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Weiss, J. (1990). The Centrality of Adaptation. Contemp. Psychoanal., 26:660-676.

(1990). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 26:660-676

The Centrality of Adaptation

Joseph Weiss, M.D.

THIS PAPER IS CONCERNED WITH the centrality in a person's mental life of his working to adapt to reality. It develops the thesis that a person, beginning in infancy, works throughout life to understand his reality and adapt to it. As part of this effort, he seeks reliable knowledge (beliefs) about himself and his interpersonal world and the moral and ethical assumptions of this world. Whether normal or pathogenic, these beliefs for the following reasons are central to a person's conscious and unconscious mental life:

They are endowed with the awesome authority of reality.

They are an indispensable guide to the all-important tasks of adaptation and self-preservation.

They are organizers of perception. A person perceives himself and others largely as he consciously and unconsciously believes himself and others to be.

They are organizers of personality and psychopathology. It is in accordance with his beliefs about reality that a person shapes his inborn strivings and by doing so evolves his personality.

The theory outlined above indicates that in order to understand his patient the therapist should infer the patient's conscious and unconscious beliefs about himself and his interpersonal world. The therapist may then perceive the patient's situation (with its dangers and opportunities) as the patient himself perceives it. The therapist may then come to understand how the patient's personality reflects his attempts to deal with the dangers and to take advantage of the opportunities.


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Copyright © 1990 W. A. W. Institute

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Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 26, No. 4 (1990)

1 This article is adapted from a chapter in a book on technique to be published by Guilford Press. A version was presented at a meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association in May, 1989.

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