Saturday, October 06, 2012

False Self

Very intriguing ideas that feels very true and close to me:

... According to Winnicott (1960a), impingements from the environment may arise out of caregiver's difficulty in understanding the infant's thoughts or feelings, substituting her gestures instead of representing his [baby's] own intentional state to the baby, invalidating the gestures, and obstructing his [baby's] illusion of omnipotence. When this continues despite persistence by the infant, Winnicott suggests that a number of reactions can arise: the self may be overwhelmed, it may become anxious anticipating further impingement, it may come to experience itself only when it acts in opposition to impingements, and, finally, it can acquiesce and hide its own gestures, undermining its own ability. In this latter case, Winnicott assumed, the self ends up mimicking its care taking environment, resigned to deficiency, setting aside creative gestures, and perhaps even forgetting they ever existed. Winnicott suggested that the infant compliantly relates to the caregiver's gestures as if they were his own, and this compliant stance lie at the root of the false-self-structure. It follows from Winnicott's view of the hallmarks of the true self that the false self is revealed by a lack of spontaneity or originality. ... such individuals [with false-self-structure] later seek out external impingements to create the experience of compliant relating and, with it, a sense of realness about their own existence. Winnicott also identified the kind of self that appears to be real but is built on identification with early objects and thus lacks something uniquely its own.
Winnicott described how the false self may sometimes set itself up as real and generally convery this impression to others, but it does so mechanically, lacking genuine links between internal states and actions. A self whose own constitutional state has not been recognized is an empty self. ... Emotional experience will be meaningless, and the individual may look for powerful others to merge with or extraneously caused (drug-induced) physical experiences of arousal to fill the vacuum with borrowed strength or ideals. Only when the person is challenged by the need to act spontaneously as a whole person, particularly in intense relationships, will the limitations become evident.
The false self is thought to serve to hide, and thus protect, the true self. The true self is the constitutional state that was largely unrepresented by parental mirroring. Thus it may emerge only in the course of extreme states of emotional arousal, when the internalized but non referential expression can no longer serve to mask emotional upheaval---for example, in the course of physical or psychological illness. Symptom formation may express the true self because historically this was how the emerging self found it could exist without being overwhelmed by the environment, having creative gestures replaced or ignored. ...
... the child who fails to develop a representation of an intentional self is likely to incorporate in his image of himself the representation of the other, sometimes mental, sometimes physical. The picture of the self will then be ``false'': distorted, as the child experience of himself is overtly influenced by his early perceptions of what others think and feel, and strangely out of touch with what he himself or others are currently experiencing. This may be why many neglected or maltreated children show apparent failures of object permanence, leading to primitive separation anxiety or feelings of merger with the object.In reality, they continue existentially to depend on the physical presence of the other, both for self-sustaining auxiliary reflective function---continuing to seek and find their intentionality in the mind of the other---and, more subtly, as a vehicle for the externalization of parts of the self-representation that are experienced as alien and incongruent with the self. ...
This state of affairs places a massive burden on those with severe personality disorder. In order for the self to be coherent, the alien and unassimilable parts require externalization: that is, they need to be seen as part of the other where they can be hated, denigrated, and often destroyed. The physical other who performs this function must remain present for this complex process to operate. ...
The alien self is present in all of us, because transient neglect is part of ordinary caregiving: it is pernicious when later experiences of trauma in the family or the peer group force the child to dissociate from pain by using the alien self to identify with the aggressor. Hence the vacuous self comes to be colonized by the image of the aggressor, and the child comes to experience himself as evil and monstrous. ... A further twist to this sequence can be added when later brutalization within an attachment relationship generates intense shame. Coupled with a history of neglect in infancy and a consequent weakness in the capacity for metallization, this become a potent trigger for violence because of the intensity of the humiliation experienced when trauma cannot be attenuated via mentalization. Unmentalized shame is then experienced as the destruction of the self---we have called it ``ego-estructive shame.'' ... ---pp. 195-198, [ARMDS:FGJT2002]
Related Links:
True self and false self --- Wiki
According to this source, in the Winnicott theory of true/false self, ``Where the motherer is not responsive to the baby's spontaneity, where instead 'a mother's expectations are too insistent, they can eventually result in compliant behaviour and an impaired autonomy', as the baby has 'to manage a prematurely important object....The False Self enacts a kind of dissociated regard or recognition of the object; the object is taken seriously, is shown concern, but not by a person'.''

I am curious if there is an alternative mechanism for the construction of the false self: when an infant is too smart, in the sense of receiving and interpreting the mother's signals, for his own good!

Here is an interesting criticism of the "true self" concept, by Foucalt, based on the fact that "self" is more of a construction than a given: ``Foucault, a philosopher, took issue with the concept of a “true self” on the grounds that the self was a construct, not (as in the Romantic paradigm) an essential to be uncovered: anti-essentialism. Foucault snarled that "In the Californian cult of the self, one is supposed to discover one's true self, to separate it from what might obscure or alienate it"[55] - whereas for him what was in question was a process of subjectification, an aesthetics of self-formation.
Foucault maintained that because "the self is not given to us....there is only one practical consequence: we have to create ourselves as a work of art".[56] ''

Sense of Self and Borderline Personality Disorder --- Psychology Today 

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