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Bipolar Self


The bipolar self is made up of two components: the grandiose self, that of mirroring or ambitions; and the idealized parental imago, that of both idealization and ideals. The two poles are linked together by a tension arc, the alter ego. First appearing in Heinz Kohut's The Restoration of the Self (1977), the bipolar self was the hallmark of a new metapsychology: generalized self psychology.

The two constituent poles of the self are formed in response to the degree of the receptivity of caregivers to the subject's narcissistic needs. The grandiose self acquires its strength through the responses of the self objects to mirroring needs, and the idealized parental imago by means of responses that enable fusion. Together both sectors are a source of strength to the self. Each pole is a possibility, a potential for the self. One pole can compensate for the other, and the self will be fragile only if both poles have been thwarted.

When its earliest needs have not been responded to, the infant turns to a less rejecting source. In such a case, it is this second source that will be activated and worked through in the transference, leaving the earliest traumas in the dark. Anything that has been resolved or surmounted will not be examined in analysis. Developments that are no longer the result of conflict are seen as a natural process if narcissism is taken to be a given.

AgnÈs Oppenheimer

See also: Grandiose self; Idealized parental imago; Kohut, Heinz; Self psychology.


Kohut, Heinz. (1977). The restoration of the self. New York: International Universities Press.

. (1984). How does analysis cure? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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