Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Sense of an Interconnected Self - A Potential Addition to Daniel Stern's Self Model

In a post a couple of weeks ago, Daniel Stern and the Creation of Self Through Relational Experience, I outlined Stern's developmental model of the self. Rather than the usual structural model of stages, Stern proposed a layered model in which each successive stage simply adds to what was already available without subsuming the previous stage(s).

In the Introduction to the 2000 edition of the book (The Interpersonal World Of The Infant A View From Psychoanalysis And Developmental Psychology), he spends 30+ pages updating the text with new information. As part of that update, he now believes that the sense of an emergent self, the sense of a core self, the sense of a core self with another, and the sense of an intersubjective self all are present from birth. This is a serious reversal in the previous assumptions about the inner life of children.

Much of Western psychology, including integral theory, has assumed that the infant lives in an undifferentiated state of fusion with its "surround" (the surround includes the physical environment, as well as the interpersonal and intersubjective contexts), especially in its relationship to the mother (or primary caregiver). The goal of development, then, is to differentiate into a singular self from that fusion state.

Stern argues that the infant is born differentiated (although the senses of self are still primitive, what Damasio calls the "proto self") and that the goal of development is to form relationships and intersubjective connections.
In Winnicott's, Mahler's, and many other theoretical renditions, the various important experiences of being with mother are founded on the assumption that the infant cannot adequately differentiate self from other. Self/other fusion is the background state to which the infant constantly returns. This undifferentiated state is the equilibrium condition from which a separate self and other gradually emerge. In one sense, the infant is seen as totally social in this view. Subjectively, the “I” is a “we.” The infant achieves total sociability by not differentiating self from other.

In contrast to these views, the present account has stressed the very early formation of a sense of a core self and core other during the life period that other theories allot to prolonged self/other undifferentiation. Further, in the present view, experiences of being with an other are seen as active acts of integration, rather than as passive failures of differentiation. If we conceive of being-with experiences as the result of an active integration of a distinct self with a distinct other, how can we conceive of the subjective social sense of being with an other? It is now no longer a given, as it was in Mahler's undifferentiated “dual-unity.” (Stern, p. 101)
In Stern's view, and this was a revision to the original text as a result of the work of Trevarthen, there is a subjective sense of self, however crude, at birth. The task of development is then to develop a sense of self-with-other, or the experience of being with

The notion of self-with-other as a subjective reality is thus almost pervasive. This subjective sense of being-with (intrapsychically and extrapsychically) is always an active mental act of construction, however, not a passive failure of differentiation. It is not an error of maturation, nor a regression to earlier periods of undifferentiation. Seen in this way, the experiences of being-with are not something like the “delusion of dual-unity” or mergers that one needs to grow out of, dissolve, and leave behind. They are permanent, healthy parts of the mental landscape that undergo continual growth and elaboration. They are the active constitutions of a memory that encodes, integrates, and recalls experience, and thereby guides behavior. (Stern, The Interpersonal World of the Infant, p. 118-119)
Leaving aside the "sense of an emerging self," or proto self, that exists at birth and lasts only about eight weeks, there are three early, pre-verbal self-sense layers, and in Stern's model, two additional verbal stages (p. xxiv-xxv in the 2000 edition).

A. Sense of a core self
B. Sense of a core self with other
C. Sense of an intersubjective self

1. Verbal self
2. Narrative self
3. ??

I would like to suggest that the second layer of selves are each verbal expressions of the previous layer. For example, once we become verbal our sense of a core self is the verbal self. Likewise, our construction of a narrative self exists only in relation to a real or imagined other, which makes the narrative self (selves) essentially the verbal evolution of the sense of a core self with other.

So, if this is true, what then is the verbal layer of the sense of an intersubjective self?

I wonder if it might be an interconnected self, the experience of a "we space" from an intersubjective, interpersonal, culturally and environmentally embedded perspective?

Further, I think the next emergent path of enlightenment will be collective, not individual - some type of interpersonal spirituality. We are born to be social beings, so isolating oneself to become "enlightened" makes little sense to me. I don't know what a collective spiritual path looks like, but I suspect some of the students around Andrew Cohen are developing in that direction.

Stay tuned.

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