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Number 1: Spring 2008

Insult and Identity

Fedja Dalagija

The hope of deliverance comes from a very different psychoanalytic tradition, notably Kohut (Kohut 1971: 57-73). Kohut is the analyst who, more than any other, underscores the positive aspects of narcissism. In a detailed case study entitled ‘Clinical Illustration of Idealising Transference’, contained in Kohut’s 1971 seminal work The Analysis of Self, he presents a case study of his work with a homosexual patient spanning several years. He writes, ‘The hub of the patient’s psychological defect as manifest in his homosexual phantasies, indeed the central defect of his personality was the insufficient idealisation of his superego’. (Kohut 1971: 59) This simply means that his patient did not feel himself to be ‘enough of a man’. Kohut traces this feeling back to the various disappointments the patient experienced in relation to his father. Kohut goes on to explain, ‘the patient’s homosexual fantasies can thus be understood as sexualised statements about his narcissistic disturbance.’ In a footnote Kohut elaborates this point, ‘the unconscious presence of a fellatio fantasy of the patient in which swallowing the magical semen stands for the unachieved internalisation and structure formation’ (Kohut 1971: 60). In other words, by sucking off other men the patient, Kohut claims, hoped to ‘rob the external ideal of its power and perfection and thus in his phantasy acquired these qualities for himself and achieved a temporary feeling of narcissistic balance.’ (Kohut 1971: 73) It is far from clear why the act of fellating other men represents a robbery. Kohut is at least clear about his aim; through building the patient’s insight he is helping him to ‘abstain from the sexualization of his defects and needs … and move towards more reliable modes of achieving a narcissistic equilibrium through nonsexualized insights and through the building up of a psychological structure.’ (Kohut 1971: 73) Eventually the analyst’s and the patient’s desires coincide and Kohut writes in his concluding paragraph:

 Clinically speaking, the homosexual fantasies receded long before there was an equally manifest improvement in the other aspects of the patient’s psychopathology; the fantasies recurred only during periods of stress. Subsequently they were replaced by occasional memories of fantasies, which had lost their sexual connotation; they were called homosexual ‘fears’ by the patient, i.e. he experienced them only in the context of a distant apprehension that they might return to plague him again. Ultimately even these ‘fears’ disappeared almost completely. (Kohut 1971: 73)