The term narcissism, in keeping with the Greek myth of Narcissus, refers to self-love. The concept was introduced in Freud's work shortly before the publication of "On Narcissism: An Introduction" (1914c). This paper was a response to four related issues: the difficulties encountered in psychoanalysis in working with neurotics; the controversy with Jung, who defended the idea of the unity of psychic energy; the debate with Adler over the role of "masculine protest" in symptom-formation; and above all Freud's growing interest in the psychoses, which opened his way to the study of the ego (1923a).
By proposing the notion of narcissism, Freud (1914c) meant to show how four different phenomena were related: narcissism as sexual perversion; narcissism as a stage in development; narcissism as libidinal cathexis of the ego; and narcissism as object-choice. He also described an ego-ideal as the heir of infantile narcissism and as a psychic agency of self-observation. These last two concepts would be elaborated on later by Freud.
The term was borrowed from Paul Näcke, who in 1899 described a form of behavior, resembling a perversion, whereby an individual treated his own body as one might treat the body of a sexual partner. In 1910 the word appeared in Freud's writing for the first time in a long note added to the third edition of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905c, p. 145n). He used it again in Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood (1910c), then offered a more complete account in his discussion of the case of Schreber: "There comes a time in the development of the individual at which he unifies his sexual instincts (which have hitherto been engaged in autoerotic activities) in order to obtain a love-object; and he begins by taking himself, his own body as his love-object" (1911c, p. 60). In the third chapter of Totem and Taboo, "Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts," Freud defined narcissism in much the same way (1912-13a, p. 89).
At this time he formed the hypothesis of a narcissistic stage of development occurring between the auto-erotic stage and the stage of object-love. In "Instincts and their Vicissitudes" (1915c), Freud described "a primal psychical situation": "Originally, at the very beginning of mental life, the ego is cathected with instincts and is to some extent capable of satisfying them on itself. We call this condition 'narcissism' and this way of obtaining satisfaction 'auto-erotic"' (p. 134). On its face, this account would seem to conflict with the one set forth in "On Narcissism" (1914c). But it becomes easier to see how narcissism can be viewed as a phase between autoeroticism and object love, and autoeroticism as a mode of satisfaction, if we bear in mind that the significance of autoeroticism changes during development, as the identificatory processes described by Karl Abraham (incorporation) and by Sándor Ferenczi (introjection) come into play. Freud described the relationship between narcissistic identification and hysterical identification in the twenty-sixth of his Introductory Lectures (1916-1917a [1915-1916], pp. 427-428).
Freud postulated an original cathexis of the ego, a primary narcissism, in the infant; later some part of this libidinal cathexis would be redirected onto objects, creating an opposition between ego-libido and object-libido. Narcissism was thus seen as the libidinal complement to the egoism of the self-preservative instinct. It therefore played a part in the structural definition of the ego, for the ego retained a permanent narcissistic cathexis that no instinctual vicissitude could exhaust (1917a). In 1915 Freud had added a section on "The Libido Theory" to part 3 of the Three Essays (1905d), in which narcissistic libido was described as "the great reservoir from which object-cathexes are sent out and into which they are withdrawn once more" (1905d, p. 218). This metaphor recurred almost every time Freud discussed narcissism thereafter: in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g), in the encyclopedia article "The Libido Theory" (1923a), and in The Ego and the Id (1923b). The narcissistic phase of libido fixation was also illustrated by the metaphor of an amoeba capable of putting forth extensions or pseudopodia that can in due course be withdrawn once more, this primitive distribution of the libido being reestablished during sleep. This analogy, first used by Freud in "On Narcissism" (1914c, p. 75), was repeated frequently betweenBeyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g) and An Outline of Psychoanalysis (1940a ). The editors of the Standard Edition review Freud's use of these two metaphors in an appendix to The Ego and the Id (1923b, pp. 63-66).
Freud contrasted the paths leading to object-choice of the narcissistic type with object-choice of the anaclitic or attachment type. In the case of narcissistic object-choice, a person loved "(a) what he himself is (i.e., himself), (b) what he himself was, (c) what he himself would like to be, (d) someone who was once part of himself." In anaclitic object-choice, a person loved "the woman who feeds" or "the man who protects" (1914c, p. 90).
