Primary narcissism corresponds to the original libidinal cathexis of the ego. Later, part of that cathexis will be redirected onto objects, giving rise to the opposition between ego-libido and object-libido.
It is worth noting that Freud often spoke as often of "original narcissism" as of "primary narcissism"—the sense is the same.
In the second part of "On Narcissism: An Introduction" (1914c), Freud offered an ex post facto explanation of the nature of narcissism based on the tender attitude of parents towards their children, an attitude that embodies a "revival and reproduction of their own narcissism, which they have long since abandoned" (p. 91). As a result parents attribute every conceivable perfection to their young children.
The disturbances 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 in boys about the penis and envy of the penis in the case of girls (p. 92). In opposition to Adler's theory of masculine protest, Freud defended a psychology of repression, arguing that a precondition of repression was the establishment of an ideal, and that such an ideal was instituted during the development of the ego. As it evolved, the ego distanced itself from primary narcissism, formed an ego-ideal, and proceeded to cathect objects.
Primary narcissism is the narcissism of the suckling. Serge Lebovici (1997) points up the coextensive nature of primary narcissism and the individual's sense of his or her own continuity. Failures of primary narcissism are responsible, in Lebovici's view, for precipitating the fantasy of the primal scene, and hence for feelings of being the third party. The state of primary narcissism is clearly compatible with the infant's absence of any sense of its need for help, so well described by Freud in a note added in 1912 to his paper "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning" (1911b). This theorization is particularly useful in understanding depression brought on by de-idealization.
See also: Basic fault; Ego-libido/object-libido; Hungarian School; Metapsychological Supplement to the Theory of Dreams ; Monism; Narcissism; Narcissistic defenses; Narcissism, secondary; Oceanic feeling; Optical schema; Organization; Pictogram; Primal, the; Primary love; Schizophrenia; Silence; Symbiosis/symbiotic relation.
Freud, Sigmund. (1911b). Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning. SE, 12: 213-226.
——. (1914c). On narcissism: An introduction. SE, 14: 67-102.
——. (1919h). The "uncanny." SE, 17: 217-256.
Lebovici, Serge. (1997). Défense et illustration du concept de narcissisme primaire. Les avatars du narcissisme primaire et le processus de subjectification. Psychiatrie de l'enfant, 40, (2), 429-463.