Excerpts from

  "The Mind At Mischief:
Tricks & Deceptions of the Subconscious
and How to Cope with Them"

William S. Sadler

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Book Description
The dark areas of the mind examined by William S. Sadler, M.D. This book, printed in 1929, contains the first public notice of an unusual study that began in 1911.

“The only known cure for fear is faith. But before faith can operate, there must be courage--stamina--to control the inherent tendency to succumb to the fearful emotions.”


VERY few of those individuals who suffer from "nerves," "emotional conflicts," and other "abnormal complexes," understand to what extent they are subjects of deception and malicious intrigue on the part of their own minds. A number of excellent books have been written about fear, worry, and the more common phases of the functional nervous disorders, and these books have been helpful to the layman in his effort to understand himself psychologically. We have abundant literature also on the psychoses or the insanities, intended for the professional reader; but practically nothing has been written on those cases of abnormal psychology which occupy a middle ground between these two groups.

It is my intention, in this work, to discuss abnormal psychology of the more benign sorts, "the tricks of the subconscious mind." I hope thus to assist the layman in understanding these matters more fully, and I trust that the book will prove to be helpful to many men and women who are struggling with intellectual vagaries, contending with one sort or another of "complex" which is causing them serious trouble.

I have long felt the need, in my own practise, of some book which I could place in the hands of a patient—or of his friends—to aid him in his effort to reconstruct his intellectual life and bring his mental workings into more normal channels. And so this volume will deal with the problems of more or less abnormal psychology, paying particular attention to such phenomena as they are exhibited in neurotics, complex victims, hysterics, paranoiacs, and even so-called spirit mediums.

I have been afforded an opportunity, in association with my colleagues in the Chicago Institute of Research and Diagnosis, to observe, over a period of twenty years, a large number of men and women who were sufferers from various personality disturbances—chronic fear, inferiority and other complexes, hysteria, dissociation—as well as a large number of clairvoyants, psychics, automatic writers, trance mediums, etc. It is my purpose to draw upon this experience and to relate the methods employed by modern psychotherapy in dealing with this group of psychic abnormalities.

In my own mind I have long divided psychic sufferers into three groups: victims of the neuroses, of the psychoses, and of personality disturbances. The neuroses embrace common, every-day worry, various forms of fear, phobias, and obsessions, together with brain-fag, so-called neurasthenia, psychasthenia, and hypochondria. The psychoses embrace the insanities—those mental disturbances of sufficient gravity to unbalance the mind. Under the head of personality disturbances I have thought it best to include those psychic disturbances which, tho more profound and more serious than the neuroses, are not of sufficient gravity to be classed as psychoses; and under this head I group mild forms of dissociation, hysteria, and the more persistent types of mental troubles due to what we may call "tricks of the subconscious." Into this last group fall many of our so-called psychics and spirit mediums.

I am indebted to numerous American and foreign authors who have done so much in recent years to enrich the literature dealing with this borderland of abnormal psychology. I must also acknowledge my obligation to Robert H. Gault, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Northwestern University, for his painstaking criticism of this manuscript, and express my appreciation of Dr. Gault's great kindness in writing his Introduction. I am greatly indebted to my colleague, Dr. Meyer Solomon, Associate in Neurology, Northwestern University Medical School, for his careful reading of the manuscript and for his many helpful suggestions, which have added to the repleteness of this volume; also for his kindness in preparing a valuable Introduction embodying the neurologist's view of this discussion.

William S. Sadler, August, 1929.


THE problems with which Dr. Sadler is grappling in this book, "The Mind at Mischief," are unfortunately too often neglected. All too frequently, also, they are approached from a single-track and narrow-minded standpoint.

The large number of so-called functional nervous disorders and allied phenomena of abnormal psychology are in need of more wide-spread and popular discussion, with the avoidance of faddism and extremism. It is only thus that the field of neuro-psychiatry will come into its own. It is here that one sees constantly the inter-relations of medicine, especially in the field of nervous and mental disorders, with such universally important psychological phenomena as dreams and spiritualistic stances, on the one hand, and of emotional conflicts of one sort or another with the stresses and strains of daily life, on the other hand.

