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The Search for the Self: Selected Writings of Heinz Kohut 1978-1981

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'The re-issuing of the four volumes of Heinz Kohut's writings is a major publishing event for psychoanalysts who are interested in both the theoretical and the therapeutic aspects of psychoanalysis. These volumes contain Kohut's pre-self psychology essays as well as those he wrote in order to continue to expand on his groundbreaking ideas, which he presented in The Analysis of the Self; the Restoration of the Self; and in How Does Analysis Cure?These volumes of The Search for the Self permit the reader to understand not only the above three basic texts of psychoanalytic self psychology more profoundly, but also to appreciate Kohut's sustained openness to further changes - to dare to present his self psychology as in continued flux, influenced by newly emerging empirical data of actual clinical practice.The current re-issue of the four volumes of The Search for the Self would assure that the younger generation of psychoanalysts would be exposed to a clinical theory that could contribute greatly to solving the therapeutic dilemmas facing psychoanalysis today'- Paul Ornstein, EditorVolumes 1 and 2 of The Search for the Self encompass Heinz Kohut's selected writings and letters from 1950 to 1978. Volumes 3 and 4 continue with the further collection of his selected writings and letters (published as well as previously unpublished) from 1978 until his untimely death in 1981.

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35. Psychoanalysis in a Troubled World

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Psychoanalysis is under attack from various sides. As hedonistic—as puritanical. As mystical and unscientific—as hyperrational. As revolutionary—as old-fashioned and tradition-bound. As right-reactionary—as left-communistic. Such accusations may often seem justified, since psychoanalysis observes man from various sides and on different levels, uncovers many layers of human passion, explains—and while explaining removes—diverse inhibitions of human activity. Hence, one can always accuse psychoanalysis of having disregarded a dialectically opposite psychological finding or explanation with regard to each of the empirical discoveries it claims to have made, and with regard to each of the theoretical explanations it holds to be true. If analysis is put to the test in this way, the task of the would-be attacker is facilitated, while the task of the defender remains difficult indeed. The indictment is simple and concrete; the defense has to rest on the laborious study and slow integration of all the many psychological insights that psychoanalysis has provided—including the acknowledged incompleteness of this science and its capacity to grow.

 

36. Narcissism as a Resistance and as a Driving Force in Psychoanalysis

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I hope you will not take it amiss if today I do not present you with a methodically ordered lecture. You see, I chose to devote my time to the preparation of the public address at the university.1 I felt that as a representative of psychoanalysis vis-à-vis the public I should deliver something formally rounded there. But here I may be permitted to speak off the cuff. I am, after all, among friends who are familiar with my thoughts. The results of some of my recent investigations, however, are less well known, and it is these that I want to take up.

Narcissism as a Resistance in Psychoanalysis

The existence of narcissism as resistance—and let me say immediately that I am speaking here about narcissism as a nonspecific resistance against analysis—is fully acknowledged by all psychoanalysts; it is the only aspect of narcissism for which all analysts make allowance in their clinical work. This, at least, is the classical attitude.

Freud, in his “A Difficulty in the Path of Psycho-Analysis” (1917b), compares his discovery of an unconscious mental life to the discoveries of Copernicus and Darwin. He says the findings of psychoanalysis are experienced as a narcissistic injury to mankind, especially the theory of unconscious mental life. Freud, then, speaks here about nonspecific resistance against the total edifice of psychoanalysis as a science.

 

37. Peace Prize 1969: Laudation

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Mr. President of the Federal Republic, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen; dear Professor Mitscherlich!

The special edition of the journal Psyche in honor of Alexander Mitscherlich's sixtieth birthday contains a beautiful photograph. It shows him in the garb of the physician and medical researcher, in the white coat of the hospital or laboratory. I do not know who selected this picture—he himself, perhaps, or a colleague; but I believe that it depicts him in the role that is to him the most genuine representation of his personality: the scientific physician, the healing researcher.

The primacy of the role of medical-psychiatric researcher may indeed be the deeply imbedded knot that fastens the threads in the complex weave of his life's activities and of his personality. And it might well be true that his fellow workers see him in the same perspective. For those of his friends, however, who like myself live at some distance from him, his image is not quite so unambiguous. A number of contrasting aspects present themselves which call for separate scrutiny before one can attempt the synthesizing integration of the description of a personality and of a life's work that, difficult though it is to achieve, remains the ultimate goal of the biographer.

