your partner’s) and the sign or signs that transmits those meanings between you.

Analyzing (the Buddha was an “analyst”) the signs you use with your partner and within your own mind is an extremely worthwhile activity. Basic FIML practice is all about analyzing and becoming crystal clear about how signs/semiotics are operating between you and your partner. Done properly, FIML will show you how to vastly improve communication with your partner.

Since humans are profoundly interactive beings, clarifying communication with your partner will also clarify you to yourself. For Buddhists, I believe FIML will show you with great specificity very important aspects of what the Buddha meant by delusion and how to overcome it. For others, FIML will do much the same though you may think of it in different terms—FIML removes mistakes from communication (and from your own mind) by isolating small incidents and analyzing them.

Below is a post from some months ago that illustrates how a FIML-based semiotic analysis works.

FIML and practical semiotics

Though FIML practice may appear to deal mainly with spoken language, it actually works primarily by stopping language, or the heedless use of language, so partners can observe and consider the semiotics that underlie what they are saying to each other.

A simple way to understand what FIML does is to consider the main components of a typical act of communication between two people. In this case, the components are semiotics, language, and emotion. These terms can be expanded if need be to include other factors such as behaviors, partners’ bodies, instincts, sensations, etc. But for now let’s just consider semiotics, language, and emotion.

Semiotics are like cables or snakes or ribbons of meaning that accompany our uses of language. They underlie our words and weave in and out of them. Words and language can also be thought of as a kind of semiotic, but for now, let’s separate them. Semiotics is the meaning while language is one way of expressing that meaning.

Emotions as they arise in communicative acts can be of many types. In FIML practice, partners will find that they most often need to use FIML techniques to deal with sudden emotions that seize control of the mind and thence influence or determine what it says or does.

Basically, in all interpersonal communication, strong emotions can and will get attached to a semiotic. In normal non-FIML communication, this attachment almost always occurs without conscious control and it is usually not discussed by the people communicating, and almost never discussed rationally.

A mix-up (or contretemps, as we have sometimes called it) occurs between two people when they have significantly different semiotics in their minds and when one or both of them have attached an emotion to their semiotic.

Notice how closely that description fits with Buddhist thinking—when we become attached to or cling to a wrong view, we cause suffering.

When either partner notices a mix-up, they should initiate a FIML query or discussion. The main point of the discussion is to find out how partners’ semiotics are diverging, if they are. The internal sign that this may be happening is a sudden feeling, usually a negative feeling, based on what your partner has said (or what you think or feel they meant).

Mix-ups occur very often. I would say it is normal to experience a few mix-ups per hour of conversation even with a very close friend or partner. The reason this happens is we depend a great deal on semiotics when we speak to each other. With close friends, our semiotics become more intimate, personal, and emotional. That’s the whole fun of having close friends, but that is also where the danger lies. If friends or partners don’t do FIML, their small mix-ups will compound and lead to big mix-ups.

FIML is designed to catch mix-ups right as they happen. The reason for this is if you wait even a few seconds too long, you won’t be able to remember accurately where the mix-up started, what provoked it. And your partner won’t be able to remember accurately what they were thinking when you first felt the emotional jangle that signaled the appearance of a mix-up. If either partner can’t accurately remember what was in their mind at the onset of the mix-up, you can’t fix it at that time. You have to agree to be quicker or more observant next time and move on for now.

If you keep trying to get to the root of a mix-up whose origin has been forgotten, you will get lost in generalities (general semiotics) and not only not fix the problem but probably make it worse. Just remember that something happened and that it will probably happen again. See if you can catch it next time. It will almost certainly happen again because a mix-up almost always is based on one or both partners having a strong emotional attachment to a semiotic and then associating that semiotic with triggers or cues.

For example, I have a habitual strong emotional attachment to the semiotic that other people do not care about me or what I am saying. If I get that wrong in a conversation—that is, if that semiotic wrongly lights up inside of me—I am going to make mistakes about what the other person is saying or not saying and why. True, sometimes people really don’t care. But if I have that reaction with my partner while she is caring, I have made a huge mistake. I will feel bad about myself and her and I will be completely wrong. I will have taken something good (her caring) and turned it into it’s opposite. That mistake will then cause me to make others. I might speak sharply or start sulking or go do something else, leaving my partner feeling abandoned. How sad that is, but how very, very common.

FIML is designed to prevent that kind of bullshit. From this small example, I hope you can see how serious even a little mistake can be.

FIML allows partners to engage in an entirely different way of speaking to each other. It teaches us how to think differently. Not all mix-ups are serious. Many of them are neutral, some are funny, and virtually all of them are interesting. As you get better at identifying when you and your partner are starting to veer off into mixed-up semiotics, you will find that the range of subjects you can comfortably talk about increase greatly. How you talk to each other will become a normal subject and, with time, you will really feel that you and your partner can depend on each other for good clear speech that arises out of your own unique individualities.

Most people misunderstand everything


Because language is necessarily often ambiguous.


