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Mollon, P. (1986). An Appraisal of Kohut's Contribution to the Understanding of Narcissism. Brit. J. Psychother., 3(2):151-161.

(1986). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 3(2):151-161

Theoretical Concepts: Narcissism

An Appraisal of Kohut's Contribution to the Understanding of Narcissism

Phil Mollon

Kohut's exploration of narcissistic phenomena has had enormous impact on psychoanalytic thinking in the USA. Controversial though ‘Self Psychology’ is, it has stimulated creative debate and a rethinking of many basic assumptions regarding development, the origins of pathology and the mode of action of psychoanalysis. Kohut's influence in Britain, by comparison, is almost negligible. Perhaps this is partly because Kohut - who died in 1981 - was writing against a background of classical analysis, Freudian and ego-psychological, which is rather different to that prevailing in Britain. Here psychoanalytic development has been structured around the contributions of Melanie Klein - either pro-Klein and developing her ideas, or in reaction against Klein. Thus to be meaningful in a British context Kohut's work must be related to Klein. The purpose of this review is to provide a critical evaluation of Kohut's rethinking of narcissism bearing in mind concepts more familiar in Britain. A second brief paper (in this issue) compares more specifically Kohut's ideas to those of Klein and Bion.

To describe a person as narcissistic is often to attribute to them a highly negative constellation of character traits. The connotations are likely to be that the person is egocentric, grandiose and lacking in empathy for others (e.g. Kernberg 1975). Impaired object-relatedness is implied, the narcissistic stance being seen as reflecting angry withdrawal from disappointing objects. Narcissism takes on its most pejorative connotations in certain Kleinian writings.

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