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The Evolution of the Psychology of the Self

Toward a Mature Narcissism


Address for correspondence: Mark J. Gehrie, Ph.D., Faculty, Training, and Supervising Analyst, Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, 405 North Wabash Avenue, Unit 4505, Chicago, Illinois 60611. Voice: 312-822-0860; fax: 312-822-0865.


Since the publication of Heinz Kohut's last book in 1984, “self psychology” has become much more diverse in its perspectives and even fragmented in its applications. Perhaps due in large part to Kohut's own inconsistencies and lack of clarity on certain major points of theory and technique, self psychology currently lacks a clear definition and has become increasingly marginalized in the larger psychoanalytic community, even as some concepts have been absorbed into more general psychoanalytic usage. Major theoretical and clinical concepts in self psychology remain foggy in their definition and in their clinical application. This article will outline an essential paradigm for a psychoanalytic self psychology, given the author's background in social science, and its connection to particular psychoanalytic values. Focal changes in post-Kohutian self psychology that conflict with these views are briefly reviewed; changes that I saw at odds with not only the basic orientation of self psychology but also with psychoanalysis itself. Changes in the selfobject concept and in how the role of early trauma is understood in the context of Kohut's concept of optimal frustration are discussed. A clinical illustration demonstrates my concern that the introduction of the relational perspective in self psychology appears to interfere with psychoanalytic goals per se; that heavy reliance on present reality and “optimal gratification” is at the expense of access to the unconscious and interferes with achievement of specific analytic goals regarding the acquisition of maturity in the narcissistic realm. These conclusions relocate self psychology within the fabric of psychoanalysis and its emphasis on the self as internal.