Social Defeat and the roots of Psychosis

For the last few days, whenever I can before closing my eyes for the day, I pick up this book called Our Most Troubling Madness, a fascinating collection of ethnographies from different parts of the world. It is a research in medical anthropology- with different researchers writing from different countries, including from India. My brother sent the book from the US, only earlier this month. The strange thing is that the theory that I am about to write about was taken from animal studies- in fact rats, and how they behave in newer scenarios and how bullying of newcomers can lead to a what is then called …

Social Defeat


A few years back I lived as a tenant in the house of a man in a village in South Goa, who was completely isolated from the society around him. In the one year that I saw him, I observed the effect of his social isolation and rejection by the world around him to be so powerful that it broke his spirit to the core. He died soon after. Social rejection is one of the cruelest things people can inflict on one another- no matter what the grounds be.

Yesterday I encountered the idea of social defeat- and how when people perceive it, as a loss of face among those they live with, it affects their sense of selfhood and self esteem. Then those among them who are vulnerable, become more prone to psychotic breakdowns. The theory of social defeat proposes that the experience of defeat in a  social context is felt, in the body that is vulnerable to psychosis, so profoundly that it can make the body ill with serious psychotic disorder…Social defeat is not the same phenomenon as symbolic violence or structural violence. Violence is a means. Defeat is an outcome.(p.198)

The writers were quoting about the rise of schizophrenia in Ireland during the 1970’s and how it was directly correlated to migration of successful people and that so many men who were left behind single, faced criticism and rejection from society, including their families, women and so forth. Ireland had the greatest number of men then, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

The idea of families isolating individuals and mounting criticism on them, being harsh, dominating and controlling of them, is very well known as a factor leading to schizophrenia. So now coupled with the new-found idea of social defeat, I think I have come across an interesting and compelling argument about how breakdowns happen or why.

This is just a small scribble to jot down a point that I want to refer back to. I cannot do this with every new idea, but I think I had to with this one. I am also concurrently reading the phd research of another researcher from Norway in the context of recovery and the manner in which she is framing her research is very nice indeed.

I am beginning my qualitative research- data collection this week. It is exciting and makes me nervous, because this is the real test for me- how I would arrive at the analysis later on. keeping fingers crossed.

Oh, and on a last note- I just spoke with a senior advocate of the High Court, someone who has been involved with disability and mental health laws in the courts. Interestingly enough she turned out to be living in the same part of the city as me, and invited me to come to her home to discuss whatever I wanted to, about mental health laws etc. I told her simply that as a social sciences based person I do not know how to read and interpret laws. She simply said, ‘don’t worry, now you will learn that.’ Meaning, I will help you! I was so grateful, and I said so. Just like the post I wrote earlier- when I need help I always ask for it and go all the way. What other way can we grow?


4 thoughts on “Social Defeat and the roots of Psychosis

  1. Good article, the link between social defeat & social isolation etc and psychosis is something which I’ve experienced myself when I became psychotic & also something that I have noticed in many other people who have experienced psychotic disorders etc.


    • Thank you Henrik. Yes, this is a new connection that research is pointing out to and I thought it was worthwhile to be noted here as well, as I would later like to use the idea in my writing, analysis and understanding of others. I have also experienced the same with myself as well as seen it in innumerable people.

      Liked by 1 person

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