Ego-Death on Concourse C

The responsibilities for preserving our constitutional republic require a citizenry of strong individual egos living everyday lives free from paralyzing fear.

Egoism has a bad name.  However, a strong ego serves the purpose of stabilizing conscious processes and is indispensable in order for each American to recognize, maintain, and pass to posterity the gifts of God-given rights.     

A widely known model posits that all normal human beings experience five universal fears:

1. Extinction, the primary existential anxiety of ceasing to exist.

2. Mutilation, the fear of  having our body's boundaries invaded.

3. Loss of autonomy, the fear of being immobilized or imprisoned.

4. Separation, the fear of rejection and loss of respect.

5. Ego-death, the fear of humiliation and a profound loss of integrity of the Self.

The recent experiences of my client "Theresa" in an East-Coast airport exemplify the methods the government is using to wear away functional egos of Americans and turn us into a nation of timorous sheep.

Theresa came to me for help with the psychological problems associated with chronic pain.  She had been an active, resourceful property manager before two car accidents exacerbated her degenerative disc disease and left her with herniated discs and crushed knees.  As do most pain patients, Theresa describes herself as feeling "useless" and "isolated."

Chronic pain is a bully.  Life becomes a series of good days and bad days; the patient loses self-respect, and resentments may grow.  As an important part of her treatment, every month, Theresa flies between East-Coast cities to see her pain specialist.  After one such trip, Theresa was very distressed, and she wrote the following narrative:

I stepped off the escalator that could not ascend quickly enough to the second floor of this small local airport and peered down at the TSA personnel moving the travelers in concert, as a herd would be controlled.  Each one of the herd relinquished his or her private belongings to a conveyor belt, to be searched without any probable cause, ignoring our Fourth Amendment rights, with no objections raised.  Not one expressed an iota of protest.  How truly sad it is that fear has trumped our rights.

Just a short time earlier, while downstairs, I had been pulled from the herd and told to step aside after I had passed through the magnetometer.  My belongings were kept from me, my backside patted down, and my hands tested for explosive powder.  I was informed that these things were going to be done, but I was not told why.  I felt disappointed in myself for not being more assertive.  But what good would the assertion of one person do?

A month later, I was mustered through the same routine, and again I was ordered to step aside for the humiliation of having strange hands on my backside, even though I had made a concerted effort to wear plain jeans and no "bling."  I asked why I had been singled out and was told I was not entitled to an answer.

Next month, dressed in plain jeans and top to avoid triggering the scanner and another pat-down, I was detained again.  When I asked the TSA attendant what the problem was, she said in a nasty tone that she was not obligated to respond to my questions.  I said I wanted to know what my rights were and why I was being detained.  I was told to sit down and shut up, and that I was to undergo a complete body search.  When I demanded to know why, I was declared uncooperative and told that the state police were being called.  My plane was due to leave in 30 minutes.  When I asked how long it would before they arrived, she said, "Too bad."

It felt as if everyone in the airport was staring at me -- but they had resigned themselves to the herders, and no one offered to help.

I asked to be searched in a private area, not in front of hundreds of glaring eyes.  The agent smirked at me the entire time until the police arrived.  After hearing my story, the policeman said he was going to take me to jail if I did not cooperate.  Although I was feeling harassed, violated, and angry, I agreed to the search, but I asked that it be conducted in private. They called a supervisor, and we went into a private area, where the search was conducted.  Of course, they found nothing on or in my body.  Afterwards, I sobbed and shook as if I had been molested.

Believe it or not, next month I was back in the herd, this time wearing a plain cotton dress with cotton undergarments and flip-flops.  I got through the scanner, only to be told, "Step aside, please."  This couldn't be happening!  I was ready to be arrested. But before I knew it, the TSA agent was running her hands through my straight, short hair.  I didn't even have a chance to ask her to change her gloves (as I didn't want to leave the airport with something that wasn't in my hair when I got there).

For all of you who read my story and think "big deal," let me tell you just how big a deal it is.  In every one of the  searches, I was wearing two medical adhesive patches, under which I could have easily concealed explosive powders or any other non-metallic materials.  At no time did the TSA notice them.

Our government repeatedly inflicted on Theresa the worst psychological symptoms of her syndrome when she was trying to get help for her illness, all while using methods that couldn't protect anybody from actual enemies.  Theresa experienced having the private parts of her body invaded.  She was threatened with imprisonment.  She was singled out and separated from other travelers with no hope of being able to protect herself from future terrorizing because she was given no explanation of why she was repeatedly culled from the herd.

Theresa was humiliated and experienced what psychologists call ego-death: the negation of dignity and integrity of Self.  At the same time, the rest of the herd observing this humiliation tend to resolve their  cognitive dissonance about doing nothing by blaming the sacrificial lamb.  It is a brilliant stroke by the forces of psychological tyranny bent on destroying America to crush the individual ego through intense fear arising in everyday life.

Deborah C. Tyler is a psychologist who writes for AT and other outlets about humanist influences in her field.  She can be reached through