Self-Psychology and Diagnostic Assessment: Identifying Selfobject Functions through Psychological Testing

By Marshall L. Silverstein | Go to book overview

3
The Central Role of Selfobject Functions

In the first two chapters of this book, I showed that Kohut viewed narcissistic personality disorders as nonresponsive to the conventional interpretations of conflict and defense derived from drive theory and ego psychology. He discovered that patients with these disorders, when correctly understood, nevertheless formed stable and recognizable transferences, which permitted psychoanalytic treatment to proceed without a need for technical modifications. Kohut originally identified two basic transference patterns of mirroring and idealization, which represented the bipolar self, and first referred to these as narcissistic transferences. His original emphasis on narcissistic pathology and narcissistic transferences evolved into a broad concept of the self and the self's requirements for responsiveness, the self-selfobject environment. Thus, he came to see mirroring and idealization (and later, twinship) as selfobject functions that sustain and invigorate self-esteem. The mobilization of these functions in treatment takes the form of a selfobject transference.

"[T]hat dimension of our experience of another person relates to this person's functions in shoring up our self" ( Kohut, 1984, pp. 49-50). This perception led Kohut to develop the concept of selfobject function, which describes a psychological state that is experienced in depth, the innermost experience of a self that is either buoyant and firm or injured and devitalized. The actual relationship between one person and another is secondary and frequently irrelevant.

The selfobject is necessary to sustain optimal self-cohesion or self-esteem. Although Kohut considered selfobject functions to be necessary for healthy self-esteem throughout life, he recognized their particular importance when the self is injured or undermined. At these moments, the primary function of the selfobject is to repair an enfeebled or devitalized self. Through the attempt to revive or rebuild a diminished or depreciated self state, selfobject functions are most evident clinically.

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