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« Nigerians are a Lot of Things, But Failure we are Not | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #2 of 54: Angola »

January 09, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Psychological Series 2006, #1 of 52

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji (Seatle, Washington) --- (1) HOW I FOUND PEACE IN A WARRING WORLD Are you living in tension and want to experience peace? If so, consider doing what I did to find peace. I have found freedom from tension and would like to share with you the gift of tension free living.

Some background information is necessary before we explore my methodology for reducing tension.
I lived in tension. In fact, I was so tense that if you touched my body, it felt hot. This was a very uncomfortable pattern of living, so I sought explanation for it and elimination of it.
I was born in Alaigbo. Alaigbo must be the most neurotic society on planet earth. See Victor Uchendu. (I) In Alaigbo, children are not accepted in an unconditional positive manner ala Carl Rogers. (2) Children are accepted conditionally, mostly only when they do what society expects of them to do.
In no uncertain terms, Igbo society tells its children that, as they are, they are not good enough until they do certain things that are expected of them. Those who perform as expected are positively reinforced with social approval and acceptance.
Those socially approved generally turn out as normal adults. The normal adult is a person who has adjusted to his society as it is, even if that society is pathological.
Igbo conditional approval of its people probably accounts for the amazing achievement of the Igbos. Igbos essentially came into contact with Western civilization in the twentieth century; they now have families whose children routinely attend universities, a feat not even achieved in the United States of America. Igbo society drives its people to achieve greatness or they are perceived as nothing. It pays a heavy price for its neurotic basis of social acceptance. Many Igbos live with inordinate fear of failure, anxiety and tension.

In all human societies, Igbo society included, some children, the physically sensitive ones, usually find it difficult to do what their conditionally accepting society expects of them to do to be accepted. I was one such sensitive child. I could not do what my conditionally accepting Igbo society expected of children and, therefore, was largely not positively rewarded.
All children are motivated to be accepted by what Harry Stack Sullivan (3) called their “Significant others” (parents, siblings, peers, teachers, authority figures).
Children know that they are very vulnerable and left alone that they are unable to do what it takes for them to survive physically. Children need adults support to survive. Fearing death, children seek ways to please those whose support they must have for them to physically survive, adults. Thus, children struggle to be accepted by the adults in their world, particularly the significant ones.
By and large, the majority of children seem able to do what their significant others require of them for acceptance. Thus, every where in the world, about 90% of children tend to turn out normal.
Some children are unable to do what their significant others require of them for positive acceptance. As Karen Horney (4) sees it, some of those children who are unable to do what their society rewards exaggerate known human tendencies. She called these children neurotic children. I was a neurotic child. The neurotic child is unable to do what his society expects of him before he is accepted, so he uses his imagination and thinking to construct an ideal self that he thinks is the type of person that his society would approve and accept, and attempts to become that idealized person. He experiences an obsessive compulsive desire to become the ideal ego self that he wishes he were, but that, in fact, he is not. He feels fine to the extent that he seems to approximate the ideal mirage he wants to become and feels anxious when he feels that he is not that ideal person. As it were, his very life depends on him becoming the ideal self, for he thinks that it is only if he were that person would his society accept him and that failure to become him would lead to social rejection hence death.
Most children under age twelve would die if not accepted and cared for by adults, since they cannot fend and shift for themselves yet. The fear of social rejection is thus rooted in social realism, for social rejection is often tantamount to death. We protect what we value and destroy what we do not value. Unvalued children fear destruction by society.
The desire to become an ideal self, a self that society would accept, is, in effect, the desire to live, given the conditional terms of social acceptance. Thus, to Horney, our conditionally accepting societies cause the sensitive child to become afraid of death and to construct an idealized false (neurotic) self and cling to it as if he is that fictional self.
In the process of trying to become their idealized selves, some persons become psychotic. These persons are not our present concern, for they are the purview of psychiatrists. See The American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. (5)


