Psychoanalytic and Psychodynamic Theories

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Austrian founder of psychoanalysis at the turn of the twentieth century, had little use in his tripartite theory of the psyche for the idea of self as one's central identity. He conceptualized the ego as an important but secondary structure that mediates between the instincts of the id and the strictures of the superego. However, other psychodynamic theorists of the first half of the twentieth century returned to the idea of a center of personality. Carl Jung (1875-1961), a Swiss psychiatrist, thought of the self as an important archetype—an energized symbol in the collective unconscious—that organizes and balances the contradictory influences of other archetypes and, in fact, transcends opposing forces within the psyche. The archetype itself is an inborn potential, while its actual development is informed by personal experiences. Karen Horney (1885-1952), a German psychiatrist, believed that each individual is born with a real self, containing healthy intrinsic potentials and capabilities. However, because of basic anxiety and a belief that one is unlovable, some individuals become alienated from their real selves and pursue an unrealistic idealized self. Margaret Mahler (1897-1985), a Hungarian-born pediatrician and psychoanalyst, described the separation-individuation process of the first three years of life, by which a child achieves individual personhood through psychologically separating from other people.

In contrast, Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949), an American psychiatrist, believed that personality and self can never be fully disconnected from interpersonal relations. His concept of the self-system is thus a set of enduring patterns of relating to others that avoids anxiety by striving for others' approval (the "good-me"), avoiding their disapproval (the "bad-me"), and dissociating from whatever causes their revulsion (the "not-me"). Heinz Kohut (1931-1981), Austrian founder of self psychology, also stressed that healthy selfhood is only attained through satisfying, empathically attuned interactions between infants and caregivers. Caregivers initially provide the self with a sense of goodness and strength and are therefore termed self-objects. The healthy self then develops its own ambitions, ideals, and skills, while deprivation from self-objects results in an injured self.

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