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Lansky, M.R. (1994). Commentary on Andrew Morrison's “The Breadth and Boundaries of a Self-Psychological Immersion in Shame”. Psychoanal. Dial., 4(1):45-50.
(1994). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 4(1):45-50
Commentary on Andrew Morrison's “The Breadth and Boundaries of a Self-Psychological Immersion in Shame”
Melvin R. Lansky, M.D.
It is always a pleasure to discuss Andrew Morrison's work. His rich and stimulating paper is candid, straightforward, and simple appearing, yet it is profound and far reaching in its implications. Morrison's (1989) work in general and this work in particular highlight new perspectives on self, affect, and object that have unfolded in the 20 years since ground-breaking works by Heinz Kohut and Helen Block Lewis were published in 1971. This splendid paper highlights much of a central vision that is in common but also some differences between self psychologists and students of shame.
The central vision goes something like this: the self is a self only by virtue of being defined as such by the other. In its tentativity as a self, contingent on recognition from the other, the self is always at risk for shame. This was pointed out by Hegel (1807) almost 200 years ago and by Sartre (1943) in mid-century, but it is only recently that it has entered psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic circles.
This view of the self underscores that the self is only tentatively a self, and although some of us may be relatively “tenured,” so to speak, the sense of self is still contingent on some degree of empathy, recognition, or acknowledgment from the social surround—call them selfobjects, if you like. The other is not so much an object of desire as the other who confers selfhood on the self: of course, the more fragile, the more needed.
Here is where shame comes in. That bond that keeps a self a self or confers selfhood on a self runs the greater or lesser risk of dissolution not only with the loss of the other but also with the loss of the sense of self.
Dr. Lansky is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, UCLA Medical School, and Training and Supervising Analyst, Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Institute.