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The Three Functions of the Self in Gestalt Therapy

Updated: Feb 1

in Gestalt Therapy in Clinical Practice: From Psychopathology to the Aesthetics of Contact (Gestalt Therapy Book Series 2). Gianni Francesetti, Michela Gecele, Jan Roubal, and Leslie Greenberg

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The Three Functions of the Self in Gestalt Therapy in Clinical Practice
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The Three Functions of the Self

3.7.1. The Three Functions of the Self (Loc: 1,038)

Having defined the self as the complex system of contacts necessary for adjustment in a difficult field, the authors of Gestalt Therapy identified certain “special structures” which the self creates “for special purposes” (Loc: 1,039)
(Perls, Hefferline and Goodman, 1994, pp. 156-157). (Loc: 1,041)

Id, ego and personality are just three of the many possible experiential structures … understood as examples of the person’s capacity to relate to the world: (Loc: 1,048)

id as the sensory-motor background of the experience, … personality as assimilation of previous contacts; (Loc: 1,049)

ego as the motor which moves on the basis of the other two functions and chooses what to identify with and what is alien (Loc: 1,050)

The Id-Function of the Self (Loc: 1,053)

is defined as the organism’s capacity to make contact with the environment by means of: (Loc: 1,055)

the sensory-motor background of assimilated contacts; … physiological needs; … bodily experiences and those sensations that are perceived “as if inside the skin” (Loc: 1,056)
(Perls, Hefferline and Goodman, 1994, pp. 156-157). (Loc: 1,057)

a) The ground of the sensory-motor experience of assimilated contacts. (Loc: 1,059)

Gestalt Therapy makes reference to two kinds of contact: assimilated contact and the contact which brings novelty, which leads to growth. (Loc: 1,065)

we do not need to check every time, when we are seated, whether the chair is strong enough (Loc: 1,067)

Sitting on the chair includes the experience of the ground (which we need not recall as a figure) acquired in previous contacts, and becomes “taken for granted”. (Loc: 1,070)

b) Physiological needs. (Loc: 1,078)

the self is a function of the field, physiological needs constitute the excitement of the self that comes from the organism. (Loc: 1,079)

self can be activated by an internal excitement (Loc: 1,080)

or by an external influence … This distinction, however, exists only in our minds, since the self is (Loc: 1,081)

an integrated process in which an environmental element may stimulate a physiological need (Loc: 1,082)

a physiological need may stimulate the perception of a part of the field not previously perceived. (Loc: 1,083)

c) Bodily experience and what is experienced “as if inside the skin”. (Loc: 1,087)

synthesizes the preceding two, giving the sense of integration in an experience of basic trust (or lack of trust) in making contact (Loc: 1,088)

reflects the delicate relationship between self-support and environmental support, (Loc: 1,089)

Laura Perls was particularly attentive to this interconnection (Loc: 1,093)

attention to the patient’s posture and gait enabled her to modulate her intervention, privileging the sense of self-support arising from the relationship with environmental support (Loc: 1,094)

The Personality-Function (Loc: 1,101)

expresses the ability of the self to make contact with the environment on the basis of what one has become. (Loc: 1,103)

is expressed by the subject’s answer to the question “Who am I?”. (Loc: 1,105)

the personality-function is not a normative aspect of the psychic structure. … personality-function expresses the ability to make contact with the environment on the basis of a given definition of self. (Loc: 1,108)

The personality-function, in fact, pertains to how we create our social roles (Loc: 1,112)

how we assimilate previous contacts, and creatively adjust to changes imposed by growth. (Loc: 1,113)

the basic aspects a therapist must look at is the functioning of the self at the level of personality-function. (Loc: 1,115)

For example, an eight-year-old boy … expresses himself in adult language, this may be viewed (as it is a modality of contacting the environment) as expressing a disorder of the personality function. (Loc: 1,116)

same may be said (Loc: 1,117)

of a mother who behaves like a friend or a sister towards her children, (Loc: 1,118)

The Ego-Function (Loc: 1,121)

expresses a different capacity of the self-in-contact: … ability to identify oneself with or alienate oneself from parts of the field (this is me, this is not me). (Loc: 1,123)

the power to want and to decide that characterizes the uniqueness of individual choices. (Loc: 1,124)

neither a biological impulse nor a social drive, but rather constitutes the creative expression of the whole person (Loc: 1,126)

the ego-function intervenes in the process of creative adjustment by making choices, identifying with some parts of the field, and alienating itself from others. (Loc: 1,127)

that function of the self that gives an individual the sense of being active and deliberate. (Loc: 1,128)

intentionality is spontaneously exercised by the self, which develops it with strength, awareness, excitement and ability to create new figures. (Loc: 1,129)

is deliberate, active in mode, sensorially alert and motorially aggressive, and conscious of itself as isolated from the situation» (Perls, Hefferline and Goodman, 1994, p. 157). (Loc: 1,130)

According to Gestalt Therapy, these are precisely the characteristics of the ego function that lead us to think of the ego as agent of experience. And once we have created this abstraction, we no longer think of the environment as a pole of experience, but rather as a distant external world. (Loc: Note)

ego and environment (Loc: 1,133)

parts of a single event. (Loc: 1,134)

works on the basis of the information coming from all the other structures of the self. … ability to spontaneously deliberate (Loc: 1,135)

exercised in a harmony with … ability to contact the environment through what is perceived as if “inside the skin” (id-function) (Loc: 1,136)

through the definition given to the question “who am I?” (personality-function). … the capacity to introject, project, retroflect and to fully establish contact. (Loc: 1,137)

An emotion, normally experienced as a unitary phenomenon, can be described according to different functions of the self. According to the id-function when experiencing emotion, the muscles are perceived as relaxed or rigid and breathing is experienced as free and open or constricted. The personality-function defines the emotion as part of the self (“ I’m the sort of person who feels these emotions”). The ego-function allows the development of excitement connected with the emotion, e.g., by introjecting (defining the experience as “I’m moved, it’s okay with me”); by projecting (noticing the excitement in the environment too, for instance saying something like “I can see that other people are moved too”), or by retroflecting (avoiding full contact with the environment, pulling back or turning the energy on to the self, e.g., “I want to handle this experience alone”). (Loc: Note)

The founders describe these ego-functions both as ability to make contact and as resistances to it (loss of ego-functions). (Loc: 1,146)

Losses … of ego-function are creative choices to avoid the development of excitement during the various phases of the experience of contact with the environment. (Loc: 1,207)

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