Psychologist Robert Stolorow is one of the leading intellectual lights of the self psychology movement after Heinz Kohut. Although Kohut began with a psychology of the self rooted in drive theory, his views continued to evolve, opening the way for later theorists who conceptualized a psychology of self within an intersubjective or relational framework. For those who have difficulty with the constructs of the intersubjectivist-relational school, I'd recommend a careful reading of Daniel Stern's "The Interpersonal World of the Infant (1985) and then move on to the early work of Stolorow, Brandchaft, Atwood (e.g Psychoanalytic Treatment: An Intersubjective Approach, 1987). From there, you'll figure out where to go.
I was prompted to return today to an article Stolorow wrote in 1999 about his personal experience with trauma and its aftermath. Anyone who is interested in the subjective experience of trauma would likely find the entire article a worthwhile read. A few paragraphs follow:
When the book Contexts of Being (Stolorow & Atwood, 1992) was first published, an initial batch of copies was sent "hot-off-the-press" to the display table at a conference where I was a panelist. I picked up a copy and looked around excitedly for my late wife, Daphne, who would be so pleased and happy to see it. She was, of course, nowhere to be found, having died some eighteen months earlier. I had awakened one morning to find her lying dead across our bed, four weeks after her cancer had been diagnosed. I spent the remainder of that conference in 1992 remembering and grieving, consumed with feelings of horror and sorrow over what had happened to Daphne and to me.
There was a dinner at that conference for all the panelists, many of whom were my old and good friends and close colleagues. Yet, as I looked around the ballroom, they all seemed like strange and alien beings to me. Or more accurately, I seemed like a strange and alien being--not of this world. The others seemed so vitalized, engaged with one another in a lively manner. I, in contrast, felt deadened and broken, a shell of the man I had once been. An unbridgeable gulf seemed to open up, separating me forever from my friends and colleagues. They could never even begin to fathom my experience, I thought to myself, because we now lived in altogether different worlds...
After hearing [George] Atwood's presentation, I began to think about the role such absolutisms unconsciously play in everyday life. When a person says to a friend, "I'll see you later," or a parent says to a child at bedtime, "I'11 see you in the morning," these are statements, like delusions, whose validity is not open for discussion. Such absolutisms are the basis for a kind of naive realism and optimism that allow one to function in the world, experienced as stable and predictable. It is in the essence of psychological trauma that it shatters these absolutisms, a catastrophic loss of innocence that permanently alters one's sense of being-in-the-world. Massive deconstruction of the absolutisms of everyday life exposes the inescapable contingency of existence on a universe that is random and unpredictable and in which no safety or continuity of being can be assured. Trauma thereby exposes "the unbearable embeddedness of being" (Stolorow & Atwood, 1992, p. 22). As a result, the traumatized person cannot help but perceive aspects of existence that lie well outside the absolutized horizons of normal everydayness. It is in this sense that the worlds of traumatized persons are fundamentally incommensurable with those of others, the deep chasm in which an anguished sense of estrangement and solitude takes form.