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Stefan Molyneux—the
“Splitting” question

Okay, we’re going to try something new in what I laughingly refer to as my “writing style.” Usually, I start these posts in left field and then meander toward a conclusion.

Today I’m going to tell you this article’s thesis straight up. This is it:

It is impossible to distinguish whether Stefan Molyneux’s ideas are a product of logic or the symptoms of a personality disorder.

No kidding. Just pause and wrap your mind around that idea for a minute—because when I figured it out, I was stunned for days. Literally.

Stefan Molyneux of FreeDomain Radio may be correct about everything or mostly everything he says. And he may be, psychologically speaking, in perfect health. Nevertheless, virtually every one of his ideas can also be viewed as textbook examples of an aspect of narcissism known as splitting.

Every one of them. His entire weltanschauung. The whole ball of wax.

That realization leads us to whole bunch of really interesting and occasionally uncomfortable questions, but you didn’t think I’d be able to write an entire post without a little meandering did you?

Of course not. We’ll get back to those questions later.

It all started with a Skype chat

So, I was minding my own business, writing what I think is the most important series on this site (Is FreeDomain Radio a destructive cult?).

I was working on the fourth article in that series. In researching that article, I needed to analyze some FDR listener “convos” to demonstrate Molyneux’s three major techniques of analysis/influence (pluralizing, polarizing, and planting). One of the podcasts (Podcast 913—Youth, History, and the Future) was a conversation between Molyneux and a young woman. Through her experience with FDR, she had apparently already been convinced that her father was evil. However, she still felt a strong connection with her mother. Therefore, Molyneux had taken on the task of convincing her that her mother was even worse than the father, a common practice in Molyneux convos.

As Molyneux was laying the groundwork for his argument, he said this:

1:03:53 We have this habit when we look at—and this is Family Mythology 101, right? But we have this habit when we look at our families or when people talk to us about our families of—psychologically it’s called “splitting.” And splitting is, “I have a good dad and I have a bad dad.” We see this in fairy tales all the time. “My good mother died and I’m raised by this wicked stepmother”—it’s just splitting, right?

And we do this to our parents. We say “I have a mean dad and a nice mom,” right? Or “I have a nice dad and a mean mom.” Or “my dad was abusive but my mom did the best she could,” right? So we identify the negative traits of one partner in the marriage and then we make excuses for the other spouses behavior or lack of intervention and so on.

But I totally guarantee you that there is no “good” person in a marriage, right? There is no “bad” person in a marriage, right? They are equals. It is a system. One could not do it without the other. Your dad would not have anyone to abuse if your mom didn’t have children with him. So he couldn’t have done it without her. She created the situation.

I hadn’t heard the word splitting before, as it relates to psychology. So I decided to do a little research.

What I discovered stopped me dead in my tracks and derailed the entire article. I was so amazed, I simply interrupted the article in mid-stream, blurted out what I had just learned and posted the whole mess on my blog.

Today, I’m “splitting” that article! I’ll let the first part go back to what it was trying to do—work its way through the cult investigation. The second part—my sudden derailment—deserves its own article.

And here it is.

Since I published that original post, I’ve received a few observations about it. One of them was very important to me because it came from a PhD, a practicing clinical psychologist. I’m not going to mention her name but this is her evaluation of that article:

I think this is a great summary of narcissism and the author has a good understanding of the splitting element of the disorder. There are a couple of personality disorders in which splitting is a hallmark diagnostic indicator and narcissism is one of them (the other is borderline personality disorder). The examples the author cites are excellent.

In my role as a pretend journalist, I try to do the best research I can but I never know how much I actually get right! So, a little validation is always very exciting!

So, with that said, let’s get into this.

What I discovered about splitting

In psychology, the word splitting has been used a number of different ways. Freud alone had several definitions for it, one of which Melanie Klein significantly developed. It is Klein’s definition that Molyneux appears to be drawing upon in the passage I quoted from the podcast, although his brief explanation of it is hopelessly muddled.

But there is another definition of splitting that is pertinent to the understanding of Narcissism.

This is it:

Narcissism is fundamentally an advanced version of the splitting defense mechanism. The Narcissist cannot regard humans, situations, entities (political parties, countries, races, his workplace) as a compound of good and bad elements. He is an “all or nothing” primitive “machine” (a common self metaphor among narcissists). He either idealizes his object—or devalues it. The object is either all good or all bad. The bad attributes are always projected, displaced, or otherwise externalized. The good ones are internalized in order to support the inflated (“grandiose”) self-concepts of the narcissist and his grandiose fantasies—and to avoid the pain of deflation and disillusionment. The Narcissist’s earnestness and his (apparent) sincerity make people wonder whether he is simply detached from reality, unable to appraise it properly—or willingly and knowingly distorts reality and reinterprets it, subjecting it to his self-imposed censorship. It would seem that the Narcissist is dimly aware of the implausibility of his own constructions. He has not lost touch with reality. He is just less scrupulous in reshaping it, remolding its curvatures and ignoring the uncomfortable angles.

