Dissociation : Volume 10, No. 4, p. 230-239 : Desperately seeking attachment: a psychoanalytic reframing of the harsh superego

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Title: Dissociation : Volume 10, No. 4, p. 230-239 : Desperately seeking attachment: a psychoanalytic reframing of the harsh superego
Author: Howell, Elizabeth F., 1946-
Abstract: This article presents a new model of superego organization that is dissociation-based. Clinicians often work intuitively with the harsh superego as if it were a dissociated internal persecutory fragment or self-state, even though theory has not provided a clear conceptual basis for this kind of approach. Despite differing theoretical understandings of the nature and origins of the harsh superego, there appears to be consensus that the harsh superego is best approached therapeutically with the aim of softening its hold. Although the term superego is commonly used, its meanings are not always clear. Superego is understood both as a source of psychopathology and as a moral agency. Understood as psychopathology, the meaning of superego is problematic, as the theoretical model of superego frequently differs radically from the clinically observed phenomena. Understood as morality, the meaning of superego is also unclear in that it can be relativistic and subject to corruption (Kohlberg, 1971; Sagan, 1988). In addition, the interrelationships of these two meanings can be confusing. This article begins by describing some of the problems in the superego construct. It then recasts this construct in terms of attachment theory and dissociation. It is proposed that in many cases harsh superego may be understood more usefully in terms of dissociation than in terms of the structural model and the Oedipus construct. There may be reasons in the history of psychoanalytic theory that have obscured this possibility. The role of attachment in superego and moral development (Schore, 1997; Lewis, 1981, 1983; Wilson, 1983) is emphasized. It is proposed that it is the attachment, not the rule-following in itself, that is moral. The implications of this model for working more effectively with self-punitive and self-critical behavior are addressed.
Description: p. 230-239
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1794/1806
Date: 1997-12


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