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Tuttman, S. (1981). Otto Kernberg's Concepts about Narcissism. Am. J. Psychoanal., 41(4):307-316.

(1981). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41(4):307-316

Otto Kernberg's Concepts about Narcissism

Saul Tuttman, M.D., Ph.D.

A key to understanding Kernberg's work,1,2,3 in my opinion, relates to his background. He was originally trained in psychoanalysis in South America, where Melanie Klein's4,5,6 influence upon psychodynamic thought had been very prevalent. Subsequent experience in the United States resulted in the greater influence of ego psychology and developmental processes on his thinking. As I understand his approach to treating the more disturbed patient (both borderline and narcissistic), Kernberg integrates the ideas of Klein with those of Freud,7,8 Hartmann,9 Mahler,10 Spitz,11 and Jacobson.12 Kernberg stresses the importance of conducting analytic treatment from a neutral position. He strives to modify pathological personality structures by analyzing transferences and resistances that are basically related to unconscious, primitive, internalized part-object and self-representations. He conceives of the fixation (or regression) point in the borderline personality as involving that stage of development when self and object image have been mentally differentiated within the core, good self/object representations. Thus there is definite mental differentiation of a “good” self from the “good” nonself or object images. The distinction of self from the fused object, “bad” self/object, is more complex. Intrapsychic mechanisms, especially splitting and projection, externalize the hate, the aggression, the “bad.” Thus, the separation of good self and good object images from bad object images helps protect the sensing of a good self and a good object. This splitting and projecting of “bad” does not allow a development of the sense of self along integrated lines and interferes with the realistic conception of other human beings as well.

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