Most persons have been struggling blindly to adjust themselves to life, to understand and to learn how to manage life and themselves. Adjustments have often been made uncritically. As a result of this uncritical thinking, many false theories or explanations of the human make-up and reactions have been put forward. There is a crying need for education in health matters, not only in respect to physical hygiene, but also in the domain of mental hygiene, at least from the adolescent period onward, and most surely in adult life. The sooner such self-understanding and self-guidance comes to a developing individual, the better for him. It is to be regretted that, in spite of much book-know ledge, so many of us have not gained this essential insight into ourselves, our fellow men, and life as it is and as it is being lived. It is by an unprejudiced and scientific exposition of the meaning and nature of functional nervous disorders and other forms of maladjustment that we may be helped to such desirable self-knowledge.

To live is to fight. It is a fight to understand and manage and live harmoniously with other persons, other things, and ourselves. We are being driven on by certain impulsive urges. Obstacles to the fulfillment of our desires are constantly arising in our path, both within and without ourselves. We must learn how to play the game of life with efficiency and poise. Alas, much too frequently and too easily, for one reason or another, we are in danger of losing, or actually are losing our poise and equilibrium. When we have temporarily lost our poise—due to the blocking of our needs or wishes—with resulting mental conflict, emotional struggle, stress, strain, and tension, we battle for recovery of poise and inner harmony. In our ignorance, weakness, blindness, helplessness, or misfortune, driven on by urgent wishes, anxieties, and fears, panic-stricken, like a drowning man grasping for a straw, we seize upon harmful, false, or foolish ways out of our difficulties—methods that cause us to flee from reality and that do not really help us to solve our life's problems and meet them intelligently, squarely, and manfully. It is at such times that we are especially suggestible. It is then that we look for, in fact crave, help, guidance, and direction. Not infrequently at such times the blind are led by the blind, or, still worse, by the charlatan and quack. And so arise our psychological and health cults, fads, and fancies. Thus the susceptible flock about the banners of superstition and myth.

It is to such that the message of common sense, which Dr. Sadler here gives, should be most welcome. What is more, it is because of the need of preventing such harmful psychological reactions that his book is particularly helpful.

The struggle of life really reduces itself to efforts in gaining more and more efficiency and poise in making adjustments and satisfying our fundamental yearnings. Dr. Sadler is here showing us inefficient, unhealthy ways of adjustment. They represent undue lack of poise and equilibrium in meeting "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." He has, perforce, been compelled to deal with human wishes and hungers, unhappiness and happiness, emotional conflicts and forms of mental dissociation. He has made a useful classification of our wishes by grouping the various human impulses under the following five headings:

I.    The life urge—the self-preservation instincts.
II.   The sex urge—the reproductive instincts.
III.  The worship urge—the religious emotions.
IV.  The power urge—the ego group of instincts.
V.   The social urge—the herd group of instincts.

From my own experience and thought upon this subject I can wholeheartedly agree that such an all-inclusive classification more nearly represents the facts than that given by most writers dealing with this phase of normal and abnormal psychology.

It so happens that Dr. Sadler is eminently well fitted to present the subject matter of this book. He is well grounded in the theoretical and practical aspects of medicine and surgery. Day in and day out he is meeting with the practical problems of nervous disorders of a functional nature (that is, of emotional origin). Fortunately, years ago he began to take a deep and active interest in these problems. Being a thorough student of whatever he undertakes, while at the same time of a practical bent, he has combed the best literature and practises in this field and has put them to the acid test of every-day clinical experience. He is, I am happy to say, a free lance. He belongs to no set school or dogma. Like the bee flitting from flower to flower, he has taken whatever of value he could find from the best students in abnormal psychology (Janet, Prince, Freud and his followers, McDougall, and others) and combined them, with additions of his own, into a very valuable presentation of the phenomena of the subconscious. At the same time, with the avoidance of mysticism, he has explained the situation in such a simple, direct, clear-cut and interesting manner, that anyone of average education can follow him from beginning to end. The training Dr. Sadler has had in writing his numerous previous books on this and related questions, has been of decided help in laying a strong foundation for this one.

We have, then, in this book, a popular, scientifically correct, sensible and practical exposition of the subconscious. "The Mind at Mischief richly deserves a wide circulation.

Chicago, Illinois. Associate in Neurology,
Northwestern University Medical School

"The Mind At Mischief:
Tricks & Deceptions of the Subconscious
and How to Cope with Them"
William S. Sadler

Order in Adobe PDF eBook or printed form for $7.95 (+ printing charge)