Prof. Joseph Levine

Senior Psychiatrist




Conversation 38: Understanding psychological conflict and transference through the lens of the "Directorate of Internalized Characters"

By Prof. Levine & Dr. Salganik


First, let's mention again that in the model we propose for the "self", one must first differentiate between the primary self, which is actually the basic biological core consisting of several innate structures and which is subject to development during life. and the "social self" [consisting of "secondary selves"], which is a structure that develops during a person's exposure to social influence, and consists of internalizations of figures significant to a person, originating either from external groups or from imaginary groups (related, for example, to a story, a myth, a movie, etc.) that were having a considerable effect on the person). We will note here that at birth there are innate patterns for most parts of the self such as the "social self" and its parts that form nuclei for a possible future development of these structures.

The "secondary selves" included in the "social self" comprise: 1] the variety of representations of the "Me" that originate from attitudes and feelings towards the self and its representations in different periods of life 2] the representations of internalized figures that often originate from significant figures that the person is exposed to during his life but as mentioned may also be imaginary characters represented in books, films, etc. that have had a considerable influence on man. 3] The person’s representations of the "subculture" [subculture refers to social influences in the milieu [environment] in which the person lives and are not necessarily related to a specific person],

We call the social self metaphorically the "directory of characters" or more specifically the "directory of internalized characters."

We note that, as we mentioned before, in this board there is usually a hierarchy in which there are more influential and dominant figures that we metaphorically called "Dictator Self or Selves" and these set the tone and even censor what content, attitudes and behaviors cannot be contained in the board of figures. We note that the person as a whole is not aware of the influence of the board of characters and recognizes the influence as coming from himself and his own will and positions. We will also note that, as a rule, the board of directors is very dynamic and there are constant struggles and power relations between the internalized characters that make it up over the positions that will be expressed when the internal “dictator or dictators” dictate the tone.

We will now move on to the definition of the concept of conflict according to the accepted concepts in psychological literature: psychological conflict refers to the internal struggle or the tension that arises within the individual when he is faced with opposing needs, desires or beliefs. These conflicts can occur at different levels of consciousness and may involve competing motives, goals, or values.

There are several types of psychological conflicts, which are often classified based on the nature of the opposing forces. Here are some common types of psychological conflicts:

Characteristics of psychological conflict

Approach-approach conflict: this happens when a person is faced with two desirable options that he wants to approach, but he can only choose one.

Avoidance-avoidance conflict: This situation occurs when a person has to choose to avoid between two undesirable options.

Illustration: intrapersonal conflict

Types of intrapersonal conflict

Cognitive conflict: This type of conflict occurs when a person experiences an inconsistency or contradiction in their thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes.

Emotional conflict: approach-avoidance conflict: this conflict involves the simultaneous attraction and repulsion of the person to the same situation, often experienced in romantic relationships or career decisions.

Conflict about conflicting roles: occurs when a person experiences a conflict between different roles he plays, such as conflicting demands between roles at work and in the family.

Value conflict: This type of conflict arises when the individual's personal values are in conflict with the values of his culture, society or a certain group.

Existential conflict: This is a deeper existential struggle, related to the meaning of life and its purpose.

Characteristics of interpersonal conflict:

It is a conflict between people, often arising from differences in goals, values or expectations.

Types of interpersonal conflict

Intragroup conflict: This conflict occurs within a realistic group or team and can arise from differences in opinions, goals, or interpersonal dynamics.

Intergroup conflict: This is a conflict between different groups in reality, such as cultural, ethnic or social groups.

We note that dealing with psychological conflicts often involves self-observation, awareness, and in some cases, help from mental health professionals. Finally, effective resolution of conflicts can contribute to personal growth and well-being.

We will now discuss how we perceive several types of conflict according to our perception and the theoretical background, part of which was brought up above.

First we will talk about a conflict between the attitudes or the feelings or the characteristics of behavior dictated by the board of internalized characters and the demands of attitudes etc. that come from a real person or external group. We'll call it:

"Internalized Directorate-External Subject" conflict, where the "external subject" can be a single person or an external group of different types and sizes.

Second, we will talk about conflict within the Board of Directors itself. We will call this:

"conflict within the Internalized Directorate"

Here we will distinguish between "simple Internalized board conflict" for example between one figure on the board and the Dictator Self, and between "complex internalized board conflict", for example between several board figures when the conflict can have emotional characteristics, such as positions or one of behavioral characteristics, some or even all of them.

We note that such a process, if it occurs with sufficient emotional strength, for example following a traumatic event, may result in a change in the hierarchy within the board of directors, the internalization of new figures, and more. This is a topic we touched on before and will discuss more extensively in the future.

We will now move on to the definition of the concept of psychological transference. Transference is a psychological phenomenon described by Dr. Sigmund Freud and characterized by the unconscious transfer of feelings, attitudes, etc. from one person to another. Most often, this concept is used in a therapeutic context as a reference to an emotional mental set that the patient feels towards a significant person in the past, for example the father figure – to the therapist.

As further extensions of this concept, countertransference is defined, as the therapist's reaction to the transference that the patient makes towards him, and intergenerational transference, as a phenomenon that describes parenting patterns that repeat and appear from generation to generation. It is generally accepted in psychoanalytic milieu that successful treatment depends on the ability to recognize and work with the transference.

According to our concept briefly presented above, in the transference between a patient and his therapist, the internalized character of the therapist is filtered through the patient’s “dictator self” and other significant internalized characters and only certain parts of a “real” therapist’s character are internalized. That is, this is not the true character of the therapist in reality. but a partially internalized character whose characteristics are similar to the patient’s dictator self and approved by it.

Thus, when the patient relates to the real therapist, it is the internalized character of the therapist as described above, together with its attitudes, feelings, etc he is actually referring to. We note that the patient recognizes his reference to the real therapist as coming from himself and is not aware of the above mentioned filtering.

Within the setting of the RGFT treatment, it is possible to reflect to the patient the similarity between the image of the therapist as the patient perceives him and the image of the patient’s dictator self [for example his dominant father] while bringing up the image of him on a “hot chair” and speaking on his behalf in the first person.

This often allows the patient to notice the similarity between the internalized dictator self figure and the perception of the therapist, something that later allows, with the involvement of the therapist, to soften the figure of the dictator self in different ways, and will allow the patient more degrees of freedom.

By the way, we note that the more passive the therapist is, the more his character will take on the characteristics of a dictator self, while when the therapist begins to become active, for example when he interprets, translates or comments on the patient's words, his character slowly changes and begins to gain more volume, going on a distance to the patient’s dictator self, gaining influence within the patient's inner world, on what we call the "internalized director board" that builds the "social self", thus allowing profound changes in patient’s attitudes, his self-perception, etc.

Next time we will define and discuss the variety of defense mechanisms according to Sigmund Freud and his successor, Anna Freud, and elaborate on how we understand defense mechanisms according to our theoretical set.

That's it for now,


Dr. Igor Salganik and Prof. Joseph Levine

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