Trista Selous is Associate Research Fellow at Roehampton Institute, London.
This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the publication of Freud’s essay ‘On Narcissism’ – one hundred years in which the concept of narcissism has been a central focus for successive generations of psychoanalysts. Narcissism and Infant Development As the psychoanalyst and writer Karen Horney was at pains to stress, it is not narcissistic for a person to value a quality in himself which he actually possesses, or to want to be admired and valued by others.
It weighs reality against the demands of the psyche, and acts as the locus of judgement, rationality and control. According to Freud, the child compensates for the loss of omnipotence that comes with the realisation of external reality by internalising aspects of the mother within its own psyche.
This internalisation compensates for the loss in reality and provides a sense of comfort and safety.
The ego is the part of the psyche that we most readily relate to as the self.
Freud described the ego as the part of the personality that enables the individual to delay immediate gratification.Physical discomfort from soiled nappies is magically dispelled when the infant cries out for this to happen.In these earliest days of development, the infant’s primitive mind is unable to distinguish between itself and the outside world.256 pages, 7 ills, bibliog., index ISBN 978-1-57181-761-7 25% OFF!0.00/£85.00 .00/£63.75 Hb Published (January 2001)ISBN 978-1-57181-416-6 25% OFF!Psychoanalysts refer to this crucial period of development as the beginning of object relations.The term object relations may appear contrived, but it accurately describes the fact that the infants first relations are not only to people outside herself, but also to fragmented parts of her own developing mind.Even when the mother is physically absent, she is now there in the child’s mind. It plays the role of the ever present mother, guarding over the thoughts and behaviour of the child, and crucially, comes to act as the source of conscience and guilt.In the infant’s primitive mind, two other psychic parts are also present that are less well known in popular discussion – the ego ideal and the narcissistic self.The myth of Narcissus is a warning of the dire consequences that result from the failure to embrace a strong sense of the self – Narcissus after all never recognised the handsome reflection as being his own.The characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder are well known: a grandiose sense of self-importance or uniqueness; exhibitionistic need for constant attention and admiration; a lack of empathy and inability to recognise how others feel; disregard for the personal integrity and rights of others; and relationships marked by a sense of entitlement and the exploitation of others.