Expressions of alienation: language and interpersonal experience in schizophrenia

E. Pienkos, L.A. Sass

Department of Clinical Psychology, Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA

It is well known that both language and intersubjectivity are profoundly affected in schizophrenia. While many contemporary studies have emphasised more “objective” or observable markers of disturbances in these domains, this paper investigates the subjective experience of language and other people in schizophrenia. It presents a summary of previous work in the tradition of phenomenological psychopathology, while also analysing patients’ own reports of their disturbances. The purpose is to map out those features of linguistic and interpersonal experience that might be particularly unique to or at least highly characteristic of schizophrenia. In language these are found to be: 1. Diminished interpersonal orientation; 2. Disturbances of attention and context-relevance; 3. Underlying mutations of experience; and 4. Unusual attitudes toward language. Disturbances in the experience of others include: 1. Abnormalities of common sense; 2. Anomalies of empathy; 3. Paranoia and experiences of centrality; and 4. Feelings or perceptions of devitalisation. Such experiences seem to arise out of certain basic disturbances or perhaps a central trouble générateur, suggesting a shift away from the shared, social world toward a more solipsistic stance in response to underlying disturbances in basic self. Changes in the experience of language and other persons may further intersect with each other and also contribute to disturbances in basic self experience. Here we consider how both language and intersubjectivity are not only structured by various psychological processes, but also play a structuring role in the ongoing construction of subjective experience. 

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