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Daehnert, C. (1998). The False Self as a Means of Disidentification: A Psychoanalytic Case Study. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(2):251-271.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(2):251-271

The False Self as a Means of Disidentification: A Psychoanalytic Case Study

Christal Daehnert, Ph.D.


The False Self has been conceptualized here as a defensive organization developed unconsciously as infants are compelled to abandon their own wishes and needs to accommodate chronic or acute failures of mothering, which comes to serve multiple functions for the individual. Illustrated through the analysis of a forty-four-year-old woman is a highly individualized False Self, serving to (1) protect her True Self; (2) maintain a connection with mother; (3) protect mother from the infant's destructiveness; (4) ward off the child's oedipal issues; and (5) create a means by which she could disidentify from mother.

Four of the False-Self functions explored here have been previously referenced in the literature (Winnicott, 1960a; Cassimatis, 1984; Stern, 1985; Glasser, 1992). In general, the first two of these False-Self functions emerged during the first half of the analysis, and reflect the more traditional notion of the False Self, the key features of which are compliance and accommodation. The latter three functions of the False Self emerged during the second half of the analysis, as I attempted to identify and understand the more intractable elements of this patient's False-Self organization.

Through use of my countertransference experience I was able to identify a fifth False-Self function: the role of the False Self in disidentifying from mother. Outwardly, this patient's False Self appeared to reflect compliance with her mother's expectations, designed to please her. On a deeper level, it was an aggressive attempt to create and sustain a disidentification from her shameful mother. She secretly experienced this as an aggressive triumph over her mother. This led me to my hypothesis that an inwardly focused and hidden use of aggression is involved in the development of the False-Self organization. The patient's secret aggression and internal rejection of everything her mother stood for was the only safe way to experience any aggression, as outward signs of aggression were not tolerated by her mother. I believe that this use of aggression was an attempt at self-differentiation. It was destined to fail, however, because it could never be experienced and validated within a relational context; thus, the patient remained in psychic bondage. Conceptualization of this particular False-Self function and the role of aggression within it provided me with a deeper understanding of its resistance to change.

By identifying and understanding within the transference the many functions this patient's False Self served, while at the same time providing a new object experience with the analyst, this woman was able to discover and develop her True Self as she surrendered her False Self. She developed the ability to identify her affective state of depression as a signal for her False-Self functioning, which created a radical shift in her way of organizing experience. No longer in bondage to her False-Self functioning, she was freed to respond to her inner strivings and to act on the basis of her own initiative. Ultimately, she was able to integrate previously unacknowledged aspects of her True Self and no longer had to live a reactive existence.

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