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The intersubjective/intrasubjective dichotomy often appears in the psychoanalytic literature against the background of another pair of opposites, interpersonal/intrapersonal. In reality, these two pairs of opposites cannot be superimposed.

Psychoanalysis is concerned primarily with the intrasubjective and the intrapsychic, and what pertains to the "subjective" (inter- or intra-) presupposes reference to a subject differentiated on both the extra-psychic and intrapsychic levels, whereas that which pertains to the "personal" presupposes only reference to individuals who are differentiated on the extra-psychic level, but may not yet be entirely differentiated on the intrapsychic level.

In his study of early childhood, Donald Winnicott made important contributions to the study of the dynamics of the intersubjective/intrasubjective dichotomy by providing a deeper understanding of the "sense of the continuity of being" and the role of the self-object environment. On the other hand, "developmental" psychoanalysis has focused primarily on the issue of interpersonal relations between the baby and its interactive partners, and has been criticized on a metapsychological level.

The work of Daniel N. Stern, a student of René Spitz, is worthy of mention in that his concept of "affect attunement" seeks to show how a mechanism at the interpersonal level helps open access to the inter-subjectivity by which it is in fact determined. Another of Spitz's students, Robert N. Emde, has also carried out important work in this vein.

Nevertheless, a purely metapsychological approach is problematic here because it is hard completely to disregard a phenomenological point of view. Moreover, the functional mechanisms and modalities that lead from the interpersonal to the intrapsychic are as yet unknown.

Bernard Golse

See also: Group psychotherapy; Phallus; Sadomasochism; Symbolization, process of.


Sameroff, Arnold J., and Emde, Robert N. (Eds.). (1989). Relationship disturbances in early childhood: A developmental approach. New York: Basic Books.

Stern, Daniel N. (1985). The interpersonal world of the infant: A view from psychoanalysis and developmental psychology. New York: Basic Books.

Squiggle Foundation. (1988). Winnicott studies. The journal of the Squiggle Foundation. A celebration of the life and work of Marion Milner. London: Squiggle Foundation.

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