Sullivan’s idea of “not-me”
Although this paper never allows any extensive overview of psychoanalytic notion of dissociation in the history, Sullivan’s discussion is still worth examining in order to do justice to his unique nature of the notion.
It is considered that “for Sullivan, dissociation, not repression, was the primary defensive maneuver, because he understood the primary danger to be the revival of intolerable experience, not the breakthrough of primitive endogenous fantasy” (p.653). Thus, Sullivan and interpersonal school theorists discuss dissociation in the context of trauma theory. While interpersonal school is regarded as somewhat out of fashion in the American psychoanalytic community, it was actually ahead of the time in the context of the theory of trauma and dissociation.
Sullivan’s conceptualization of “good me”, “bad me” and “not me”is of special interest.the first two states are experienced more or less normally and are familiar to most of us. We tend to have separate states of ourselves and either one of them tend to get activated when something good (or bad) happen to us.In contrast, not me is experienced in rather unusual situations where we try to hide ourselves in a different environment or need to numb ourselves due to pain or shame.
Not me is only directly experienced in a severe nightmare or only observed in a dissociative state (Sullivan, 1953)this experience is never learned due to pain that it involves and is only experience in primitive (or what he calls “prototaxic” or “parataxic” level. Sullivan’s idea of dissociation might have reached the state where a subject (“not-me”) independent of the main subject (“me”)
Donnel B. Stern, DB (2009) Dissociation and Unformulated Experience: A Psychoanalytic Model of Mind (In Dell, Paul F. (Ed); O'Neil, John A. (Ed), (2009). Dissociation and the dissociative disorders: DSM-V and beyond., Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, pp.654-666)
Stern’s unformulated experience and dissociation
There seems to be a “growing chorus of American thinkers” “who hopes to rescue dissociation from obscurity” in the theory of psychoanalysis (Goldman, P338) and certainly Donnel Stern and Phillip Bromberg should be two of the leaders of them.
Goldman, D: Vital sparks and forms of things unknown in Jan Abram (ed.) Donald Winnicott Today. The New Library of Psychoanalysis. Routledge, 2012.
Stern’s basic stance is that dissociation is a defensive process. He states: “…While dissociation is conceived in many ways in the trauma literature, theories of dissociation tend to center around the idea of a self-protective process that takes place when the events of life are beyond tolerance” (p.653). Although there are some variations, current literature on dissociation proposed by different authors can be described as the defense model of dissociation. This model has a striking difference as well as a similarity when compared with Freud’s concept of dissociation in the Studies in Hysteria (1895). Their difference is obvious, as Stern proposes dissociation as the main defense mechanism whereas Freud thought repression was, not dissociation. As we saw above, when Breuer proposed the notion of the hypnoid state, roughly equivalent to the dissociative state, Freud rejected the notion as it is not dynamic, asserting that repression should be the one as defense mechanism is mobilized actively in order to fend off the uncomfortable material from the conscious.