Lichtenberg, J., Lachmann, F., Fosshage, J. 



This publication, from 2010/2011, presents contemporary psychoanalytic ideas, describing the concept of systems of motivation, rather than innate 'drives'.  Consistent with neuroscientific advances (Schore, 2009), motivational systems can be further verified, refined, and aligned with progress in areas of neuronal processes, structures, circuitry, and mapping. To fully appreciate the intended scope of this book on psychoanalysis, one must have familiarity with several  fundamental, unifying concepts, on which a full understanding of the text depends, e.g., affect, intentions, fractals, and emergent properties.  


Emergent properties of a system are not governed by the rules of logical, deterministic, linear, causality, but flow out of interactive systems that are poised somewhere between opposite poles of chaos and stability. 


Because of the multiplicity of initial conditions and components of complex systems, and because of the intermediate and indeterminate influences acting on such components, as illustrated by the diverse components of a winding mountain stream, or a weather condition, complexity theory posits that outcomes of interactions create synchronous, adaptive, self-organizing, transforming, nonlinear (large changes generated by small differences, in the absence of clear, causal chains (Thelen, 2005, P. 261)), unpredictable (from prior measurements), emergent systems, with no "blueprint" (component parts act not from directions but from constraints (ibid.,)) that reveals initial conditions.


Emergent systems are 'higher level' systems that cannot be fully explained when broken down to their 'lower level', constituent parts. A complexity sensibility reflects an appropriate level of humility, in response to an appreciation of the radically complex processes, revealed, for example, by a growing neonate's profound, innate capabilities, especially when provided with "...growth-facilitating selfobject regulatory functions,,," (Schore, 2012, p. 65), i..e., vitalizing, synchronous maternal responses, that reinforce attachment security


In order to best illuminate explanatory hypotheses that capture the widest breadth of human psychological development, the authors integrate complexity theory, motivational systems theory, attachment concepts, and intersubjective/relational theory into a multidimensional, theoretical framework, that also incorporates historically relevant and meaningful, psychoanalytic principles, concepts, and constructs in their appropriate contexts.


Beginning within a bio-physio-neurological matrix, this broad vision endeavors to account for how the newborn, given its capacities and endowments, including "evolved innate values", growing within an embedded, relational, environmental matrix, which includes "quickly learned memory-linked values", achieves the unfolding multiplicity of its developmental potentials: affects, intentions, and goals are posited as fundamental components of an individual's forward thrust. 


Why 'motivational systems'? A concept of a 'motivational system' provides a framework to better understand how relationships unfold, and how affects, intentions and goals are managed. In addition, categorizing discrete motivational systems gives the clinician an orienting organization, and serves as a useful clinical guide (Fosshage, 2010). 


Motivational systems are "...irreducible, primary motivations that organize the sense of self, and are in turn organized by it..." (Lachmann, 2000, p. 53).


Drawing on the works of Edelman (1987), Damasio (1999), and Ghent (2002), the authors state: "...the evolution in each person of capacities motivations is emergent and nonlinear...[there are] drives that force development to take a predestined course. Development...creates its own categories, meanings, intentions, and goals...its own emergent motivational systems..." (ibid., chap. 2).


In the newborn, there are biases (or preferences, or values), later to become predispositions in the adult, that "...induce affect...and form the basis of discrete but interrelated interacting motivational systems..." (ibid., chap 2).





Chapter two best illustrates the ambitiously wide scope of this book, as the authors outline their views on the evolutionary, behavioral, and neuroscientific foundations of their motivational thesis.  


Citing Ghent's reference (2002) to Lichtenberg's earlier work (1989) on motivational systems as "...the most systematic alternative to the dual-drive theory of classical psychoanalysis..." (p. 13), Ghent has rejected the authors' categorization of distinct, discrete motivational systems


To validate such categories, the authors delineate how the self-stabilizing, self-organizing properties of systems, understood  within nonlinear, dynamic systems theory, in dialectic tension with other systems, serve as an ideal model for their proposals. 


