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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 [1938]). 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 [1914], 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"that of his father"which, 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 [1915], 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 [1932], 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 dualisma 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 narcissismas 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).

Michel Vincent

See also: Absence; 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 [1921]). The dual orientation of narcissism. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 31.

Ferenczi, Sándor. (1909). Introjection and transference. In First contributions to psycho-analysis. London: Hogarth Press, 1952 [1916].

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. (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 [1914]. 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.

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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.

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Oppenheimer, Agnès. (1996). Kohut et la psychologie du self. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

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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)

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. (1967). Mirror-role of mother and family in child development. In Playing and reality. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974.

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Narcissism refers to a personality trait that includes grandiosity, vanity, and self-love. Narcissistic individuals are often described with such adjectives as arrogant, self-centered, cocky, or conceited. The term narcissism is derived from the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus. According to the myth, Narcissus was a handsome young man who was in search of his ideal romantic partner. One day he fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Narcissus died while gazing at his reflection, and on that spot a flower (a narcissus or daffodil) grew.

The British sexologist Havelock Ellis (18591939) was the first to suggest the character of Narcissus for describing a psychological state. It was Sigmund Freud (18561939), however, who made narcissism into a central concept in psychology. In the early twenty-first century the concept of narcissism can be found in several branches of the social sciences. Most frequently narcissism is used in psychology, where it refers to both a personality trait and a personality disorder. Narcissism is also used in fields such as sociology, political science, and criminology.

In personality psychology narcissism is considered to be a continuously distributed, normal personality trait. Narcissism appears to have three core characteristics: First, narcissism is associated with an inflated view of the self. Narcissists see themselves and their actions in an overly positive light. This often includes a sense of uniqueness and entitlement (e.g., I deserve special treatment). Second, narcissism is associated with interpersonal relationships that lack warmth and emotional intimacy. Third, narcissism is associated with a pattern of behaviors that maintain the inflated, grandiose view of the self. Examples of such behaviors include bragging, showing off, and blaming others when things go wrong. Narcissism and high self-esteem are often confused. Both traits are associated with feeling positively toward oneself. With narcissism, however, those positive feelings are linked specifically to their perceived standing on so-called agentic traits, such as social status, intelligence, confidence, and physical attractiveness. Narcissism is not associated with positive feelings on what are called communal traits, such as caring, warmth, and compassion. In contrast, individuals with self-esteem feel positively about themselves on both agentic and communal traits.

In clinical psychology and psychiatry narcissism is described as a personality disorder (i.e., narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD). A personality disorder is a relatively stable and fixed pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving that leads to emotional suffering and functional impairment (e.g., problems in love or at work). According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1994), NPD involves a pattern of grandiosity, a need to be admired, and a lack of empathy; the disorder is assessed using nine specific criteria, including arrogant behavior, a sense of entitlement, and fantasies of success and brilliance.

In sociology and social history narcissism has been used to describe culture or a cultural movement. A narcissistic culture is one where values like self-promotion, individualism, and self-centeredness are central and where narcissistic individuals are common. The most well-known example of this cultural perspective on narcissism is the historian Christopher Laschs The Culture of Narcissism (1978). Lasch argues that American culture is becoming increasingly narcissistic.

In political science the concept of narcissism is used in the study of leadership. Some leaders, especially dictators and despots (e.g., Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin), have been described as narcissistic. In addition narcissism has been examined as a potential factor in political terrorism.

In criminology narcissistic personality traits are thought to predict criminal behavior, including murder, rape, assault, spousal abuse, and white-collar crime. Narcissism is also a key feature of a psychopathic personality, which is perhaps the most important personality profile for predicting serious criminal behavior.

Several significant issues remain unresolved in the scientific study of narcissism. First, there remains debate over the definition of narcissism. While there is strong agreement on key features of narcissism like grandiosity and low empathy, there is disagreement about the link between narcissism and feelings of depression or unhappiness. Some theorists argue that narcissism contains a component of depression or low self-esteem; others argue that narcissism is related to positive emotions. Still others argue that narcissism is linked to negative emotions and self-perceptions but that these feelings are experienced only at an unconscious level. Second, while there are several theories about the development of narcissism in individuals, there is no firm conclusion about its etiology. Some researchers argue that narcissism results from permissive parenting, while others argue that narcissism is a reaction to cold, controlling parents. Finally, the role of culture in maintaining narcissism is not well understood. Some researchers and theorists have identified a rising tide of narcissism, but the cause of this remains unclear.

SEE ALSO Freud, Sigmund; Individualism; Leadership; Neuroticism; Obsession; Personality; Political Science; Psychology


American Psychiatric Association. 1994. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th rev. ed. Washington, DC: Author.

