Narcissistic Elation

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The term narcissistic elation was coined by Béla Grunberger (1971/1979) to describe the state of prenatal beatitude, which according to him characterizes the life of the fetus: a state of megalomaniacal happiness amounting to a perfect homeostasis, devoid of needs or desires. The ideal here is bliss experienced in absolute withdrawal from the object and from the outside world. Narcissistic elation is at once the memory of this unique and privileged state of elation; a sense of well-being of completeness and omnipotence linked to that memory, and pride in having experienced this state, pride in its (illusory) oneness.

Narcissistic elation is characteristic of an object relationship that is played out, in its negative version, as a state of splendid isolation, and, in its positive version, as a desperate quest for fusion with the other, for a mirror-image relationship. It involves a return to paradise lost and all that is attached to this idea: fusion, self-love, megalomania, omnipotence, immortality, and invulnerability.

After birth, the infant continues to enjoy the protonarcissistic existence as before, and this is reinforced by the fact that people around it, in particular the mother, meet all its needs and wishes. This state of illusion is soon compromised, however, as inevitable frustrations begin to occur. The traces of this state of elation and megalomania, based on the notions of harmony and omnipotence, nevertheless provide a source of psychic energy that will remain active throughout life. The child, and later the adult, will seek to preserve and return to this narcissistic mode of being, notably through music, passionate love, or mystical ecstasy. Perhaps, after all, what fascinated Narcissus was the sightbeyond his own reflectionof the amniotic water, and the deep, regressive promise of happiness that it held out.

Following an initial period of elation known as the "honeymoon," psychoanalytic treatment must succeed in bringing together the narcissistic elements of the self by integrating them into interpretations of reality: ego-libido and object-libido must arrive at a satisfactory compromise.

Marie-France CastarÈde

See also: Ego-libido/object-libido; Narcissism.


Grunberger, Béla. (1979). Narcissism: Psychoanalytic essays. New York: International Universities Press. (Original work published 1971)