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The Lili-syndrome

In today’s society we celebrate choice. The freedom to become whatever we want. Through virtual reality, plastic surgery, fashion and photoshop, we have come to see ourselves as malleable. Images are re­placing reality. And with them comes the promise of constant transformation.

Images make up the fabric of our daily lives. They are woven into the very experience of our cities, living rooms and even the clothes we wear. We have become images. The subjects as well as the objects of our desire for change.
To become one of these images. To make ourselves, over and over again.
To become schizo­beings.

Tests have proven that 85% of the world population, 8 out of every 10 children regardless of race, sex, eco­nomic class or culture, have fallen victim to this af­fliction of the fragmented self, called the 'Lili-syndrome'.


‘Lili’ manifests itself in symptomatic changes in be­havior and outlook that render the patient unreliable and ambiguous. 'Lili­patients' often produce erratic or even dramatic behavior, reproducing embodied stereotypes or archetypes from advertising, television or other image­based sources. These so­-called ‘hyper­-selves’ trigger an accumulation of ‘othering’ that can lead to disorientation or even Self­-annihilation.

In the year 2010 a group of sociologists and psychologists started a long­term experiment testing hundreds of affected and unaffected people for behavioral abnormalities such as the 'Lili­-syndrome'. A selected group of participants were invited into different experimental test­-settings. To enter deliberately into their 'hyper­-selves': the so called ‘Lilis’.

In these experiments, subjects and therapists were placed in a sit­uation of mutual mirroring, that dissolved the initial, normative power relations of the setting. They changed roles frequently, in­terviewing and analyzing each other. This ‘blending’ of behaviors termed ‘normal’ or ‘symptomatic’ opened up an alternative space for assessment and interpretation in the research, free from the usual bias towards stable reference points of ‘sane’ behavior.

During the whole process the test­subjects were filmed. The cam­era functioned as a therapeutic tool to stimulate the subject’s desire for transformation, allowing them to dive deeper into their Lili­be­ing. In this process, the appearance and disappearance of partly formed characters opened a space for ‘enhanced reality’. Rather than creating a phantasy world, the mirroring back of the recording device, allowed for an advanced sense of self­-awareness through the re­imagining of the stable Self. Their recorded transformations, fascinating study material, are the basis of these videos. Not only did their performances blur the limits between reality and fiction, but they also seemed to come in touch with a larger archetypal knowl­edge. An insight into the workings and imagery of the unconscious.

In the first stage of the experiment, the mirror and the camera were the most important tools in the treatment. In an exercise called mirror­-staring the realization of the self as always other was initiat­ed. Through the performative imperative triggered by the camera, they entered into a movement of tuning in and out, temporarily able to balance the instability of their identities. Placed in a light and positive environment, the setting inspired the test subjects to find more empowering identity constructions, which enabled them to come to see their inability as a potential. This was found the reason, that even after years of treatment, they defy the therapy in the em­brace of their hybrid Selves.

It became clear, that the 'Lili­-syn­drome' is affected mostly by external stimulation. In the second attempt, participants were placed in a contemporary business set­ting. This environment produced a tendency towards creating im­ages of success, financial fulfillment, and a purpose in life. Which translated into a great variety of cliché’s and interpretations of ste­reotypical images of social achievement. Some of them recogniza­ble, some of them teetering on the edge of the uncanny. But in the sessions it became clear that most subjects were unable to produce stable identities, and throughout the course of the experiment, de-­constructed them continuously.


The analysis of the therapy tapes suggests a pattern of transformation­-through­-simulation. Through copying, mirroring and interi­orizing, the subjects embody the images that surround and feed them. The therapists discovered different coping mechanisms in the par­ticipants’ which are explained as the 4 phases: The ‘mirror’ phase, in which the participant blends into its environment and copies the projected expectations of the setting or interviewer. the con­struction of hyper­-selves or alternative selves, the ‘othering’ phase in which the participant rejects the ‘Lili’ and goes into a state of de­jection and inertia. And the ‘alien’ phase, in which the participant is not able to recognize herself in her surroundings anymore and alienated from her Self and the situation.

In these 4 phases the participants try to access identity from differ­ent viewpoints. The aim of this method is to enable reflection and finally deconstruction of the invented or mirrored identities.


In further stages of the research, the test­-subjects dive deeper into the transformative enactment of embodied imageries. This time the setting touched on a darker mode, that had a decidedly cinematographic feel and soundtrack to it. The subjects were asked to connect to their internalized image memories, the archetypal building stones of an unconscious self-expression.

These sessions took on a deliberately dramatic color. Through their guided travels the subjects tried on various exotic personas, strong­ly reminiscent of fairy tales and film noir imagery. These ‘external’ journeys into the common unconscious of society, reveal a deep in­ner truth. A revelation of a Self beyond the self. An inner phantasy image that unravels the sense of self-­being of the subject, placing it in increasingly dangerous or even violent situations. Past memories are often locked into, or linked to, images of television, film, or pho­tos, and can be unlocked through their re-enactment. Fiction, there­fore, is here used as a therapeutical method, allowing the subjects to reach beyond their disciplined selves into the untouched reservoir of desire that is hidden from view.


This procedure of dismantling the self through archetype and even caricature shows how the reenactments of embodied image mem­ ories serve as tools for the transformation of past trauma and the creation of a renewed potential for the future. By stepping ‘out,’ the subject is finally ready to step back ‘in’. To re-establish contact with the hidden dynamics of the psyche, liberating its power to change the normative behavioral deadlock. At the momentary stage of the research, after several methods of treatment, psychologists and so­ ciologists concluded that the therapy did not necessarily lead to a conclusive point of reconnection to the Self, but realized the eman­ cipatory power of the Lili-syndrome.

Although these results posed a serious threat to the initial enthusiasm for the so­called Lili-therapy in psychology circles, it also produced a New Wave in the under­ standing of the psyche and the need for therapeutical reconstruction of the Self. Through an in­depth engagement with the footage of the Lili-sessions, this brand of psychology no longer claims the need for a cure for the Lili-syndrome.The Lili-therapy was found to be useful as an emancipatory treat­ ment for neurotic behavior, diverse stress syndromes, and even cardio­vascular deficiencies caused by the pressure to adjust to a normative, societally accepted identity image. Psychologists have come to advice the careful and monitored in­ clusion of hyper­selves into daily life.


This Lilification process of the everyday would make subjects more flexible, apt to deal with diverse problems and situations, and able to see the potential in the present. This Copernican turn in the apperception of the Self as a flexible, hybrid and constantly flowing reenactment of externally produced images, marks the starting point of a new stage in the un­ derstanding of the relation between reality and fiction, normal and abnormal behavior, and the importance of belonging and identity in the construction of stable individuals.

Text Helena Dietrich/Elke van Campenhout
Filmstills Becoming Lili in collaboration with Robin Amanda Creswell