 

38. Discussion of “The Self: A Contribution to its Place in Theory and Technique”

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DISCUSSION

Moderator's Opening Remarks

Dr. Levin makes a most important contribution: it is his forthright emphasis on the theoretical and technical significance of the self. Others have realized that our theoretical progress has not been matched by a corresponding improvement of our technical skills; but, dismayed by this discrepancy, they have, unlike Dr. Levin, turned away from the two essential goals of analysis as a science and as a form of psychotherapy: the formulation of explanations in the terms of psychoanalytic metapsychology, and the improvement of the patient's psychic equilibrium through the increased dominance of his ego.

There can be no objection to the study—in depth-psychological and interpersonal terms—of the wholesome effect of the patient's attachment to the therapist and to the current emphasis on ego change and adaptation, independent of the psychic constellation in the depth. Yet I hope that there will always also be some analysts who, like Dr. Levin, remain faithful to the maxim that if lack of therapeutic success in areas that are not yet understood metapsychologically is tolerated without the abandonment of analytic means, then the occurrence of new analytic insights is not prevented and scientific progress can be made. It is the virtue of Levin's approach that he draws attention to a new direction of potential progress in our science, with the implied admonition that we should follow through with careful investigations.

 

39. Scientific Activities of the American Psychoanalytic Association: An Inquiry

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An Inquiry

When the Executive Council of the American Psychoanalytic Association established an Ad Hoc Committee on Scientific Activities whose task it was to survey the current state of psychoanalytic scientific activities in the United States and, in particular, to assess the role played by the Association with regard to them, the extent of the field of inquiry of this body seemed on first sight to be not only broad but ill-defined. What motivated the creation of the Committee—and what motivated most of the members of the Committee—was the concern that all was not well with present-day scientific research in the field of psychoanaysis, in particular that there was a lack of original contributions, i.e., of genuine accretions to our knowledge. A drying-up of the stream of newly gained psychoanalytic insights was, moreover, considered to be an ominous sign with regard to the survival of psychoanalysis, more silently and insidiously threatening than the noisy internal disagreements about secondary issues among analysts, or the attacks and the ridicule still leveled against psychoanalysis from the outside.

 

40. Thoughts on Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage

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One of the gems of German literature is an essay called “On the Puppet Theater” by the dramatist Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811), written in 1811, not long before he ended his short life by suicide. Kleist and his work are almost unknown outside the circle of those familiar with the German language, but my fascination with his short essay—and with one of his stories—has had, as I can see in retrospect, a particular significance in my own intellectual development: it marks the first time that I felt drawn to the topic that has now absorbed my scientific interest for several years.

Ever since reading Kleist's essay during my school days I had puzzled about the mysterious impact the plain account has on the reader. A male ballet dancer, we are told, asserts in a fictitious conversation with the author that, by comparison with human dancing, the dance of puppets is nearly perfect. The puppet's center of gravity is its soul; the puppeteer need only to think himself into this point as he is moving the puppet and the movement of its limbs will attain a degree of perfection that cannot be reached by the human dancer. Since puppets are not bound down by gravity, and since their physical center and soul are one, they are never artificial or pretentious. The human dancer, by comparison, is self-conscious, pretentious, artificial. The author responds to the dancer by recalling how, some years ago, he had admired the grace with which his nude male companion had set his foot upon a stool. Mischievously he had asked him to repeat the motion. He blushed and tried—but became self-conscious and clumsy. “…beginning at this moment,” Kleist writes, “a puzzling change took hold of the young man. He began to stand in front of the mirror for days;…[An] incomprehensible force appeared to encage…the play of the motility that formerly had so freely expressed his emotions” (my translation).

 

41. Discussion of “On the Adolescent Process as a Transformation of the Self”

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DISCUSSION

The thesis developed by Drs. Wolf, Gedo, and Terman strikes me as correct, even though I am missing the psychoanalytic material that would corroborate the theories advanced.

What is the self, this continuum in time, this cohesive configuration in depth, the “I” of our perceptions, thoughts, and actions? We have two choices as we wish to define the self. We can make it a basic axiom of psychoanalytic theory: see it as the center of our being from which all initiative springs and where all experiences end. Some theorists—existentialists, certain psychoanalysts (e.g., Schafer, 1973)—do indeed make this choice. I do not, however, for two reasons. First, the postulate of a single, central self leads toward an elegant and simple theory of the mind—but also toward an abrogation of the importance of the unconscious. Second, this definition of the self is not derived from psychoanalytic material but from conscious experience; and it is introduced, from the outside as it were, in order to create a rounded-out, cohesive theory of thought, perception, and action.

