The self: reflective, relational, and embodied

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Denis O’Hara [1], Professor, Australian College of Applied Psychology



The nature of the self has intrigued philosophers, theologians, and scientists since inquiry began. After extensive investigations we are still trying to answer such questions as “What is the self?” and “How does the self develop?” Understanding the nature of self is fundamental to mental health work. This is especially so when clients/patients present with problems of identity and/or disordered states of personality. In recent years, neuroscience has shed new light on the development and functioning of the self. Our increasing knowledge of human memory systems, in particular, has advanced our understanding of how important reflective function is in the development of a sense of self. This paper draws on interpersonal psychodynamic theories, developmental theory, and a neuropsychological understanding of human memory systems to better understand the self. It is argued that the loss of episodic memory capacity due to traumatic psychosocial events is a primary cause of damage to the self system. An explanation of how episodic memory and the capacity for personal reflectivity can restore an integrated sense of self is offered. 


Address for correspondence:
Professor Denis O’Hara
Australian College of Applied Psychology
Email: Denis.OHara@acap.edu.au