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Keywords:

  • annihilation;
  • borderline and hysterical phenomena;
  • ego;
  • emotional core;
  • identity;
  • narcissism;
  • self-regulating other;
  • separateness;
  • unconscious;
  • self

Abstract:  This paper describes the course of an analysis which demonstrates how borderline and narcissistic functioning can be understood in terms of a struggle with issues of identity. It shows how such functioning can come to exert a profound hold on the individual and why it seems, at times, a matter of life and death to the patient to avoid states of separation from the analyst. The paper suggests that these complex phenomena can be understood, perhaps surprisingly, in the simple terms of the nature of affect itself. The concept of the emotional core is introduced to embody and highlight that which lies beneath both Jungian and Freudian models (offering a potential bridge between the two models)—namely the psyche’s essentially affective nature. It is suggested that the emotional core can serve as an organ of perception giving the individual both their primary relation to reality and an emotional attachment to others. This emotional core is understood to function in a narcissistic manner to preference experiences of sameness and in aversion to experiences of difference—a view consonant with Stern’s understanding of infant development where the infant is able to distinguish self from other from the beginning of life (as Fordham also held); taking up Stern’s terminology, it gives the individual a ‘core’ sense of being. There is, however, no stable, on-going sense of ‘I’ associated with this form of functioning as the individual is immersed in the latest affect to enter consciousness (as in the borderline state of mind) and consequently the individual comes to rely intensely on the other to determine their sense of being (the other becomes a self-regulating other in Stern’s terms). The development of ego-functioning gives a more stable and on-going sense of ‘I’ to the individual, giving contact with the broader personality, allowing the individual to be less reliant on the other and orientating them to reality in a way more fitting to their overall needs.

The paper describes how consciousness, which is not seen as identical with the ego, moves between the mode of functioning of the ego and that of the emotional core, i.e., shifting in and out of states where projective identification predominates. It elaborates the range of self-experience encompassing spiritual experience and states of disintegration (which are understood to have a similar structure) on one side, to ego-based experience (which can itself be defensive and rigid at times) on the other. It explores the consequences of such a view for analytic technique and relates it to the Jungian view of the self and the Freudian unconscious.