Prof. Joseph Levine

Senior Psychiatrist




The Fabergé Egg of the Social Self

By Prof. Levine & Dr. Salganik

The first Fabergé egg, known as the "chicken" was created by the artist and jeweler Carl Fabergé in 1885, at the request of the Russian Tsar Alexander III. The egg was a golden egg coated with enamel, inside it there was a golden yolk, that was inside a golden chicken, and surrounded by a crown of rubies. Fabergé created later additional eggs that express a diverse symbolic world. For us, the egg will symbolize the " Self," and, as a part of it, the “Social Self”, an essential component of the “Self” or "Me" that defines our being human. In this session we will try to open the egg and characterize our perception of its unique components in the hope of providing new insights into this social self and will be later outlining new ways to empower it.

There exist a large number of psychological theories that try to provide a proper explanation of a person's subjective inner life. The very fact that the number is so large. indicates that it is very difficult to explain and encompass the whole essence of the human mind through just one theory. Some of these theories attempt to encompass broad areas of psychic life while others are concerned with partial explanations for the variety of psychic phenomena.

One of the most prominent theories belonging to the first category is the psychoanalysis whose creator was the Austrian Jewish psychiatrist, neurologist and thinker Sigmund Freud. This theory sought to explain not only the diversity of intra-psychic mental phenomena but also tried to explain a variety of social and cultural events.

Other theories, belonging to the second category, attempted to explain just a part of the whole spectrum of mental phenomena – such as the behavioral theory from the school of Watson, Ivan Pavlov, Frederick Skinner and others, which focused not on the subjective part of mental life but on behavioral expression in response to environmental stimuli, or, for example, cognitive theories that have attempted to explain defined areas of mental life using various cognitive algorithms.

Despite the contribution of these theories to the understanding of psychic mechanisms and behavioral phenomena, a bundle of accumulating claims has been raised against them.

For example, Freud's comprehensive psychoanalytic theory was not constructed as a classical scientific theory with a built-in possibility of refutation, the structures and models used was not sufficiently backed by scientific data and facts (although recently attempts have been made to develop the field of neuropsychoanalysis). The Id (conducted by unconscious wishes and drives), the ego (representing the part containing self-awareness and conduct in the world) and the super ego (hypothized place of conscience and criticism) made simplistic use of the steam engine metaphor without providing any factual proof for this assumption.

Some claims that still could be refuted in this theory, such as the triggers that contribute to the creation of dreams, have mostly turned out to be incorrect.

As for the behavioral theory, it has been argued that it completely ignored the subjective mental processes between the external stimulus and the behavioral response (perhaps in response to the unscientific nature of psychoanalytic theory) and thus omitted a significant part of psychic life.

Other theories, such as the variety of cognitive and therapeutic theories of psychic life mostly stemming from Cognitive-Behavioral Theory of Aaron Beck's, generally use a model approaching the computer model to explain psychic life ignoring the fact that the computer and its parts are created by the human brain and not necessarily a reliable and proven model for the human mind.

This lack of sufficient models for how the human mind operates, leads us to an almost inevitable conclusion that the search for additional models for the human mind should be continued.

Here it is argued that:

a] In a view of the current evidence base and admitting the overwhelming complexity of the mind, we should be looking first for the partial explanations or models of how the mind functions.

b] we should attempt to make these models to be as simple and clear as possible (here we would like to mention the rule known as "Occam's razor" attributed to an English Franciscan monk of the 14th century). According to this rule, there should not be more explanations of concepts or laws for entities than absolutely necessary, and the one with with the fewest number of components should be preferred.

c] It is desirable that these models be modified and developed according to as cumulative factual data as possible.

According to sections a) and b), we offer here a model for the "Social Self", an essential component within the "Self" that is a central part of us, which represents a structure that develops during human exposure to social influence and consists of internalizations of significant figures to a particular person that could be related to the person’s reference groups or some imaginary person or group originating from a myth, book, or other influence that had a significant impact on a person. This model will hereinafter be referred to as the “Fabergé egg model”. We hope to modify and refine it according to section c).

The following are illustrations of the proposed model at birth and later in life in Figure 1:

Figure 1

Figure 2

We have to mention that Figures 1 and 2 show the same proposed model and emphasize the same structures in a different way. It should be noted that the different parts of the models differ significantly from each other and that there is a mutual influence between them which is shown more in Figure 2 and for simplicity is not shown in Figure 1. We note that the Social Self is mainly influenced by external reference groups. Figure 1 is shown for more simplicity.

Here follows the list of definitions of the structures and concepts that appear in the model’s illustrations.

First should be mentioned that a structure is defined as an entity that expresses a specific set of functions.

