Humans experience life as having meaning. Under conditions of trauma, loss, neglect, or existential confusion, there may be a breakdown in the capacity to sense life as meaningful. Experience becomes restricted and fragmented. The need to formulate the situation of a person who presents clinically reflects a need, for both therapist and patient, to reach an understanding of circumstances that feel incoherent or deficient in meaning. It is an everyday communicative activity: we are constantly trying to formulate actions and responses to the demands of everyday life.
In the psychotherapeutic context the additional layers of developmental understanding; and the role of unconscious factors in contributing to the clinical presentation, are added to this everyday kind of formulation. In this kind of formulation, aspects of the person’s life are offered as an aid to understanding, helping to establish a narrative that can be shared, reflecting a movement from dissociation to a shared social world. Such offerings need to respect the privacy of self: they develop in collaboration rather than being imposed.
Human beings develop in connected relationships, commencing with the touch, gaze, voice and affective tone of the proto-conversation and the sequencing of activities that tend to care, safety, comfort and play, extending to the therapeutic context where psychotherapy is the base for a healing relationship that fosters post-traumatic transformation, often mutual. Connectivity is constructed at every level of the individual and interpersonal systems: neurons fire and wire together, autonomic nervous systems are in conversation and the “soft wiring” and intrapersonal connections slowly unfold.
The Bare Essentials of the Conversational Model By Tony Korner Selves in Conversation Humans live in a language environment as much as they live in a physical one. Throughout life we are faced with decisions (or ‘motivated selections’) about whether to associate through language or to dissociate through non-communication. Each person’s life gets shaped by these decisions, many of which occur unconsciously under the influence of traumatic experience. Each self has the form of a story, an incomplete one. Dissociation, relating to trauma, is an important reason for this incompleteness.
The emergence and development of The Conversational Model of Psychotherapy over the last 35 or so years arose out of a belief that models of psychotherapy ought to have a scientific basis. The key elements of the conversational model are dependent upon some key assumptions. These are that normal development is dependent upon our early infant and childhood relationships being able to meet our age appropriate needs. In time these relational experiences allow us to generate particularly integrated, reflective states of mind that we can call self and identify as health. Disruptions to that development (trauma) prevent the normal development of our cohesive, integrated and reflective sense of self. As a result we and others experience ourselves/us as living in a variety of fragmented, dissociative states that generate symptom clusters that are identified as pathology.
The sense of self is inextricably connected to language, itself an intrinsically collective phenomenon with a life independent of individuals. If feeling provides an internal value system for self, then language can be thought of as providing an external value system, variably appropriated by individuals. Language consists of a network of differences; of relations within its own network; of shades of meaning. Its living qualities provide a gateway to “forms of life”. Communicative exchanges begin within a largely affective, indexical context: the proto-conversation.
To the layperson, narcissism is most often associated with arrogant, conceited, entitled behaviours which are captured by the term narcissistic grandiosity. This is consistent with common expressions of maladaptive behaviour such as self-enhancement and lack of empathy characterised by pathological narcissism. There is an emerging contemporary clinical model of pathological narcissism that combines grandiosity with clinically important regulatory impairment that leads to self, emotional and behavioural dysregulation in response to threats to self or failures of self-enhancement.