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Nathanson, D.L. (1986). The Empathic Wall and the Ecology of Affect. Psychoanal. St. Child, 41:171-187.

(1986). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 41:171-187

The Empathic Wall and the Ecology of Affect

Donald L. Nathanson, M.D.


The nature and significance of affect and of affective transmission are examined, and a new ego mechanism, called the empathic wall, is described to explain the organism's adaptation to

affective resonance. The earliest form of communication is the sharing of affect; the infant needs some way of differentiating between affect experienced as the result of (maternal) transmission and that resulting from purely inner sources. The empathic wall mechanism provides a primitive form of affect blocking and allows attribution of experienced affect either to subject or object, thus providing the substrate on which both denial and projection are formed. The psychoanalytic understanding of empathy is reviewed in terms of the empathic wall. Clinical material is provided to demonstrate the use of this concept in our understanding of patients and in therapy.

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