Skip to main content

Unvalidated Unconscious


The term unvalidated unconscious refers to childhood experiences that could not be consciously articulated because they never evoked sufficient validating responses from caregivers. The idea was introduced by Robert Stolorow and George E. Atwood in 1989. In their theory of intersubjectivity, the child's conscious experience is pictured as becoming progressively articulated through the validating attunement of caregivers. Features of the child's experience may remain unconscious, not because they have been repressed, but because, in the absence of a validating intersubjective context, they were never articulated in the first place.

The concept of the unvalidated unconscious sheds light on certain psychosomatic conditions in which affects fail to evolve from bodily states to symbolically integrated feelings because, without validating symbolic (verbal) responses from caregivers, they were never symbolically articulated. These conditions can be distinguished from other conditions that develop when symbolic articulation of affect is defensively aborted. The concept of the unvalidated unconscious has features in common with Freud's notion of a primal unconscious and Bion's discussion of undigested experience.

Analytic attention to the unvalidated unconscious is especially important in the treatment of patients for whom broad areas of early experience failed to evoke validating attunement in caregivers and, consequently, whose perceptions remain ill defined and precariously held and whose affects tend to be felt as diffuse bodily states. In such cases, analytic investigation serves to articulate and crystallize the patient's subjective reality.

Robert D. Stolorow

See also: Prereflective unconscious.


Stolorow, Robert D., and Atwood, George E. (1989). The unconscious and unconscious fantasy: An intersubjective-developmental perspective. Psychoanalytical Inquiry, 9, 364-374.

. (1992). Contexts of being: The intersubjective foundations of psychological life. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Unvalidated Unconscious." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . 19 Jan. 2019 <>.

"Unvalidated Unconscious." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . (January 19, 2019).

"Unvalidated Unconscious." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Retrieved January 19, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.