Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Kohut & Wolf - Summary of Self Psychology

"During recent years the psychoanalytic investigation of certain frequently encountered patients led to the recognition of a definable syndrome which at first appeared to be related to the psychoneuroses and neurotic character disorders. It was clear from the outset that these patients are characterized by a specific vulnerability: their self-esteem is unusually labile and, in particular, they are extremely sensitive to failures, disappointments and slights. It was, however, not the scrutiny of the symptomatology but the process of treatment that illuminated the nature of the disturbance of these patients. The analysis of the psychic conflicts of these patients did not result in either the expected amelioration of suffering or the hoped-for cessation of undesirable behaviour; the discovery, however, that these patients reactivated certain specific narcissistic needs in the psychoanalytic situation, i.e. that they established 'narcissistic transferences', made effective psychoanalytic treatment possible. The psychopathological syndrome from which these patients suffer was designated as narcissistic personality disorder. The narcissistic transferences which are pathognomonic for these syndromes were subdivided into two types: (1) the mirror transference in which an insufficiently or faultily responded to childhood need for a source of accepting-confirming 'mirroring' is revived in the treatment situation, and (2) the idealizing transference in which a need for merger with a source of 'idealized' strength and calmness is similarly revived. As the understanding of the symptomatology, core psychopathology, and treatment of the narcissistic personality disorders increased, in particular via the investigation of the narcissistic transferences, it became clear that the essence of the disturbance from which these patients suffered could not be adequately explained within the framework of classical drive-and-defence psychology. In view of the fact that it is a weakened or defective self that lies in the centre of the disorder, explanations that focused on conflicts concerning either the libidinal or the aggressive impulses of these patients could illuminate neither psychopathology nor treatment process. Some progress was made by expanding the classical libido theory and by revising the classical theory of aggression. Specifically, the weakness of the self was conceptualized in terms of its underlibidinization—as a cathectic deficit, to speak in the terms of Freudian metapsychology—and the intense aggressions encountered in the narcissistic personality disorders were recognized as the responses of the vulnerable self to a variety of injuries. The decisive steps forward in the understanding of these disorders, however, were made through the introduction of the concept of the selfobject and via the increasing understanding of the self in depth-psychological terms. Selfobjects are objects which we experience as part of our self; the expected control over them is, therefore, closer to the concept of the control which a grown-up expects to have over his own body and mind than to the concept of the control which he expects to have over others. There are two kinds of selfobjects: those who respond to and confirm the child's innate sense of vigour, greatness and perfection; and those to whom the child can look up and with whom he can merge as an image of calmness, infallibility and omnipotence. The first type is referred to as the mirroring selfobject, the second as the idealized parent imago. The self, the core of our personality, has various constituents which we acquire in the interplay with those persons in our earliest childhood environment whom we experience as selfobjects. A firm self, resulting from the optimal interactions between the child and his selfobjects is made up of three major constituents: (1) one pole from which emanate the basic strivings for power and success; (2) another pole that harbours the basic idealized goals; and (3) an intermediate area of basic talents and skills that are activated by the tension-arc that establishes itself between ambitions and ideals.

Faulty interaction between the child and his selfobjects result in a damaged self—either a diffusely damaged self or a self that is seriously damaged in one or the other of its constituents. If a patient whose self has been damaged enters psychoanalytic treatment, he reactivates the specific needs that had remained unresponded to by the specific faulty interactions between the nascent self and the selfobjects of early life—a selfobject transference is established.

Depending on the quality of the interactions between the self and its selfobjects in childhood, the self will emerge either as a firm and healthy structure or as a more or less seriously damaged one. The adult self may thus exist in states of varying degrees of coherence, from cohesion to fragmentation; in states of varying degrees of vitality, from vigour to enfeeblement; in states of varying degrees of functional harmony, from order to chaos. Significant failure to achieve cohesion, vigour, or harmony, or a significant loss of these qualities after they had been tentatively established, may be said to constitute a state of self disorder. The psychoanalytic situation creates conditions in which the damaged self begins to strive to achieve or to re-establish a state of cohesion, vigour and inner harmony.

Once the self has crystallized in the interplay of inherited and environmental factors, it aims towards the realization of its own specific programme of action—a programme that is determined by the specific intrinsic pattern of its constituent ambitions, goals, skills and talents, and by the tensions that arise between these constituents. The patterns of ambitions, skills and goals; the tensions between them; the programme of action that they create; and the activities that strive towards the realization of this programme are all experienced as continuous in space and time—they are the self, an independent centre of initiative, an independent recipient of impressions.
" (pp. 413-414)

Heinz Kohut and Ernest Wolf (1978). The Disorders of the Self and their Treatment: An Outline. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 59, pp. 413-425

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