 

42. The Future of Psychoanalysis

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I have spoken on many festive occasions but never on one that focused on me. It is a strange experience. I feel that I cannot do wrong, since you are willing today to forgive me my shortcomings; nor can I do right, since, measured by what I can achieve in reality, your expectations are undoubtedly too high. But I shall not worry and shall let my thoughts flow—not unchecked, of course, but also, as befits the mood of the occasion, without the rigor and caution I would usually be inclined to apply.

I shall begin with two personal stories. The first is no more than an anecdote with easily graspable meaning. The second, however, although the account of a real event, has taken on the coloring of a private myth. It has become interwoven with those elements in me that transcend the personal: the goals and ideals—our goals and ideals—to which I have increasingly devoted my life.

Here is the anecdote, and you will have no trouble understanding how it relates to the present moment. Sixteen years ago I returned for the first time to Vienna, the city where I was born and raised, and which I had left nearly two decades before. I was with my wife and my then seven-year-old son. Among the people there whom I had not seen for all those years was an old uncle who was a man of considerable influence. On the day before we were to leave, this uncle suddenly expressed the wish, probably in anticipation of his death—which indeed occurred not long after our departure—to make a gift to my son. That evening we joined him for dinner, after which he took us to the largest toy store in town, Muehlhauser's—the F.A.O. Schwarz of Vienna—a large establishment with several floors of toys. It was nine o’clock in the evening: the store—as do all stores in Vienna—had closed at six, but because of my uncle's political influence, I suppose, a phone call had summoned the management. Somebody was waiting, let us in, locked the doors behind us, and turned on the lights; and we were there all by ourselves. My uncle looked at my son, who was gazing at his surroundings with big eyes, and said: “You may have anything here you like.” At first my son was speechless and paralyzed. But some prompting from the attending manager of the store loosened him up, and we found ourselves upstairs in the section where the electric trains were soon circling around their various complex tracks. And then the balance began to shift. “Can I really have everything?” my son asked. “Yes, everything!” So, hesitatingly at first, but in ever quickening succession, he began to point at various items in the display. This? he asked. Yes, of course! And this? and this? Of course. Then give me this! he ordered. Yes. And this! he commanded. The clerk who accompanied the manager took his orders and, one by one, put things away into boxes—engines, cars, stop signs; bridges, houses, mountains—just as fast as my son's demands were expressed. I saw my son's face becoming flushed with excitement; a dream was coming true, the world of limitations and reality was giving way. The old uncle, the manager, the clerk, all watched—for different reasons—the spectacle with glee. But I became more and more uncomfortable, and finally I said, softly but firmly, “I think that we have now enough.”

 

43. The Psychoanalyst in the Community of Scholars

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As a psychoanalyst, I am accustomed to seeing the world and its events as they are reflected in the experiences of the individual. I am thus tempted to react to the honor bestowed upon my work and myself by speaking in personal terms of what the support of a great institution such as this University has meant to the thinking, working, and creating self. The moral support that institutions can provide for the lonesome worker is indeed important. I feel, however, that the significance of the occasion is not definable within the framework of individual psychology, and I have accordingly decided on a subject for my talk more in keeping with the deeper meaning of this day. The title of my essay, “The Psychoanalyst in the Community of Scholars,” is therefore meant to indicate that I have set my sights on a broad topic: I shall examine the relationship of psychoanalysis to the university; or, stated in more general terms, I will discuss some problems of the integration of a new system of thought, psychoanalysis, into the established body of the intellectual life of our time as it is represented by our universities.

 

44. Letter to the Author: Preface to Lehrjahre auf der Couch

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I see that you want me to write a foreword for your book. Well, I cannot deny that about a year ago when I read your manuscript for the first time, I was sufficiently impressed by it to volunteer a preface. I must admit that I feel less ready now and approach the task with some hesitation. Still, I will not evade the assignment. There may even be some advantage in the fact that nearly a year has elapsed since I first read your psychoanalytic memoirs and that I have gained some emotional distance with regard to them. I can now see more clearly much that speaks against your work, or at least much that seems to speak against it. And since the questions I have about your book will probably also come to the minds of some of your readers, I can probably be most helpful by taking them up and by responding to them.

Very well: what are the objections that can be raised against your confessions? Let me begin in my professional capacity. The fact that I have many years of professional experience behind me is important in the present context because you, by contrast, are a young analyst and must feel insecure when older colleagues tell you that by describing your own analysis—what is more, your training analysis—you did something analytically suspect—especially in view of the fact that you devoted yourself to the writing of your book at the time of the termination of your analysis and shortly after it had ended.

