Notes: The Other as Extended Self vs. I-Thou. Bakhtin and Buber.

The I-position does not limit itself to the internal domain of the self. e.g. I am a piano player, I as a father. We extend our selves into society through (what looks like our roles) “my father”, “my enemy”, “my sister”, which are also I positions…” as the other person has the potential to function in the self as ‘another I’.”

Splitting of the Self

The Cartesian split between the body and self: the body belongs to the self. The Cartesian split between the other and self: the children belongs to the self.

“Thou-Art” : On recognizing the other

The central concept of Bakhtin: ‘For the author the hero is not “he”, and not “I” but a full-valued “thou”, that is another full-fledged “I” ’ (Bakhtin 1973: 51).

“This theoretical ‘upgrading’ of the other as another person in the self implies that the other is considered more than an extension of the Me on the object.  This theoretical ‘upgrading’ of the other as another person in the self implies that the other is considered more than an extension of the Me  on the object level but first of all an extension of I  on the subject level. It allows the other, as part of the self, to develop an original perspective on the world, to tell a story about him- or herself, and to do so as a relatively autonomous position or voice with an own point of view. (p. 21)”

This part rings similar to Martin Buber’s concept of the I-thou relationship. In this I-thou relationship, the other becomes the subject and not merely an extension of the subject. The other is also free to be autonomous. Could this mean that part of the I-thou evolution is to be able to position the other as the hero? Does this correlate to unconditional positive regard?

“Drawing on Buber’s (1923/1958) distinction between the I–Thou and I–It attitude, Cooper proposed that intrapersonal relationships can take one of two forms: an I–I form, in which one I-position encounters and confirms another I-position in its uniqueness and wholeness; and an I–Me form, in which one I-position experiences another I-position in a detached and objectifying way. In his view, a key role for the therapeutic process is to assist clients to become more able to experience moments of an I–I intrapersonal encounter, which requires the therapist to confirm the client both as a whole and in terms of his or her different voices. (p.21)”

The Hero’s Arrival at the Truth

Dostoevsky’s interest is not the hero as an object. The object of interest is the hero’s discourse about himself and the world.  The hero is not objectified. It is about how the hero sees himself and how he sees the world in which he is in.

The hero must ultimately arrive at the truth through clarifying events to himself.

“Dostoevsky’s creative method: the “truth” at which the hero must and indeed ultimately does arrive through clarifying the events to himself, can essentially be for Dostoevsky only the truth of the hero’s own consciousness. It cannot be neutral toward his self-consciousness. In the mouth of another person, a word or a definition identical in content would take on another meaning and tone, and would no longer be the truth. Only in the form of a confessional self-utterance, Dostoevsky maintained, could the final word about a person be given, a word truly adequate to him. (Bakhtin 1984/29 p. 41)


 Source: The dialogical Self in Psychotherapy

Hermans, H. J. (2004). The dialogical: Between exchange and power.

Bakhtin, M. (1984/29). Problems of Dostojevskij’s poetics: Theory and history of literature. (Vol. 8). Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Psychotherapy is about Uncovering Truths of the Self

It is said that the truth will set you free. In psychotherapy patients liberate from the psychological stressors in their lives through uncovering the truths about themselves.

This might sound counterintuitive if we believe that we know everything about ourselves or that we are in total control of the decisions we make. The field of psychology has proven empirically that this is not the case, and psychoanalysis has provided theories about how this is so.

Put briefly, the human person is an integral part of his/her society and culture through which our  psychological processes are influenced.

Knowing the truth is coming to terms with this realization. That we become depressed, anxious, angry… etc because we have lost the sense of our of needs. In so doing we turn them into symptoms, so that we do not have to face these needs.

An example would be that of a woman who is depressed and no longer able to enjoy simple things in life. Through therapy she uncovers the truth that her going into depression is a means for her to not face up to an inner rage, for it was safer to lock oneself into a state of depression than to attack another person, especially an abusive childhood caregiver.  Realizing the truth of her rage, she is able to talk about it and understand it. In Gestalt therapy, the client is encouraged to express this rage through art, speaking, acting out, writing… etc. When the underlying issue is set free, the depressive symptoms lose their foundation as well.

Therapy in this way is done with the patient being in control of his/her progress. Therapists in general do not advice, coerce or make analysis to tell the clients what the truth is. Clients find this out through dialogue with the therapist. The client has the agency to his/her own truths and healing.

When patients are asked retrospectively what they gained from a period of psychotherapy, their answers frequently feature an increase in their sense of agency: “I learned to trust my feelings and live my life with less guilt,” or “I got better at setting limits on people who were taking advantage of my tendency to comply,” or “I learned to say what I feel and let others know what I want,” or “I resolved the ambivalence that had been paralyzing me,” or “I overcame my addiction” are typical comments (McWilliams 1990 p. 16).


McWilliams, N. (1999). Psychoanalytic case formulation. Guilford Press.