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.”
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