1 This chapter is primarily based on two psychoanalytic theories: the self psychology of Heinz Kohut and the intersubjectivity theory in the work of Robert Stolorow and his colleagues. These theories provide a foundation for understanding the primary aspects of self-experience and self-structure. See Stolorow, R. et al. (1994); Atwood and Stolorow (1984); Stolorow and Atwood (1992).
2 Although the term “subjective experience” is used repeatedly in this chapter, this is actually a redundant phrase, because all experience is subjective. “Subjective” is one of a pair of dualistically defined opposites, subjective vs. objective. This polarity highlights a presumed difference between what we experience in the mind—internal reality—and that which is assumed to have a different order of being, the external “objective” world.
3 The word “self” as a noun confers the idea that self is a thing and reifies the experience of selfhood. This reification, in the Buddhist view, supports the view of separate self in a way which underlies psychological suffering. In contrast, in action language self becomes a verb, “selfing,” which conveys the idea of self as an activity of mind. Particular meanings of “selfing” are described later in the chapter.
4 “Narcissistic defenses.”
5 Self-awareness always entails some interpenetration of self as the subject and self as the object in experience. Though easy to distinguish at a conceptual level, these two poles of experience—subject and object—are not experientially separate, but rather comprise a seamless whole. How experience moves between these two poles of selfawareness has been termed “self-reflexivity” (Aron, 2000). The degree of self-reflex- ivity is an important indicator of the development of subjectivity and the maturity of self-function.
6 It was Fonagy who clearly conceptualized the essential interconnections between relationship and mentalization and highlighted the importance of attachment and affect in this process. A wonderful and very accessible summary of this work can be found in Wallin (2007).
7 The concept of “relational surround” comes from intersubjectivity theory.
8 Note that a Kohutian “selfobject” (no hyphen) is a function rather than a person. “Selfobject,” written with a hyphen, can be used more generically to mean either function or person who serves that function.
9 In addition to explicit autobiographical narrative, which continues to unfold throughout the life span, it is important to recognize that many aspects of self-identity are implicit. These are expressed in the form of personality traits developed during the gradual assimilation of life experiences. They are also encompassed within social roles we take on or aspire to as we develop. From earliest life, this aspect of self-identity is engaged by the question adults routinely ask of children: What do you want to be when you grow up? In broadest form, self-identity is one of the major developmental tasks of every life. John Welwood calls it “The Identity Project” (Welwood, 2000).
10 See discussion of metabolizing experience in Chapter 6.
11 Buddhist teachings shift the paradigm of self altogether in a way that is intended to be radically psychotherapeutic. See heading, “The Problem of Self.”
12 The interested reader will find many interesting points in Schafer’s book, Action Language in Psychoanalysis (1987). Fast (1998) also discusses self as an active process, which she terms “selving.”
13 Note, also, that the relationship between language and mind is an important inquiry in its own right. Language is itself an important action.
14 J. Engler (2003) citing Harry Stack Sullivan.
15 Free-association is not only the basic instruction for psychoanalysis but also its intended result. When the mind can free associate freely and without impediment, the psychoanalytic cure is said to be complete.
16 This topic is also explored in the work of Epstein (1995), a psychiatrist who has written extensively about the psychodynamics of experience from a Buddhist point of view.
17 This concept was first elaborated by the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. In Kleinian thought, the two major subjective positions in psychological development are called the paranoid and depressive positions, respectively. These are defined in terms of the “internal objects” that predominate in experience (see Chapter 9). In the paranoid position of infancy, unresolved hate toward the loved object—prototypically the mother—exists in an unintegrated state, resulting in fragmented and primitive state of emotional life. As the hateful feelings and “phantasies” of the paranoid position are resolved, the urge to repair can mature along with the capacity to mourn what has been lost or damaged; hence, the depressive position is seen as a developmental achievement.
18 Csikszentmihalyi defined flow as a state of immersion or absorption in whatever one is doing. Flow is a state of highly focused motivation in which the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but also positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. He defined it as a mental state of intrinsic motivation in which we become so involved in what is happening that nothing else seems to matter; we are aligned with ourselves and with the moment—“in the zone” or “in the groove.” This is a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego needs, etc.) are typically ignored. Note the similarity to Winnicott’s concept of going-on-being.
19 This is similar to yet different from the “transcendent position” defined by Grotstein and Franey (2008) based on the work of W. F. Bion: a formless form of subjectivity that is within us, around us, and beyond us. A “transcendent function” was also described in the work of C. G. Jung in reference to the tension between conscious and unconscious contents of mind; the emergence of fantasy, dream, or vision bridges the gap between these two mental domains.
20 In an earlier paper, I described it as an “evolution of subjectivity” (Schuman, 1998).
21 Or, as D. W. Winnicott pointed out in a different context, there is no such thing as a baby without a mother (1965a).
22 Ultimately, this means that there are no things at all!
23 This idea can more appropriately be attributed to Buddhist teachers than to the Buddha.
24 Mindfulness meditation practice supports and enhances this process. As the mind becomes more settled and unified in meditation, one sees more clearly what is going on. So mindfulness practice not only engages self-reflective awareness, it also deepens it.
25 “Self-reflexivity” (see this chapter, Note 5).
26 I also do not intend to suggest here that every narrative has encoded meanings; as Freud famously said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” The emphasis in the present discussion is on the purpose and meaning of narrative in the overall function of the psyche.
27 One of the major reasons why narratives are intractable to change may have to do with the relational ties that are involved.