Every human being thinks in concepts. By age six or so each child has posited a self concept, an idea of the person he or she thinks that he is.
Since human beings also think in imagery, the self concept is translated into a self image, a picture of who the child thinks that he or she is. Thus, children have self concepts and self images.
George Kelly (6) tells us how the self concept is reached. As he sees it, the human child uses his biological constitution and social experiences as building blocks and combines them to construct a self concept and self image. By age thirteen, adolescence, each human being has constructed a fixed self concept and self image and behaves accordingly.
Alfred Adler (7) conjectures that children who were born with problematic bodies, who subsequently feel inordinately weak and inferior Vis a Vis their physical and social environment tend to construct problematic self concepts and self images. They pursue superiority. They construct superior self concepts and self images and desire to become them. To Adler, the construction and pursuit of the superior self is what constitutes neurosis.
Karen Horney defines neurosis as pursuit of the idealized self image and fear of being the real self. The neurotic child associates his real self with a failed self that society would reject and desires to be an imaginary ideal self that society would accept.
As Horney sees it, society accepts children conditionally. Those children who were unable to meet the conditions for social acceptance and who therefore were not socially accepted still struggle to meet the conditions of social acceptance. They posit idealized self concepts and idealized self images, usually a very perfect self, and strive to become it. They hope that if they attain the idealized perfect self that their society would accept them. Since they fear social rejection, they fear not meeting the conditions of social acceptance, the idealized self.
The struggle to become the idealized self concept and self image produces what Horney called basic anxiety (what psychoanalysis, in general, calls neurotic anxiety disorder). The neurotic person at all times has free floating anxiety, from his fear of not living up to his cherished idealized self image, a self he believes that if he attains it that society would approve him. Sometimes, he pretends that he is his imaginary idealized self image, and acts in what Adler called “As If” he is the superior self he wants to become but is not.
The neurotic is a person who acts in an obsessive compulsive manner to become an idealized self concept/image and lives with anxiety and tension.


The term neurosis applies to all people, in degrees. All human beings have idealized self concepts and corresponding idealized self images; all human beings have a desire to attain their idealized self images and all human beings feel some anxiety and tension from the desire to become their imaginary ideal selves.
The normal person is a person who, more or less, is not conscious of the neurotic anxiety in him, whereas the neurotic person is conscious of his neurotic anxiety. The neurotic person is conscious of the fact that he has an idealized self image and that he is afraid of not attaining it, hence is anxious.
What the full fledged neurotic does consciously, the normal person does unconsciously.
Consider the normal Igbo person. He must fit into his conditionally accepting society. He knows that his society accepts him mostly when he achieves something significant and ignores him when he fails. Thus, he seeks to become an important person (importance as defined by his neurotic society, not importance as it, in fact, is). He sees going to school and attaining higher education as an instrument that would make him seem important in his society’s eyes. The moment he obtains a doctorate degree he insists that every person in his world call him Dr Njoku (a typical Igbo name). Being called doctor makes him feel important in people’s eyes.
If he does not have access to higher education, he may, in fact, buy the term doctor, for he thinks that it makes him seem very important.
Generally, the term doctor of knowledge indicates a person who dedicates his life to the pursuit of knowledge. But the Igbos have perverted that term to mean a very important person. In the West, many academic doctors actually make less money than plumbers, showing how the term is not meant to reflect wealth but designation for a person who loves philosophy and science.
If the Igbo cannot buy doctorate degrees from degree mills, he buys chieftaincy titles from his village. He gives people in his village money and they invent a non-existent chieftaincy title and confer it on him. Suddenly, he masquerades about as Chief Njoku. Being called chief makes him feel important in other people’s perception.
If he happens to secure a job at a university, without even bothering to publish prolifically, he insists that the public refer to him as Professor Njoku. This makes him feel very important in society’s eyes.
If he is an engineer, he appends the term engineer to his name; if an architect, he appends the term architect before his name, if he is an attorney, he appends the term lawyer before his name, such as being called “lawyer Njoku”.
All these apparent ridiculous behaviors are undertaken by the Igbos wish to seem superior, powerful and important.
(You can substitute your own ethnic group’s name for Igbo, if you feel that they behave as I am describing; I am limiting my analysis to the people I know most, my people, myself, the Igbos. Please remember that what a person sees in others is very likely what he sees in himself. What I see in Igbos I see in me. I am, therefore, projecting what I see in me to them; this is positive use of the ego defense of projection; one is not denying what one sees in ones self by attributing it to other people.)
These behaviors are neurotic. But at the conscious level, the normal person does not know that he is being neurotic in engaging in his title crazy behavior.
The normal person is an unconscious neurotic person, whereas the neurotic person is a conscious neurotic person. In a manner of speaking, the neurotic is a more conscious human being.
In metaphysical categories, the neurotic is at the verge of awakening from the dream of (spirit) self forgetfulness and is struggling to cling to his dream separated self, whereas the normal person is fast asleep and takes his dream self as his real self. See Helen Schucman, A Course in Miracles for an elaboration of these ideas. (8)


