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Atwood, G.E. Carroll, S.L. McWilliams, N. (1983). Inventors of New Selves. Am. J. Psychoanal., 43(3):245-259.

(1983). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 43(3):245-259

Inventors of New Selves

George E. Atwood, Ph.D., Shelley L. Carroll, M.A. and Nancy McWilliams, Ph.D.

The impetus for this report came from our experiences working with a kind of person we have not seen specifically described in the clinical literature. We have found such people difficult to keep in treatment for a number of reasons that derive directly from their type of pathology, and we have developed an approach to working with them that seems to increase their tolerance for and responsiveness to the process of psychotherapy. We speculate that the reason the psychoanalytic literature has not previously attended to this type of character structure is that those who have it typically avoid or very quickly leave traditional psychoanalytic therapy, depriving us of a thorough understanding of their dynamics. Some of the data on which our ideas are based emerged in clinical work with patients; we have also drawn upon studies conducted in college self-analytic seminars on personality that use autobiographical materials, projective testing, and interviews. These seminars were structured to generate the same kind of in-depth information about character and life history as one gathers in psychoanalytic therapy.

We are concerned here with a pattern of personality organization in which an individual is self-defined as having an identity that he or she produced voluntarily, independent of a prior personal history. Such a person's conscious sense of selfhood is founded in an active decision to break away from the past and become someone new. As the “new” self materializes, past values and other personal characteristics become experienced as obsolete constraints upon the potential for growth and change. These attributes are then disowned. Interpersonal relationships that were formed in the past are likewise felt to be obstructive entanglements, binding the person to a character and a history with which he or she no longer identifies.

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