Transmuting Internalization

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Transmuting internalization is a process that participates in the formation of psychic structure, as postulated by Heinz Kohut. It is an extension of Freud's concept of mourning. For Freud, the loss of an object causes mourning to establish a presence within the psyche. If this model is seen as the basis of all losses, including nontraumatic and phase-specific losses, then it follows that any failure or absence of a sustaining object can lead to the establishment in the psyche of whatever function that object has served. Minute losses or absences lead, not to wholesale identification with the object, but to internal structures that need bear no resemblance to the lost object but merely capture the function served by the object. Nontraumatic loss and internalization, called optimal frustration, is an essential feature of normal development. Parental absences, disappointments, failures, and age-appropriate responsibilities help children gradually develop psychological structure. Psychological structure refers to an enduring function, a function that results from the progressive neutralization occupying the area of the psyche not represented by repression. Psychoanalytic treatment parallels normal development when the analyst causes transmuting internalizations by initiating similar phase-specific failures.

Arnold Goldberg

See also: Action-thought (H. Kohut); Progressive neutralization.


Kohut, Heinz. (1971). The analysis of the self. New York: International Universities Press.

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