IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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intactness of oneself provides the sense of well-being and wholesomeness without which we feel dehumanized. “In normal development, the parents’ capacity to serve as effective selfobjects provides the conditions which allow the infant to gradually internalize the functions they performed. These conditions, which include empathic responsiveness tempered by optimal frustration, permit the infant sufficient time and resources to forge a cohesive sense of self capable of mastering individuation” (Glassman, 1988, p. 26). Selfobject functions are not innate psychological functions. The awareness of self creates the desire for others to function in ways that fulfill needs. Well-functioning selfobjects provide a set of experiences that lead to an experience of cohesion and stability. The conscious awareness of selfobjects is generally absent. However narcissistic wound, unmitigated by selfobject functions, is experienced as an injury to the self. When selfobjects fail to function in these need-fulfilling ways, it can lead to disruption and fragmentation. In Kohut’s (1982) theory of the self, empathy is a mode of observation and the medium through which the mirroring, idealizing, and twinship selfobject functions are provided. With the experience of empathy, one develops a sense of self-cohesion. These ideas represent further elaboration and expansion of his earlier thought: “Empathy, the recognition of the self in the other, is an indispensable tool of observation, without which vast areas of human life, including man’s behavior in the social field, remain unintelligible. Empathy, the expansion of the self to include the other, constitutes a powerful psychological bond between individuals. And, empathy is a psychosocial nutriment without which human life as we know and cherish it could not be sustained.” (Kohut, 1975, p.355). The emotionally attuned and empathic caregiver provides selfobject functions that meet the child’s need for affirmation, admiration and connection to others. Narcissistic pathology in Kohut’s view is due to empathic failures in mirroring and idealization, which deprive the self of reliable, cohesive sources of narcissism. This results in an inability to maintain and regulate self-esteem at normal levels and causes deficits, distortions, or weaknesses in the sense of self (Kohut, 1977; Goldberg, 1978). Overall, the work of Kohut presents a major landmark in the theory of both narcissism and the concept of the self. After his death, Self Psychology has developed in several directions. Within the ‘traditional’ Kohutian Self Psychology, Paul Ornstein (1990, 1993) and Anna Ornstein (Ornstein and Ornstein 1980, 1985) further explicated the role of empathy, self- object transferences, narcissistic rage in the interpretive process with regard to the therapeutic action, and the patient’s dread to repeat traumatic self object disappointments and hope for a new beginning in treatment. Arnold Goldberg (1995, 1999) applied the concept of the vertical split, effected by disavowal, to the study of perversions, narcissistic disorders and to behaviors split off from avowed experience, such as binge eating, cross dressing and infidelity.

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