The Igbo person who appends ridiculous titles to himself is gratifying his desire for specialness; he is gratifying his infantile narcissism. Whereas all human beings have aspects of narcissism, some exaggerate it and have narcissistic personality disorder. Such persons have a compulsive desire to get other persons attention and to be admired by people; they often do not hesitate using people to enable them attain positions in society that they believe would garner them the attention they think that they need; they show no remorse or guilt feeling in exploiting and using people for their ends and discarding them when they are no longer useful to them. The narcissist feels inordinately inadequate and does whatever he does to enable him seem adequate in his and society’s eyes. Generally, he tends to be hard working and is successful, as human beings consider these things. As long as he is succeeding, he feels like he is a social somebody. But when he meets with failure, he tends to feel depressed, even suicidal.
The human child desires to seem like he is important and special and matter to a world that clearly does not treat him as if he matters. Natural workings like earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes, draughts, tsunamis, plagues, diseases, virus, bacteria, and fungi sweep people to untimely death, as they sweep animals and trees to death.
To nature, human beings are no more important than animals and trees. But human beings want to seem special and important despite nature’s judgment that they are nothing significant; they want to seem special, so they give themselves useless titles that seem to make them important when, in fact, their bodies are mere food being prepared for worms. Human beings are nothingness pretending to be somethingness.


For our present purposes, the salient point is that whereas all human beings desire importance, certain human beings exaggerate what all human beings do; aspire to becoming very important persons. These persons live in tremendous anxiety and tension. They know no somatic and psychological peace.
The neurotic lives a life of internal conflict, the conflict between his real self and his ideal self.
The real self is the bodily self and the ideal self is the mental self. The ideal self is exactly that, ideal, and not real. The ideal self is a mental construct, an abstraction, a fictional and mythical perfect self.
The ideal self is non existent but the constructor of it, the human person wants it to become real.
Human beings are animals that hate and reject their real selves (animal selves) and construct mental ideal selves and aspire to making these imaginary ideal selves come true.
The real is that which adapts to the world of matter, energy, space and time. The real must be imperfect for it is limited by the exigencies of the world it lives in and has no control over. You cannot stop the rain from falling.
The ideal self is merely a mental reconstruction of our imperfect selves and made perfect. In our thinking, in our minds, we invent ideal, perfect selves, but in the real world we are all imperfect selves, for our lives are restricted by the reality of space and time.
No matter how much you wish that you were godlike in your powers, the fact is that you are living in a body, body which is composed of matter, elements, atoms and particles hence not powerful. Your body is just a variety of biological organisms; you are an animal and a tree in a different form. Simply stated, your body is nothing important. You may delude yourself into thinking that you are very important; the president of the world, the fact is that you are food for worms. You will die, decay and smell to high heaven.
Human beings do not like to accept their real selves, their bodily selves; they hate what their bodies do, such as defecate and engage in filthy sex. (They hide those physical activities for they are ashamed of them.)
They reject the real bodily selves and invent imaginary mental ideal selves and attempt to become them.
As long as they quest after their idealized selves, they must live in conflict and tension.


