Seven studies examined the validity and usefulness of central constructs in
Kohut’s self psychology: selfobject needs for mirroring, idealization, and twinship and avoidance of acknowledging these needs. These constructs were
assessed with a new self-report measure that was found to be reliable, valid, and
empirically linked with a variety of constructs in contemporary personality and
social psychology. The findings supported and refined Kohut’s ideas about the
independence of the 3 selfobject needs, the orthogonality between these needs
and defensive attempts to avoid acknowledging them, the motivational bases of
narcissism, and the contribution of selfobject needs to problems in interpersonal
functioning, mental health, self-cohesion, and affect regulation. The findings
reveal mutually beneficial conceptual links between Kohut’s self psychology
and attachment theory and suggest ways in which Kohut’s theory can be studied
Self psychology, developed by Heinz Kohut (1971, 1977, 1984), is widely accepted today
as one of the central psychoanalytic theories (e.g., Eagle, 1984; Mollon, 2001; Siegel,
1996; Strozier, 2001; Wolf, 1988). It is a comprehensive theory consisting of both a
developmental model and a model for clinical consultation and therapy. At the heart of the
theory lies the self, conceptualized as a mental system that organizes a person’s subjective
experience in relation to a set of developmental needs (Wolf, 1988). Kohut (1971) called
these needs “selfobject needs” because they are associated with sustaining the self and are
satisfied (or not) by external figures in a person’s life. Following Freud (1933), Kohut
referred to people as “objects” of instincts, even though he changed Freud’s theory
considerably, including deemphasizing sexual and aggressive instincts. Although the
Erez Banai, PhD, and Mario Mikulincer, PhD, Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University,
Ramat Gan, Israel; Phillip R. Shaver, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of California,
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mario Mikulincer, PhD,
Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan 52900, Israel. E-mail:
[email protected]
Psychoanalytic Psychology Copyright 2005 by the Educational Publishing Foundation
2005, Vol. 22, No. 2, 224–260 0736-9735/05/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0736-9735.22.2.224
224concept of selfobject needs has become popular within psychoanalysis (Wolf, 1988), it has
yet to be studied empirically. The present article is an attempt to remedy that deficiency
by testing some of the theory’s core propositions and linking them with constructs and
methods of contemporary research in personality and social psychology.
Key Constructs in Self Psychology: Healthy Narcissism and the Cohesive Self
According to Kohut (1971, 1977, 1984), the self (viewed as a process or system that
organizes subjective experience) is the essence of a person’s psychological being and
consists of sensations, feelings, thoughts, and attitudes toward oneself and the world.
Whereas Freud viewed the self as part of the contents of the ego (somewhat like William
James’s [1890] notion of the “me”), Kohut conceptualized the self as the initiating center
of the personality (Eagle, 1984), akin to James’s “I.” In other words, Kohut viewed the
self as a psychological force that explains the development of a mature and healthy
personality as well as the formation of personality disorders.
Within self psychology, Kohut (1966/1978b) regarded narcissism—libidinal investment in the self (another concept carried over from Freud’s theory)—as a normal
developmental phenomenon rather than a defensive or pathological condition. Kohut
(1966/1978b) posited a line of healthy narcissistic development that moves toward
consolidation of a cohesive self-structure, providing a sense of identity, value, meaning,
and permanence and promoting the actualization of a person’s potentialities (native talents
and acquired skills). The theory places unusual emphasis on cohesion, or coherence, of the
self and on creativity and self-actualization. According to Kohut (1971), the narcissistic
line of development is active from the beginning of life and is a precondition for adequate
personality functioning


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