Astrid Berg – Keynote

The Core-Self Betrayed – When Words and Feelings are Disconnected

Developmentally, feelings come before words – the infant implicitly knows that “I am because what I am feeling is understood”. Physical, instinctual needs evoke feelings. The infant manifests these feelings through actions and behavior. If these actions are attuned to, they will result in complementary behaviors from the caregiver which ensure that the needs will be met. In this way feelings become part of our core self which ultimately is the result of the integration of early sensory and cognitive experiences.

While feelings are universal to human beings, the manner in which they are being met will be shaped by the cultural context each infant finds him and herself in. In the second year of life, language emerges. Words are a ‘double edged sword’ (Stern, 1985) in that they can only partially represent the inner pre-verbal, more holistic way of being in the world. If these words are not matched or attuned to inner feeling states, they can cause a split in the experience of the self, leading to an alienation from the core self.

The aim of analysis and psychotherapy is to heal this split. The challenge for the analyst is to ‘be with’ the analysand and to find the words that connect to the feeling state of the analysand as closely as possible. Unfortunately, all too often interpretations become words that drive a wedge between what is felt by the analysand and what is in the mind of the analyst. A clinical example will illustrate how real and destructive defensive interpretations can be when they are based on theories rather than on openness and attention to feeling states in the analysand.

Brief biography

Astrid Berg is an Emerita Professor at the University of Cape Town and Professor Extraordinary at the Stellenbosch University. She was one of the founding members of the Southern African Association of Jungian Analysts and its President from 1998 to 2003. She was a member of the Executive Committee of the IAAP and Vice-President from 1997 to 2007. In 2010 she was invited to give the annual Faye Lectures in the A&M University in Texas, USA. Her book “Connecting with South Africa – cultural communication and understanding” was subsequently published and chosen as the winner of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa RWS Cheetham Award in 2012.research.

Parallel to this she continued to develop her clinical and academic interest in infant mental health, organizing two national and one international conference, all of which contributed to the development of the field in South Africa. She is the founder of the Western Cape Association for Infant Mental Health and was for 18 years the lead consultant at the University of Cape Town’s Parent-Infant Mental Health Service.

For five years she served on the Health Sciences Committee of the National Research Foundation of South Africa. She currently consults to and teaches at the Medical School and is co-convenor of the M Phil degree in Infant Mental Health at Stellenbosch University. She supervises PhD and Masters’ Degrees in Infant Mental Health and is on the Executive Committee of the World Association for Infant Mental Health and its current President-Elect.


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