To live a tension free existence, one must give up the desire to live as an idealized self. One must embrace the bodily self. One must not be ashamed of the activities of the bodily self, such as eating food, defecating and having sex. One must let go of ones prideful ideal self. (Horney pointed out that pride is a neurotic property; it is the ideal self that feels proud; the real self, an animal self just is, it is neither good nor bad.)
The bodily self still has some tension; tension free existence is not an absolute proposition. Animals do not want to die. They fear death and protect themselves. If you come into a room where there are cockroaches and rats, they run away and go hide for they desire to live and do not want you to squash them to death. Their running away is motivated by their desire to live and their fear of harm and death. This biological fear means that they experience some somatic tension and do not have total peace.

If a human being accepted his bodily real self and gave up his idealized self concept and self image, he would experience the level of fear and tension found in animals, minimal fear and tension, the neurotically maximal fear and tension.
To not experience any fear and tension at all, to have perfect peace, the individual must die. I guess that is why they say RIP for the dead, Rest in Peace, for it is only when we die and no longer live in body, that we no longer defend our vulnerable bodies that we experience total peace.
As long as we live in this world and are in bodies, bodies threatened by microorganisms and other natural forces, we must have some fear and tension and not have perfect peace. But we can reduce our neurotic anxiety and tension and increase our peace by not aspiring after idealized self concepts and self images, and by accepting our real selves, our physical self.
I found peace by jettisoning my earlier quest for an idealized self concept and self image and by accepting my real self, my animal bodily self.
Now, I see myself as an animal and not more than that. I do not imagine myself anything other than an animal. Like all animals, I experience animal fear of harm and death of my body hence is a bit defensive. But I no longer have neurotic desire for an idealized self and do not have neurotic defense of that idealized self concept and self image. I tend to be relatively tension free and at peace with the world.

I live in relative peace but I see my brothers, particularly Igbo brothers living in neurotic tension and anxiety. I see them with their idealized self concepts and images and seeking to realize those fantasy selves. I see them wanting to be called professor, chief, and doctor Njoku, all in a neurotic effort to seem like they are very important persons. Their behaviors are efforts to negate the obvious, that they are food being prepared for worms.
I see them dance normal neurotic dances for worth and know that like me they are worthless and valueless.
I am totally worthless and valueless. The same goes for you. I have no illusion and or delusion of my worth. I do not see you as better than me, for I know that you, even if you are the president of the world are food for worms. I am not deceived by your crazy attempt to give you imaginary worth.

If a human being accepts his real self, his body and its worthlessness and valuelessness, he tends to give up defense of imaginary important self and only defend like animals do, hence tends to be only mildly fearful and tense.


Nothing said in this paper negates the possibility of a spiritual dimension to us. In fact, I think that we are spiritual beings having physical experience. In other papers, I described my spiritual psychology.
I believe that we are part of one unified life, one life force that can be anthropomorphized as one unified self. That one self is simultaneously infinite selves.
One life, one self manifests in infinite lives/selves. In its real state, which is outside of matter, space and time, it is spirit. But in matter, space and time, it constructs the self concept and self image for each of us.
Each of us is an individualized aspect of one life, one self. As part of that unified life, unified self we are permanent, changeless and eternal. But in body, we are changeable and mortal. In unified spirit we have total worth and value. In body we have no apparent value and worth.
Spirit is all importance, body is nothing; unified self is grandeur, separated self is grandiosity. See Osuji, Real Self Psychology. (9)
In this paper, I am focusing on the temporal man, the man in body, space and time. That self is temporal, is born, grows old and dies and his body decomposes and returns to the elements, atoms and particles that constituted it. As body, I see no value to people, other than the imaginary values they give to themselves.
Imaginary values are no values. To prove that people have no value, if you, the reader, choose, you can kill me and, if I choose, I can kill you. This means that we are nothing important to nature.
Our physical importance is imaginary and pretended importance. (I used to amuse myself by watching people bedecked in fine clothes and jewelries; I would visualize them as dead and rotten bodies. I would, like Arthur Schopenhauer (10) ask: why take all that trouble to wear; why adorn the body with trinkets if it is food for worms? Human beings seemed absurd.)

