Listen in to hear Melissa, Bridger and Caleb discuss an article on psychoanalytic psychology.

If you haven’t already, check out our previous episode here.

Overview on Psychoanalytic thought:

  • We’ve been spending a lot of the time discussing the overlap of anthropology, self-psychology and neurobiology and the role of shame that plays in this dynamic.
  • Shame is a concept that the field of psychotherapeutics have a lot of opinions about. However, psychoanalytic perspective has been working with shame for a very long time. 
  • Psychoanalytic thought has a deep acknowledgement that shame is a primary and secondary process as well as a structural experience. This means the experience of shame is shaping the brain, rather than housed in the brain. 


Article: “Something Wicked This Way Comes: Trauma, dissociation, and conflict: The space where psychoanalysis, cognitive science and neuroscience overlap.” Link to article abstract here

Bromberg comes from a newer psychoanalytic perspective:

  • Psychoanalytic thought in 19th century- Freud’s concept of the Id, Ego, and Superego. 
  • Object-Relation Theory- how people form internal representation of the other that then shapes how you see others. 
  • Self-psychology wave- in touch with psychoanalytic perspective but breaks the Id, Ego and Superego down into more of a fluid self. 
  • Bromberg emerges into a psychoanalytic perspective that is more concerned with the role self-states play.


  • The affect of circuitry 
  • How our affects are organized to interact, we used the metaphor of a cluster of trees in a previous episode. 
  • “The Joker” state- rage and play interact. When they’re engaged in this state, this is how they will interact with the world. 
  • How one makes sense of the experience they are having depends on what self-state is activated in the deeper part of the brain. 
  • The intolerability of a self-state by the system causes it to fragment and dissociate away from the rest of the body. 
  • “You feel bad…why?” Then we get caught into trying to make this a cognitive decision when it wasn’t dissociated by the tertiary process but by very early brain processes. 


“For humans, the highest survival priority is survival as a self, not as a biological entity, but as a self” (Bromberg, 2003).

  • Meta-psychological models are so important. 
  • What are the images or pictures that come to mind with that feeling- “crawling into a hole and to disappear.”
  • Fear and shame are pretty much always happening at the same time. Shame feels like tremendous fear of loss of self. 
  • Fear can be continuous because of the expectation that rejection will come, if it hasn’t already. 

When does the threat of reintegration of a shameful part happen in someone’s life?

  • Implicit subtle ways, such as a dismissive client that has cut off parts of them that are validating to their own experience. When asked to open up to parts of self that in other situations, would have been in a threat, they will anticipate for you to have a similar response. 
  • Left-brained, dismissive clients that they can make the binary decision to have emotion or not because their mother was so hypervigilant and preoccupied with narcissism. Any type of emotion could’ve been taken the wrong way so it was all dissociated. They are uncomfortable with the invitation of expression and felt sense of emotion when telling their own story. 
  • Clients who can be somewhat content in their limited self-hood. The space you’re allowed to occupy may become narrower and narrower but it still exists. 

What does an experience of losing self like for a human?

  • You are on a train to nowhere. Complete annihilation and death. 
  • Ego death can be the most beautiful thing or create a sense of loss and despair. It sounds similar to immobilization with and without fear. 
    • When there’s an ego death without fear, it can be the most freeing thing a human can experience. 
    • When there’s a death with fear, is the worst feeling- the feeling of loss with no return. 
  • The presence of fear determines how we experience our sense of self. Fear is not the only factor, but aloneness or absence of other as well. 
  • The experience of ego death without fear in the states of euphoria, is not as much “good” as it is freeing and expansive. 
  • Ego state death with fear is a restriction and the felt sense of loss. 

Practical application: What does this matter?

  • Shame is the experience of dissociated self-states, and the intrusiveness of other-self states that we don’t want to be aware of. 
  • The myth that there’s a conflict-free resolution of shame- “You can say whatever you want, I’m not going to judge you.” The words are not good enough because their shame dissociated parts are in the sub-symbolic (affective) not in the cognitive part of the brain. 
  • The shortcomings of the cognitive approach- re-understanding what we mean when we say “resistance”.  It’s not a chosen resistance but a biological inability to tolerate the affect state associated with material in their system. 
  • The system finds it to be dangerous and traumatic to associate an affect that’s been dissociated away for survival purposes. They physiologically cannot access that affect of circuitry because it’s been cut off. 
  • Some affects cannot be accessed in the present of the other.
    • Why?
    • “Directly tied to a person’s reliance on dissociation as a means of foreclosing potentially traumatic encounters with the mind of a needed other, that’s you as the therapist, in the here and now. Encounters that could threaten to trigger affective hyperarousal, including shame, without hope of regulating the affect through the relationship itself” (Bromberg, 2003). 
    • Attachment becomes very challenging when the need and the treat are held in the same body- disorganized attachment. 
  • When we acknowledge the dissociated parts, many times this can be activating enough to their system. This is an invitation of integration. We have to be careful how much we speak to these parts. 
  • When the therapist is able to recognize these parts that are dissociated and make them explicit to the client, it can be a disconfirming experience. 

Using ourselves as a main tool of therapy:

  • Working on our own dissociated self-states in therapy with our clients invites them to do the same. 
  • Owning moments of acknowledging the truths of your own parts. This modeling doesn’t bring conflict but helps there be gentle conflicting feelings, if needed.
  • “This [therapeutic space] for thinking between and about the patient and the analysis. A space uniquely relational, and still, uniquely individual. A space not belonging to a person alone, and yet, belonging to both and to each. A twilight space in which the “impossible” becomes possible. A space in which incompatible selves, each awake to its own truth and can dream the reality of the other, without risk to its own integrity…” (Bromberg, 2003).
  • Attunement of a mother to her infant is vital to the development of the infant’s self concept. 

Disconfirming experiences:

  • “Safe surprises” 
  • The visceral activation of an encounter where the mirror is shown but then the tolerance held by the therapeutic relationship allows for integration. 


  • “Focusing” by Eugene T. Gendlin – practical embodied approach to how we begin to interact with the felt sense of our lives rather than the cognitive story of our lives. Link to audiobook here
  • Being able to sit compassionately in the dissociated gap and utter what was unutterable to them, this brings about healing. 
  • This utterance of the unspeakable is the gentle articulation of what your body as the therapist is feeling. It’s not when your cognitive brain is hustling to come up with an answer. The felt sense of resonance of the words and your body. 
  • Talking about our relationship with the cliff.  


Bromberg, P. M. (2003). Something wicked this way comes: Trauma, dissociation, and conflict: The space where psychoanalysis, cognitive science, and neuroscience overlap. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 20(3), 558–574.