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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Neediness, Lack of Warmth, Fear of Annihilation & Re-experiencing pain

I got to last night’s session not really sure of how it would go, feeling a bit nervous about the fact that the last communication T had from me was me saying I was crying and experiencing a really odd mixture of pain and pleasure at the connection I had felt with her.

I sat down and she smiled at me but didn’t say anything. I smiled back.. anxiously waiting for her to start talking but she didn’t, she just looked at me and I felt really uncomfortable. Why do they do that sometimes? I can’t help but feel its done on purpose to make us feel awkward as fuck!

I told T that I had done a lot of thinking, reading and writing over the weekend and that I felt like I had some realisations. I said that although they were not necessarily new realisations, I felt them differently. T said it was like peeling an onion and said that we have to revisit certain things over and over again, each time we understand or feel a little deeper and that this can only be done as and when we are ready.

I didn’t really know where to start so I started with asking her if she was familiar with Brene Brown’s theory of foreboding joy. She said she wasn’t and so I explained to her in very vague terms that I had learnt it was what happens to some of us when we feel a real sense of joy and vulnerability and explained Brene’s theory that we then dress-rehearse tragedy, waiting for it all to go wrong. T nodded and said she understood what I meant. I told T that I had sat down to write a blog on Sunday evening about this, and had found myself writing something that hit me as I typed the words out and kinda took my breath away. I told her what I had written on Sunday about the link I had made of the feelings of happiness/sadness leaving her office on Sunday and the feelings growing up of having those very random, short-lived moments of connection with my mother and how painful it was when those moments abruptly ended.  Saying those words made me cry again, I found myself suddenly gasping for breath. It felt very deep. I suppose it was the enormity of what I had just said? I don’t know.

T looked at me with empathy and seemed to understand what I had said. I told her that the feelings I had last week were horrible. I told her that I felt physical pain in my chest and said it hurt so much. This made me teary again.  T said it feels like life and death and that when you are in touch with that pain, it is absolutely excruciating. I agreed.  I told her that it is the same pain I felt a few years ago when I had planned to leave therapy and then found myself on the bathroom floor sobbing for hours with this god-awful pain of not being able to survive. Of loss and grief and all manner of other horrible things.

I told T that it confused me that getting what I have always wanted caused me such a lot of pain (and joy, admittedly) and T explained that having deep, childhood, unmet needs – met was VERY painful.  She said getting what you’ve always wanted can cause awful sadness and pain.  I didn’t understand that.  T said that this was one of the reasons that therapists had to be so careful not to “overdo it”.  She said that them overdoing it could cause us more pain! T said “this is why although I understand you want more reassurance and warmth in my emails, it is important that I am very careful”…

(I haven’t written about this yet so this is a good time – I told T last week that I sometimes find her email replies to be “lacking in warmth”. As I said it, she repeated it back to me and I agreed.  Yes. I told her that I knew that the content was fine and that if someone else read them, they wouldn’t see the issue, but for me, they sometimes felt “therapisty” (yeah, I know) and “cold”.  I’ve thought about this many times since saying it and I can very clearly see that the lacking in warmth thing is probably a bit of transference – it probably sums up how I feel about my communications/relationship with my mother – or more specifically, about my mother herself. Lacking in warmth.)

T said that the sadness when I left of not having had enough was completely understandable and expected. I told her, it isn’t quite that I haven’t “had enough” like I had written about once before, because that makes it sound like I didn’t get enough warmth or enough connection or attunement which I DID. She said, she thinks “not having had enough” was less about my session and more about my childhood. That I didn’t get enough.  That went in at a deep level and I agreed with her. I understand that therapy is starting to trigger some things in me which I perhaps didn’t understand or feel consciously before.

I told her that actually FEELING that pain when I left last week was just awful. I just closed my eyes as I typed that because honestly my words do not do that feeling justice. T once again reminded me that a lot of my pain was pre-verbal and may not have words.

I said that FEELING that pain really drove it home to me how very sad that was and I said that whilst I immediately think about my mother when I write these things, the same applied to my Dad of course because well, where the fuck was he? He didn’t try either and although my Dad is a “nicer person”, he hurt me too. T said that just because he is a “nice guy” doesn’t mean he didn’t cause me pain. I agreed.  I said that I had been thinking recently that I would see my Dad every now and again, we would have a nice time and then he would take me home and I wouldn’t know if I would see him again in a week, two weeks or months.  I told T that I still sometimes cry when I leave him as an adult now (only since my therapy got me in touch though!).  I told T that I also used to cry when my Nan and Grandad dropped me home on a Sunday night after having stayed at their house, which I did every weekend. I now understand this – I was crying because I knew that connection was over. I was crying because I knew I wouldn’t have that connection at home with my mother and crying because I never knew how long it would be until I felt that again.

