However, there is obviously a similarity between Stern’s notion of dissociation and Freud’s idea of repression, i.e., that Stern considers dissociation as a defense, different from what Breuer thought, that it occurs automatically when the traumatic event happens. This issue of similarity between two models is to be discussed later as it is crucial for the understanding a different notion of dissociation that I would like to propose in this paper.
Current notion of dissociation proposed by Stern and Phillip Bromberg is characterized by its unique understanding of what is not conscious. Stern states: “Freud accepted without reservation the idea that the mind -and, therefore, the unconscious is composed of fully formed contents”. “This unconsidered belief derives from the deep and culture-wide assumption, explicitly accepted by Freud (Schimek, 1975), that perception is a sensory given, and that experience is therefore rooted in mental elements that come to us already fully formed” (p.665). In this assumption, we believe that in the unconscious there is some mental object, fully-formed but unrecognized, which is to be unveiled through analytic process. Stern states that repression model assumes that there is one truth in the unconscious which corresponds to one objective reality. He calls it correspondence theory. Traditional psychoanalysis has been strictly observing this notion. Stern calls this stance the "correspondence" view of truth.
Schimek, J.G. (1975). A Critical Re-Examination of Freud's Concept of Unconscious Mental Representation. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 2:171-187
The way that Stern conceptualizes what is unconscious is significantly different form Freud’s. In Stern’s theory of dissociation, the meaning is created as it becomes conscious, whereas in Freud’s repression model, the meaning was there as a repressed and in correspondent form. Stern also says that dissociation is the opposite of creation. It is a way of not formulating mental contents.
Stern’s view is practically echoing Winnicott’s idea that we saw above, that “what is dissociated is not experienced yet by the individual”(Winnicott, 1963:91) . Stern describes this queer nature of the experience as “unformulated”. In his discussion of the classification of dissociation, he introduced the notion of “passive dissociation” or “dissociation in the weak sense” vs. “active dissociation” or” dissociation in the strong sense” (Stern, 2009, p.660). The former corresponds to the experiences of our not directing our attention to certain mental contents, whereas the latter means that we are averting our gaze from some mental contents for unconscious reason. However, still these two types of dissociation remains in van der Hart’s type (1) dissociation, as only one subjectivity is involved in both of these types. The strong type of dissociation is not “strong” enough to assume the second subjectivity which holds what is dissociated.
Bromberg’s notion of enactment in relation to dissociation
Similar to Stern’s stance, Bromberg asserts that the issue of trauma is crucial in understanding human mind, and dissociation plays a significant role in this context. Bromberg considers that trauma continuously occurs throughout developmental stages. Deeply steeped with the work of Sullivan, he considers dissociation as a mechanism mobilized “where drastically incompatible emotions or perceptions are required to be cognitively processed within the same relationship” (Bromberg, 1994, p.520). Bromberg made it clear that although the notion of conflict has been playing an important role in neurotic people, dissociative patients suffer from not having it. However, he does not consider that dissociation occurs in isolation from conflict, but states that conflict and dissociation are in a dialectic relationship. According to him, due to trauma, a part that Sullivan referred to as not-me grows, and in a therapeutic environment that is “safe, but not too safe” (2012, p.17), that not-me part gets integrated to the system.
Bromberg’s work on dissociation was characterized by its introduction of the notion of enactment in its context. Through enactment what has been dissociated is experienced and gets integrated to the self. In a therapeutic relationship, the therapist can experience a part in the patient which is enacted, while what is dissociated and get enacted by the therapist can be experienced by the patient.
Thus, Bromberg considers dissociation as basically an interpersonal phenomenon (1996). However, this, assumes that what is dissociated is still within the individual somewhere in his/her mind. Dissociative parts are “unsymbolized aspects of the patient’s self”(1996, p.520) which is conveyed to the other in a projection-like mechanism. In other words, Bromberg’s interpersonal model of dissociation remains still on the level of van der Hart’s type (1) dissociation.
Bromberg, P (1994) “Speak! That I May See You”: Some Reflections on Dissociation, Reality, and Psychoanalytic ListeningPsychoanalytic Dialogues, 4(4):517-547,P520
Philip M. Bromberg, (1996). Standing in the Spaces: The Multiplicity Of Self And The Psychoanalytic Relationship. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 32:509-535
Bromberg,P (2012) The Shadow of the Tsunami, Routledge.