The authors, who consider affect a significant and fundamental component of experience, cite Edelman (1987), in support of how self-organization germinates, with affects as the basic construct: An infant's biases or preferences become actualized in the categorization and neural mapping of experience, FIRST INTO INTENTIONS AND GOALS (MOTIVATIONAL SYSTEMS), AND THEN INTO EXPECTANCIES (I.E., ORGANIZING PATTERNS OR ORGANIZING PRINCIPLES). THE LATTER, OFTEN RIGID, NON-CONSCIOUS, IMPLICIT  EXPECTANCIES, CAN BE CONFIRMED AND REINFORCED BY EXPERIENCE, OR, IF FORTUNATE, WITH MATERNAL (OR PSYCHOTHERAPEUTIC) ATTUNEMENT, DISCONFIRMED, WITH THE CO-CREATION OF NEW EXPERIENCE.


Further support for their position exists in a description of an evolutionary process, whereby affects are imprinted on "emotion induction sites", in tandem with a hierarchy  ("first-order" and "second-order") of neural maps [whereby] the resulting body/brain response "...constitute emotion..." (authors citing Damasio, 1999, p. 283). 


Through the evolutionary processes of "developmental", and "experiential" selection, non-linear-based capacities and motivations emerge, as a result of countless micro-anatomical and microchemical events, over vast epochs of time, with consequential heterogeneity and diversity of human capacities. 


In a summary statement, the authors maintain: "...Development is an intrinsically active process that creates its own categories, meanings, intentions, and goals...its own emergent motivational systems...groupings of similar biases and affects exist in the neonate and form the basis of discrete but interrelated interacting motivational systems..." (p. 15-16).


Anticipating criticism, the authors clarify that their thesis describes a "new one-person psychology", that accounts for the infant's abilities to integrate outer experience with inner tensions, whereby the individual's motivational systems, interacting with the motivational systems of others, can account for emergent self-agency and autonomy.




motivational systems:

heredity, neurobiological substrates, and environmental influences

(from: R. Frie, W. Coburn, Ed., Persons In Context, 2011, Chap 6: "Development of Individuality Within A Systems World", J. Fosshage, pp. 89-105)


Fosshage states that motivational systems: "...contribute to the development, maintenance, and restoration of self-cohesion and self-organization...motivational models provide the fulcrum for every psychoanalytical theory..." (ibid., pp. 92-93).


Edelman describes a theory of a neuronal group selection process, whereby  "developmental selection" induces self-organizing at the molecular and cellular levels leading to neuroanatomical development (Ghent, 2002); and "experiential selection" creates neuronal patterns through more immediate processing and adaptation.  


Sacks (1993), referring to Edelman and Stern (1985), writes that primitive biases, or values, orient the organism towards survival and adaptation, forming "categorizations of value". 


"...values are experienced internally as feelings..." 


Given the neonates inborn values, he or she [the infant] creates her own categories to construct her own world, imbued, from the very beginning, with personal meaning.  


Stern describes an emergent self, whereby infants have distinct, innate biases, and can categorize information into patterns, events, sets, and experiences.  


Edelman (1992) adds that "...multiple [neural] maps...bring unity and cohesiveness to perceptual scenes..."


developmental motivation: " inherent tendency in human beings to grow or develop, to expand in function [and] to self-organize with increasing complexity in keeping with motivational...preferences..." (ibid., p. 101) - (i.e., "STRIVING")


In summary, Fosshage states that "...genetically based features of the brain include the...powerful propensity to categorize information [and] create unity and cohesiveness, qualities of a self-organizing system. [these are]...biological givens...that influence the formation of an individual within a relational systems world..." (ibid., p. 94).




Back to:

Psychoanalysis and Motivational Systems - A New Look

(Lichtenberg, Lachmann, and Fosshage, 2011)


The authors advance a challenging theoretical proposal, describing an innovative, overarching, interactive framework of mental functioning, that broadly embraces the full complexity of psychological systems. This expansive, bio-psycho-social thesis, seeks to demonstrate the central role, in subjective psychological life, of affects, intentions, and goals.


I will first outline the framework of the theory, followed by the proposed clinical applications for psychoanalytical psychotherapy.




The self-organizing and self-stabilizing properties of non-linear, dynamic, motivational systems is the guiding metaphor to describe the interplay of affects, intentions and goals, in the interactions between caregiver and infant, or patient and therapist (each a 'self-system', together an 'intersubjective (dyadic) system').


An individual is an open, self-system, comprised of open sub-systems, but also enmeshed within larger relational systems.


‘Dialectic tension’, a property of such dynamic systems, a state between order and chaos, invites perturbations or 'influences' that alter a system’s stability or status quo. "DYNAMIC" MEANS THAT THE STATE OF THE SYSTEM AT ANY TIME DEPENDS ON ITS PREVIOUS STATES AND IS THE STARTING POINT FOR FUTURE STATES" (Thelen, 2005, p. 262).