T said that it is as if it felt better for me to feel nothing at all than to feel the mixture of the good against the bad. I agreed whole-heartedly.

I said to T that when I learnt about this foreboding joy thing, I had sat down and thought about how this played out in other aspects of my life. I told her what I had written about my relationships, with job interviews and many other things. T nodded and said how hard I had been working. I agreed that I had. I said I was worried that people seemed to think the amount I thought about these things was a bad thing but said that understanding why I am feeling a certain way actually helped me to have some compassion for myself. T said perhaps it took the guilt, shame and blame away from me.  She then said (not for the first time) “You were capable of feeling that loving connection the whole of your life. It really wasn’t you – it wasn’t any fault of yours that you didn’t get that. It was your mum and dad’s”.  She said how it was only natural that as a child experiencing that lack of connection (ha, of warmth) I would understandably blame myself. It is how I survived because I had to keep them good.  I said that I understood this now and that understanding that was bittersweet. I am glad it wasn’t me, of course. But understanding, truly, how incapable they both were of emotional connection and closeness, of that parental bond is so tragically sad to me.

I then spoke to T about my blog yesterday about neediness. I told her that I had wanted to send my blog from Sunday and told her what I wrote yesterday about the conversations that played out in my head. T said “did you think you would be too much?” and I said yes. I told her how I had these visions of smothering her, suffocating her and – killing her. T told me this was the “Fear of Annihilation”. I heard her say that but had no real idea what she was talking about. I’ve since Googled this and it is very interesting. I attach a link for anyone that is interested. Once I have digested this a bit more, I will write about this as I think it will be very helpful to me, and possibly others. https://healthysenseofself.com/meet-us/terminology-for-a-healthy-sense-of-self/fear-of-annihilation/

Following this “fear of annihilation” conversation I told T that it confuses me that when I am in those moments, I NEED to contact her and only her. I said nobody else would help and that felt uncomfortable for me. T said something along the lines of:

“Of course. Like a child only wants its mummy”.

And with those simple words, it suddenly made sense to me. T said that I am using T as I need to, which is as a mother figure and so when I need containing and attunement or whatever I need, of course it is only her that I want to turn to. She told me that is why I shouldn’t really go against myself when I feel that way, that I need to let myself be steadied by her and that it was okay to do that. T said this fear of annihilation meant that I was convinced either I was going to kill her off with my needs or that she would kill me off. She said that I can’t trust that she could handle her own feelings/needs.

I told T that sometimes just pressing send on an email to her was enough. I said I never understood that either. T said:

Yes, because sending the email into my inbox is like putting something (the feelings) into mum to deal with”.

She spoke about how as a baby or a child, the mum would try to figure out what it was the baby or child needed. She would speak softly to the baby and try and see was the baby hungry? Tired? Did the baby need a nappy change etc – she said that the child was steadied just by knowing the mother was there and trying her hardest to help.  She said that me sending the email to her had the same effect.  I said but I don’t know if you are even reading it for hours yet and she said no, but you know that it is no longer just you trying to deal with it all on your own. You know that I will, at least, try to help you with it and that knowledge helps you to settle.

Isn’t that interesting? I know I haven’t expressed that very well, but hopefully the general gist is there.

 

Self Integration?

Yesterday I wrote a brief description of a dream that I had Monday night.  The dream left me with a very intense feeling of what I can only describe as maternal love.  Now I have not had any children yet although me and my (now) fiance were trying for about 17 months prior to getting engaged.  Now the wedding is booked we are putting that on hold until after the wedding, partly for practicalities but partly because I/we need the break from the emotions that trying unsuccessfully brought us.

Anyway, to the point – I have never felt a feeling like that before. It was like love on steroids and yet clearly it was only a dream.. yet it felt so important somehow.

A lovely blogger helped me to think about the dream in more detail earlier, we spoke about how the baby could symbolise the child/baby part of myself.. I agreed and then I went into my session and spoke to T about it a bit more.  Here is the dream again with a bit I left out the other day:

I had a baby girl. Her name was Kia. She was wrapped tightly in a blanket and I was either holding her over my shoulder or pushing her in her pram. At one point in the dream I stepped off of a bus and when I looked into her pram, it was empty and I panicked and turned around to see my mother holding her – I took her off of my mother and then my mother pushed the empty pram instead.  Later in the dream I gently rubbed the side of her face and she laughed and “spoke” to me in her baby language. I laughed and spoke back to her in baby language but the feeling it gave me (as I explained above) was just phenomenal.

