A New Developmental Foundation for David Shapiro’s Work on Autonomy and Character

  • E. Virginia DemosEmail author


My task in this volume is to discuss David Shapiro’s use of developmental theory in his ground breaking work on neurotic styles, as well as his more recent work on the treatment and the dynamics of rigid character. He writes explicitly about development in his two more recent books, Autonomy and Rigid Character (1981) and Dynamics of Character (2000), in which he argues that an abridgement of autonomy is an essential dynamic in all mental illness, and articulates how it manifests itself and functions in a range of diagnostic categories, which helps to clarify underlying dynamic similarities in the diverse symptomatology seen. I find Shapiro’s phenomenological descriptions of the ways in which abridgements of autonomy are manifested in ­different kinds of mental illness and his discussions of these dynamics highly ­illuminating. I also believe that autonomy or agency is an essential factor in organizing the psyche, but that it is only part of what is essential, so I will introduce another basic human bias or priority that when impaired is also operating to constrict personality. I will further argue that both of these essential priorities are present at birth, thus I cannot accept Shapiro’s assumption of the existence of prevolitional modes of functioning, and his further assumption that these modes are reverted to in adulthood when mental illness is manifested. He cites older stage theories of development, namely those of Werner and Piaget, as support for these assumptions, and possibly for notions of regression contained in such theories, although he does not use the term regression. I will also address his primary emphasis on cognition, which seems to leave little room for affects, except for the role of anxiety in evoking defensive organizations, and the presence of interest in expanding or constricting autonomy.


Negative Affect Affect State Negative Affect State Stage Theory Positive Affect State 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Austen Riggs CenterStockbridgeUSA

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