Vertical and Horizontal Self-Disclosures*

*“A vertical disclosure refers to the content about a secret, and involves digging, stripping away, uncovering, excavating. By contrast, a horizontal disclosure refers to disclosure about the disclosure itself, or metadisclosure, the “interactional aspects” of disclosure.”

From: Intersubjectivity, Thirdness, and Mutual Recognition, a talk given at the Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Los Angeles, CA. (2007), by Jessica Benjamin, Ph.D.:

“…what happens when twoness arises in the form of her deeply felt need for sleep, just when baby wants to be fed?…it could degenerate into mere duty if there were not the identifactory oneness of feeling her child’s urgency and relief, pleasure and joy in connection. Let me give an example. It is written by a father, which does make a point, but more important to me personally, it was written by Steve Mitchell whose death was a great loss. Steve underscored the distinction between submission to duty and surrender to the third, what I am calling the third-in-the-one.

“When my older daughter was about two or so, I remember my excitement at the prospect of taking walks with her, given her new ambulatory skills and her intense intereset in being outdoors. However, I soon found these walk agonizingly slow. My idea of a walk entailed brisk movement along a road or path. Her idea was quite different. The implications of this difference hit me one day when we encountered a fallen tree on the side of the road…the rest of the “walk” was spent exploring the fungal and insect life on, under and around the tree. I remember my sudden realization that these walks would be no fun for me, merely a parental duty, if I held on to my idea of walks. As I was able to give that up and surrender to my daughter’s rhythm and focus, a different type of experience opened up to me…If I had simply restrained myself out of duty, I would have experienced the walk as a compliance. But I was able to become my daughter’s version of a good companion and to find in that another way for me to be that took on great personal meaning for me.”

Mitchell asks how we distinguish inauthentic submission to another’s demand from authentic change. This is in a way asking how we distinguish twoness from thirdness. To me it seems clear that in this case the internal parental third, reflection on what will create connection in this relationship, allows surrender and transformation. This intention to connect and resulting self-observation form a version of what I would call the moral third, the connection to a larger principle of necessity, rightness, goodness. The parent accepts the necessity of asymmetry, accommodating to the other as a way of generating thirdness and is transformed by the experience of opening to mutual pleasure…”

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