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The Pichon-Riviere link theory

The Pichon-Riviere link theory

July 21, 2022

How we communicate or what behaviors we carry out with them or in their presence, among other aspects, greatly affect the type of relationship we have with others.

Taking into account that interpersonal relationships are an element of great importance in our development and that the human being is a gregarious being by nature, being able to bond affectively in a correct way and that allows the normative and relatively continuous contact is fundamental.

In fact, from birth to be able to establish a link is important, given that after birth there is an absolute dependence on the baby with respect to the adults in charge. That is why the study of the mechanisms used to relate to our peers have been the subject of multiple investigations and generated various theories.

Among them we can find the theory of Pichon-Riviere link , one of the first psychodynamics to move from intrapsychic psychology to interpersonal psychology in the field of psychoanalysis.

The link according to Pichon-Riviere

The term "link" is conceptualized by Pichon-Riviere as the way a person relates to others , establishing a relational structure between both communicants that will be unique between them.

This structure marks the way in which it will interact, establishing what communicative guidelines and what behaviors are acceptable and adaptive in the context of the relationship.

The link does not refer only to an emotional component but rather incorporates both emotional sphere and cognitive and behavioral , modifying all these aspects through interaction. The resulting structure is dynamic and fluid, varying and being affected by the feedback that one's behavior produces in the other.

The link is a fundamental element for survival and adaptation to both social and natural environment, since it allows influencing the environment while being influenced by it. The existence of links is mainly due to the ability to communicate, through which we establish contact with others and learn based on the consequences of our behaviors on them.


According to the bonding theory, bonding is bicorporal, since at the physical level there are two elements in contact (the subject and the one or the others). However, despite being two beings that interact in every link or relationship, there is at least three components that have to be taken into account , the issuing self, the object (considering as such the person or thing with which the linkage occurs) and the third, which is understood as the ideal or fantasy constructed by the self on the object and which indicates how we are going to relate to the.

When establishing a relationship with an object the subject maintains two links at the same time, one external to the object itself and one internal to the unconscious fantasy that is going to be projected onto the object and that will mark the existence and the type of communication.

In a healthy bond, according to Pichon-Riviere, the structure that will emerge from the interaction will be spiral type , finding the behavior and communication of the subject with a reaction on the part of the object that is going to give a feedback to the first one so that he can vary his behavior.

Likewise, the object will also modify its behavior based on the subject's performance, the link being a bidirectional relationship in which both elements in communication influence each other dynamically and motivated by psychological needs.

The three D

For the author of the link theory, the role or role that is assumed in the linking interaction is of great importance . It must be taken into account at the time of assuming a role the role that each of the components of the link must have and the fact that they agree on the paper given to each one.

In a connection, we can mainly find the figure of the depositor, who is the one who issues the information or conduct, the depositary or receiver of it and the deposited, the content transmitted or the action carried out.

Communicate in the link

As we have mentioned, one of the fundamental requirements for the establishment of a link is the presence of a fluid communication between subject and object. Regarding the communicative act Pichon-Riviere part of the belief that all communication is based on five fundamental principles.

First of all, it highlights that the social affects us and structure from within, forming part of our being . We want and need to be linked, being affected and affecting the environment at the same time.

A second principle is that the behaviors that we carry out are determined by the innermost . Our unconscious impulses us to act communicatively in order to express our needs, impulses and desires.

The third of the principles implies that all act or even the absence of this are communicative , there can not be an act that does not transmit anything. Each performance and interaction carried out contains a deep meaning that may be hidden.

Another principle refers to the need for dynamism, openness and mutual adaptation between people linked, showing that the absence of fluidity and the presence of constant perseveration and repetition is synonymous with pathology.

Finally, it indicates that all individuals try to communicate at all times, with all mental activity aimed at establishing a communication.

Extracting learning: ECRO

Through communication we extract a learning that allows us a more adaptive link. The data extracted from the interaction allow us to generate a scheme with which to organize the concepts so that we can adapt to the changes that reality suffers.

This scheme works with the concepts acquired throughout our lives to work in the context of interaction and produce changes that modify the world. Thus, we will use the schemes formed in order to influence the environment and make links more functional and adaptive .

The three areas

In the process of interaction between the components of a bond the subject must establish a relationship between his mind, his body and the external reality.

These three areas coexist at all times, although there may be a predominance over one or another as we carry out certain behaviors. According to Pichon-Riviere, q that predominates or that is inhibited will mark the personality of the individual , which in turn will greatly affect the ability to link and can generate pathological links.