 

45. Remarks about the Formation of the Self—Letter to a Student Regarding Some Principles of Psychoanalytic Research

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LETTER TO A STUDENT REGARDING SOME PRINCIPLES OF PSYCHOANALYTIC RESEARCH

Thank you, dear Dr. L., for giving me a copy of your essay on narcissistic and oedipal fixations. You did an excellent job of condensing the aspects of my work relevant to your topic, and, although there are some questions here and there that I could raise and attempt to answer, I can say that your over-all understanding is good and you have stated the major points clearly and correctly. I shall not bore you with praising the results of your considerable labor, however, much as they deserve to be praised, but shall express my gratitude for your efforts on behalf of my work, in the best way I know, by sharing with you some reflections your essay stimulated in me.

Before confronting some of the most crucial theoretical problems raised by your essay, I would like to clarify an issue that to my mind, while of the greatest clinical importance, is not of overriding theoretical significance. When discussing self-pathology we have in the past, for simplicity's sake, usually spoken only of one type of self-disturbance, namely, fragmentation. I would like to stress here, however, that an insecurely established self reacts to the selfobject's failure to supply it with (sufficient or appropriate) narcissistic sustenance in a variety of ways and that temporary fragmentation is only one of them, albeit an important and characteristic one. Apart from fragmentation, there are the various regressions of the self and its two major constituents (the grandiose self and the idealized parent imago) to more archaic yet still cohesive forms; and there is, above all, the simple enfeeblement of the still coherent self in the form of a drop in self-esteem (experienced as empty depression).

 

46. The Self in History

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[The Symposium began with a paper by Ernest Wolf, “The Self in History: Introductory Notes on the Psychology of the Self,” analyzing and summarizing the key ideas of Kohut's theory of narcissism. The discussion published here begins with Kohut's extemporaneous response (as recorded at the time) to Dr. Wolfs paper.]

H.K.: I am very grateful to Dr. Wolf for this fine summary of my work of the last ten years or so. It is strange for me to hear it presented as if it were well-established shared knowledge. Until very recently it was shared only between me and myself, late at night, and hesitatingly put on paper. I am lucky to have received the kind of response to my ideas and to my work that so many of my colleagues and students have given me.

I have, since my school days, always been very interested in history. I can even say that my intellectual development was strongly influenced by a historian, a high school teacher—I can still see him in front of me—whose mode of thinking struck some kind of a chord in me that never stopped vibrating from the days I sat spellbound and listened to him. I remember vividly how he began to explain the absolutist regime of the late Bourbons in France by talking about the way the parks were laid out. I was impressed by his ability to demonstrate the essential unitariness of seemingly diverse phenomena of a culture, a period in history. He didn't write, he didn't grade, he was not a feared professor, and he was a very low man on the totem pole among the teachers I had. Yet, to me, he remained an unforgotten inspiration.

 

47. A Note on Female Sexuality

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At a recent symposium I responded with a brief discussion to a question from the audience concerning the position of women in society and, in doing so, touched on some differences between my outlook on the problems of femininity and that of classical psychoanalysis. Several colleagues who either heard my discussion or read the transcript afterwards chided me for having abandoned the psychological outlook of Freud, thus relinquishing, as they felt, some important hard-earned and valuable insights. I will go directly to the heart of the matter by questioning whether the difference between my views regarding the area of female sexuality and the views of my critics is really as great as they seem to think. I am wondering about this point on the basis of the fact that I have no quarrel with many of the classical psychoanalytic views in this area which they were upholding in the face of what they took to be my deviation from the traditionally held tenets. Specifically, I have no doubt that the sight of the male genital will inevitably make a very strong impression on the little girl, that it will become a crystallization point for her envy—the propensity for which is present in every human being, female and male—and that, among other factors, it will leave a distinctive imprint on the personality of women—just as the recognition of the possession of a penis by the little boy will tend to reinforce (and lend a specific content to) the propensity for grandiosity which is also present in every human being, male and female, and will leave a distinctive imprint on the personality of men. At the meeting with the historians I wanted to point to areas of cooperative investigation between analysts and historians and to stress the fact that it is in the broad field of changing cultural influences where historians can assist our understanding and where, in the reverse, we can assist them by defining questions of psychological relevance.

 

48. Creativeness, Charisma, Group Psychology: Reflections on the Self-Analysis of Freud

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Reflections on the Self-Analysis of Freud

The Psychoanalyst and His Image of Freud

We are faced by uncertainties and difficulties when we investigate Freud's self-analysis: first, by those which in all areas of applied analysis arise because we are not participating in a living clinical situation; second, by those that arise because we might not be objective about Freud, who is for us a transference figure par excellence—we are prone to establish an idealizing transference toward him or to defend ourselves against it by reaction formation; and third, by those that arise because Freud's self-analysis is a unique event in the history of human thought.