Freud presented an instance of narcissistic object-choice in his "Wolf Man" case history. There he interpreted a shift of object-choice by little Sergei (the future "Wolf Man") from his nurse, or "Nanya," to his father (1918b , p. 27). This shift was precipitated by what he felt was a rejection by the nurse, which thus offered him the opportunity to "renew his first and most primitive object-choice"hat of his fatherwhich, in conformity with a small child's narcissism, had taken place along the path of identification" (p. 27). Freud revisited this mode of identification in The Ego and the Id, where he distinguished it from the initial object-cathexis of the mother's breast (1923b, p. 31).
In his paper on "The 'Uncanny,"' Freud argued that "the double," as studied by Otto Rank, had its origins in the period of primary narcissism, when it was invented on the basis of "unbounded self-love" as "an assurance of immortality"; only later would it become a "harbinger of death" (1919h, p. 235).
In the adult, infantile narcissism was replaced in Freud's view by the ego-ideal. It was in "On Narcissism" (1914c, pp. 94-95) that he first discussed a specific psychic agency responsible for measuring the actual ego against an ideal ego or ego ideal (Freud himself never clearly distinguished between the two terms). This "critically observing agency" was involved, according to Freud, in so-called normal consciousness, in dream censorship, and in delusions of being watched (1914c, pp. 95-98). In "Mourning and Melancholia," Freud assigned it a leading role in the onset of pathological states of mourning, pointing out that the ego ideal splits off from the rest of the ego (1916-17g , pp. 247-48). He reiterated the idea of a splitting-off of the ego ideal in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c). When the superego made its first appearance in Freud's work (1923b, p. 28), it was an alternative name for the ego ideal; later, it would operate principally as an agency of guarding and prohibiting. In his later work Freud referred to the ego ideal only intermittently, using it in a quasi-technical way. In the New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, the superego was described as "the vehicle of the ego ideal by which the ego measures itself" (1933a , pp. 64-65 and n.).
Freud's contemporaries clarified the change in his thinking represented by the introduction of narcissism. Sándor Ferenczi remarked in "Introjection and Transference" (1909) that the newborn experienced everything in a monistic way. The desire to rid itself of unpleasant affects led the child to exclude objects from the mass of its perceptions. The infant invented the outside world and then opposed its ego to it by means of a primitive projection that thus established dualism point of view that Melanie Klein did not take into account later when she posited the existence of a dualism from the beginning. Ferenczi first used the term narcissism in 1913.
The earliest contributions of Karl Abraham, between 1913 and 1920, show that it was the difficulties he encountered in the treatment of neurotics that prompted him to consider the role of narcissism. In "A Short Study of the Development of the Libido, Viewed in the Light of Mental Disorders" (1924), however, he based himself on the study of the psychoses, and especially of melancholia, to connect narcissism with the specific quality of thought needed to transform a fantasy into a delusional idea. The symptomatology of melancholia further led him to consider overestimation and underestimation as expressions, respectively, of positive and negative narcissism related to self-love and self-hatred.
In his article "On the Origin of the 'Influencing Machine' in Schizophrenia" (1919), Victor Tausk argued that the libido, at the beginnings of mental life, corresponded to an "objectless" period (p. 47). The formation of the ego was thus associated with the discovery of the object and corresponded to the development of the sense of reality. Tausk posited the existence of a psychic narcissism that renewed itself "with each new acquisition of the ego," contrasting it with an "organic narcissism that guarantees in the unconscious the unity and functioning of the organism" (p. 56). Lou Andreas-Salomé, for her part, identified narcissism with pregenital sexuality, as distinct from object-love, which implied a partner. She looked upon narcissism as a borderline concept with a twofold orientation, referring on the one hand to a reservoir for all the manifestations of the psyche and on the other to the location of all tendencies to regression to pathological childhood fixations. For Andreas-Salomé, narcissism defined physical being, unifying internal and external processes.