For pour present purposes, the salient point is that the pursuit of the idealized important self, an imaginary self, exacerbates human fear, anxiety and tension. That pursuit contributes to people’s tendency to feel emotional upsets. In fact, the pursuit of an idealized self is implicated in most mental disorders, such as paranoia, schizophrenia, mania, depression, anxiety disorder etc.
If a person wants to live in relative peace, for absolute peace is impossible while we live in bodies, he must give up his imaginary important self and simply accept himself as unimportant self.
Accepting the self as unimportant does not mean that other people are more important than one. I do not consider any human being alive as better than other human beings. I do not care whether he lives at the American president’s house, the “Black House”, the Pope’s house at the Vatican, the Dibia House, he is still an animal.
When I visited those two places, I felt inordinately superior to the “children” living in them. I felt that they were no more than children pretending to be adults, animals pretending to be mighty human beings.


To live in peace and be tension free, the individual must give up his self concept and self image, all of it. Unfortunately, to live in body, to be on earth, the individual must have a self concept and self image, a personality. The most he seems able to do is ascertain that his self concept/self image/personality is flexible and not too rigid. (See David Shapiro, Neurotic Styles. (11))
In as much as the individual must have some sort of self concept, self image and personality, he must have a certain degree of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness; he must live in some somatic and psychological tension. As long as human beings live on earth, they must have tension and lack peace but they can reduce their tension and increase their peace by remaking their self concepts.
If the individual reinvents his self concept and makes it a loving and forgiving one, and uses it to serve social interests, he tends to be relatively less tense; he tends to be relatively peaceful and happy.
Jesus Christ said: I give you my peace. Indeed, his followers refer to him as the prince of peace. What that means is that whoever dedicates his life to loving; forgiving and serving all people tend to live in peace and is a bringer of peace to a world at war with itself.


If it were possible to not judge ones self or other people, one would be in perfect peace. Judgment disturbs peace. But that is an ideal statement, not a realistic one. In real world, human beings must judge themselves and other people. They judge themselves with either real self standards or ideal self standards. Real self standards are the standard of animals in bodies, while ideal self standards are the standards of disembodied selves, abstract and unrealistic. Judging the self and other people with false ideal neurotic standards gives them tension.
It is feasible to judge with realistic standards and give up judging with ego idealistic perfect standards. Judge people as they are, not as you think that they should be, according to your perfect standards. People are animals living in body; therefore, judge them as you would judge an animal and you would not generate tension in them.
An animal eats, sleeps, and seeks survival and mates to reproduce it. There is no particular reason why it should reproduce itself except that it simply has a desire to do so.
Human beings are like animals; they do the same things that animals do: eat, sleep, have sex, reproduce and there is no particular reason why they should do so. They have no reason to live in body except that they have a desire to do so.
(You may say that they separated from their unified self to go seem to live as special separated selves, to dream that they are separated selves in bodies etc and that the dream is an illusion, since the individual cannot separate from the whole unified self; he is always unified while dreaming that he is separated; the most he can do is have a happy dream where he loves and forgives himself and his fellow dreamers but he cannot make his dream, separation real)
In the temporal universe, there is no particular reason to live or not to live. People simply live because they have an inner compulsion to live; they experience a drive to survive for as long as it is possible to do so in body (which is, perhaps, 120 years?).
In the meantime, if the individual loves and forgives all people and does something he truly likes doing and has an aptitude for doing and serves social interest, he will be relatively peaceful and happy.


