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Lachmann, F.M. (1996). How Many Selves Make a Person?. Contemp. Psychoanal., 32:595-614.

(1996). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 32:595-614

How Many Selves Make a Person?

Frank M. Lachmann, Ph.D.

Heinz Hartmann had a great idea when he proposed that in narcissism it is the self that is cathected with libido rather than the ego of the person. His distinction opened the door for a more detailed investigation of narcissism as related to an overestimation of oneself. Heinz Kohut, however, who was influenced by Hartmann's thinking, had an even better idea. He decided never to define the concept of “self.” Surely, any clarity about “the self” would only have led to even more confusion about the term than already exists.

The vacuum left by this ambiguous concept has prompted an avalanche of juxtaposed selves: first and second self, true and false self, private and public self, good and bad self, authentic and inauthentic self, loving and hating self, split selves, dissociated selves, and shattered selves. For a while, clinicians seemed to have been satisfied with this list of self splinters; but that calm was disturbed by the arrival of “multiple selves.”

An extensive discussion of singular and multiple selves has been offered by Mitchell (1993). He proposes that “multiple selves” can account for the various ways in which people know themselves, construct different versions of themselves in different relationships, and different versions of themselves in one relationship under different circumstances. These interactions in the here and now then lead to a multiplicity of selves-in-relation.

Proponents of multiples selves criticize the singular self as lacking in resiliency, unable to account for the nuances of conflicts or for the shifts in versions of oneself. From this viewpoint, the goal of analysis is not one integrated self, but the capacity to represent oneself as fluid, complex, and subtly textured. “It is mistaken to assume that a digestion and blending of different versions of self is preferable to the capacity to contain shifting and conflictual versions of self” (Mitchell, 1993p. 105).

The discussion of multiple and singular selves raises many complex cultural, philosophical, neurobiological, theoretical, and clinical issues.

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Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 32, No. 4 (1996)

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