The ambiguities are rarely fixed.


Unfixed ambiguities lead to errors in interpretation. The errors accumulate and snowball. All people have been raised in environments like that and continue to live in them.

This causes pain because our minds are capable of communicating unambiguously, but we don’t know how.

We are semiotic animals, beings that live in semiotic jungles.

Our pain and error-ridden communication makes us mean, simple, greedy, stupid, violent, selfish, crazy.

Communication errors, misinterpretations, cause ghosts to form in the mind. We need to imagine a role for ourselves and others, but since we experience so many errors, our imaginings are fundamentally wrong. They are like ghosts in our minds.

We are as ghosts speaking and listening to each other.

Meaning and identity

[Edit: I have changed the first six bullets several times.]

  • Meaning can be defined as two or more signalling systems connecting. Connecting means “sending and receiving, receiving and sending.”
  • To visualize this, think of Newton’s every action produces an opposite and equal reaction; thus sending (action) produces receiving (reaction), which in turn sends a message back. For example, a photon hits a hydrogen atom; the photon “sends” while the atom “receives”; by receiving, it also sends a message back and out; it affects the photon and more.
  • Space is the foundation of the plethora of signalling systems. Time is the foundation of their activity and extent.
  • Meaning is the most basic word in language.
  • When you look at it “psychologically,” it’s not what the sign is but what the meaning is. Thus, meaning is a deep basis of semiotics.
  • In this context, it makes sense to say that time and space are the sine qua non of signalling systems. This “defines” time and space in terms of signalling systems.
  • Identity depends on meaning as defined above.
  • Our identities are (somewhat) complex nexuses of meaning/signaling that “embody” our comprehension of the semiotics of our cultures and experiences. They lie at the center of how we understand ourselves. Identity signalling occurs internally as well as externally.
  • In non-FIML social intercourse it is normal for people to assert/display the props/symbols of their identities, as they understand them.
  • People who do FIML also need identities, but they do not need the social props that help non-FIML people define each other.
  • You really do not want to be defined by props and symbols. It’s a static role that leads away from authentic being.
  • People do not truly belong to a culture. Rather they maintain the illusion that they belong to a culture. This is clear when we think and analyze identity in terms semiotics, which here means “the science of communicable meaning.”
  • Having a weak or confused identity can be a very good thing as this may prompt you to learn how identities are made and maintained.
  • No Buddhist should want an identity defined by props and symbols.
  • Buddhism is about authentic being, the “thusness” of being, the experiential existential being that you really are, the one that occurs before there are definitions, props, and symbols.
  • This being can be hard to see because humans are semiotic entities; that is, we are entities that seek, create, and communicate meaning. This causes us to look within semiotics for the definition of our authentic being, a place where it can never be found. You have to look outside of semiotics.
  • But you can’t look outside semiotics unless you know how to look inside. You have to fully understand how the “language” of your semiotics works to be able to step outside of it.
  • Your semiotics is your unique take on the semiotics of your culture(s) and experiences.
  • You cannot fully explore your semiotics, your identity, your nexus of individual meaning alone because there is no way you can check your work. You cannot see yourself.
  • Each of us is a social, interactive, communicative being. You can only fully explore your unique semiotics/identity with a partner who wants to do the same.
  • Two people working together are able to stop the flow of conversation to analyze the semiotics of how they are hearing and speaking. One person working alone is only guessing.
  • Find a partner and do FIML. You will learn a lot from it.
  • Do not expect FIML to give you new symbols or props or tell you how to be. FIML is only a procedure. It is empty, almost devoid of its own content. It is a process that will help you see and recreate your identity.
  • Do not expect your FIML teacher to be an example for you. Do not expect your teacher to be impressive or to project signs and symbols at you. Do not expect to follow your teacher.
  • Just learn how to do FIML from them.

Why FIML is better than psychotherapy

FIML is not better than psychotherapy if you are in the midst of a crisis or you do not have a suitable FIML partner.

In most other cases, FIML practice will work better than psychotherapy because FIML is done in real-time with a partner to whom you are genuinely connected.

FIML partners form an “interpersonality” that allows both of them to find their “authentic” beings; that is, their beings shorn of mistaken fixations within their “identities.”

Identity can be reasonably defined as “a semiotic nexus that is central to and defines much or most of the matrix of interpersonal semiotics known and used by an individual.”

Our identity, as defined above, is the “deluded” “self” of Buddhism. It is a delusion that causes suffering and it can be fixed by freeing ourselves from it, from its demands.

Buddhist practice can free us from this identity and so can FIML. Taken together, the two practices, I believe, work quicker and better than either of them taken alone.

Psychotherapy does not work as well as FIML in most cases because there is no way that a paid professional can provide the time or insight that a worthy FIML partner can.

In Buddhist terms, without extensive Buddhist practice, we are all deluded. In FIML terms, without extensive FIML practice, we are all crazy.