Several later authors contributed significantly to the discussion of narcissism. Although there was no place in Melanie Klein's theory for autoeroticism or narcissism, her descriptions of infantile omnipotence and megalomania provided important insights for the clinical understanding of narcissistic states. In 1963, writing on the psychopathology of narcissism, Herbert Rosenfeld (1965) was especially concerned to arrive at a better definition of object-relationships and their attendant defense mechanisms in narcissism. The study of therapeutic factors led him later to analyze the influence of narcissism on the work of the psychoanalyst. He drew attention to the existence, alongside the libidinal aspect of narcissism, of a destructive narcissism related to the death instinct.
Heinz Kohut offered his own reformulation of narcissism, describing it as the cathexis of self-representations (and not of the ego); he defined it as an agency of the personality responsible for issues of relationship. His clinical study "The Two Analyses of Mr. Z" (1979) reflected the transition from ego-psychology to the self-psychology that he developed out of it. These ideas were outlined in Kohut's The Analysis of the Self (1971). Kohut might be criticized for presenting his very rich contribution to the field as an alternative to classical analysis, but his observations show the benefits of a way of listening, clearly within the Freudian tradition, that combines attention to narcissism with attention to object-cathexes.
D. W. Winnicott made no direct reference to narcissism. His account of the self differed greatly from Kohut's. The articles published in Collected Papers: Through Paediatrics to Psychoanalysis (1958) and in The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment (1965) contain everything he wrote on the subject. His brilliant observations of the mother-child couple nevertheless throw considerable light on primary narcissism, which in the young child can be viewed as the extension of the mother's narcissism. In contrast to the metaphor of the mirror in which Narcissus recognized himself and was lost, Winnicott offered his own vision of a child destined to find itself and live, the mirror in this case being the mother's face: "What does the baby see when he or she looks at the mother's face? I am suggesting that, ordinarily, what the baby sees is himself or herself. In other words the mother is looking at the baby and what she looks like is related to what she sees there" (1967, p. 131). It is worth pointing out the importance in this view of the environment and of emotional experience.
Since Freud, in France, there has been a particularly lively interest in the question of narcissism. The mirror stage, as described by Jacques Lacan, originated in the work of the psychologist Henri Wallon. Unlike Winnicott, for whom the child's environment was supportive, Lacan (1949) saw it rather in terms of "constraints," and contrasted it sharply with the eighteen-month-old's "jubilant assumption of his specular image." According to Lacan, "It suffices to understand the mirror stage . . . as an identification" (2002, p. 4). The knowledge of the ego that Lacan proposed here amounted to the suggestion that we consider rather the "misrecognition" characteristic of the ego.
Harking back to Lou Andreas-Salomé, Béla Grunberger drew attention to a double orientation of narcissisms both a need for self-affirmation and a tendency to restore permanent dependency. The active presence of narcissism throughout life led Grunberger to suggest treating it as an autonomous factor (1971). He even mooted the idea of promoting it to the status of a psychic agency.
Under the evocative title Life Narcissism, Death Narcissism (1983), André Green clarified the conflict surrounding the object of narcissism (whether a fantasy object or a real object) in its relationship to the ego. For Green, it was because narcissism affords the ego a certain degree of independence by transferring the desire of the Other to the desire of the One that a lethal kind of narcissism must be considered, for the object is destroyed at the beginning of this process. Rather than unpleasure, it is the "neutral" that replaces pleasure in Green's account. In this connection Freud had proposed the metaphor of the return to the inanimate. By analogy with Freud's analysis of masochism, which distinguished between erogenous masochism, female masochism, and moral masochism, Green evokes physical narcissism, intellectual narcissism, and moral narcissism, without suggesting any analogy between these terms.
A broad range of studies exists on Freud's "On Narcissism," as may be seen from the inventory in a monograph published under the auspices of the International Psychoanalytical Association (Sandler et al., 1991).