Freud, Sigmund. [1914] 1957. On Narcissism: An Introduction. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. James Strachey, vol. 14, 67104. London: Hogarth.

Lasch, Christopher. 1978. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York: Norton.

Morf, Carolyn C., and Frederick Rhodewalt. 2001. Unraveling the Paradoxes of Narcissism: A Dynamic Self-regulatory Processing Model. Psychological Inquiry 12 (4): 177196.

W. Keith Campbell

Joshua D. Miller

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The term narcissism, which is derived from the Greek myth of Narcissus, refers to self-love. It was used first by Paul Nacke in 1899 to describe a case of male autoerotic perversion in which an individual treated his own body as one might treat the body of a sexual partner.


Freud first used the term in correspondence with Wilhelm Fleiss, also in 1899. In the course of his career Freud used the word to describe four different but related phenomena: narcissism as sexual perversion; narcissism as a stage of development between the autoerotic stage and the stage of object love; narcissism as a libidinal cathexis (or love of self) of the ego or, as Freud described it in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905, p. 218), "the great reservoir from which object-cathexis are sent out and into which they are withdrawn once more"; and narcissism as object choice, either anaclitic object choice in which the person loves someone like herself or himself, or attachment object choice, in which the person loves a strong and comforting person. In On Narcissism (1914) Freud also distinguished primary narcissism, the libidinal cathexis of the ego, from secondary narcissism, the cathexis of lost objects.

Freud's contemporaries further elaborated the meanings and understanding of narcissism. Sandor Ferenczi (1909) described a child's desire to rid itself of unpleasant affects by excluding objects from its perceptions as a form of narcissism. Karl Abraham (1924) wrote about the symptomatology of melancholia as being either positive narcissism, a self-love, or negative narcissism, a self-hate.


Later work on narcissism was done by Rosenfeld (1965), who drew attention to destructive narcissism related to the death instinct in contrast to the libidinal aspect of narcissism. In The Analysis of the Self, Heinz Kohut (1971) described narcissism as the cathexis of self-representations, not of the ego. He defined narcissism as agency of the personality responsible for factors in relationships. Kohut described three forms of narcissistic transferences, or relating: a need to experience mirroring and acceptance (a mirroring transference), the need to experience merger with greatness and strength (an idealized transference), and the need to experience an alikeness with another person (a twinship transference). The self-psychology he developed from his understanding of narcissism reflected an evolution of psychoanalytic theory from an ego psychology to a psychology of the self. Thus, in psychoanalytic literature, narcissism came to be applied to many things: sexual perversion, a developmental stage in a line of development, a type of libido or its object, a type or mode of object choice, a mode of relating to the environment, an attitude, self-esteem, and a personality type.

In current literature narcissism typically is used to describe the vicissitudes of self-esteem. Otto Kernberg described narcissistic patients as individuals with "an unusual degree of self-reference in their interactions with other people, a great need to be loved and admired by others, and a curious apparent contradiction between a very inflated concept of themselves, and an inordinate need for tribute from others" (Kernberg 1967, p. 655). These patients exhibit a sense of entitlement and fantasies of omniscience, omnipotence, and perfection. Affects range from elation to disappointment, anger, and narcissistic rage. Kernberg (1975) distinguished normal narcissism from pathological narcissism; the former depends on the structural integrity of the self, a balance between libidinal and aggressive drives, a harmony between the ego and superego, and a capacity to receive gratification from external objects. Normal narcissism leads to a balanced self-regard, realistic goals, and the capacity for deep and involved relationships. Pathological narcissism is seen in primitive demands on the self (such as extreme grandiosity in dress and behavior), inordinate dependence on others, and poor object relations. It also manifests itself in a sense of entitlement, a need for constant pursuit of perfection, and an impaired capacity for concern for and love of others.


Richard Green and John Money (1965) first used the term gender identity to describe a person's relative sense of his or her masculine or feminine identity. Precursors to that term were body ego, body image, and sexual identity. Robert Stoller (1974), a psychoanalyst, distinguished between the psychological and biological dimensions of sex. He used the term gender identity to describe socially constructed experiences of masculinity and femininity from sex, the biologically determined traits of maleness and femaleness. Stoller also made a distinction between gender identity, a person's sense of masculinity or femininity, and core gender identity, a mostly stable sense of maleness or femaleness that typically is consolidated by the second year of life. In contrast to Freud's belief that primary identification is masculine, Stoller believed that both boys and girls begin with a female core gender identity and that it is learned nonconflictually, that is by identifying, or being like the mother, through identification. He believed that a failure to interrupt the maternal symbiosis with preoedipal boys results in gender identity disorders.

