Heinz Kohut and the Psychology of the Self (Makers of Modern Psychotherapy)

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Where he had knelt, pining, there grew a lovely flower; we call it the narcissus. In the ''Metamorphoses,'' Ovid's great poem about love and change, the Narcissus tale is one of a panoply of myths. In his paper ''On Narcissism: An Introduction,'' Freud took the Narcissus story, translated it into the language of psychoanalysis and designated it as the ultimate story about the human psyche in love.

Why do we fall in love? Freud's answer is gratingly debunking and meant to be: we fall in love when the quotient of erotic energy -- Freud calls it libido -- that we have invested in our own egos exceeds a certain degree. If we kept that excess energy dammed up, we would become ill, presumably from anxiety. On this view, love is not a generous going-out from the self to embrace the ideal and the beautiful, as Shelley believed, but rather a self-interested, self-saving redeployment of energy.

The ideal state, Freud implies, would be one in which we could sustain the maximum measure of self-love without ever becoming ill, so avoiding the inevitable grief attendant on searching for others outside ourselves to love.

An International Journal for Humanistic Psychology

Though we imagine ourselves to be devoted to others -- and though the essay tries, with little success, to maintain an ideal of ''object love'' -- Freud suggests that we are all descendants of Narcissus, loving ourselves first, last and always. Freud introduced the metaphor of the self as Narcissus, but he did not work out all of its various possibilities, as he did with many of his other ideas.

The elaboration of the Narcissus metaphor, in psychoanalytical terms, was left to Heinz Kohut, about whom Charles B. Strozier has written a deeply informed, absorbing biography, ''Heinz Kohut: The Making of a Psychoanalyst. For a long time, Kohut did little to distinguish himself besides playing expertly by the rules.

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  • Born in in Vienna, he came to America, fleeing the Nazis, and settled in Chicago, where he eventually became the figure that Strozier refers to as ''Mr. Kohut did not come out with his first book, or find the force of his originality, until he reached his 50's, and it is at this point in the story that Strozier's book begins picking up steam.

    Heinz Kohut The Making of a Psychoanalyst

    Published in , ''The Analysis of the Self'' takes the image of the narcissistic ego that Freud put forward in and explores its multiple implications. Kohut, in Strozier's rendering, argues that children tend to begin life with fantasies about a grandiose self and ideal parents. Grandiosity is repressed, giving way to self-esteem; the idealization of the parent becomes the basis for our strongest values.

    But if trauma occurs, the most primitive -- the most grand and narcissistic -- version of the self abides unchanged. The grandiose self is never subdued. And the result is what Kohut famously termed Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

    This personality type -- which Christopher Lasch took to be characteristic of our age -- is depressive, irritable, edgy, easily angered. The narcissistic personality, dependent on affirmation from without, is continual prey to the slings and arrows of everyday life. In one part of himself, he believes that he's a superstar, a celebrity, a hero.

    Yet experience, alas, continually assaults these delusions. The result, frequently, is rage, turned against the self or the world without. Freud took this to be a biologically based eruption of natural, self-preserving energies. Kohut, by contrast, viewed rage as the result of a narcissistic wound, a blow delivered against our idealized sense of who and what we are.

    By analyzing rage -- what kinds of slights result in disproportionate anger, in blowups? The patient also has the opportunity to reflect on how early the troubling relationship led to personality problems. Narcissism arises from poor attachment at an early age. Freud also believed that narcissism hides low self esteem, and that therapy will reparent them through transference and they begin to get the things they missed.

    Though dynamic theory tends to place emphasis on childhood development, Kohut believed that the need for such self-object relationships does not end at childhood but continues throughout all stages of a person's life.

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    In the final week of his life, knowing that his time was at an end, Kohut spent as much time as he could with his family and friends. He fell into a coma on the evening of October 7, , and died of cancer on the morning of October 8. Jump to: navigation , search. Personal tools Log in. Frederico Pereira. Change in Psychoanalysis.

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