Understanding Mastectomy from a Self Psychology Perspective: The Breast as a Self Object

Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Capstone Project

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Graduate School of Professional Psychology

First Advisor

Michael Karson

Second Advisor

John McNeill

Third Advisor

Jana Bolduan Lomax


Self psychology, Breast cancer, Psychological aspects


For many women, if not all, breasts are an important component of bodyself-image; a woman may love them or dislike them, but she is rarely neutral" (Young, 2003, p.152). Breast cancer may be one of the oldest forms of cancer known to humans (American Cancer Society, 2010), and in 2008 in the United States over 182,000 women and almost 2,000 men were diagnosed with some form of breast cancer (American Cancer Society, 2008). In that same year 40,480 women and 450 men died from the disease. While any type of cancer diagnosis can instill a fear of mortality and incapacitation in the recipient, breast cancer holds a special meaning for women because of the significance placed on the breast both personally and societally. Removal of the breast tissue and muscle, or mastectomy, remains one of the primary forms of treatment for this disease. The breast plays an important role in a woman's identity, and the loss of one or both breasts due to breast cancer can have a monumental impact on her sense of self. A mastectomy affectsnot only a woman's relationship with herself, but with her family, friends, and society. It changes her outlook on life, her perception of her roles in the world, and her interest in interacting with others. Exploring these issues is important to understanding how doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, family members and support networks can best assist patients in coping with their illness. This paper attempts to understand the psychological issues and injuriesassociated with mastectomy through the lens of Self Psychology. It postulates that the breast itself is a selfobject for most women, and that its loss results in the fragmentation of the self. I will focus particularly on women between the ages of 25 and 40 years of age, in the marital and parental phases of developmental (Wolf, 1988), as the effect of a mastectomy on body image, sexuality, and genderbased roles such as motherhood has been shown to differ according to the age of the patient, with younger patients experiencing more distress (Ashing-Giwa et al, 2004).

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. Permanently suppressed.


35 pages

This document is currently not available here.