John O'Leary and Fred Wright (1986) suggested that shame is the principal affect in narcissistic behavior, narcissism is a defense against shame, and the way shame is manifested is different in men and women. They described narcissistic men using grandiosity to bypass shame (a scared man may act fearless), whereas narcissistic women are more conscious and sensitive to shame experiences.

Other studies suggest women are more likely to experience shame, whereas men are more likely to exhibit hostility. Arthur Heiserman and Harold Cook (1998) also found gender differences in shame propensity, with women being more shame-prone than men. They also suggested that their findings were consistent with other literature in stating that women's narcissistic pathology is linked to idealization needs (the idealized transference, being like someone who is greatly admired), whereas men's narcissistic pathology is linked to mirroring needs (the mirror transference, needing love and acceptance). Narcissistic men appear to be more prone to hostility, and narcissistic women to be more prone to depression.

Judith Butler (1995) suggested that in melancholia there is incorporation of the lost object, as Freud described, but went on to establish a relationship between that incorporation and the formation of a bodily ego, or identity. Butler argued that under the societal demands of compulsory heterosexuality, individuals have to give up attachments to same-sexed objects and that this results in melancholia and gendered identifications to the bodily ego. These are losses attributable to the societal pressures against of homosexual love, resulting in melancholic identifications.


Abraham, Karl. 1924. A Short History of the Development of the Libido, Viewed in the Light of Mental Disorders, trans. Douglas Bryan and Alix Strachey. London: Hogarth Press.

Butler, Judith. 1995. "Melancholy Gender—Refused Identification." Psychoanalytic Dialogues 5: 165-180.

Ferenczi, Sandor. 1909. Introjection and Transference. London: Hogarth Press.

Freud, Sigmund. 1905. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, trans. James Strachney. Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth Press.

Freud, Sigmund. 1914. On Narcissism: An Introduction, trans. James Strachney. Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth Press.

Green, Richard, and John Money, eds. 1969. Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Heiserman, Arthur, and Harold Cook. 1998. "Narcissism, Affect, and Gender." Psychoanalytic Psychology 15: 74-92.

Kernberg, Otto. 1967. "Borderline Personality Organization." Journal of the American Psycholanalytic Association 15: 641-685.

Kernberg, Otto J. 1975. Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. New York: J. Aronson.

Kohut, Heinz. 1971. The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders. New York: International Universities Press.

O'Leary, John, and Fred Wright. 1986. "Shame and Gender Issues in Pathological Narcissism." Psychoanalytic Psychology 3: 327-339.

Rusenfeld, Heber. 1965. Psychotic States: A Psycho-Anaytical Approach. New York: International Universities Press.

Stoller, Robert. 1974. Sex and Gender. New York: J. Aronson.

                                           Michael R. Bieber

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Excessive preoccupation with self and lack of empathy for others.

Narcissism is the personality trait that features an exaggerated sense of the person's own importance and abilities. People with this trait believe themselves to be uniquely gifted and commonly engage in fantasies of fabulous success, power , or fame. Arrogant and egotistical, narcissistics are often snobs, defining themselves by their ability to associate with (or purchase the services of) the "best" people. They expect special treatment and concessions from others. Paradoxically, these individuals are generally insecure and have low self-esteem . They require considerable admiration from others and find it difficult to cope with criticism. Adversity or criticism may cause the narcissistic person to either counterattack in anger or withdraw socially. Because narcissistic individuals cannot cope with setbacks or failure, they often avoid risks and situations in which defeat is a possibility.

Another common characteristic of narcissistic individuals is envy and the expectation that others are envious as well. The self-aggrandizement and self-absorption of narcissistic individuals is accompanied by a pronounced lack of interest in and empathy for others. They expect people to be devoted to them but have no impulse to reciprocate, being unable to identify with the feelings of others or anticipate their needs. Narcissistic people often enter into relationships based on what other people can do for them.

During adolescence , when the individual is making the transition from childhood to adulthood, many demonstrate aspects of narcissism. These traits , related to the adolescent's need to develop his or her own sense of self, do not necessarily develop into the disorder that psychologists have studied for decades, known as narcissistic personality disorder. In 1898, Havelock Ellis (1859-1939) was the first psychologist to address narcissism in a published work. Sigmund Freud claimed that sexual perversion is linked to the narcissistic substitution of the self for one's mother as the primary love object in infancy . In 1933, psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) described the "phallic-narcissistic" personality type in terms that foreshadow the present-day definition: self-assured, arrogant, and disdainful. In 1969, Theodore Milton specified five criteria for narcissistic personality disorder in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) : (1) inflated self-image; (2) exploitative; (3) cognitive expansiveness;(4) insouciant temperament ; and (5) deficient social conscience .