Perturbations can trigger tipping points, with a loss of stability of the system, which, in turn, may initiate growth spurts, alter developmental trajectories, cause negative derailing, or promote positive reorganization. 


A shifting balance between order and chaos allows for both transformation and sustainability. 


Such a dynamic model can apply to intersubjective, patient-psychotherapist systems, to help account for the seamless, endless, adaptive, interweaving web of affects, shifting between the interfaces of motivational categories.  The analyst's inferences can illuminate the patient's evolving intentions and goals.


The authors posit 7 broad, overlapping, motivational systems, which evolve through continued cycles of stabilization, destabilization, and subsequent restabilization, to represent the processes through which the  individual expresses her affects, intentions, and goals.


Such systems have properties of self-organization and self-stabilization, in dynamic, “dialectic” tension/equilibrium with each other. Dialectic tension influences intrapsychic, interactive, and intersubjective systems. 


Perturbations induce changes in the system in various degrees, and, like ripples in a pool, they may tip the system towards either greater adaptation, complexity, and re-stabilization; or backwards into further rigidity. 


In order to account for  these complex phenomena, the authors posit 5 general areas of inquiry, that yield  the information necessary to describe the characteristics of such systems: influence; inference; intention; modes of communication; and (affect) regulation.


The authors propose that the properties of fractals help to conceptualize the infinite diversity, complexity, and transformative nature of human psychological development and functioning.


Fractals are naturally occurring patterns that were originally described by a mathematician, Benoit Mandelbrot. As efficient, organizing, geometric configurations of nature, fractals are observable in the contours of natural phenomena, such as mountain peaks, coastlines, and tree branches. 


Fractals are characterized by properties of:


1) self-similarity, i.e., isolated parts of an object are similar to the entire object, and the whole object is composed of smaller versions of itself; and 


2) invariance, i.e., consistency of such patterns, across scale (relative size) and time.


The authors propose that fractal-like properties can account for the ability of the ‘self’ to maintain a sense of continuity and sameness through time.


The reader begins to “feel into” this multidimensional blueprint of psychological functioning, not merely as a “depth” psychology, but also as a “breadth” psychology.


Throughout the book, repetitive similarities of concepts are presented, i.e., an intensifying, bidirectional thematic ‘echo’ of three self-similar themes, illustrated in clinical examples:

a) telescoping back and forth in time, i.e., between present and past; 

b) emotional perturbations to and fro, i.e., between therapist and patient; and 

c) the linking, through metaphor, of similarities and dissimilarities, via implicit (non-conscious) and explicit (conscious) processes.


In summary, in order to frame their ambitious theoretical proposals, the authors  use a multisystems approach, integrating concepts from systems theory, mathematics (fractals), cognitive science, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis, emphasizing dynamically interacting, repetitive, interlacing dimensions of four key areas, all in flux, shifting in and out of center stage, depending on the context:


There are 7, non-linear, dynamic, self-organizing, motivational systems, or categorical maps, or fundamental bio-psychological processes, of unfolding intentional directionality, overlapping, shifting into foreground and background, in different degrees and combinations, through which the affects instantiate their priorities, embodied within intentions and goals. These broad categories of “intention unfolding processes”, that embody the infinite variations of human self-expression are: 


1) physiological regulation; 2) attachment to individuals; 3) affiliation with groups; 4) caregiving;

5) exploration and preferences; 6) aversiveness; and 7) sensuality/sexuality.


There are also 5 component functional systems (or "roots"): perception, memory, cognition, affect, and recursive awareness - which serve as the foundational ‘roots”, the hard-wired biological endowment, required for the functioning capacity of the motivational systems;


Thgere are 5 areas of inquiry: influences; inferences; intentions; modes of   communication; and regulation, that serve to explicate these formulations.


IV) The bi-directional, implicit and explicit modes of processing, use metaphor, an amalgam of image and symbol, to link seemingly disparate elements of experience. Citing Modell (2005), the authors describe how metaphoric processes link the verbal (explicit) and non-verbal (implicit) realms of experience, through the intention unfolding process, to facilitate the awareness of contrasting similarities and dissimilarities, as a means of organizing experience.


