Freuds Essay On Narcissism

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CriticaLink | Freud: On Narcissism | Reading Guide for I: 73-76

The term narcissism is derived from clinical description…

"On Narcissism: An Introduction" begins with a move that is characteristic of Freud's developing approach to theorizing about the psyche. Freud refers to a psychological state that other theorists have described as abnormal--in this case, exclusive auto-eroticism--and suggests that it might be a more pervasive condition that previously thought, then expands this suggestion even further to indicate that it might actually be a condition common to the psychological makeup of allhuman beings.

"Loving oneself," Freud argues, is the "libidinal complement to the egoism of the instinct of self-preservation" (74). We all have impulses to nourish ourselves and to protect ourselves from danger; these impulses are bound up with our desires, and we can't neatly separate our sexual desires (directed at other humans) from our inwardly directed desire to care for ourselves.

Freud calls this basic, sexually charged desire directed at the self "primary" or "normal" narcissism. He contrasts primary narcissism with a "secondary narcissism" which arises in pathological states such as schizophrenia in which the person's libido withdraws from objects in the world and produces megalomania. The secondary narcissism of the mentally ill is, Freud suggests, a magnified, extreme manifestation of primary narcissism which exists in all individuals.

Other clues to the existence of primary narcissism come from observations of children and what Freud calls "primitive peoples," who engage in what Freud in Totem and Taboo calls "magical thinking": for example, believing that wishing for something will make it appear, or that uttering a spell will have real effects. These behaviors reflect a sense of the self as powerful, able to have an influence on external reality, and Freud believes that such an investment in the self is a part of human development. He calls it "an original libidinal cathexis of the ego" (75).

Freud imagines a libidinal economy in which object-libido (directed outward) and ego-libido (directed inward) exist in a ratio. Being in love is at the extreme end of object-libido; being a paranoid schizophrenic is at the extreme end of ego-libido.

A summary of Freud article

On Narcissism; an introduction (1916)

Freud defines narcissism as soothing oneself as a sexual object. Although, narcissism can be seen as a perversion there’s a general developmental narcissism which can be found in all human development.  Freud establishes a primary narcissism as the original libido directing its energy into the ego, which then causes the ego to become “packed”. This primary narcissism is evident in young children in their belief in grandiosity, magic, and in the power of their words. This primary ego-libido becomes overly stimulated (packed) which causes displeasure. The displeasure then propels the energy to  direct outwards onto an external object. The libido is then defined as an “object-libido.” The original discomfort is the tension of an overly stimulated ego, which needs outlet and find union with an object. Secondary narcissism, is when the object-libido is returned inward onto the ego after it had already been attached to an object. The return of the libido to the ego causes a pathological personality of being cut off and schizoid. The secondary narcissism echoes the original primary narcissism of the ego-libido,  thus making it easier for a return to happen.

Paraphrenia is defined with a) megalomania and b) a disconnect from reality. The libido that is returned to the ego creates a disinterest and indifference in the external world. The introverted libido, (the ego-libido), needs to store all the energy of the once object libido in the ego. The return of the libido causes megalomania which enlarges the ego’s size and thus allows the libido to house itself inward.

Although in neurosis there is a disconnect from the libidinal-object; nevertheless, the libido is still directed outward, only distorted with conversion and sublimation into neurosis and repetition. With the ascetic anchorite (a spiritual- hermit) although they appear to have returned their sex drive to their ego, as evident in their sole interest in spirituality, upon a closer speculation, the observer will recognize that the libido is still directed outward, it is only sublimated and obsessed with spirituality.

Freud explains that the two forces the ego-libido and the object libido are based on two primary instincts the ego instinct, the need for self-preservation, and the sex instinct, the preservation of the species. Although in infancy the instincts and libidos are in unison and are inseparable later on the two libidos become diametrically contradicting to each other and in opposition. Therefore, the more the libido is aimed outward, as object-libido, in accordance with the sex instinct, the less energy is found inward, and the less ego-libido. And the more ego-libido the less object-libido and the less the individual will find in society. This phenomenon is evident when making “love” the libido-object takes on its totality and the ego is diminished which allows a bound to take the place of the ego. The libidos are based on the instincts which are based on the biology of the opposing needs for survival love and hunger. Love represents the survival of the species and huger is the survival of the individual. The ego needs the libido to stay alive however if it puts all the energy in the ego the subject will falls ill. In order to stay healthy the subject needs a balance of ego-libido and object-libido. Metaphorical it’s the individual in the group that wants the self and collective-self . However the more linkage to the collect of the group   the less self and the more self the less linkage.

Freud brings three concepts as evidenced to the narcissistic ego-libido. a) Organic pain b) hypochondria c) the difference in object-choice in the sexes.

Object choice is where the libidinal aim is placed. The usual choice is the mother object, because the mother nurtured the child and thus sustained the libidinal-ego and libidinal object simultaneously.  In the primary mother-child relationship the libidinal object and libidinal ego are inseparable. Thus the mother becomes the object-libidos choice (the attachment type). However there is evidence that subjects like in homosexuality may choose their own ego-object as the object-choice(narcissistic type). We may hypothesize that in all of us the object-choice are both the mother-object and the ego-object.

We find a difference in the sexes in regard to the object choice. The male sex usually seeks the “attachment type” the primary mothering object. However in the female sex we find that especially among the good looking they seek a love object that will mirror their own ego. They will search somebody that can admire their ego the way they do. This narcissistic ego finds an attraction among men due to their indifference to the outsider’s opinion.

The admiration a parent has for their new infant also implies a primary narcissism, which has been repressed and re-awaked with the child’s birth. Now the Parent can project their own narcissistic ego onto the child their own unfulfilled life. In addition the parent’s denial of the infantile sexual libido can also be contributed to the parent’s narcissistic projection of only respectable instincts.   Part of the affection people have for children is also due to their narcissistic ego.

Early deterrence of sexual activity and can also be attributed to the primitive narcissism of the child.  Which can also be seen in the castration complex. Which causes the anxiety of the penis and in girls the envy of the penis.

The narcissistic infantile perfect ego is later on faced with limitations and criticism, which needs to displace its libidinal narcissism. Thus the narcissism becomes placed in the creation of a new agency the “ideal ego”. His ideals are really the projection of his infantile narcissism. The infantile ego is the cause of the repression however later on the ego creates an ideal which it places its narcissism into and thus produces the repression.

Freud explains that the ego is then constantly “watched”, measured, and censored by the ego–ideal and this “watching” over the ego is the phenomenon of “conscience”. “Watching” is often found in paranoia, the belief of being watched, the broadcasting and exposure of thoughts, and the hallucinatory criticism of a third party in the form of a voice are all components of paranoiacs.

Self-regard is then measured by the satisfaction of the ego-ideal and by the acceptance and love of the chosen object. Self-regard is often increased in paraphrenics and decreased in neurotics. Self-regard can be conceptualized with the enlargement of the ego size. When the libidinal energy is directed outward without the return and approval of the ideal or libidinal object the ego suffers from deprivation.

The sex object also becomes an idealized object. This is due to the original mother-child relationship that contributed to the ego and object libidinal in unison. Thus the later object becomes idealized and the subject seeks its satisfaction and approval. If the subject is unable to find approval with his ego-ideal he will seek the narcissistic type of object to approve of him.

Adler’s conceptualizes achievement as compensation of some real or imagined defect or inferiority. Although there is truth to this, this isn’t the motive of human and neurotics.


Freud, S. (1914). On Narcissism. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIV

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