Thursday, March 15, 2012

Corbett and Kugler on the Interface Between C.G. Jung and Heinz Kohut


"The question of the relationship between the concepts of the self in the work of Jung and Kohut has been debated by various Jungian analysts (for example, Jacoby, 1981; Schwartz-Salant, 1982; Redfearn, 1983; Samuels, 1985; Corbett, 1989). Jung's self-concept seems to have been largely ignored by self psychologists with one exception. Oremland (1985) equates Jung's self with the cosmos and suggests that Jungian therapy tends toward "mystical purpose." His essay presents a distorted view of Jung's self concept and Jungian therapy. Oremland believes that to compare Kohut and Jung would provide ammunition for Kohut's detractors. While Oremland is critical of interrelating Jung and Kohut, most other authors of comparative essays have focused constructively on the similarities and differences.

Jacoby (1981) for example, points out the following parallels between the two theorists. Kohut (1977) sees the self as the center of the psychological universe, in contrast to the more traditional Freudian view of the self as a content of the mental apparatus (that is, as a representation). This formulation is close to Jung's definition of the self. Kohut, again, bears a striking resemblance to Jung when he writes that man's ultimate goal might be "the realization, through his actions, of the blueprint for his life that had been laid down in his nuclear self" (p. 133). Further, when Kohut states that "our transient individuality also possesses a significance that extends beyond the borders of our life" (p. 180) and describes "cosmic narcissism" that transcends the boundaries of the individual (Kohut, 1966), he seems to be referring to the phenomenon Jung describes as the transpersonal/transcendant aspects of the self. This is further reflected in Kohut's view of the cognitive inpenetrability of the self per se. For Kohut (1977) only "its introspectively or empathically perceived psychological manifestations are open to us" (p. 311). Gordon (1980) also notes how Kohut (1977), while discussing Kafka and O'Neill, emphasizes man's search for wholeness and meaning, and thus is very close to Jung's association of the experience of the self with the discovery of meaning.

Schwartz-Salant (1982) believes that Kohut is attractive to Jungians because his approach his similar to Jung's synthetic or purposive attitude toward therapy. Because of Jung's opposition to the idea of psychic determinism, he characteristically adopts a "final" perspective in which the self is conceived of not simply as the sum or outcome of causal sequences and antecedent connections in the past, but also as prospective and purposive, apparently possessing a sense of future direction and intention. Hence, it cannot be analyzed purely historically. Jung (1971) maintained that no psychological fact about an individual can be explained in terms of causality alone. For many Jungians, the idea that the self points toward future development frees one from the tyranny of a psychology based purely on developmental vicissitudes. Kohut's (1966) description of the narcissistic transference, for example, is reminiscent of Jung's (1969c) insistence that the transference be understood not only in terms of its historical antecedents, but also in terms of its purposefulness.

A variety of theoretical differences also exist between Jung and Kohut. For example, one of the major differences between the two authors lies in their different theories of the origin of intrapsychic structure. For Kohut (1971) structuralization of the child's inner world is the result of the parental selfobject's empathic responsiveness to the child's innate needs, whose origin is not specified. Jung, on the other hand, postulates that the child is born with an a priori psychological matrix, out of which personal consciousness will emerge. This matrix is structured in characteristic ways (archetypes) that provide the potential for particular forms of experience, whose content is determined by the child's interaction with his specific environment. The image1 that Kohut uses to illustrate the creation of intrapsychic structure is that of eating and assimilating food, which is digested to become part of the person. For Kohut, if we eat hamburger, we do not become hamburger, because the substance of the empathic interaction is assimilated in a unique way. This process of digestion creates the building blocks that eventuate in the development of a self. To continue within this metaphor, for Jung the unconscious contains specifically configured "enzymes" that digest the person's psychic substances (experiences) taken in during the course of the person's life, resulting in the subjective experience of personal identity. These "enzymes" are given with the person's psychic anatomy and are not simply the product of the person's interacting with his selfobjects, although the quality of this interaction is important in modifying their effects on the growth of the person.

Other theoretical differences have been noted by various authors. Jacoby (1981), for example, points out that one major difference between the two theorists is in their focus on the "location" of self-experiences. Jung provides a wealth of intrapsychic symbolic descriptions of the self, while Kohut focuses more on the transference manifestations of the self, although it is clear that these are all intrapsychic phenomena for the person. Schwartz-Salant (1982) also highlights certain differences, noting how Kohut's references to the cosmic qualities of the self are "only metaphors of little significance," not referring to the transpersonal realm of Jung's self. Further, Schwartz-Salant believes Kohut's characterization of negative affects, such as rage, as disintegration products of the self, differs significantly from Jung's idea that the self intrinsically contains both dark and light aspects. (Kohut is, however, clear that a cohesive self may experience rage as a primary expression of itself rather than as a disintegration product.) Samuels (1985) points out that Kohut's self is created during psychic development, and this notion is antithetical to Jung's concept of the self as a priori, especially when Kohut indicates that the self forms at a point in time. Samuels compares Kohut's theory of a self that gradually coalesces from smaller units to the theory developed by Fordham (1976, 1985), a developmentally oriented Jungian who describes the baby as possessing an initially integrated self unit that unfolds or "deintegrates" because of the interaction of its innate organizing ability with environmental experiences. Fordham is clearly presenting Jung's view, as for example, when Jung (1966) writes that the "meaning and purpose (of self-realization) is the realization in all its aspects, of the personality originally hidden away in the embryonic germ-plasm, the production and unfolding of the original potential wholeness" (p. 110). Jung's and Fordham's idea of the unfolding of innate potential, like Kohut's concept of the blueprint, raises several important questions about the origin of the self: Is the self solely the result of developmental processes with no a priori structures? Is the self given a priori with the birth of the individual? Is the self the result of innate structures interacting over time with the environment? These questions will be taken up in the next section."
(pp. 189-202)

Lionel Corbett and Paul Kugler (1989). Chapter 11: The Self in Jung and Kohut. Progress in Self Psychology, Vol. 5, pp. 189-208

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