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Define "narcissistic defenses" according to the theories of psychoanalysis.

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enotes | Valedictorian

Posted March 3, 2014 at 11:17 PM via web

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Define "narcissistic defenses" according to the theories of psychoanalysis.

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:36 PM (Answer #1)

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Hyman Spotznitz first described narcissistic defense in 1976 as a moment when

“... the patient is frustrated, the appropriate way to discharge his feelings is to put them into words. If he is prevented from doing so when frustrated and feeling deprived by the analyst, he usually bottles up the aggression: in other words, he turns these feelings inward and begins to attack the self. This is referred to as the narcissistic defense.”
While Freud complained that this narcissistic "wall" stops all processes between counselor and patient, and that no substitute can ever be enough to defuse this type of self-attack, Spotnitz says that just by finding the "flow of destructive impassivity" we can actually resolve the repetitive attacks.
 
Spotznitz took the myth of Narcissus, the victim of the love he had for himself, as a way to explain how psychologists can help narcissist patients. In psychoanalysis, the two causes of narcissism are:
 
a-the infant, ultimately bound to the mother, fails to recognize the separation of identities between mother and child; thus there is resentment when the differences are made evident and the child develops internal rage. In the myth, Narcissus hates himself inside.
b-the individual's self hatred (caused by the previous rationale) is projective: he hates himself but places the mother in a much elevated position. However, the defense comes when the narcissist attacks himself as a way to protect the other "half" of who he is; the good half, which is the mother. Yet, there are instances where the aggression can be turned towards the mother in an attempt to lash out. It is all an unfortunate conundrum of misunderstanding of the self, and of the world around them. The salient trait of the narcissistic defense is that of personal attack and bottled up emotions.
 
The solution that Spotznitz suggests is that the counselor acts like a surrogate parent to the client; that the feelings of hatred and self destruction are not necessarily deflected, but channeled to the point that the client can understand the irrational nature of such thoughts. Eventually the client will mirror himself in front of the therapist and may reach an understanding of what is real and what is not.

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted March 30, 2014 at 4:26 PM (Answer #2)

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Narcissistic defenses are psychic procedures utilized by the ego, in the case where the latter is understood as the only (or almost only) object of investment by the libido. Their function is to protect the integrity and the psychic endurance of the ego.

The ego uses a number of psychic procedures, including “narcissistic defenses.”  The ego prevents people from acting on their primal urges, which come from the “id,” our unconscious instincts.  Narcissistic defenses are almost exclusively the “object of investment by the libido.”  Narcissism is the love of self. The “libido” is the energy of the sexual instincts and, therefore, of survival.  We develop ways to protect the ego in order to survive, psychically, in the world.

While Freud never specifically identifies narcissistic defenses in his work, the unnamed concept occurs in a number of discussions, including  “infantile omnipotence, idealization of the love object, paranoid projection, counter investment in the external world, the depressed person's "narcissistic" identification, the hypochondriac's over-investment in the organs of the body, regression in treatment, and regression in dreams.”

There are two types of narcissistic defenses, primary and secondary.  Primary narcissistic defenses  include autoeroticism (the process of becoming sexually stimulated through internal stimuli) and object love. This, according to Freud, is a primal state, and during this phase, a child takes him or herself as an object of love. This sort of defense is probably exclusively a sensory-motor mode.  Secondary narcissism becomes active when the libido “withdraws from all objects outside the self.”   When this happens, the person’s relationship with society is impaired and there  is  a potential for megalomania (delusional fantasies of power and/or omnipotence).

Following Freud, a number of psychoanalysts have further explored narcissistic defense mechanisms.  First, Freud’s  student, Viktor Tausk, explored it in his work in  clinical psychosis.   Tausk was followed  by Hungarian Michael Balint, who helped develop object relations theory  (the idea our experience affect the “unconscious  predictions of others’ social behaviors.”)  The  Austrian-American psychoanalyst Paul Federn continued work on the ego and narcissism as have Francis Pasche, Béla Grunberger, and André Green.  Especially important in this continuing work have been the American psychoanalysts Otto Kernberg and Heinz Kohut, both of whom have looked extensively into the defense mechanisms of “of denial, separation, projective identification, and pathological idealization.”

Source: International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, ©2005 Gale Cengage. All Rights Reserved

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