Heinz Kohut – Self-Psychology

Last night I was reading and came across some information about a psychoanalyst, Heinz Kohut and his theory of “self-psychology”. I hadn’t heard of him/this theory before and I found it really interesting.

In very basic terms, Kohut believed that for a child d to develop healthily and therefore in order that a child gains a healthy sense of “self”, his or her parents need to meet 3 main needs:

  1. Mirroring
  2. Idealizing
  3. Twinship

Mirroring – This is where the parent (usually the mother) would reflect back at the child a sense that he or she is worthy, loved and special.

Idealiizing – Kohut believed that children need to idealize their caregiver and see them as powerful and knowledgeable. The child needs to feel as though they can turn to their caregiver to meet their needs and to help them make sense of their world. Their caregiver needed to be able to calm and reassure them.

Twinship – Kohut believed that children need to feel they fit in with others. They have a need to be similar to their parents – not too different that they felt “wrong”.  Children mimic behaviours or characteristics from their caregiver and gradually as the child matures, would be able to feel more comfortable with any differences.

I found this really interesting for a few reasons. Firstly, knowing that every single child needs to have these 3 basic needs met in order to gain a healthy sense of self reassures me a little more about my “neediness”.  What I mean by that is that my own neediness in life, and more relevantly, in therapy includes some of these needs. Mirroring is very clearly important to me and the idealizing is something that I am very aware of with my T. I do look at her as a special being in my life – as someone who is more powerful and more knowledgeable – more able to help me with my own anxieties than any other.  I guess the twinship plays out when clients wish they were the only client or the most liked client of their therapist.  Secondly I found this very interesting because it helps me to clearly see the areas my own mother didn’t successfully met my needs.  It helps me to understand what it was I needed, what I didn’t get and why I now feel insecure and crave certain things that perhaps others around me do not (making me feel “weird” or “different”) which obviously causes anxiety.

What happens if all goes well during this early stage is that the child’s needs are consistently and repeatedly met over a period of time and the child is able to internalise the caregiver (known as selfobjects) enough that on the odd occasion the caregiver fails to meet the child’s needs, the child has internalised this enough that it can actually step in and soothe itself. This can only happen if the misattunement is not often and not severe. This helps me to understand what my therapist really means when she says “you are only as needy as your unmet needs”. So, it really isn’t YOU! It really isn’t that you are doing something wrong, that you are fault or weak or whatever else you may think you are – it is very clearly that some of, or perhaps all of, these needs were unmet and so you haven’t been able to internalise that consistent caregiver that your friends have.  Bye bye now shame!!

In psychotherapy, transference is helpful because we relate to our therapist with all our unconscious thoughts, feelings and desires and we see and relate to the therapist through our own lense – not necessarily an accurate one. The therapist’s job is to provide us with an “corrective emotive experience” by providing us with enough empathy, understanding and attunement. The basic idea is that the therapist comes in as the good enough caregiver (selfobject) and provides us with a good enough experience of all those 3 major needs.  They mirror us adequately, we idealise them and our twinship needs are met also.  After this is done consistently enough, we internalise THE THERAPIST (as our caregiver failed) and therefore a healthy sense of self is borne – as it should have been all those years ago when for whatever reason, our caregiver failed us.

Mirroring transference – The therapist helps us by mirroring us – validating our feelings and empathising/understanding our feelings and helping us to understand and work through them to prevent them from being too scary for us to handle (as a child wouldn’t be able to handle their environment on their own). The therapist would praise our achievements and make us feel good enough – possibly for the first time.

Idealising transference – In therapy we often idealise our therapist as being strong and powerful and confident.  We NEED them to be this person because we need to know we are in safe hands.  Eventually in the therapy process, we come to develop a more realistic view of the therapist warts and all (like any human being). This causes ruptures in the therapeutic alliance which is then repaired repeatedly.  We learn we are safe.

Twinship transference – In therapy sometimes we will find similarities between us and our therapist and we will enjoy that feeling. I know for me personally, my T once told me that she also watched some of the same programmes as me and I really enjoyed that. I find myself wondering as I type this, if that is why I have such a keen interest in psychology and read so much into these theories? Am I trying to me like T? For others, perhaps you may enjoy a similar taste in clothes, politics, history etc. As our therapists disclose more of themselves, we find the similarities and feel more “normal” and accepted.  I assume this is why it can be so painful to find out things about our therapist that do NOT match us. It’s why our therapists don’t give too much away about themselves (although Kohut did not believe in the whole blank-screen thing as it wasn’t humane enough).

 

 

Anyway, there is more to say but this is about as far as I have read. I will continue to post my findings in the hope they help even one other person who is struggling in therapy right now with needs and vulnerability.

Any comments would be welcomed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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