A person in a closed environment as a psychological problem

A person in a closed environment as a psychological problem

DOI: 10.11621/pir.2013.0412


This article addresses an ethically weighted problem which is related to modern psychology: when a person lives in a closed environment. A new approach to solving this problem is being examined. It is based on the finding of substantial new functional aspects of the cognitive processes of making and losing meaning. The study of this sub-discipline started with O.K. Tikhomirov’s theory of thinking. The phenomenon of “adaptability to changes in lifestyle” is being analyzed. The substantial characteristics of the notion of a “closed environment” as well as the psychological manifestations which appear when one is forced to live in a closed environment or choses to live in one of his or her own volition are being revealed. According to the author, the new approach will allow us to come closer to understanding and being able to explain the psychological mechanisms of the mental upheaval which prisoners in solitary confinement experience.

Received: 01.10.2013

Accepted: 15.11.2013

Themes: Cognitive psychology; Social psychology

PDF: http://psychologyinrussia.com/volumes/pdf/2013_4/2013_4_143-149.Pdf

Pages: 143-149

DOI: 10.11621/pir.2013.0412

Keywords: meaning-making, rethinking, meaning-losing, open system, closed environment, world image, lifestyle.

Following the results of research workcarried out in O.K. Tikhomirov’s scientific school to study the thinkingpatterns at play in real-life activity, the problems of meaning-making and thepossibility of future rethinking or meaning-losing got a new impulse. Whilethinking is a mental process, it is difficult to find its axiological dynamics,which determine its selectivity and orientation. In real-life activity, thefunction of thinking does not lead to a problem’s solution, especially to theproblems raised by someone else, as defined in this or that way and somehowpresented to a person in a ready-made finished form. So what is the functionalrole of thinking in the real-life activity of a person?

When the materials from L.S.Vygotsky’s personal archive became accessible in 2008, it turned out that theauthor of the cultural and historical approach has analyzed this problem. Inone of his records, he states: “as soon as we remove the thinking from ourlives (from dynamics) — taken as a mental but not a psychological notion — wewill have closed off any way of finding and explaining its main characteristic:to determine lifestyle and behavior” (Zavershneva, 2008, p. 129). Based on theresults of the studies of the psychological specifics of the regulation ofthinking in real-life activity, O.M. Krasnoryadtseva concluded that the mainfunction of thinking consists of the exposure of the conflict between the imageof the world and the lifestyle of a person, and the determination of ways toresolve it (Krasnoryadtseva, 1997). Meanwhile, thinking fulfills an importantfunction: it mediates the processes of the change of lifestyles and the imageof the world by providing balance between them, although it gets altered anywaydue to the conflict between how a person understands the world and what (andhow) he does in the world — this is the source of a person’s psychologicalself-movement, or internal changes.

In our studies it was stated thatpeople have a different degree of readiness to lifestyle changes (Кlochko,2002). Meanwhile, the readiness itself was used as a systematic psychologicalconstruct which characterizes the person’s ability to accept inevitability andthe irreversibility of losses in life and to rearrange their lifestyles underconditions of independent choice or through external regulation. This alsoinvolves some efforts (including thinking) which should be applied to maintainself-identity despite conditions where the axiological dimensions of life spacechange, as a condition for helping a person adapt to a new life style.

In our study, the participants werestudents who had entered a military educational institution, i.e. a closedinstitution where the lifestyles of residents are regulated in a way thatsharply limits the usual system of axiological regulation and demands theformation of a new one. Thus, the problems of meaning-making and rethinkinghave proved to be the focus of the study. For a student who fails to cope withregulations, complicated problems appear, such as meaning-losing. Problemsappear if the new lifestyle, which is highly regulated from the outside, isplaced in the center of a negative emotional state, and the problem is revealedin the form of disappointment in personal choices, the denial of dreams, andthe destruction of the future plans which were established before theindividual entered the military academy. Since a meaning dimension emerges totake part in the processes of meaning-making, the inner personal world maybecome either broader or narrower, following the external regulations whichlimit “the space of free actions” (K. Levin) and result in an “existentialvacuum”, or meaning-losing. Currently, the environments that feature such arestricting regulation are more and more frequently called closed.