Affects linked with metaphor are the sources of intentions and meanings, that run through all the systems and processes, and connect the functional roots to the motivational systems


As with affects, intentions play a most significant role, in the authors hierarchal schematic: As per the Boston Change Process Study Group, "...intentions [are] the basic unit of psychological meaning...", that defines motivational systems, i.e., "...chunks the flow of motivations into motivational systems...".


One might say that a motivational system is defined by its intention(s)/goal(s), felt, expressed and conveyed via affects within, and generated by, the self-system.




The awareness of motivational systems that constitute the multilayered, organizing, affective patterns throughout one’s life, can help the clinician recognize and track the adult patient’s shifting priorities, as well as his own, during the psychotherapeutic encounter, to better inform the psychotherapist of what each is reacting to.


The patient intersubjectively reacts to the psychotherapist’s characteristic blend of affects, intentions, and goals, which may elicit or inhibit dispositional potentialities. The participants of the dyad can experience, categorize, map, and track each others’ expectations, as they become increasingly aware, on both explicit and implicit levels, of the fluid-like perturbations in the ongoing relationship. 


The awareness of these mosaics of intentions help to shift the aversive elements of communication, embedded within the patient’s experiences and expectancies, which no longer adaptively serve the patient advantageously.


Within this framework, the psychotherapist’s self awareness remains the instrumental gauge for recognizing the unfolding of intersubjective processes.


Specific forerunners of the current work include Psychoanalysis and Motivation (Lichtenberg,1989), and Self and Motivational Systems (Lichtenberg, Lachmann, & Fossage, 1992). The authors also incorporate the multiple perspectives provided by contemporary infant research, cognitive science, neuroscience (Damasio, Schore), and leading-edge psychoanalytic concepts (e.g., the Boston Change Process Study Group, or BCPSG).


The text’s empirical foundation serves to fulfill the need for intellectual rigor; summarizes the most current neuro-psychoanalytic trends; details the explanatory role of non-linear dynamic theory; introduces the mathematical concept of fractals as a means of conceptualizing the plasticity of action of self-similarities, of self-organization, and of empathy; preserves intersubjective and relational dimensions; and leaves room for potential, future avenues of expansion within psychoanalytic theory, as the understanding of such categories becomes more refined.


In summary, the authors, drawing from their own research, as well as from contemporary investigators, describe the evolution and development, from infancy onwards, of  brain-based cognitive processes and affects. The outcome is an ambitious yet succinct synthesis of a multidisciplinary, multifaceted, multisystems-based theory, that targets human affect, intentions, and goals as the prime features of seven integrated, motivational systems, around which human activity is understood to organize itself, thus revealing, and rendering intelligible, human purpose and meaning.


The authors explain that fractals, like adjacent, intermingling clouds, have both enclosed boundaries that define each one separately, yet are open and can effortlessly merge with neighboring entities; such is the nature of motivational systems, as the conceptual embodiment of the "...grouping of self-similar affects, intentions and goals...".  


Such systems, in a given individual, can have foreground and background qualities, but can then merge and shift with another or other systems. 


One such example is an attachment system that: "..."contains" positive feelings associated with an intention to form a safe intimate relationship with another...[and] [its] boundary...may take on a negative quality, merging with and then shifting to the sensual/sexual system, or a concern for the well-being of the other, merging with and shifting over to the caregiving system..."




Like fractal patterning, the metaphoric process allows for the transfer of meaning between related but dissimilar domains, such as 'past and present', and 'self and other', which also promotes the experience of continuity between mental states, and of self-continuity.


"The inference process is central to the creation of meaning and the organization of experience."



" interactions with the environment will transpire..." (Lachmann, 2008, p. 14).











(p. 102-114)




a facilitating environment to provide safety and security




drawing inferences about others via metaphoric bridges





what are the qualities of the affects (accessible?, absent?, inhibited?) and

what is the affect being sought, via dissociated, repetitive, compulsive patterns?




 "...the message is the message..."


explore both the needle and the haystack, the latent and the manifest




maximize information to best identify the patient's intentions and goals


build the patient's narrative to the highest possible level of coherence




what and who has the analyst become for the patient, in the patient's eyes?


- the psychotherapist strives to recognize and tolerate themselves as portrayed by the patient




joint exploration




reluctance, defensiveness


patient does not want to know


patient wants to withdraw or escape from an undesirable state





empathy - interventions from the patient's point of view


interventions from the analyst's point of view


spontaneous engagements




evaluate progress