Intersubjectivity Theory Mentalization and the Theory of Other Minds

A further evolution of attachment research has to do with what others have called "theory of mind." Having a theory of mind allows people to see their own inner experiences and expectancies as different from those of others

Similarities to other object relations approaches can be noted here. Winnicott's (1960) notion of the analytic integration of the wounded, walled-ofi "false self" may be most resonant. Contemporary Kleinians' conceptualizations of "pathological organizations" suggest a similar perspective because they describe psychic life becoming organized around interna) object configurations that take the place of the person's direct experience of his or her unbearable anxieties and authentic motivations and memories (Roscnfcld 1971). Bion's 11962) conceptualization of what happens in the absence of the rcflcctivc capacity for "thinking" contains many parallels to the notion that trauma precludes awareness of the extraordinary confusion and agony that it creates {Schgman 19991.

and of the objective world in general. In adequate development.. the child comes to feel a sense of agency, connection, and autonomy through being recognized as both similar to and different from others who understand his or her inner state while showing that their owrn reactions are different. When a mother speaks in a sad voice to her crying baby, the correspondence of her negative emotion communicates her recognition of her baby's feeling, while the linguistic tones and rhythms connote that she is not as sad as the baby is but rather is reflecting the child's inner feelings. Children whose experience is not responded to in this way may be limited in differentiating between their own feelings and those of others and therefore rely excessively on projections in trying to relate to odiers. Terms such as mentalization. metacognition, and reflective functioning have been offered to capture this crucial developmental capacity {Fonagy 2000; Main 2000; Seligman 2000), whereas psychoanalysts in the British object relations and American relational traditions have offered similar conceptualizations in terms such as thinking (Bion 1962, 1965) and the intersubjec-tive third (see Benjamin 1995; Ogden 1994).

Some psychodynamic workers consider mentalization as one aspect of a more general approach, whereas others take it as the central point of their clinical and developmental theory (e.g., Fonagy 2000; Jurist et al. 2008). One of us (Seligman 20081 described how a patient entered psychotherapy with a reflexive fearful and angry view of those whose interests and perspectives did not coincide with hers. As she moved from blaming others, she came to see that other people might simply have motives of their own that do not originate with her, declaring that she would serve her best interests not by organizing her relationships around a sense of grievance but by reflecting on her emotional reactions and recognizing other people's subjective experiences.

Some clinical innovators are proposing novel syntheses of varied clinical techniques. Psychotherapy strategies have been standardized and validated as effective treatments for posttraumatic stress disorders and borderline personality disorders, both of which have been linked to deficits in reflective functioning (see, e.g., Clarkin et al. 1999; Fonagy and Bateman 2008). An array of innovators have proposed syntheses of psychodynamic approaches with infant development information so as to intervene with serious relationship problems in infancy and early childhood (see, e.g., Seligman 1994).


• Infants and their caregivers are involved in active, co-constructed relationship processes from birth onward. These processes involve mutual influence and mutual regulation of emotion, bodily and mental states, and inter- and intrapersonal meanings.

• Social relationships are central motivators and organizers of human development throughout the life cycle.

• Early caregiving relationships have enduring effects on ongoing patterns of social relationships and self-experience. Traditional as it may be in psychoanalysis, ttïis proposition is increasingly supported by developmental neuroscience, psychopathoiogy, and developmental-social psychology. Attachment theory and research, in particular, have demonstrated the salience and durability of patterns of the pursuit of personal security through attachment to other people, with remarkable correlations between infancy and adulthood and across generations.

• Emotion regulation, intersubjective recognition, and other processes of "meaning making" are core motivations. All of these involve processes that coordinate the caregiving relationships and the infant's developing self-organization. When early interpersonal care deprives or distorts the baby's or child's potential for personal agency, coherence. security, integration, and the like, subsequent psychopathoiogy. especially personality disorder, may be likely.

• Early traumatic experiences are likely to have enduring psychopathogenic effects, often quite serious.

• Observations of the (necessarily) nonverbal patterns of communication and self-organization in infancy have drawn attention to the extent to which similar nonverbal processes. including emotions and bodily experiences, shape interpersonal interactions and senses of self and of others throughout the life span.

• The development of individual persons is besl approached as embedded in the various contexts within which it takes place and cannot be understood unless Ihose are taken into account. These include genetic, physiological, familial, cultural, and economic factors as well as (apparently) dyadic caregiving systems such as maternal care. The effects of single factors are best assessed as they are interacting with these various contexts. Transactional and nonlinear dynamic systems models are increasingly influential in developmental thinking.

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