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Submergence; submerged pole
"The submerged pole of a construct is the one which is less available for application to events". (Kelly, 1955,1991, Vol. p. 6)
Submergence is one of the three constituents making up the idea of lower levels of cognitive awareness. That is a diagnostic construct in Kelly's theory that, in other theoretical systems, may be called "unconscious processes". The other two are preverbal construing and suspension.
Personal constructs are bi-polar. They have a likeness end and a contrast end. When a person only has one end consciously available, the less available pole is said to be submerged. Kelly's own example is when a person says "Everyone has always been good to me". The contrast - not consciously available - can only be guessed at. It may be that "people have not always been good to others"; or that "I have not always been good to others"; or that "there are some people I could name who go around saying people are mean to them - I am not that sort of person".
One useful feature of submergence is that it prevents the construct being put to the test and is thus a good example of nonvalidation (Walker, 2002). If the submerged pole were uncovered there might be the threat of having to put the construct to the test. For instance, if the submerged pole were "I am not the sort of person who goes around saying people are mean to them" that might be invalidated - proved to be wrong. Conversely, if the submerged pole were "I have not always been good to others" that might be validated - proved to be correct. Both validation and invalidation can have far-reaching and devastating results for the person.
Looking at one's dreams can be of interest here. If you have an important person in your life who is short and fat but who you feel is putting you under undue pressure, you may dream of the opposite - a tall thin person is pushing you around!
The notion of submergence is probably of most use in the counselling and psychotherapy setting. A person who insists that everyone has always been kind to them may be having trouble in dealing with a new loving relationship in which the partner is occasionally critical. Once that construct has been identified as possibly having a submerged pole, behavioural experiences can be designed to bring it into conscious awareness. Such awareness is very important in helping the client become "unstuck".  


  • Walker, B. M. (2002) Nonvalidation vs. (in)validation: implications for theory and practice".  In J. D. Raskin & S. K. Bridges. Studies in Meaning: Exploring Constructivist Psychology. New York: Pace University

Fay Fransella

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004