Human beings have self concepts and self images, aka personalities and egos. There is no doubt that each of them, building on his biological and social experiences constructs his self concept and self image.
The individual is responsible for inventing his self concept and self image. He got a little help from other people in inventing his self concept and self image; just as he helps other people in conceptualizing themselves and their world.
The self concept and the self image were constructed by some force. Who is the conceptualizer, the image maker?
Obviously, the conceptualizer is not his concept; the image maker is not his image. The concept builder is different from his constructs. The various religions of mankind call the concept maker, the image maker spirit.
Spirit is not amenable to intellectual understanding. Spirit knows but does not understand. Understanding is for our world, the world of space, time and matter.
Ours is a perceptual world, not a knowing world. We do not know anything for certain. Our world is always changing, you cannot step into the same river twice; where things are always changing there can be no certainty of knowledge.
To perceive, to see there must be a self and not self, a you and I, a world of separation, space and time. To perceive there must be a world of things, a world of objects, bodies and forms. We live in the world of perception, the world of objects and perceiver of objects. This is the temporal world.
Unified spirit is not in the world of space, time and objects hence does not perceive things. The world of spirit is the world of oneness, sameness, and equality. Our temporal world is the opposite of the unified spirit world, for it is the world of separation, differences and inequality, whereas the unified world is the world of union. Our world is a world of change, time and mortality; unified spirit world is the world of changelessness and permanence.
Unified spirit knows itself as unified and has no sense of you and I, seer and seen, subject and object. The world of unified self, the world from which the conceptualizer, the image maker came from, is totally different from our world and cannot be understood with the categories of our world.
We leave the spirit world, for now, and concentrate on the empirical world, the world of the here and now, the world that science (which psychology is a part of).


The path to tension free living lies in understanding of the self concept, self image and personality. We must reconceptualize and rethink our self concepts and self images; we must accept the real self, the animal self and desisting from pursuit of neurotic, or psychotic, false ideal self.
If it were possible to have no self concept, no self image and no human personality, to extinguish the separated, special self and return to the unified self, folks would live in total peace. But that prospect is for after death existence in bodiless, that is, spirit mode.
In the here and now world, we can experience relative peace and happiness by shrinking our self concepts to realistic proportions.
I found peace in a world at war with itself by reconceptualizing who I think that I am; from idealistic to realistic; from hating and rejecting what is peculiar to human beings, animal behavior, to embracing them.
I no longer feel ashamed to eat, defecate, and even have sex, as I used to feel. Like Nietzsche, (12) I accept all that it means to be a human being, without pride and its opposite, shame. I just accept what is, as what is, without wishing that it be different to suit my idealistic wishes. In doing so, I found some peace in this warring world, a world where we declare war on our real selves, our animal, bodily selves by wishing to be purely mentally constructed selves, a world where we are at war with our unified spirit self by wishing to be separated special selves.

Ozodi Thomas Osuji, PhD

* These weekly series of articles can also be found at:

(Africa Psychology welcomes contributions by psychologists and other mental health professionals. Articles must be useful to actual people’s efforts to adapt to their world. These articles are also published in the journal: African Psychology. Contact: for further information.)


Alfred Adler, The Neurotic Constitution
American Psychiatric Association, DSM
Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth
George Kelly, Psychology of Personal Constructs
Frederick Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Real Self Psychology
Carl Rogers, Client Centered Therapy
Arthur Schopenhauer, World as Will and Idea
Helen Schucman, A Course in Miracles
David Shapiro, Neurotic Styles
Harry Stark Sullivan, The Interpersonal Psychiatry of Harry Stack Sullivan
Victor Uchendu, The Igbos of South East Nigeria

Posted by Administrator at January 9, 2006 11:56 PM


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