This is not the place for an examination of the goals and methodological problems of applied analysis, but I will discuss two issues: the general difficulties we confront when we undertake the study of Freud (aspects of his personality, his biography, his significance), and the additional difficulties we face when we attempt to interpret the meaning and to evaluate the significance of Freud's self-analysis. These difficulties arise because we are here dealing with a psychological situation that—as the first scientifically orderly introspective effort to scrutinize complex psychological states—is without recorded precedent in the history of human thought.1

 

49. Preface to Der falsche Weg zum Selbst, Studien zur Drogenkarriere

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The explanatory power of the new psychology of the self is nowhere so evident as with regard to four types of psychological disturbance: the narcissistic personality disorders, the perversions, the (psychogenic) delinquencies, and the addictions. Why can these seemingly disparate conditions be examined so fruitfully with the aid of the same conceptual framework? Why can all these widely differing and even contrasting symptom pictures be comprehended when seen from the viewpoint of the psychology of the self? How, in other words, are these four conditions related to each other? What do they have in common despite the fact that they exhibit widely differing, and even contrasting, symptomatologies? The answer to these questions is simple: in all these disorders the afflicted individual suffers from a central weakness, from a weakness in the core of his personality. He suffers from the consequences of a defect in the self. The symptoms of these disorders, whether comparatively hazy or hidden or more distinct and conspicuous, arise secondarily as an outgrowth of a defect in the self. The manifestations of these disorders become intelligible if we call to mind that they are all attempts—unsuccessful attempts, it must be stressed—to remedy the central defect in the personality.

 

Letters—1961-1978

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December 22, 1961

I am writing you as I promised in order to clarify what I said (or intended to say?) during the afternoon sessions of the Panel on Narcissism.

I began by stating that when the term narcissism is used as part of the “lingo,” some culturally determined value judgment frequently intrudes which is not made explicit, namely, that to be narcissistic (as opposed to being capable of love) is “bad” or “sick.” It is comparatively easy to avoid the pitfalls of unscientific value judgments or “health morality” (Hartmann) by dealing with narcissism entirely as a theoretical concept and discussing it as a state of libido development and a type of libido distribution. It seems to me, however, that purely theoretical discussions of the concept of narcissism tend to become overcomplex, and in view of the undoubted clinical usefulness of the term we should, in the sea of theoretical uncertainty, hold on to the rock of clinical observation. Here, of course, we cannot avoid one value judgment—that of usefulness for adaptation. In this context, I stressed that we are not dealing with a simple contrast, namely, that narcissism is nonadaptive and object love is adaptive, but that there is an optimal balance, different under different circumstances, which is most desirable from the adaptive point of view. Under average circumstances, the objects or goals of our strivings are more important than the narcissistic component of the activities (such as the pleasure obtained from performance, pride in success), yet some admixture of narcissistic pleasure is a desirable component in almost all activities. It is only when the narcissistic component is not in balance, when the pride in personal achievement outweighs the pursuit of the goal and makes the goal unimportant, that we may judge narcissism as adaptationally or socially harmful; it leads to shifting goals and unreliability. There are, however, states in which a very high degree of narcissism is adaptive and socially useful. Such is probably the case during the narcissistic “regressions” during pregnancy and during certain phases of intense creative activity.

 

Conclusion: The Search for the Analyst's Self

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I am impressed by Paul Ornstein's analysis of my work, in particular by his having been able to demonstrate that the unfolding of my contributions during my scientific life occurred in accordance with a predetermined, consistent, logical plan. It all sounds very convincing to me when I look at it from the outside. But I must admit that I knew nothing about any program laid down within me. All I knew when I wrote a paper during my earlier years was that I was writing this or that particular paper. In no case did I know that any specific work belonged in any larger pattern or program, that it was logically connected with other works. Only about ten years ago did I begin to have a sense of where I might be going. But, as I said, that was not the case in my earlier life. Some of my writings, for example, were purely accidental. I was asked to undertake a particular job, and I agreed to do it. Still, I can recognize in retrospect that, even when I was merely responding to external promptings, such as, for example, the preparation of the discussion of somebody's paper at the request of a program committee, I often managed to insert something into these productions that I wanted to express but that I was not yet ready to put forward in the form of a clear-cut, definitive, separate contribution.

 

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