Enrollment in a closed educationalinstitution very often means that the students find themselves involved in aparticularly stressful situation. Such emotions are more typical for thestudents who did not have a strong intention to enter the closed educationalinstitution and had external reasons instead, for example following a friend,or accepting advice from someone who knows little about the difficulties ofstaying in such an institution despite the fact that it provides few otheropportunities than to one day become a policeman.

The results of our study prove theexistence of the dynamic characteristics revealed in the indexes of the“rigidity-flexibility” continuum, within the structure of readiness to thelifestyle change in young people who have chosen professions which demandspecial working conditions. At the same time, the reflexive abilities of aperson are revealed in the indexes of the “internality-externality” continuum.Attempts to establish that a dependence correlation exists between these twoindexes have revealed that there is no definite direct dependence between them.Qualitative analysis exemplifies a number of typical specific moments in thecontinuum-like “rigidity-flexibility” and “internality-externality” scales whenanalyzing the indexes of psychological maturity and the extreme meaningsof students who experience the typical process of adaptation to a lifestylewhich is regulated by the conditions that are present when studying in theclosed educational institution.

According to O.K. Tikhomirov’sopinion, the specification of ideas about the psyche should be carried out inthe context of “ideas about the psyche as the formation of new reality”(Tikhomirov, 1992, p. 59); it’s possible to give a different explanation tomany psychological phenomena which appear when a person adapts to a new,strictly regulated lifestyle in a closed environment. The establishedpsychological tradition turns the process of adapting to a new lifestyle intoan analysis of “the sum total of the adaptive reactions of the organism”. Itstresses the fact that complete adaptation comes when the new conditions inwhich the students find themselves “become habitual” (Khoroshavina, 1996).

In the new paradigm, the process whichhas been traditionally called “adaptation” appears to be really complicated. Itshows that readiness to accept a lifestyle change is systematic andextra-situational, and has a personally-dependant description presentingspecific occurrences and directions for its rearrangement as a human being seenas “an open system” under the influence of external (not depending on a person)and internal (self-determination) factors.

It is known that Tikhomirov’s ideaabout the psyche forming its own reality is considered the basis for the theoryof psychological systems (TPS). Meanwhile, a person and a life space created byhim/her are examined together: a person goes on digging into the world, thepsyche is not discrete, it is continuous and provides remote action, i.e. itconnects with something in the world that has meaning, sense and value to theindividual. In the TPS the person is understood as a psychological system thatis open to the cultural, natural and social world and their support — to theself (Klochko, 1996). The psyche transforms an impersonal, indifferent,“environment” which exists unto itself into a multi-dimensional animated spaceof life where a person can act and understand the meaning and value of his/heractions (Galazhinsky, Klochko, 2011; Galazhinsky, Klochko, 2012). That is whyone’s life- style cannot be separated from the process of the formation ofone’s psychological reality, the multi-dimensional human world: itstransformation is a consequence of the lifestyle change.

It is necessary to notice that “themeaning to act without tendency about the subject that has meaning is as absurdas the tendency to act without meaning” (Klochko, 2008, p. 37). According tothe TPS, emotions and attitudes are systemic dynamic formations (“complexes”)which characterize the specifics of rearrangement of human life under theinfluence of the new demands of the environment. How can we present numerouspsychological interactions which accompany the rearrangement of a person — anopen psychological system who has to get used to a new lifestyle?

