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Self representation is the image the subject has of him or herself based on his or her own interpretation. {Self representation is the image that the subject has of itself based on its own interpretation.}

((It is one of the factors of the ego and its representation as termed "an individual, differentiated, real, and permanent entity" (Racamier) particularized by a distinctive history and modes of feeling, thinking, and doing.))

This accounts for Heinz Hartmann's distinction between, on the one hand, the ego as a function and the self as the object of narcissistic investment, and, on the other, "object representations" and "self representations," meaning the unconscious, preconscious, and conscious representations of the corporeal and mental self within the system of the ego, representations that are invested with both libidinal and destructive energy to become love objects and objects of hatred.

Jacques Lacan took a different approach. In "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience" (1949/2004), he described the mirror stage as "a drama whose internal pressure pushes precipitously from insufficiency to anticipation—and, for the subject caught up in the lure of spatial identification, turns out fantasies that extends from a fragmented image of the body to what I call "orthopedic" form of its totality—and to the finally donned armor of an alienating identity that will mark his entire mental development with its rigid structure" (p. 6).

Thus self representation is just of one aspect of the subject's representations, marked by its belonging to the ego—that is, its insertion into reality, the aim of a con-substantial coherence with its narcissistic dimension and the lure it implies. To varying degrees it can be destabilized, called into question, unmasked by desires and conflicts, or seriously disturbed. The latter may take the form of the radical self-depreciation of melancholia, the overvaluation of self in mania, or a collapse into schizophrenia, where a more or less delusional new self representationis reconstituted as savior of the world, self-procreator of all human lineages, of other such variant. Other less dramatic but particularly trying forms occur when the self representation is called into question in borderline states or transformed into transsexualism.

Any existential crisis, particularly in adolescence, can challenge or cause serious disturbances in self representation. These occur in anorexia, bulimia, dysmorphophobia (fear of deformity), or psychotic decompensation, all considered by American authors as defects in self-representation or as pathologies of identity (Erikson). Among the various elaborations proposed by authors who espouse Hartmann's conception, Edith Jacobson's has the merit of showing the correlation between the self and the object world, between identity and the feeling of identity within a framework that combines individuation and identification, and thus grants a determining role to the unconscious.

See Also


  1. Erikson, Erik H. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: Norton.
  2. Jacobson, Edith. (1964). The self and the object world. New York: International Universities Press.
  3. Lacan, Jacques. (2004). The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience. InÉcrits: A selection (Bruce Fink, Trans.), pp. 3-9. New York: Norton. (Original work published 1949)