The psychological field

When establishing a link, the interaction between the linked elements occurs in a specific context in which the exchange occurs, a context that is called psychological field. It is the context in which the subject communicates with the environment.

The author proposes that from this psychological field can be extracted from the observation different data that allow work at a clinical level with groups. Mainly the most relevant information in this regard go through the own behavior manifested by the subject, the body changes that allow analyze the emotions and attitudes of this , the preverbal communication, the lived facts or experiences and the outline or set of elements that are in permanent interaction.

  • Related article: "Emotional psychology: main theories of emotion"

A healthy bond

It will be considered healthy all that link in which the I is able to use strategies to manage the bad and keep the good of the relationship, maintaining an efficient bidirectional communication that can be adaptive. For this to be the case, it is necessary that a permanent, sincere and direct communication in which the needs of subject and object are taken into account, in addition to that communication produces a learning that allows the feedback of the own behavior.

Thus, the key components for the existence of a good link are the presence of a correct, efficient bidirectional communication and in which there is feedback and the fact that such communication allows the acquisition of a learning.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Active listening: the key to communicating with others"

Pathological links

Not every type of link is healthy. Although as we have said, the link usually supposes a spiral structure in which a feedback of the relationship is given, sometimes said structure is hindered and paralyzed by fear , that making the third act as a barrier causes the link to end up becoming something static that prevents adequate adaptation to the communicational reality.

Thus, for the author of the link theory there are different ways of relating that constitute a pathological linkage when there is no learning or communication dysfunctions that make it not completely bidirectional and do not produce a correct mutual modification. Communication would cease to be totally permanent, sincere, direct or dialectical.

Some of the main pathological links are the following :

1. Paranoid link

In this type of link may appear aggressive behavior and distrust , claiming something to each other.

2. Depressive link

The established linkage generates or is generated by the presence of fault or need for expiation .

3. Manic link

Relationship established due to emotional expansiveness . It is based on impulsivity and frenetic activity.

4. Schizophrenic link

This link is characterized by a high presence of isolation from reality, considering that autism as relational absence is a characteristic of this psychopathological link. According to Pichon-Riviere, it is typical of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders in which the ego is disconnected with reality . Clusters of other types of links may appear.

5. Obsessive link

The proper relationship of an obsessive bond means that at least one of the individuals linked intends to maintain control and order in the relationship . It is intended to control and monitor the other due to anxiety produced by distrust.

6. Hypochondriacal link

The way of relating to the environment becomes the complaint by the state of health or the concern for the body.

7. Hysterical link

This type of linkage is based on representation, wanting the psyche of one of the components of the link to express something through acting or symptomatology. A) Yes, there is a great drama and plasticity . The type of expression can range from physical symptoms (convulsions, screams, etc.) typical of a conversion hysteria or through fears derived from mistrust.

8. Night link

Own of subjects with altered states of consciousness, in this type of linkage a subject tries to establish a relationship with an object but is hindered by sleep . If he manages to establish it, he usually has delirious tints.

9. Homosexual link

Pichon-Riviere started from a traditional conception of psychoanalysis that I saw homosexual relationships as a perversion . For the author, the homosexual link was aimed at establishing a relationship with an object that at some point is considered harmful or persecuting, trying to conquer this object through strategies of control and appeasement.

Currently the idea that homosexuality belongs to the field of mental disorders is totally disproved.

10. Epileptic link

The bonds of this type, which according to this approach are especially localizable in epileptic patients, suppose the presence of tenacity, viscosity in the relationship and a certain component of destructiveness .

11. Regressive link

The regressive link arises in the moment in which the sameness, the attainment of the complete self or the totality of the being, is denied or cloudy . For this author, this type of link is a type of psychotic episodes, and in tables in which there is a depersonalization.

Importance of this theory

Beyond its impact when studying and analyzing the importance of links and their deformation in pathological processes, the importance of link theory is such that it would set a precedent in the emergence of social psychology.

We must bear in mind that at the time when this theory emerged psychoanalytic psychology was mainly focused on the internal conflicts of each person, making little reference to environmental factors and to the relational mechanisms between people.

With this theory Pichon-Riviere would open the door to the systematized study of human relations and his organization from psychoanalysis, serving his studies to improve the situation of multiple patients through the treatment of their communications, in a field previously little worked previously.

Bibliographic references:

  • Pichon-Riviere, E (1980). Bond theory Selection and Review of Fernando Taragano. Contemporary Psychology Collection. New Editions: Buenos Aires

David Macaulay: All roads lead to Rome Antics (July 2022).

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