I find it so weird that a dream can leave me with such a strong feeling when I’ve never felt that in real life – how is that even possible?

T said she also thought the dream was hugely symbolic. She agreed that the baby was probably symbolic of my child/baby self. I said that I felt it important that I “took the baby back from my mother” and that my mother was then “pushing an empty pram”.  T said that my mother may as well have been pushing an empty pram, I agreed.  I said that it didn’t feel like grief processing because there was no element of sadness whatsoever. T said that she felt it was actually a very transitional dream – a sign that perhaps I have fully accepted my child part into myself.

I can’t find the right words right now to really express what I want you to feel as you read this, I’m not sure that is possible but it just feels SO IMPORTANT. So, so important. Madness from a dream!!

Anyway, I read up about self-integration which made its way into my brain because I was re-reading an old blog of mine earlier (Winnicott’s fear of breakdown) and in the paper I referred to by Clare Winnicott, she speaks about how her client had a dream where she picked up her child self and Clare Winnicott thought this was hugely symbolic of her patient integrating – growing and healing and I can’t help but think my dream is a very similar thing. It FEELS like something in my body, my being… there has been some sort of shift or something.

I’m sure I sound a bit weird ha! But there we go.

I think I’ve changed a lot lately, I’ve had to go against everything I know with my ex friend at work (I really need to find a better name for her). Setting such firm boundaries, ending a friendship, not letting the fear, guilt, panic take over – putting myself first and standing strong despite perhaps not feeling it!! Surviving everything that came as a side effect to me doing this, such as the preoccupation with predicting what she would do and say when I saw her, dreaming about her, doubting myself, crying from the fear of it all… and so on and so on…  I am still here and I am okay. It is hard, its tough and I am currently witnessing her in the middle of a smear campaign trying to make herself look like a victim and me look like an evil bitch – its okay. It will be okay. I am okay. And that is huge.

As well as that I had a run in with my younger sister a few weeks ago because I wouldn’t cancel a therapy session which she wanted me to do. Because I wouldn’t do that, she decided I was selfish and her and my mother clearly had a lovely little bitch session about me which wound me up. But I didn’t bite. I WAS angry and yet again, I did doubt myself a lot .. perhaps I was being selfish? T helped me to see that my feelings were justified but not to be acted out.  Yet again, I just had to hold firm. I sat on Pintrest for hours looking at quotes of “boundaries” and reassured myself that I was doing the right thing. She was very angry with me and my mother even made a point of telling me how upset my sister was with me… I told her what I wish I could have told the pair of them really, that it doesn’t make me a bitch because I won’t do EXACTLY as she wants me to. I told her that my counselling (swear word to my mother – physically makes her wince!) was a very important commitment to me and one that I stuck to whatever else was happening. I told her I only get to miss two sessions a year otherwise I have to pay the entire £40 which I couldn’t afford to do and told her that I had offered all sorts of alternatives such as joining for a drink afterwards etc etc…. the very clear message was “I am not being selfish and I don’t care whether you or she thinks I am”.

I held my own. I owned it. And for that I am proud. [Side note: I put a picture of a quote about boundaries on FB today and my sister quoted sarcastically so clearly it hit a nerve].

Aside from all of that, there is the stuff I’ve written about lately regarding my soon to be stepdaughter and some of the struggles we have both been having. There is a hell of a lot of different things at play with this. There is clearly fear of being left behind, forgotten about or replaced by me from her side of things and from mine there is clearly some jealousy which probably comes from daddy issues of mine. I am very aware of all these different triggers and am speaking to T about them all a lot at the moment, I feel very proud of myself for being able to be objective and be able to self-reflect on the whole situation no matter how difficult it might be.

Its funny really, since the engagement I had worried that the excitement of getting married might overshadow my therapy and stall any progress… now it feels the opposite is true.

Sorry if this blog reads as really up myself, I very rarely big myself up but this does feel monumental and I want to document it to be able to look back on.

boundaries quote 2boundaries quoteselfish

Random Thoughts: Sense of Self

I hate Mondays. Doesn’t everyone hate Mondays?

They are made even worse at the moment due to the fact that I have no work to do – at work and so my days consist of sitting at a desk trying to keep myself occupied whilst not making it too obvious that I have nothing to do! Clock-watching is painful. The days feel like they will never end.

On the bright side, I feel happy today – contented I guess. Not hyper. I am still quite shocked by yesterday’s revelation and keep replaying the whole conversation over and over in my head to try to set it there in stone. I woke up this morning with a sense of contentedness – a feeling that I usually wake up with on therapy days. As I had only been awake for a second or two I thought that was what it was so that was a shame, but then I realised what that happy feeling was (the revelation) and felt it was a decent trade-off.

