Heinz Kohut: Selfobject

This is an introduction to Psychoanalysis, Self Psychology,  Heinz Kohut 1913-1981.

Kohut introduced selfobject. This is in dealing with Narcissism that is prevalent in the years after 1950s.

There are following therapist-client interaction:

  1. Mirror selfobject: the client uses therapist as someone who praises him, like a mother. The patient is addicted to mirrors due to not having a mother that glows at them.
  2. Ideal selfobject: Idealizing the father. Transference to the therapist that idealizes the therapist. Many therapist cannot tolerate this.
  3. Twin-ship selfobject: Identifying with the therapist. Seeing eye to eye.
  4. Adversarial selfobject: Bump up constantly against each other. Self definition is promoted because there is acceptance.
  5. Abstract selfobject : Belief in God, Posterity, or Past relationship sustain self-esteem.

Kohut also introduces Disintegration of Selfobject –> leads to emptiness, self aggression, addictions, emptiness depression.

Dealing with addictions:

How does Analysis repair disruptive cycle of emptiness…?  What has happened that led you to do this? Going to stripclubs, etc… What set you off this time?Make patients addicted to therapist / therapy.  That is a way to help patient get rid of the addiction.Some people are also addicted to anger. They use anger to hold them together. What is really valuable in psychotherapy (Interpersonal Schools of Psychotherapy):

“Sustained empathic enquiry.”

Decentering: Look at pattern from patient’s perspective. Try to set aside feeling attacked. Sometimes the patient’s perspective is psychotic. But it is still his/her perspective! So we take it for what it is.

Disruption- Repair Cycle

Kohut’s theory of cure: when there is a disruption, try to understand, what happened to the patient. The patient feels ultimately understood. Repairs the disruption.

Transmuting internalization takes place. 

Reestablishment in the disruption. The more he is able to be empathic to himself. He is able to build his own selfobject.

Like Kleinian, Self-Psychology works with the internalized selfobject.

Kernberg is opposed to Kohut. He sees Narcissist is suffering from conflict and not deficit like Kohut.  Narcissism is seen as manic defence. Profound feelings of emptiness, envy… Helping narcissist become depressed… but this can be lead to client to be very very depressed /suicidal.


How this relates to Gestalt Therapy Theory

The opposing view of Kohut and Kernberg is a reminder that analysis is a way of researching what goes on in the human mind. It is an attitude of seeing, and not a end to understanding “facts”. This makes psychotherapy sciences much more real and dynamic than natural sciences.

In Gestalt therapy, the narcissist is “not able to feel anything”, and thus has found a way to deflect from him/herself any stimuli from the environment. It is a safety mechanism he/she learned as a child. Most oftently the child has good reasons to shield him/herself from perceived or real danger.  This deflection mechanism becomes automatic, and the adult is not aware of his/her own situation, because the not feeling is second nature.

The disadvantage such persons have is that he/she does not enjoy relationships and often feel threatened / miss- trusting  and always aggressive (active or passive) towards others.

Gestalt therapist realize that when a behavior is not in awareness, it is impossible to talk to the client about it, and expect the client to experience a shift in his/her “nature”. Much of the work has to arise from non-verbal communication and feedback from the therapist.