Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Examples of Through-Lines

Here's how they look.  The through-line concept refers to a person's history of varied performances that have a common and recurring Significance.  Any Personal Characteristic can be an aspect of a through-line description. Through-lines are patterns observed by oneself or others identifying what is in-character for the actor in question. 

Some examples of Through-Lines


When there is opportunity and while doing other things as well:

She heedlessly and perhaps unconsciously goes through life attempting to score competitive victories with women who resemble her mother and does so with an eye toward currying favor with unobtainable men. 

While fearfully avoiding degradation, he manages his affairs in such a way as to offend no one while never stepping outside of what he thinks are his competencies. 

He consciously and unconsciously strives to put people in a helpless position in a manner that keeps him, in his view, on the moral high ground. 

Terrified of being alone and doubting her worth to others, she seeks satisfaction by tolerating the abusive needs of others or in actions that undo and distract her from being aware of her loneliness.

Requiring a sense of specialness, he looks for opportunities to demonstrate his worth by achievement in competitive arenas while making sure not to out-step the values and achievements of those he considers the conventional esteemed judges. 

Notice the multiplicity of similar and dissimilar performances that can be the enactment, performance or implementation of the Significance described in any of the examples above. 


The opportunity that exists in the ongoing circumstances might not be reason enough for behavior of a particular Significance to be enacted. A person's other significant hedonic, prudent, aesthetic and ethical perspectives might prevail. 

Some through-lines can coexist with other through-lines. And some implementations may satisfy a variety of through-lines. 

A through-line is a significance driven description that can be built with any and all of the relevant features needed to make a pattern understandable regarding what a person is repeatedly up to in the course of their life. 

Some through-lines can end in satisfaction, some can be out grown or are no longer relevant, some can be repeated compulsively without satisfaction, while others can be repeated because the satisfactions remain valued. 

They may look, in some cases, to the psychoanalytic observer as a function of a fixation or a repetition compulsion. 

A through-line that has significant unconscious aspects is prone to unsatisfying repetition since the actor is not in a good position to critically modify behavior or reorder priorities.  This is the heart of the repetition compulsion if it involves fundamental and ongoing desire. Sex, trauma and dependency may work this way when the desire for connection, restoration or support remains without a self-aware potential for practicing alternative serviceable implementations. Instead, the person, not learning from the mistakes repeats a tragic pattern

Through-lines organize a description in a manner that highlights a status dynamic.

If this also sounds like an example of what Roy Schafer called action language, then I’ve gotten it right.  

While posting this I was troubled by the generally negative, restrictive and pathological tone of the examples. To the extent that pathology involves a restriction in behavior potential, it can be easier to identify patterns. Pathological restrictions in behavior potential limit performance in a manner that produces routines and stereotyped behaviors and this allows diagnostic categories to work. Pathology is simpler than health. The through-lines of the healthy are organized in a manner that involves varied and flexible satisfactions with less insistent repetition. A happy and healthy life is less predicable than one restricted by fixation and compulsion. 

I am not saying that there aren't healthy through-lines, there are, but I'm just too busy watching Game One of the World Series to care at the moment. 

Go Sox! Boston Strong! At the moment Boston 3, St. Louis 0. 

But how's this:

Aware of the rights and plights of others, mindful of her failing, careful not to overly compromise herself, she deliberately seeks novelty, pleasure, and beauty ironically embracing that what's good for the goose might not be good for the gander.

Addendum on 1/23/14
Joe Jeffrey offers this insight as another way of positioning the concept of through-lines within Descriptive Psychology. I think it is a clear advance in clarity.

"The core idea of the dramaturgical model is on p. 290 of Ossorio's Behavior of Persons: “[the] behavior pattern is a sequence of Versions of multiply overlapping social practices.  The larger scale structure will not be a social practice. It will…have the ad hoc character of a drama or a scenario in a life history. Ultimately, it is a life history.”  So, we’re talking about 1) a person, 2) a person’s life history, and 3) multiply overlapping social practices comprising a behavior pattern.  What Ossorio has done here is articulate and say something about the fact that, in the paradigm case, a person’s life is not just an assortment of actions; the actions are pieces of a pattern of overlapping practices. (Remember that an action is a practice; engaging in an action is the same thing as engaging in a practice.)

Unfortunately, Ossorio didn’t say much about those overlapping patterns, except to note that they are there. Nothing about how they overlap, kinds of overlap, how they relate to other patterns such as traits, attitudes, the enactment of a self-concept, etc. etc. Looking at the examples of through-lines you've given, it looks to me like “through-line” is a name for those overlapping patterns of action in a person’s life. A through-line is not some special kind of pattern; it’s the general case of a pattern of overlapping social practices in a person's life.  One kind of through-line (a simple one) would be a trait. Another kind might be someone with a continuing need to affirm himself as tough man who can handle whatever comes up and does so by joining the NRA, buying large handguns, and going to the firing range weekly. Both his self-concept, the need for continuing self-affirmation of that concept, and the way he affirms are all part of the pattern – the through-line. Somebody else with the same need might do it by beating up his wife whenever he gets dissed by his boss, and that would be a different through-line, one which shared an element (the self-concept) with the other one, but differing in important ways. The example of the baseball player who throws high and inside far too often and is cruel to his kids and wife is of the same sort: his behavior obviously constitutes a trait (cruelty), but that description leaves out a lot, like what he’s doing by being cruel to child and a hardass to opposing players, presumably yet another self-concept issue.  So the pattern – the through-line – is the trait and the self-concept. Both are constituents of that pattern. "

Joe then went on to say:

"There's a point to being able to highlight, to foreground, the basic fact of there being behavior patterns in a person’s life, and that some patterns are not simply one of the things we’re familiar with, such as traits, self-concept issues, and so forth.  There’s a point to being able to ask, “OK, what’s the through-line here?” That point is to direct people toward patterns of action, extending over time, regardless of what kind of pattern or what makes up that pattern. And of course the next step, having identified the through-line, is to ask, “OK, so what else can we say about this pattern?”  What we in Descriptive often do is the familiar, “Drop the details and look at the pattern.” And that’s fine.  But sometimes there’s important, valuable insight to be gained from the “pieces” of the pattern – the fact that, say, the guy is both continuously needing to self-affirm and that he does so in a cruel way (rather than, say, by bragging, or faking credentials, etc.)."


  1. A through-line is a significance driven description that can be built with any and all of the relevant features needed to make a pattern understandable regarding what a person is repeatedly up to in the course of their life. - I like this definition. Clear, concise and encompassing an individuals possible need to repeat what they feel works, given the circumstances and understanding of the context they are in at the given moment in which they need to act and in relation to the comfort/understanding they have with past achievements. See you Saturday.

  2. I have enjoyed reading your posts regarding "Through-Lines", particularly this one as it clearly demonstrates how such concepts may be conceptualized in the therapy room or how they may manifest themselves in daily life. Moreover, I find the "Through-Line" concept compelling as it draws heavily on the "Significance" parameter of the Intentional Action paradigm you discuss in another post. I do not think I am alone in my view that this parameter is particularly fascinating within the paradigm, especially considering its elucidating value to the psychodynamic psychotherapist.

    The "Through-Line" concept also makes me ponder about its relation-- if any-- to the idea of the repetition compulsion we discussed in class. It seems to me that, in both cases, an Actor engages in an Intentional Action that lies at either the conscious or unconscious level, which goes on to provide said Actor with something he seeks but may not possess otherwise.

    -Rob DiGiammarino