Primary Narcissism in Freud’s Psychology (Psychoanalysis)

Primary narcissism corresponds to the ego’s original libidinal investment. Later, part of thiscathexiswill be redirected to objects, giving rise to the opposition betweenegolibidoandobject libido. It is worth noting that Freud often spoke of “original narcissism” and “primary narcissism” – the meaning is the same.

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“Loving oneself”, Freud argues, is the “complement of the libido for the selfishness of the preservation instinct” (74). We all have impulses to nourish ourselves and to protect us from danger; these impulses are linked with our desires, and we cannot quite separate our sexual desires (directed at other human beings) from our desire directed inward to take care of ourselves. Freud calls this basic, sexually charged desire directed at the self “primary” narcissism or “original” narcissism.

It contrasts primary narcissism with “secondary narcissism” , which arises in pathological states such as schizophrenia in which a person’s libido is removed from objects in the world and produces megalomania. The secondary narcissism of the mentally ill is, Freud suggests, an extreme expanded manifestation of primary narcissism, which exists in all individuals.

In the second part of “ On narcissism: an introduction ” (1914c), Freud offered an ex-post explanation of the nature of narcissism based on the parents’ attitude towards their children, an attitude that incorporates a “revival and reproduction of their narcissism, which they have long since abandoned ”(p. 91). As a result, parents attribute every conceivable perfection to their children.

The disorders to which primary narcissism is prone are what allow its existence to be inferred. Among them are the effects of the castration complex , described by Freud at the beginning of the third part of “On narcissism”, as anxiety about losing a penis in boys  and penis envy , in the case of girls (p. 92). In opposition to Adler ‘s theory of male protest , Freud defended a psychology of repression , arguing that a pre-condition of repression was the establishment of an ideal, and that such an ideal was instituted during ego development . When it evolves, the ego distances itself from primary narcissism forms an ideal ego, and proceeded to cathexize objects.

Primary narcissism is the narcissism of breastfeeding. Serge Lebovici (1997) points to the coextensive nature of primary narcissism and a sense of its own continuity of the individual. Failures of primary narcissism are responsible, in Lebovici’s view, for precipitating the fantasy of the primary scene, and therefore for feelings of being the third. The state of primary narcissism is clearly compatible with the child’s absence of any sense of his need for help, so well described by Freud in a note added in 1912 to the article ” Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning ” (1911b). This theorization is particularly useful in understanding the depression caused by de-idealization.


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