Unvalidated Unconscious

views updated


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.