The mindsets which have been formedearlier manifest themselves as a readiness to act in a certain way in theestablished conceptual reality. Facing new realities which are not yet fullyunderstood and are presented as material rather than axiological entities,these mindsets lose their sense. At the same time they cannot be blocked, evenif they are obviously inappropriate for the new life conditions. Meanwhile, thewell-oriented activity appears to be an emotional activity that haslost its intentionality. At the phenomenological level the wide spectrumof emotional expression (from apathy to exaltation) is presented in the form ofaggression, anxiety, a feeling of isolation, the meaninglessness of life andneuroses.

Some meaning is preserved and retaineduntil the end, some are reflected differently (the purpose of thinking is tothink to rethink), and some are lost. However, when relations with the worldbecome limited and are influenced by external regulation (in close system suchas a jail, military service, enrollment in a military university, exile, forcedemigration, etc.), an all-powerful emotional background appears.Emotional-attitudinal complexes connote what could be called communicatingvessels. When a person acts in habitual conceptual reality, the emotional andsemantic component of his/her activity is in the sidelines, and the attitudinalcomponent is presented by an emerging activity. When the attitudes do notcorrespond to the new reality and lose sense, the emotional component ofactivity takes the leading position; part of it starts the procedures ofmeaning-making (the formation of a new conceptual reality), and another partmanifests itself in the form of emotional activity directed to nowhere. Theweaker the self-organization of a person as an open psychological system is,the more destructive the emotional activity which asserts itself becomes.

As an example, we have to examine thehistory and origin of the so-called “temporal neuroses”. This notion wasintroduced by S.A. Kravchenko in 2009. It denotes disadaptative states and theattempts of a person to live primarily in only one time period: either thepast, present or future or to feel a state of timelessness where a feeling ofdetachment dominates (Kravchenko, 2009). According to S.A. Kravchenko, such aneurosis is widespread and is exemplified by the desire of some women to be“forever young”, while the present reality and especially old age to come isrejected. At the same time, in the case of males, the same neurosis manifestsitself as a desire to live in the future, while present or past goals and plansbecome sacrificed in the name of the future. In adulthood the temporal neurosisoften manifests itself by the shift of the focus of consciousness to the past.This state leads to inability of a person to study something new and even toperceive innovations positively; the values of the past replace everything.

The notion of temporal neurosis can beanalyzed in the context of the TPS. First of all, the notion of “temporality”itself is frequently used to denote the temporal nature of phenomena which wereproduced by the dynamics of their own action as opposed to those temporalcharacteristics which are determined by the relation of the action of the givenphenomenon in its historical, biological, physical, etc. temporal coordinates.In the TPS a person is considered as an open self-developing system. Thus thetemporal manifestations are considered to be something in which the dynamics ofhuman existence are reflected. The dynamics are accompanied by thetransformation of the axiological dimensions of life space which occur as a resultof self-development under the influence of external factors which influence theeffectiveness of self-realization (Borodina, 2008).

Using the example of conscripts, V.N.Borodina examined the temporal manifestations of the effect of the extremerearrangement of the established lifestyle. She noticed that “the closing” of aperson who initially was an open self-developing system when s/he startsadapting to the highly regulated (from outside) lifestyle leads to theappearance of temporal manifestations apparently connected with thedeformation of the axiological content of the image of the world and theconscripts’ lifestyle (Borodina, 2008). From this description, it follows thattemporal manifestations are the natural results of the process of theresolution of the conflict between the necessity to accept a new lifestyle andthe preservation of the axiological content of the world image which was formedduring the prior lifestyle.

The results of the study show that thespecifics of temporal manifestations are closely connected to the individualityand personal traits, such as rigidity/flexibility, locus of control(internality/externality), and other axiological, motivational andself-actualizing characteristics. The regularities that are specific to thedifferent stages of compulsory military service are found in the emergence oftemporal manifestation. They are presented by diverse orientations of a persontowards one time period (past, present, or future), the emergence of theeffects of “time idealization”, the “derealization of the present”, time“condensation”, “slowing-down” or “speeding-up”. It is necessary to notice thatthese manifestations are referred to the parameters of temporal neurosis.

