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Lewis, H.B. (1958). Over-Differentiation and Under-Individuation of the Self. Psychoanal. Rev., 45C(3):3-24.

(1958). Psychoanalytic Review, 45C(3):3-24

Over-Differentiation and Under-Individuation of the Self

Helen Block Lewis

In this paper, I propose to consider some clinical material from the standpoint of the way it reflects pathological organization of the self. Specifically, I wish to review two different patterns of organization of the self, one of which I shall call the “over-differentiation” and the other the “under-individuation” of the self. There is clinical material in which the boundaries of the self appear too weak, too little articulated; in other cases, the boundaries of the self appear too strong. In some persons, the self seems to be too sharply differentiated from the environment; in others, it is not sufficiently segregated as a separate unit. In the over-differentiated self, the organization seems to be too much in terms of the self-boundary, too much in terms of the “outer” side of experience, while in the under-individuated self, the organization seems to be too much in terms of “inner core” experiences. In other words, pathology of the self may sometimes involve its being too sharply “figural” in the person's field of activity, or too diffuse, too much “ground.”

Phenomenally, an over-differentiated, too sharply bounded self is often experienced by the person in the form of a “barrier” between himself and others, or between much of his own experience and himself. Patients describe this in terms of a “wall” or “separation”, an “insulation” surrounding themselves. It is more difficult to obtain an experiential description of an under-individuated self, since persons of this kind tend to be less articulate and introspective in general.

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