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The Theory of Self-Psychology

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Alexa Thompson

on 23 September 2013

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Transcript of The Theory of Self-Psychology

The Theory

Heinz Kohut

Basic Concepts
Efficacy of Use
Kohut in Action
"Mr. Psychoanalysis"
Born in
Vienna to a middle-class Jewish

Reluctantly allowed to pursue
medical school

Fled Nazi persecution
Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis
Began as classical Freudian analyst

Kohut had a

Self Psychology [one of the "four psychologies"] flows and incorporates:
drive theory
ego psychology
object relations theory
It critiques, rejects, modifies, and changes
parts of these

Published in the
early 80s
First significant psychoanalytic movement
to originate in the U.S.

Theories of Narcissism:
Heart of Self Psychology


Finite libidinal energy

Development: must replace self-love/ involvement with
Pathological narcissism: too much libido invested in the
self; the shift to object love does not occur
Narcissism: should be outgrown and avoided
Signs of health: object love

Infinite libidinal energy
the more love for oneself, the more they will have for others
Pathological narcissism: insufficient love received from
others, forcing the person to become overly invested in
We are all mutually dependent on others
throughout life

Psychological Development
The importance of
, not only as
main tool of clinical work but matrix within
all growth takes place
Structure of the
tripolar self
Crucial role of
in psychological development

Does not specify childhood developmental phases
general sequence
Grandiose self: until 4 years
Ideal self objects most intense 4-6
Did not specify twinship; strong until adolescence (p. 176)
**exist in some form throughout
life cycle

The Role of Empathy
The Grandiose Self
Idealized Parent Imago

“The need to have someone strong, calm, and wonderful to idealize and merge with in order to feel safe and complete within the self” (p. 172)

By merging with the calmness and competence of the self-object...

anxiety can arise if merger becomes total (loss of self/ self cohesion)
In relationship, idealizing basketball players, trying to become a parent, etc.

If others are idealized too much... the self is left feeling
worthless, little,
and ashamed


“The need to feel there are others in the world who
are similar to oneself” (p. 174)

In a person, soul mate, philosophy, political movement, etc. (not just a human)

“Too much time spent without a feeling of twinship can make people feel like they are unraveling and losing touch with themselves.”

, sense of
, and

1913- 1981
Baby Boomers split:

Older generation
(Hard working)

Younger generation

“Self-help” book industry
Pathologies at the time became: the empty self,
the fragile self, the fragmented self
Relevant Theorists
Well… according to Kohut,

I did it all:

Kohut “abandoned the drives as the motivating
force in growth and personality formation, and placed
the impetus to become a cohesive self at the center of
psychological development” (p. 162).

Abandoned idea that resolution of internal conflict produces health
“healthy self is derived from experiences in which
caregiving others... meet the specific needs of the
emerging self”

Rage and aggression are result of unmet needs
not an intrinsic force flowing from innate drives

Many stopped thinking of him as a

Never acknowledged other
theorists who influenced his work

How narcissistic!

Ferenczi ~ Balani ~ Fairbairne ~ Winniccott
Most likely contributed to self psychology
Similar concepts to Kohut

for the patient to incorporate what they are lacking
from self-objects into their psyche

mirroring transference: meet need of grandiose self, do not just interpret
it; reflect client's characteristics and qualities
idealizing transference: to share, via merger, in the power and
omnipotence of the therapist
twinship transference: clients feel a likeness and sameness
with the therapist; knows herself and
feels less alone

Psyche is viewed as "under construction."
• Internalize function of therapist and make it
their own (requirement in order to meet needs/
create an authentic self)
Self-objects only stimulate the energy for clients to work
and grow in their own ways


Transmuting Internalization:
Therapist Role
Assumes the role of the
back what he/she failed to recieve in
the past

The therapist should utilize
what the patient felt
Believed to be
essential for making change

Can be worked through if disappointment and anger over unmet needs can be expressed and understood
Repeated failures are roots of disturbance and thwarted growth
However, healthy balance = stronger and firmer sense of self

Agreeing, disagreeing, giving advice
Interpretations early in therapy
The patient self is too weak to handle
anything more aggressive

