Article: Conflict Formation and the Dynamic Unconscious

Robert D. Stolorow

The foregoing conceptualizations of development and pathogenesis are well illustrated by our formulation of the intersubjective origins of intrapsychic conflict:
The specific intersubjective contexts in which conflict takes form are those in which central affect states of the child cannot be integrated because they fail to evoke the requisite attuned responsiveness from the caregiving surround. Such unintegrated affect states become the source of lifelong inner conflict, because they are experienced as threats both to the person’s established psychological organization and to the maintenance of vitally needed ties. Thus affect‐dissociating defensive operations are called into play, which reappear in the analytic situation in the form of resistance.…It is in the defensive walling off of central affect states, rooted in early derailments of affect integration, that the origins of what has traditionally been called the dynamic unconscious can be found.
(Stolorow et al., 1987, pp. 91‐92)
From this perspective, the dynamic unconscious is seen to consist not of repressed instinctual drive derivatives, but of affect states that have been defensively walled off because they evoked massive malattunement from the early surround. This defensive sequestering of central affective states, which attempts to protect against retraumatization, is a principal source of resistance in psychoanalytic treatment. We wish to emphasize that the shift from drives to affectivity as forming the basis for the dynamic unconscious is not merely a change in terminology. The regulation of affective experience is not a product of isolated intrapsychic mechanisms; it is a property of the child‐caregiver system of reciprocal mutual influence (Beebe, Jaffe, and Lachmann, 1992; Stolorow and Atwood, 1992). If we understand the dynamic unconscious as taking form within such a system, then it becomes apparent that the
boundary between
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conscious and unconscious is always the product of a specific intersubjective context.1 This idea of a fluid boundary forming within an intersubjective system continues to apply beyond the period of childhood and is readily demonstrated in the psychoanalytic situation as well, wherein the patient’s resistance can be seen to fluctuate in concert with perceptions of the analyst’s varying receptivity and attunement to the patient’s emotional experience.