Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Douglas Barnett


The theory of self psychology as advanced by Heinz Kohut (1971, 1977, 1984) emphasized the importance of early developmental experiences, most centrally, the empathic attunement of caregivers as key nutrients for fostering the capacity for healthy self-regulation and interpersonal relations. Kohut elaborated three critical selfobject needs (i.e., idealizing, mirroring, and twinship) that were ideally satiated by these early experiences, deeming the fulfillment of these needs as essential for developing a healthy sense of self, capable of sustaining ambitions, self-soothing, and caring for others and oneself. In the case of psychopathology, these needs were theorized to have gone unmet, leaving the individual with deficits in their ability to regulate self-esteem, and thereby rendering them vulnerable to mood and behavioral dysregulation, as well as difficulty sustaining satisfying intimate relations, especially in the face of life's stressors. Although Kohut's theory has been embraced as quite useful by many mental health professionals, particularly those with a psychodynamic affiliation, there has been relatively scant empirical research examining its underlying hypotheses. It is the present author's assertion that a primary reason for the scarcity of empirical attention devoted to Kohut's theory has been due to challenges operationalizing his concepts, which has led to a lack of adequate measures of his key constructs, especially his idea of the selfobject needs. To address these shortcomings, the present research sought to develop a self-report measure capable of assessing the selfobject needs proposed by Kohut. The proposed strategy was designed to yield a measure that could reliably and validly assess individual differences in the selfobject needs of idealizing, mirroring, and twinship. Experts in the field of self psychology were recruited to assist in the development of the present measure. Across two studies involving 738 and 712 respondents, participants completed an online survey hosted by the university's secure research portal. The first study involved a survey including only the present measure, while the second study's survey consisted of the present measure and other measures of interest. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses offered strong evidence in support of the proposed three-factor structure of the measure. Cluster analysis and examination of the correlational results offered additional support for the present measure's validity, both in regards to discriminant and convergent validity. The theoretical implications of these findings are explored.