Developing the notion of a “closedspace-temporal system”, O.M. Pisarev states that staying in places wherefreedom is deprived is accompanied by a particular emotional background, suchas latent anxiety, negative emotions, a feeling that there is a lack of safety,impulsivity, inner conflict, fatigue, and impatience (Pisarev, 2009).

I.S. Khudyakova uses the notion“closed environment of correctional institution” which denotes local spacebased on the system of regulations which highly limit the exchange/connectionof an open system, i.e. a person and the external world (Khudyakova, 2013). Shenames the levels and the content of experiencing loneliness in environmentswith different degrees of closeness which are determined by the regulations ofthe correctional institution. In result, a strong sense of loneliness promptedby the conditions of a closed environment is accompanied by the development ofa number of temporal manifestations (the feeling of timelessness, “fixedness”of a person in one of the time periods — past, present or future).

L.A. Rassudova mentioned that thestudents of closed-type institutions experience the same manifestations. Shebelieves that they appear as a result of response to factors that threaten todamage the self (the “I”) as an entity and present one of the forms ofdestructive psychological defense (Rassudova, 2013).

We consider the forced extremealteration of the lifestyle caused by the adaptation of a person in a “close”environment is in fact the deformation of the whole chronotopic organization ofa person as a very complicated space-temporal system. In particular, for awhile, life-sustaining activity loses its meaning- orienting points. Rethinking(the solution of the semantic problem) is the mechanism of “the chronotope reconstruction”and meaning-losing is a sort of payment for the imperfection of this mechanism.

In the framework of the problem of the“space-temporal organization of the life world of a person”, Ye.V. Nekrasova(2005) used a transspective analysis and showed that forcing a person to dosomething against his/her will (imprisonment, exile, deportation, deprivation,etc.) leads to the deformation of his/her life world. This deformation takesthe form of losing the ability to selectively interaction with the environment;it results in the violation of the sense dynamics and leads to the person’sfocusing on the past (until reminiscing becomes the only subject ofconsciousness and takes on a pathologic character) or future (pseudo-future,pseudo-life substituting real life) that is the basis for the behaviordeformation in present; dominant concentration on the present when the image ofthe world is indistinct; centration on the present (now) with the deformationof the space (here); and a loss of the meaning of existence in “everyday cycliceveryday time” (M.M. Bakhtin) which does not have a progressive historicalcourse of events.

The most important point is that thedeformations of the life space are always accompanied by the change of thesubjective time perception (time “slows down”, “speeds up”, or “stops”, orthere is the “timelessness of existence”) which occurs because of the “loss ofthe feeling of reality” and “derealization effects” emerge, etc.

Taking all of this into consideration,the mechanism of the temporal neurosis is as follows. Human life space andsubjective time are internally connected, and the axiological dimensions of thelife world fulfill a system-forming function, unifying consciousness andactivity in the external world. When a person sharply changes his or herlifestyle because he or she becomes a part of a closed environment thatregulates (deprivates) him her of selective exchanges with his or herenvironment, there emerges a reasonable threat that a person as an openself-developing system may be destroyed. Thus, the facts found by Ye.V.Nekrasova become clear, namely that the valuable bases of existence are beingdestroyed first; in this case the life world is no longer perceived as reality— as a space for the implementation of one’s forces. Then the meaning depletionof the life world occurs. It is accompanied by the deformations of the feelingof reality of existence.

It is possible to state that in thesubjective field of psychology, a topical and extremely ethically weightedproblem exists when a person (an open system) is placed in a closedenvironment. We believe that in the process of solution of this problem, thereal nature of psychological difficulties, which a person who is incarceratedexperiences, will be found.


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To cite this article: YuliyaV. Klochko (2013). A person in a closed environment as a psychological problem. Psychology in Russia: State of the Art, 6(4), 143-149

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