A Primer on Narcissism, Sam Vaknin

QuestEon's brain arcing

It was this idea—this definition I found during my research—that derailed me. I’m sure this is all common knowledge to trained psychologists, but I had never heard either splitting or narcissism described in quite this way before. I swear I actually felt the electric arc in my brain.

You have to take any Vaknin quote with a grain of salt, I suppose. He can be a fairly controversial fellow. In this case, however, not only is his definition of splitting accurate based on my research, but also quite succinct.

As I began to understand the term, I was at first amused at the irony of it all. In the counseling session between Molyneux and the young woman, he was trying to convince her that her parents were both all bad. Yet, while he was hopelessly confusing the Freudian definition of splitting in his explanation, he was actually demonstrating the definition as it applies to narcissists! In other words, his young caller’s parents didn’t meet his ideal, so therefore they were both all bad.

And then it hit me. My mind began racing through all of Molyneux’s podcasts, actions, books, theories—so many of the ideas and events I’ve documented on this site…

And then it hit me. My mind began racing through all of Molyneux’s podcasts, actions, books, theories—so many of the ideas and events I’ve documented on this site.

How many of them were examples of splitting—exactly as it is defined here?!

I started with the essay that I call the FDR Foundation. I believe this essay captures Molyneux’s foundational belief that nearly all parents are abusers. He has admitted that FDR was created to carry this message to people just old enough to leave their families.

Before, I viewed it only as proof positive of Molyneux’s true belief about parents, no matter how hard he tries to downplay it.

Now I see he is talking about all people living bad lives under all governments that are all bad and suffering from religions, all of which are all bad. They all need to be freed by anarchy which is all good and all moral.

What is that, if not splitting?

What is polarizing and pluralizing as I’ve described in that fourth article I mentioned earlier, if not splitting?

It suddenly became so clear. Consider—what are all of these, if not textbook illustrations of splitting?

  • On Truth: (The Tyranny of Illusion)–a 70+ page attempt to convince you that all parents are jailers.
  • A Philosophy of (un)Forgiveness in which any action that displeases you is a “malevolent action.” The offender is now an all-bad person who must provide super-restitution, must purge him/herself in order to be all-good again, so you will consider allowing them back into your favor.
  • A book such as Real-Time Relationships (The Logic of Love) that is nothing more than a binary approach to relationships, a total unawareness of the infinite shades of gray in human relationships, a hopeless attempt to reduce behavior to all good or all bad.
  • A book such as UPB–Universally Preferable Behavior, in which one of the primary flaws is a binary approach to the ethics of human behavior (which Molyneux still gets wrong).
  • A husband who has convinced his wife to join him in separating from both their families—parents, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, etc., because their all-bad families cannot measure up to their ideal.
  • A podcaster who has said of his all-good marriage: “There are only two people in the known universe (who I have ever known directly) who have dealt in a powerful, positive, constructive, and amazing manner with their own corruption, and that’s myself and my wife.”
  • A forum-administrator who has disagreements with his members, bans them, and then produces podcasts claiming they have psychological problems. Others who disagree with Molyneux become trolls, nitpickers, haters, etc. They disagree not because they have a different viewpoint, but because they are all bad.
  • A community leader who idealizes his all-good followers—claiming that the reason they alone have been able to successfully follow in his footsteps is because they are so virtuous they “have never harmed anyone.”
  • A counselor who appears to trace all of his callers’ psychological problems back to their parents, based on a belief that “it all starts with the family.” (Which, during the calls, he “proves” to be all bad.
  • An educator, dissatisfied with his academic career, who responded to his failure there with essays and podcasts declaring academia all bad and all corrupt.
  • A libertarian who claims that your friends—if they do not choose to accept the belief that all governments are all bad—are also all bad. They actually do not love you but instead want to see you thrown in prison and raped “for years.”
  • A philosopher who dismisses 100% of his contemporary peers as all bad and idealizes his own theories as the very “salvation of philosophy.”

The examples continue to pile up, almost without end. Indeed, the difficult task is to find any viewpoint of Molyneux’s that recognizes and accepts a compound of good and bad. Or anything that suggests he doesn’t see all evil as externalized and all good as internalized—present only in himself, his closest followers, Christina, and his child.

