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Stern, S. (2002). The Self as a Relational Structure: A Dialogue with Multiple-Self Theory. Psychoanal. Dial., 12(5):693-714.

(2002). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 12(5):693-714

The Self as a Relational Structure: A Dialogue with Multiple-Self Theory Related Papers

Steven Stern, Psy.D.

This paper addresses the postmodern critique of unified-self theories that argues that the self is not unified but multiple, not a static entity but in constant flux, not a separate center of initiative but intersubjectively constituted. The author proposes that there are two kinds of division in self-experience: the dissociative divisions of multiple-self theory, and a division, akin to the divisions between Freud's structural agencies, between what are here termed the “intersubjective self” and “primary subjective experience.” In contrast to dissociated self-states, which occur in different moments in time, these two dimensions of self-experience occur simultaneously; indeed, what is most important about them is their relationship. The author suggests that it is this intrapsychic relationship, as it occurs in a given psychological moment, that determines the qualities of self-experience that are emphasized in unified-self theories: such qualities as cohesiveness versus fragmentation; authenticity vs. falseness; vitality versus depletion; optimal versus nonoptimal self-regulation; and agency versus feeling one is at the mercy of others. Furthermore, a major organizer of the intersubjective self is early identifications, especially “identifications with the other's response to the self.” The implications of these concepts for therapeutic action are discussed and illustrated with an extended account of an analytic case.

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