Temporary Indwelling
Efficacy of Self Psychology
Focus of self-psychology:
“the self needs to develop into a vibrant, creative, loving, and especially, cohesive whole” (p. 158)

Emphasis on subjective sense of cohesion and well-being (unlike other theories)
Example of objective sense of self: the id, ego, and superego
Inside out, rather than outside in


emphasizes the person’s subjective experience of
cohesion and well-being within the individual self.

feminist, gay, lesbian, and sociocultural concerns

greater variability
Others contain more objective/fixed psychosexual
stages and outcomes

Socio-Cultural Factors
Suffering to the self caused by social ills

Groups that are oppressed can be struggling from
selfobject failures due to society.
Society itself, can be seen as a very negative selfobject

People of color, the poor, women, homosexuals, the disabled, immigrants, etc...
Rarely mirrored for special qualities and talents
Do not have good, strong, tranquil role models to
idealize and merge with

Opportunities for twinship in grassroots organizations
and support groups
However, if nothing is implemented, then
for some, the only twinship opportunities
may be on the street in gangs

Unlike other theories...
Well received by...
This theory allows...

Heterosexuality is not healthier than

The goal of sexual development is...
to become more fully and vibrantly whoever
a person believes and experiences
him/herself to be at any given point in time

Opens the parenting role to
all caregivers

Kohut did not think mothers have to regress to form attachments with their babies

Aspects of the mother-child bond became
less sacred, and
more available
to any person in
the baby’s life with parenting

The Theory of Self-Psychology
Kohut devoted
his life, which he titled “the science of the self”

suffering when empathic failures undermine
self-cohesion and self-realization

pleasure-seeker that struggles with conflict of desires

Kohut explored
, while Freud explored
Not living up to own ideals/ morals
Feeling inadequate, embarrassed, less

What Freud chose not to explore
Tragic Man
Guilty Man

...“acknowledges what is and therefore validates
something in the sense of self” (p. 166).
Not warmth, sympathy, or approval
Knowing (not feeling)
“Could have empathy for an ax murderer”

“I hate it when you scrub my face”

Narcissistic Rage: reaction to feeling powerless and ashamed
not innate drive

empathic gratification and empathic failure

Empathetic Failures
“disintegration product"
vicarious introspection
Selfobjects and
Tripolar Self
New piece of metapsychology:
three poles
(has its own energy and needs)

1. Pole of the grandiose self
2. Pole of the idealized parent imago
3. Pole of twinship

Each needs empathic responses from self-objects

create a self to become cohesive

Do NOT have to be people

Needs people to reflect and identify capacities, talents,
and characteristics

"pole of ambitions"
Forms the core of identity and individuality

people who are vibrant, confident, hopeful,
ambitious, and productive
“children should be seen and not heard”
Not a drive theory
• Desire for healthy self driven by ambition

loss of contact with the self/ self-objects
Fear or dread
In manic states: grandiose sense of self

The Need for Mirroring
The pole of ideals
…in order to grow
those qualities can be established within the self
Delicate balance:
*Themes presented in theories are linked
with cultural themes of time they developed
• Example: Freud’s theory developedwhen society repressed sexuality

Disorders of the Self

Deficit Model
• “psychological illness occurs when the legitimate developmental
needs of the three poles are not met with optimal empathy and
optimal frustration” (p. 177)
Hurt by neglect and deprivation more than conflict of drives

(1) Primary and Secondary Disorders
psychoses, borderline, narcissistic behavior and personality disorders
Deficits occur in cohesion of self when mirroring, idealizing, and twinship needs have not been met due to
deprivation or
trauma biological and social causes contribute to fragmentation

(2) A variety of typical self states
under/ over stimulated self, fragmenting self, overburdened self
Reactions to experiencing oneself in the world
drop in self-esteem, nervousness, etc.
Don’t follow diagnostic criteria, but are descriptive categories

(3) A variety of character or personality types
Mirror-hungry, ideal-hungry, alter-ego-hungry,
merger-hungry, contact-shunning
• Perpetual state of craving and fear

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