Upon reading the first version of this article, a frequent visitor to Liberating Minds who writes under the name Argent, had this to say:

I think this puts the Mecosystem* stuff into sharp focus. One difference between the Mecosystem and the IFS model is the inclusion of True Self/False Self. Listeners have had a lot of questions for Stefan about how to identify what is true self and what is false self. On the other hand, Stefan has never had any trouble identifying the two in listener thoughts. I wonder if, for Stefan, True Self is simply whatever you like about yourself (or someone else), and False Self is whatever you dislike.

This is from wikipedia’s Splitting page:

It has been suggested that interpretation of the transference ‘becomes effective through a sort of splitting of the ego into a reasonable, judging portion and an experiencing portion, the former recognizing the latter as not appropriate in the present and as coming from the past.’

Thus in teaching the Mecosystem, Stefan is actually teaching listeners how to perform transference/splitting: Present-day you is all virtue; any vice you have is from the past and is the fault of someone in your life back then. And it’s not just that people who were influential your life rubbed off on you. Nay, abusive people from your past actively worked to implant themselves in your psyche, so that you would never be free of them.

What a perversion of IFS (which itself doesn’t seem to have much grounding in reality).

I followed the link to the Transference page, and found this fascinating gem:

A new theory of transference known as AMT (Abusive Multiple Transference) has been suggested by David W. Bernstein, in which abusers not only transfer negative feelings directed towards their former abusers to their own victims, but also transfer the power and dominance of the former abusers to themselves.

Leaving aside the question of whether Stefan is “abusive,” this does seem to fit with what goes on at FDR. Stefan, having declared himself fixed by therapy, but evidently unable to leave the past behind, lines up a bunch of young males in situations similar to his own. He can transfer his unresolved childhood feelings to them, and, under the guise of helping them deal with their problems, continue to rail against his mother. Perhaps that is why he can’t resist the conclusion that it’s all the parents’ fault: it’s not about the listener, but about himself.

* Mecosystem is a theory “developed” by Stefan Molyneux that is primarily a wholesale borrowing of the IFS concept. -Ed.

Interesting observations.

In the past, I’ve shied away from seriously suggesting that Molyneux is a narcissist because I have absolutely no credibility to do so. I’m even less qualified to suggest Molyneux is suffering from a Personality Disorder than I am to suggest FreeDomain Radio is a destructive cult.

But I just don’t know what to make of this new understanding of narcissistic splitting and how, for me at least, it appears to throw every aspect of Molyneux’s life and works into razor-sharp focus.

And further, it makes me begin to ask some uncomfortable questions. If this is applicable to Molyneux then what value can one truly place on a philosophy created in a mind that works in a way most others cannot? A mind that never completed the developmental phase of being able to appraise the world as we do?

Is Molyneux an absolutist because of his love of logic? Did he really order his entire life around “first principles,” as he likes to say? Or is that all simply a red herring, a post-facto rationalization of a soul who simply cannot integrate good and bad?

Did Molyneux evolve into an anarchist because of his philosophy or simply because it is more natural for his mind to see all governments as all bad?

What if—at the very end of the day—Molyneux’s closest followers are not following the path to true happiness at all, but simply following the path of one man’s personality disorder?

In fact, would it even be possible for any psychologically healthy person to follow Molyneux’s philosophy completely, for a lifetime, when to do so means becoming fully invested in characteristics associated with a personality disorder?

And if all that were true, then there wouldn’t be any reason to pay attention to Molyneux at all, would there? It would be virtually impossible to identify which elements of his work are the result of logic.

And which elements are merely symptoms.

Am I diagnosing Stefan Molyneux?

I’m simply saying I read a definition of splitting and virtually everything I’ve written or noticed about Stefan Molyneux seems to fit it perfectly. I don’t know what to do with it all except be stunned by it.

No. No, I’m neither diagnosing nor suggesting that Molyneux is a narcissist. I don’t have the background. I don’t have a clue. I don’t even know the guy. The best psychologist in the world wouldn’t try to diagnose someone they weren’t treating, and I’m just some guy with a blog.

I’m simply saying I read a definition of splitting and virtually everything I’ve written or noticed about Stefan Molyneux seems to fit it perfectly. I don’t know what to do with it all except be stunned by it.

Arthur C. Clarke has famously said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Perhaps there is an analogy here. Perhaps it might be said that any sufficiently advanced philosophy is indistinguishable from madness!

But for me, for now, my inability to distinguish between Molyneux’s beliefs and splitting (as I understand it) creates a nearly insurmountable barrier to fully embracing his views.

And so it is here that this article must come to an end. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what it all means, if it means anything at all.

To decide if my premise is right. Or wrong.

Or just a normal, healthy combination of both.

Click below to e-mail or DIGG, etc., this article! As always, I welcome your comments!