Twinship Transference/Alter Ego Transference

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Twinship or alter ego transference is a form of narcissistic transference defined by Heinz Kohut as expressing the analysand's need to rely on the analyst as a narcissistic function possessing characteristics like herself.

Kohut first defined the concept in The Analysis of the Self (1971) as one of the possible forms of mirror transference. In How Does Analysis Cure? (1984) he made alter ego transference a type of transference unto itself, corresponding to the existence of an autonomous narcissistic need, the alter ego.

It is often in relation to the analyst being experienced as identical or similar that narcissistic tendencies are pinpointed. Kohut believed that oedipal interpretations are often understood by patients as being a repetition of the parents' negation of narcissistic needs, which means that such interpretations are premature. Interpretation of the narcissistic needs of the alter ego, when it is appropriate, causes memories to emerge that can be worked through.

Alter ego transference relates to mirroring and idealizing narcissistic transference, to the grandiose self, and to the idealized parental imago. This conceptualization has been criticized both in terms of narcissistic transferences and the priority given to narcissism over instinctual conflicts, and as an attempt to replace Freudian metapyschology with a metapsychology of the self, understood as being made up of sectors.

AgnÈs Oppenheimer

See also: Alter ego.


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

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

Further Reading

Burlingham, Dorothy T. (1946). Twins. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 2, 61-74.

Gorney, J. (1998). Twinship, vitality, pleasure. Progress in Self Psychology, 14, 85-106.

Simon, Bennett. (1988). The imaginary twins: The case of Beckett and Bion. International Review of Psychoanalysis, 15, 331-352.