The Break So Far

Today is day 4 of not seeing T, although it seems unfair to be counting already because my first session wouldn’t usually take place until tomorrow and as it is Monday, perhaps it should be day 1… but for me, I’m 4 days into a 12 day break. I’m doing alright which is nice, although I have questioned whether I really am doing alright or whether I’m in “self-sufficient repressing all my feelings mode” – that does happen.

But no, I think I am okay actually. How do you really know?

 

Books/Films

I’ve been getting a lot of enjoyment from reading, writing on here, watching film adaptations after reading novels, watching my new fur baby run around and of course seeing Frank sitting on my bed reminding me of T.

This weekend I watched Wuthering Heights, Sense & Sensibility and Emma and I enjoyed them all (although Gwyneth Paltrow was quite irritating in Emma it I have to say). I’ve been reading a book by Nick Hornby and called High Fidelity which is very funny and I only have about 40 pages left so I will finish that tonight and start the next book I’ve brought which is called Hotel Du Lac.

I have this new passion for things like this and I’m not sure where its come from. I read my first classic novel only a year ago, Jane Eyre and I loved it. Since then I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and a book called I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith which isn’t quite so well-known, they have got me a bit addicted I guess. Today I’ve decided to order Shakespeare in Love, Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream – all stories that I should know, but don’t. I’m playing catch up which leads me to my next thought…

jane eyre quote

 

Intelligence

T has been really trying lately to make me believe that I am clever. I don’t believe this and I never have and actually if the truth be known, I don’t really like her doing it. It makes me feel very uncomfortable. I don’t like to sit there disagreeing with her because it just looks like I am fishing for compliments and she just tells me I am wrong, yet I can’t agree with her because that doesn’t sit well with me.

I told my boyfriend this last night and he said, very diplomatically, that I might not know as much “general knowledge” as you might expect, but that he puts this down to the fact that I didn’t have parents around to teach me. He said that the things I don’t know tend to be things that parents teach their kids rather than things you learn at school. I am not sure I agree with him, although obviously I don’t doubt the benefit people have if they have intelligent parents trying to encourage their child’s learning.

This weekend at my mother’s house, we were playing some games and she said “TT won’t get this you may as well take it”.  Well I did get it.  I wasn’t the first to get it, but I wasn’t the last either and my step-brother didn’t get it at all and he genuinely IS very bright. I felt rather smug. We then went on to do answer some riddles and I managed to answer about 6 in a row correctly and she said “blimey, what’s got into you?” so it doesn’t take a genius to work out where that lack of intelligence or that belief has come from.

T means well, obviously – but I don’t want smoke blown up my arse. I don’t want to be lied to, but I DO want to improve my intelligence and so I think that in a way reading these classic novels, watching these film adaptations – the Bronte’s and the Jane Austen’s and now dipping my toe into some Shakespeare I am trying to improve my knowledge(?).  I can’t say I’m ever going to be very good at maths, history or geography or perhaps the things that are more useful in life, but hey – every little helps, right?

On the build up to the most recent election I did study the manifestos to get a basic understanding of who I wanted to vote for rather than just going with the majority or voting for whoever my boyfriend voted for (I actually went against most people’s preference in the end!). These things weren’t encouraged when I was growing up (mainly because my mother isn’t intelligent either and has no understanding of politics at all) and so I hadn’t even voted until 2015. I did however thoroughly enjoy sitting at my mother’s house a few months back reeling off all my new knowledge where I felt smug and as though I was passively saying to her “Haha, I know things and you don’t!”. I know, I am very mature. I have to get my kicks where I can as far as she is concerned.

My mother is a chameleon and tries to fake interest in everything and anything. Whatever people are currently discussing. For example during the world cup she became a sudden fan of football and she basically copies whatever she’s heard other people say and tries to make out she is knowledgeable on the subject and it is rather cringe worthy.  Anyway, less about her, how did she make it here? Go away mother.

 

Sense of Self

I think what I am doing is trying to find a sense of who I am. The real me and not the person that I thought I was, or the person I was told I was. It is quite exciting really. I feel like the world is suddenly offering lots of things which I could have a go at, get involved in.. try….I’ve not felt that before.  I even tried badminton recently on holiday and assumed I would be terrible at it but I was actually okay! Not great, but not bad either and more importantly I guess, I enjoyed it. I’ve never been one to try things for fear of failure I guess.

I’ve just been sitting on Amazon (not literally) and found a “Listography”. Google it, there are loads of different types and as the name suggests, you make lists about whatever subject it is.  There are listography’s for music, films, books etc. I’ve just ordered one called “My Inner Self In Lists” – what better way to get to know myself and watch the transformation as it happens?

listography