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Simha-Alpern, A. (2019). Touch Me, But Don’t Get Under My Skin: The Skin-Ego and the Conflicting Needs for Connection and Protection. Psychoanal. Perspect., 16(1):70-87.

(2019). Psychoanalytic Perspectives, 16(1):70-87

Touch Me, But Don’t Get Under My Skin: The Skin-Ego and the Conflicting Needs for Connection and Protection

Amira Simha-Alpern, Ph.D.

This paper is inspired by Anzieu’s concept of the “skin-ego” as a psychic agency distinguished by a set of ego functions that are symbolic representations of the three main physiological functions of the skin: a primary mode of communication with others, a protective barrier from the external world, and a container of internal organs. The author suggests skin-ego configurations along three qualitative dimensions: sensitivity, permeability, and elasticity. As the imaginary space in which fantasies, dreams, thoughts, and psychopathological formations are established, the skin-ego affects how one negotiates subjectivity and intersubjectivity. The author presents two patients whose skin-ego functions were compromised by early trauma to illustrate how their skin-ego characteristics shape the way they negotiate their contradictory, coexisting needs to connect with others and to protect against the other’s potential impingements. The implications of skin-ego functions to the therapeutic process, as well as the therapist’s skin-ego functions, are also discussed.

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