I do not believe there is anyone with a healthy “identity” who has not done extensive Buddhist and/or FIML practice. This is so because without sufficient analysis (the Buddha was an analyst) of the causes and conditions that produce and maintain our “identities,” they will function on their own; in a deep sense they will function unconsciously “without us.”

This causes suffering because the mind being led around by an unconscious (and harmful) “identity” will know at some level that it is not the authentic mind, not the mind that is capable of much more, not the “Buddha mind.”


The oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle. Source.

Malignant narcissism and identity

Malignant narcissism is an extreme form of narcissism characterized by aggression against people who threaten the narcissist’s narcissistic supply.

A malignant narcissist sees the other person as the threat, not just what they say or do.

This makes sense in that a narcissist has at some level concluded that they as a person are the standard for all things; thus, other people are blamed and attacked far out of proportion to whatever the narcissist believes they have done.

In Christian terms, the malignant narcissist blames the sinner not the sin and thus attacks the sinner, even when the sin may be as mild as a withheld compliment or a deserved rebuke.

I think all narcissists behave in a manner similar to this, though the ordinary type, which is very common in this world, is less aggressive than the malignant type.

Since narcissism is so common, one can say that in some ways narcissists have good reason to be suspicious of others and take revenge on them. There really is a good chance that they are dealing with another narcissist, who will do the same to them if they get the chance.

In a previous post, I wrote about the vortex or tautology of identity, the tautology of basing our identity on a semiotic matrix that, by its very nature, always refers back to the same “identity.” A malignant narcissist is an extreme example of this problem.

The semiotics of malignant narcissism are such that the narcissist sees his or her identity as being the person they really are. Seeing themselves in this way, narcissists apply a similar logic to others—at their core they are people who must be opposed or attacked for even the slightest perceived offense.

A group example of extreme malignant narcissism might be North Korea. If an NK citizen makes a single mistake—even a slight verbal mistake—they run the risk of being executed and also having three generations of their family sent to prison for life. The reasoning is that the original offender is a very bad person, which can be known from what they said. And since they are very bad, they must have influenced every person in their family who is younger than them and been influenced by every person in their family who is older than them.

If that isn’t hell on earth, I don’t know what is.

It is my belief that most groups, even very cute and nice ones, tend toward narcissism and many of them tend toward and become malignantly narcissistic. This happens because groups form and maintain themselves on the basis of shared semiotics, which necessarily are formulaic or simplistic.

We can see malignant narcissism in many religious, political, nationalist, or ethnic groups. The clearest sign is a disproportionate response to criticism—banishment, murder, violence, loss of employment, etc.—but narcissistic groups can also be clever and hide these responses or delay them long enough that the connection to the “offense” is hard to see.

Just as narcissistic groups cannot bear criticism, even self-criticism from within, so individual narcissists are bad at introspection. For either one, to honestly view and assess the core value (me!) is to destroy the false identity. For either one (group or individual) this would be a wonderful thing for them and others, but it is hard to do because their semiotic matrix is a tautology and they cannot admit this, or usually even see it.

Identity as a vortex or tautology

Our identities are fundamentally made up of semiotic matrices. That is to say, in part, that our identities have meaning; they mean something to us.

Often they mean a great deal to us and from them we derive the semiotics of motivation, intention, life-plans, many of our central interests, and so on.

Identities have strong emotional components, to be sure, but our emotions are ambiguous or diffuse if they are not positioned on a semiotic matrix and focused or defined by that matrix.

Identity is usually tautological in that its components, interests, and associations tend always to lead back to a few central elements. Often these elements have been inculcated in us by training. Some, we learn on our own. These elements are our values and beliefs, and also how these values and beliefs are understood and pursued.

The semiotics of identity must mean something to the person identifying with them. In this sense, they are almost always tautological. I do what I do because that is how I learned how to do it, think it, feel it, perceive it.

Most people are more adept at moving the parts of language around than they are at moving semiotic elements around. For many, semiotics are either an unknown, unconscious level of being or abstractions that belongs in scholarly journals.

To think like that is a big mistake. Semiotics are very real and they affect us constantly on many levels.

When semiotics are unconscious, they act like a vortex pulling perception, emotion, and understanding always toward the center of the identity. I think this is another way to say, in the Buddhist sense, that the self is empty; that it has no “own being.”

We can pursue an understanding of an empty self through Buddhist thought and practice, but I believe we will get better results more quickly if we add a practice that deals directly with the semiotics of our identities.

Since there is no book you can go to to look up how your unique semiotics of identity works, you have to see for yourself how it works. You can do much of this on your own, but eventually you will need a partner because there is no way you will be able to get an objective perspective on yourself acting alone.

FIML practice is the only way I know of to fully see into and through the semiotics of your “identity.” Beneath identity there is a sort of artesian well of pure, undefined consciousness. FIML helps us experience that well while keeping us from rushing back into the tautological matrix of identity, or static self-definition.

FIML is able to do this because FIML is process. FIML itself has no definition, only a procedure. It is not a tautology because it has no semiotic boundaries.