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Kavaler-Adler, S. (2014). Psychic structure and the capacity to mourn: Why narcissists cannot mourn. MindConsiliums, 14(1), 1-17.

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Abstract

Mourning is a critical developmental process which is typically arrested in narcissistic characters. This arrest is understood in environmental terms, in relation to the narcissist’s parent’s inability to “survive” expressions of archaic aggression, and in intrapsychic terms, in relation to a pathological fusion of psychic structure that is perpetuated by splitting when parental “survival” fails, and consequently, neutralization of aggression is not achieved

It is proposed that such a pathology of psychic structure is most vividly evident in a failure to engage in intrapsychic or interpersonal dialogue. Both neutralization of aggression and the affective mourning that can unfold with such neutralization, are seen as critical factors in determining whether a process of self-integration proceeds, as opposed to the continuance of an undifferentiated self with its pathological fusions and splits. The capacity for repression, self-agency, symbolization, and sustained good object internalization are all seen as component features of such a self-integration process.

Keywords: developmental mourning, narcissism, object relations view, aggression neutralization, affective mourning, self-integration, object internalization.

About The Author

Susan Kavaler-Adler, PhD, ABPP, NPsyA, DLitt

Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler is a graduate of the Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies at Adelphi University, and has been practicing for over 35 years as a psychologist and psychoanalyst in New York City. She founded the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis in New York City in 1991, and has been this institute’s executive director ever since. She is also a supervisor and former faculty member at the National Institute for the Psychotherapies, and is a member of the Postgraduate Psychoanalytic Society, where she had served as a faculty member at the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health.

Besides individual psychoanalytic psychotherapy and object relations psychoanalysis, Dr. Kavaler-Adler offers groups on mourning, creative blocks, and supervision. She conducts classes on "Projection and Projective Identification," "The Analyst as an Instrument," and others, using role playing; and courses on work of Ronald Fairbairn, Melanie Klein, D. W. Winnicott, Michael Balint, Wilfred Bion, and on her own theories of "developmental mourning" and "the demon- lover complex." Dr. Kavaler-Adler also conducts workshops in self-sabotage, developmental mourning and psychic change, fear of success, envy, creative blocks, and compulsions.

Dr. Kavaler-Adler is the author of 5 books and 60 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters in the field of psychoanalysis and object relations theory. Three of her earlier books were published with Routledge: The Compulsion to Create: A Psychoanalytic Study of Women Writers (1993), The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity (1996), and Mourning, Spirituality, and Psychic Change: A New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis (2003). The Other Press reprinted The Compulsion to Create as The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers (2000). Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s two recent books are published with Karnac: The Anatomy of Regret: From Death Instinct to Reparation and Symbolization through Vivid Clinical Cases (2013) and Klein-Winnicott Dialectic: Transformative New Metapsychology and Interactive Clinical Theory (2014).

Dr. Kavaler-Adler has won 12 awards for her books and articles, including the Gradiva Award from NAAP for Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change (published by Routledge) in 2004. She has won four Arlene Wohlberg Memorial Awards from Postgraduate Center for Mental Health for peer-reviewed journal articles, including “Mourning and Erotic Transference” in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis (1992, Vol. 3), and “My Graduation is My Mother’s Funeral” in The International Forum of Psychoanalysis. Dr. Kavaler-Adler received 7 Author's Recognition Awards from the Postgraduate Psychoanalytic Society and the National Institute for Psychotherapies.

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