External groups are defined as a group of people in the external reality who have some common denominator and mutual interactions.

Drives are defined in this context as a biological and psychological entity that expresses an urgency to fulfill some survival need and include, for example, an urge to eat, an urge for sexual reproduction, social contact, and to to avoid environmental risks such as cold, heat that endanger wellbeing, and more.

Sensitivity channels (Internal Sensitivity Channels) are defined as hypothetical structures, part of the concept of RGFT (Reference Group Focused Therapy), that are individual in nature and having potential to express and reflect our personal response to a variety of stressors (both external and internal). Individually defined stress can trigger them. Their structure and activity changes along the life timeline especially during developmental windows but also due to aging processes, certain medications, trauma, diseases, etc.

RGFT assumes that these Sensitivity Channels can be classified into six categories. A detailed conversation about the Sensitivity Channels will be brought up in a future blog.

Figure 2 shows the term Defensive Shield refers to person's defensive reactions following the anxiety caused by the Sensitivity Channels as a reaction to perceived threat. In the model that we propose for the “Self” we have to distinguish between the “Primary Self” (which is essentially the basic biological nucleus consisting of a number of innate structures as shown in Figure No. 1 and which is subject to development along the life time axis) and the (secondary) “Social Self” which is a structure that develops during a person's exposure to social influence and consists of internalizations of significant for a person figures (that could originate whether in real external groups or imaginary groups, stemming , for example,stemming for example from a movie or a book that had a significant impact on a person). We have to mention here that at time of birth [see Figure 1] there exist innate patterns to most parts of the Self, including the still not evolved Social Self and its parts that constitute nuclei for future development of these structures

The “Bodily Self” is defined as the set of experiences related to the perception of the body, its limits and feelings and also includes thoughts, attitudes and feelings towards the body. It originates in the innate bodily self and undergoes development during the lifetime.

The “Secondary Self” includes:

1) the variety of representations of the "Me" that originate in attitudes and feelings towards the self and its representations in different periods of life.

2) The representations of the internalized characters that usually originate from significant characters that the person is exposed to during his lifetime (but as mentioned there may also be imaginary characters represented in books, movies, etc. that had a significant impact on a person).

3) the representations of "Subculture" – subculture refers to various social influences in the environment in which the person lives and are not necessarily related to a specific person.

And, finally, the “Reflective Self” is defined as a structure that emerges along with the development of the Social Self and enables a comprehensive view (even a supervision) of the state of consciousness and psychic expressions of the individual.

Now we will briefly discuss another important term in RGFT – “Trigger Event Analysis” (TEA). It analyses the stressors acting upon a person that specifically activate his/her Sensitivity Channels.

A “negative trigger” is defined as an event that accelerates mental deterioration. Such a trigger should meet the timeline in a causal relationship with deterioration i.e. prior to deterioration. Such stressors can be classified as belonging to one of the following types:

1. Change of status within RG

As examples of such a trigger may serve changes in work position, deterioration of marital relations, significant lottery win etc.

2. Conflict with RG associated norms

  • Examples: RG pressure on a person to commit an action inconsistent with person’s moral norms, inability to comply with RG norms (because of intellectual gradient, for example), unwillingness to accept RG norms, consequences of a violation of RG norms (that result in some punitive response on the RG side), etc.

 3.     Altering (or threat of altering) in a set of important personal attachments

  • Death of significant other, breaking relations with a lover, interruption of a physical contact with significant other (drafting to the army, entering a boarding school), on another hand we have such events as child birth, marriage, entering a new RG group (new job, beginning of studies), etc. Altering in a set of personal attachments to a pet or a highly valued object (e.g. collector’s item) is treated in a similar way.

4.     Threat to person’s survival (physical, or economical) – cont.

  • RG-associated threat (or social fear) is a fear of changing a position in RG or loosing that RG altogether.
  • Non-RG-associated threat (or physical fear) is a fear of physical injury or elimination.

5.     Rapid change in daily routine

  • Here can be mentioned such examples as moving to a new location, vacation, change in working routine, role change (becoming a parent, going into pension, drafting to the army for example), etc.

6.     Deterioration of person’s energetic resources

  • Overworking, sleep deprivation, unbalanced meals or under eating, accompanying disease – may account for examples

In our next conversation we will try to explain why we initially chose this particular model and how our experiences as therapists within the Reference Group Focused Therapy and clinical cases [to a great part) alongside with the corresponding brain research data led us to choose such a model.

We would also like to add that our surprise at the treatment successes inpatients treated with the RGFT method based on working with internalized figures contributed to our attempt to develop the proposed model.

See you soon in the next conversation,

Igor Salganik & Joseph Levine

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