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Wilson, S.N. (2003). Attack of The Inward Eye: Self-Observing and Aggression. Psychoanal. Rev., 90(5):699-708.

(2003). Psychoanalytic Review, 90(5):699-708

Attack of The Inward Eye: Self-Observing and Aggression

Scott N. Wilson

Aggression partly motivates self-observing. This aggression includes not only “assertion” (Stechler & Halton, 1987) or gratification seeking, but also the destruction later considered by Freud (1920) to be a primary drive and by others later still to be the secondary consequence of threats to the existence or integrity of the self (Kohut, 1977; Stechler & Halton, 1987). For both patient and therapist the avoidance of self-observing is proportional to the destructive threat involved.

The threat in self-observing is related to two phenomena. First, the self must become divided into an observed and an observing function in order for self-observing to occur (Bach, 1984), and the self therefore becomes experienced as discontinuous (Mitchell, 1991) and not fully integrated, however momentarily. Such a cleavage of the self may be termed “fission.” Second, self-observing involves the same conflicts and affects that hold for aggression in general for a given individual.

I refer primarily to such threats and avoidance within the patient, but the principles involved apply equally for the therapist and could be usefully explored in a future article.

The following vignette exemplifies how the process of self-observing is accompanied by the conflicts and affects surrounding aggression in other facets of a patient's experience:

A thirty-eight-year-old divorced man has been coming for help with his poor self-esteem and reluctance to initiate or sustain relationships.

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