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Mitchell, S.A. (1995). Follow-Up Questions. Psychoanal. Dial., 5(3):401-402.

(1995). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 5(3):401-402

Follow-Up Questions

Stephen A. Mitchell, Ph.D.

After we received the initial set of answers we asked the following additional questions:

1.   In addition to what you all consider to be Kohut's revolutionary methodological innovation in his contributions on “empathy,” the concept of the “selfobject” (-need, -experience, -transference) is regarded as his central theoretical innovation. Yet each of you uses the term selfobject in your own distinct and particular way. Perhaps part of the confusion is due to the tendency to define selfobjects by distinguishing them from Freud's instinctual objects. Historically, of course, it was precisely through this distinction between objects of sexual and aggressive drives and objects that function to preserve narcissistic equilibrium that Kohut (1971) gave birth to the selfobject concept. For many contemporary clinicians and theorists, however, drive theory metapsychology as a whole is no longer particularly useful or interesting. As the drive theory framework fades, how are we now to understand the selfobject experience in contrast to the terms in which it was defined? In a postdrive-theory conceptual field, how is selfobject experience to be understood? Selfobjects in contrast to what other sorts of objects?

Let us pose the question another way: Was the selfobject concept a device through which human relations in general were redefined and differently understood so that now all the significant relationships (in which the individual is inevitably embedded) are to be construed as serving selfobject needs? Or are selfobject needs best construed as specific and distinct from other important kinds of relational needs and dimensions of human relatedness (not just the need for sexual and aggressive discharge à la drive theory)?

2.   How is the regeneration of painful experience best understood? Concepts like “representational” or “repetitive” dimensions of the transference and “bad selfobjects” are efforts to struggle with this problem.

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