The conceptualization of the self as a supra-structure of the human psyche led Heinz Kohut (1913-1981) to the establishment of self psychology. Kohut’s biographer, Charles Strozier, defines it as the authentic American psychoanalysis of the greatest psychoanalyst which the new world presented. At the heart of the shakeup embodied in self psychology stands the freeing from evil as the explanation of man, and the boldness to return to the vision of faith in the establishment of selfhood via human solidarity, ethical responsibility and belief in good.
Kohut places at the center of the analytic field the concept of ‘tragic man’. In doing this he delineates the passage from ‘guilty man’, Freud’s hero, to the man of today: man who, beyond drives which destine him to an existential struggle with unconscious conflicts, never ceases to yearn for the restoration of the self from its broken state, and who seeks a harmonious, cohesive and continuous self experience.
Self psychology places empathy at the center of the curative nucleus of psychoanalysis. The systematic investigation of the empathic stance vacillates in self psychology in a movement which is both paradoxical and harmonious, between the conceptualization of empathy as a tool with which to investigate the psyche, and its distillation to an ethical stance of constitutive compassion