Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Not-Me, Dissociation, and Enactment

I have started a book, ``Partners in Thought: Working with Unformulated Experience, Dissociation, and Enactment,'' by Donnel B. Stern and I am quite absorbed in the insights from the first chapter.

I mean dissociation to refer to the process by which, for unconscious defensive reasons, either the patient or the analyst, or both, fails to potentiate some portion of the verbal, nonverbal, or subsymbolic meaning available in the interaction of which they are part.  ....
The unconscious motive for dissociation is conceptualized differently from the unconscious motive for repression. ... what moves us to unconscious defense in the theory of dissociation is the need to avoid assuming a certain kind of identity. The unconscious purpose is to avoid the creation of a certain state of being, or self-state. ... the person one must not be ... is someone who felt disappointed, bereft, frightened, humiliated, shamed, or otherwise badly hurt or threatened. ... What we defend against is not any single feeling, fantasy, thought, or memory {as is typically assumed in the traditional theories of repression} but a state of identity, a way of being. I refer to this dreaded state of being, after Harry Stack Sullivan (1954) and, more recently, Philip Bromberg (1998, 2006) as not-me. Quite literally, this is the part of subjectivity that must not be me.
But of course life does not necessarily cooperate with our intentions ... Circumstances---interactions with others---sometimes conspire in such a way that the dissociated way of being threatens to erupt into awareness. ... The only course of action left to dissociator who needs to protect himself from such imminent danger is the externalization of the way of being that one must not take on oneself---the interpersonalization of the dissociation. Enactment is the last-ditch unconscious defensive effort to avoid being the person one must not be, accomplished by trying to force onto the other what defines the intolerable identify. --- pp.13-14, Partners in Thought
My understanding is that "enactment" is closely related to "projective identification", i.e., the idea that we project the unwanted part of our self onto others so that we can destroy an external object instead of engaging in an endless internal fight.

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