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Psychoanalytic Self Psychology and Its Conceptual Development in Light of Developmental Psychology, Attachment Theory, and Neuroscience


Address for correspondence: Hans-Peter Hartmann, M.D., PsyD, Center for Social Psychiatry Bergstrasse, Ludwigstrasse 54, D-64646 Heppenheim, Germany.


The chapter starts with a historical overview of the subject of narcissism in psychoanalysis. Some sociophilosophical definitions of narcissism are explained and the connection to self psychology is described. It is especially referred to Honneth's Struggle for Recognition, which is related to the need for selfobject experiences. An outline of different concepts concerning narcissism, especially in the European psychoanalytic tradition, follows and leads to a clearer understanding of Kohut's conception of the self and its selfobjects. Because self psychology can often be understood as applied developmental psychology, useful links to attachment research are described and the move to the level of representation by mentalization is clarified. Further development of self psychology in the direction of intersubjectivity helps to supply connections to systems theory. Recently developed theories of empathy with reference to neurobiological findings provide a dynamic perspective of the activation of empathy. Thus, empathy seems to be better understood as a sort of contagion on which cognitive cortical processes are superimposed. Finally, the therapeutic process in psychoanalytic self psychology is portrayed. This process implies a disruption and repair process by which transmuting internalization can take place. More current theories of self psychology view this process in its essence intersubjectively as a co-construction between patient and analyst. The paper concludes with some hints for a paradigm shift in the direction of a more holistic understanding of the self.