Narcissistic Defenses

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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.

Precise indications of specifically narcissistic defenses are not to be found in the works of Freud. However, the concept appeared in relation to a number of topics: 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.

Several authors, among them Viktor Tausk (1919/1933), Michael Balint (1935/1965), Paul Federn (1928), Francis Pasche (1965), Béla Grunberger (1975), and André Green (1983), have contributed to the study of narcissism. However, it has been particularly the analysis of the pathologies of narcissism, either by the members of the Kleinian school, or by representatives of the American schools (Otto Kernberg, Heinz Kohut), which have allowed a better delineation of narcissistic defensive processes, based on an analysis of the mechanisms of denial, separation, projective identification, and pathological idealization.

In discussing narcissistic defenses, both the Freudian distinction between primary and secondary narcissism, as well as that between the normal and the pathological, must be maintained. In effect, primary narcissism is first conceived by Freud as a state situated between autoeroticism and object love; following his second theory of the psychic apparatus, it is understood as an primal state wherein the child takes itself as a love object, even before the constitution of the first objective links, raising the question of whether a state of such psychic immaturity could raise "defenses" other than of a sensory-motor sort. Besides, as Freud demonstrated, the continuum between the normal and pathological has allowed the subject to be considered to be, in a certain measure, narcissistic.

Elsa Schmid-Kitsikis

See also: Defense; Megalomania; Narcissism; Narcissistic withdrawal.


Balint, Michael. (1965). Critical notes on the theory of the pregenital organizations of the libido. Primary love and psycho-analytic technique. New York: Liveright. (Original work published 1935)

Bergeret, Jean. (1996). La Pathologie narcissique. Paris: Dunod.

Federn, Paul. (1928). Narcissism in the structure of the ego. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 9, 401-419.

Freud, Sigmund. (1914c). On narcissism: An introduction. SE, 14: 67-102.

Green, André. (1983). Life narcissism, death narcissism (Andrew Weller, Trans.) London and New York: Free Association Books.

Grunberger, Béla. (1971). Narcissism: Psychoanalytic essays (Joyce S. Diamanti, Trans., foreword by Marion M. Oliner). New York: International Universities Press.

Kohut, Heinz. (1974). Remarks about the formation of the self. In The search for the self (Vol. 2). New York: International Universities Press: 737-770.

Pasche, Francis. (1965). L'anti-narcissisme. Revue française de psychanalyse, 29 (5-6), 503-518.

Tausk, Viktor. (1933). 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)