See also: ; Action-thought (H. Kohut); Adolescent crisis; Agency; Alter ego; Analyzability; Andreas-Salomé, Louise (Lou); Animus-Anima (analytical psychology); Antinarcissism; Autoeroticism; Bipolar self; Borderline conditions; Castration complex; Character Analysis; Narcissistic injury; Character formation; Character neurosis; Double, the; Ego and the Id, The; Ego ideal; Ego ideal/ideal ego; Ego-instinct; Ego-libido/object-libido; Erotogenicity; Erotogenic zone; Femininity; Fetishism; Free energy/bound energy; Grandiose self; Heroic self; Homosexuality; Humor; Idealization; Idealized parental imago; Idealizing transference; Identification; Identity; Infantile omnipotence; Libido; Life instinct (Eros); Magical thinking; Megalomania; Mirror transference; Monism; Narcissism of minor differences; Narcissism, primary; Narcissism, secondary; Narcissistic defenses; Narcissistic elation; Narcissistic rage; Narcissistic transference; Narcissistic withdrawal; Object; Object, change of/choice of; Omnipotence of thought; "On Narcissism: An Introduction"; "On the Origin of the 'Influencing Machine' in Schizophrenia"; Optical schema; Paradox; Self esteem; Self; Self-object; Self psychology; Self, The; Somatic compliance; State of being in love; Sublimation; Transference of creativity; Trauma; Twinship transference/alter ego transference; Violence, instinct of; Wish for a baby.
Abraham, Karl. (1924). A short history of the development of the libido, viewed in the light of mental disorders. In Selected papers of Karl Abraham, M.D. (Douglas Bryan and Alix Strachey, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press, 1927.
Andreas-Salomé, Lou. (1962 ). The dual orientation of narcissism. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 31.
Ferenczi, Sándor. (1909). Introjection and transference. In First contributions to psycho-analysis. London: Hogarth Press, 1952 .
. (1913). Stages in the development of the sense of reality. In First contributions to psycho-analysis. London: Hogarth Press, 1952 .
Freud, Sigmund. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.
. (1910c). Leonardo da Vinci and a memory of his childhood. SE, 11: 63-137.
. (1911c). Psycho-analytic notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (dementia paranoides). SE, 12: 9-79.
. (1912-13a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.
. (1914c). On narcissism: An introduction. SE, 14: 67-102.
. (1915c). Instincts and their vicissitudes. SE, 14: 109-140.
. (1916-17a [1915-16]). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 15-16.
(1917a). A difficulty in the path of psycho-analysis. SE, 17: 135-144.
. 1918b . From the history of an infantile neurosis. SE, 17: 1-122.
. (1919h). The "uncanny." SE, 17: 217-256.
. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.
. (1921c). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. SE, 18: 65-143.
. (1923a). Two encyclopaedia articles. SE, 18: 255-259.
. (1923b). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.
. (1933a ). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 1-182.
. (1940a). An outline of psycho-analysis. SE, 23: 139-207.
Freud, Sigmund, and Andréas-Salomé, Lou. (1972). Letters (Ernst Pfeiffer, Ed.; William and Elaine Robson-Scott, Trans.). New York: Harcourt Brace.
Green, André. (1983). Life narcissism, death narcissism (Andrew Weller, Trans.). London and New York: Free Association Books, 2001.
Grunberger, Béla. (1971). Le narcissisme. Essais de psychanalyse. Paris: Payot.
Kohut, Heinz. (1971). The analysis of the self: A systematic approach to the psychoanalytic treatment of narcissistic personality disorders. New York: International Universities Press.
. (1979). The two analyses of Mr Z. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 60,1.
Lacan, Jacques. (2002). The mirror stage as formative of the I function, as revealed in psychoanalytic experience. In rits: A Selection (Bruce Fink, Trans.). New York: Norton. (Original work published 1949)
Oppenheimer, Agnès. (1996). Kohut et la psychologie du self. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Rosenfeld, Herbert. (1965). Psychotic states: A psychoanalytic approach. London: Hogarth Press.
Sandler, J. et al. (1991). Freud's "On Narcissism: An Introduction." New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press.
Tausk, Victor. (1947). On the origin of the "influencing machine" in schizophrenia. In Robert Fliess (Ed.), The Psycho-Analytic Reader. New York: International Universities Press. (Original work published 1919)
Winnicott, Donald W. (1958). Collected papers: Through paediatrics to psychoanalysis. London: Tavistock.
. (1965). The maturational processes and the facilitating environment. London: Hogarth Press/Institute of Paycho-Analysis.
. (1967). Mirror-role of mother and family in child development. In Playing and reality. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974.
Did this raise a question for you?