The person with narcissistic personality disorder experiences a powerful need to be admired and seems consumed with his or her own interests and feelings. Individuals with this disorder have little or no empathy for others and an inflated sense of their own importance and of the significance of their achievements. It is common for persons with this disorder to compare themselves to famous people of achievement and to express surprise when others do not share or voice the same perception . They feel entitled to great praise, attention, and deferential treatment by others, and have difficulty understanding or acknowledging the needs of others. They envy others and imagine that others are envious of them. The person with narcissistic personality disorder has no patience with others, and quickly strays from situations where he or she is not the center of attention and conversation. According to DSM-IV, narcissistic personality disorder affects less than 1% of the general population. Of those, between half and three-fourths are male.

Secondary features of narcissistic personality disorder include feelings of shame or humiliation, depression , and mania . Narcissistic personality disorder has also been linked to anorexia nervosa, substance-related disorders (especially cocaine abuse), and other personality disorders .

Further Reading

Masterson, James F. The Emerging Self: A Developmental, Self, and Object Relations Approach to the Treatment of the Closet Narcissistic Disorder. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1993.

Sandler, Joseph, Ethel Spector Person, and Peter Fonagy, eds. Freud's "On Narcissisman Introduction." New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

Westen, Drew. Self and Society: Narcissism, Collectivism, and the Development of Morals. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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narcissism Used in everyday life to indicate self-love and egoism, the concept has a more technical meaning to orthodox psychoanalytic theory. Primary narcissism refers to the love of self which, Freud argues, must precede the ability to love others. This stage of development is also typified by the opposite of self-love—self-hatred. Secondary narcissism is identifying with, and then introjecting, an object (person) making it part of oneself. A ‘narcissistic object choice’ involves identifying with a person on the basis of that person's similarity to oneself.

The concept has been extended by the American social historian Christopher Lasch (The Culture of Narcissism, 1980, and The Minimal Self, 1984) into an instrument of social analysis and criticism. Lasch, who is unusual on the political Left for promoting the virtue of family life, argues that modern society has crippled human abilities for love and commitment. The social changes associated with modernity (the development of large bureaucracies and technological change), and consequent changes in family relationships (especially the comparative absence of the father), have allegedly made it difficult to develop beyond narcissism. The dominant personality type of modern society is said to be internally impoverished, fluctuating between exaggerated self-love and self-hatred, consequently needing parasitic relationships to reinforce the former; it is unable to tolerate frustration, inadequacy, and strong feelings, due to a lack of ego-development. Lasch sees a number of cultural phenomena—from the emphasis on health and sporting achievement through to the New Left of the 1960s, sexual liberation movements, and much modern feminism—as manifestations of narcissism. The narcissistic personality is often successful in the outside world, but feels an inner emptiness, and concentrates on survival rather than investing in the future.

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nar·cis·sism / ˈnärsəˌsizəm/ • n. excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one's physical appearance. ∎ Psychol. extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type. ∎ Psychoanalysis self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects, either in very young babies or as a feature of mental disorder. DERIVATIVES: nar·cis·sist / ˈnärsəsəst/ n. nar·cis·sis·tic / ˌnärsəˈsistik/ adj. nar·cis·sis·ti·cal·ly / ˌnärsəˈsistik(ə)lē/ adv.

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narcissism (närsĬs´Ĭzəm), Freudian term, drawn from the Greek myth of Narcissus, indicating an exclusive self-absorption. In psychoanalysis, narcissism is considered a normal stage in the development of children. It is known as secondary narcissism when it occurs after puberty, and is said to indicate a libidinal energy directed exclusively toward oneself. A degree of narcissism is considered normal, where an individual has a healthy self-regard and realistic aspirations. The condition becomes pathological, and diagnosable as a personality disorder, when it significantly impairs social functioning. An individual with narcissistic personality disorder tends to harbor an exaggerated sense of his own self-importance and uniqueness. He is often excessively occupied with fantasies about his own attributes and potential for success, and usually depends upon others for reinforcement of his self-image. A narcissist tends to have difficulties maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships, stemming largely from a lack of empathy and a propensity for taking advantage of others in the interest of self-aggrandizement. It is often found in combination with antisocial personality disorder.

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narcissism (nar-sis-izm) n. an excessive involvement with oneself and one's self-importance. In Freudian terms it is a state in which the ego has taken itself as a love object. An extreme degree of narcissism may become a personality disorder.
narcissistic adj.

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narcissism morbid self-love. XX. f. Narcissus, in Gr. myth. name of a beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection and pined away; see -ISM.