What is Narcissistic Injury?

Introduction

Narcissistic injury, also known as “narcissistic wound” or “wounded ego” are emotional traumas that overwhelm an individual’s defence mechanisms and devastate their pride and self worth.

In some cases the shame or disgrace is so significant that the individual can never again truly feel good about who they are and this is sometimes referred to as a “narcissistic scar”.

Freud maintained that “losses in love” and “losses associated with failure” often leave behind injury to an individual’s self-regard.

Treatment

Adam Phillips has argued that, contrary to what common sense might expect, therapeutic cure involves the patient being encouraged to re-experience “a terrible narcissistic wound” – the child’s experience of exclusion by the parental alliance – in order to come to terms with, and learn again, the diminishing loss of omnipotence entailed by the basic “facts of life”.

Further Psychoanalytic Developments

Freud’s concept of what in his last book he called “early injuries to the self (injuries to narcissism)” was subsequently extended by a wide variety of psychoanalysts. Karl Abraham saw the key to adult depressions in the childhood experience of a blow to narcissism through the loss of narcissistic supply. Otto Fenichel confirmed the importance of narcissistic injury in depressives and expanded such analyses to include borderline personalities.

Edmund Bergler emphasized the importance of infantile omnipotence in narcissism, and the rage that follows any blow to that sense of narcissistic omnipotence; Annie Reich stressed how a feeling of shame-fuelled rage, when a blow to narcissism exposed the gap between one’s ego ideal and mundane reality; while Lacanians linked Freud on the narcissistic wound to Lacan on the narcissistic mirror stage.

Finally, object relations theory highlights rage against early environmental failures that left patients feeling bad about themselves when childhood omnipotence was too abruptly challenged.

Perfectionism

Narcissists are often pseudo-perfectionists and create situations in which they are the centre of attention. The narcissist’s attempts at being seen as perfect are necessary for their grandiose self-image. If a perceived state of perfection is not reached, it can lead to guilt, shame, anger or anxiety because the subject believes that they will lose the admiration and love of other people if they are imperfect.

Behind such perfectionism, self psychology would see earlier traumatic injuries to the grandiose self.

Criticism

Wide dissemination of Kohut’s concepts may at times have led to their trivialization. Neville Symington points out that “You will often hear people say, ‘Oh, I’m very narcissistic,’ or, ‘It was a wound to my narcissism.’ Such comments are not a true recognition of the condition; they are throw-away lines. To really recognise narcissism in oneself is profoundly distressing and often associated with denial.”

What is Love and Hate (Psychoanalysis)?

Introduction

Love and hate as co-existing forces have been thoroughly explored within the literature of psychoanalysis, building on awareness of their co-existence in Western culture reaching back to the “odi et amo” of Catullus, and Plato’s Symposium.

Love and Hate in Freud’s Work

Ambivalence was the term borrowed by Sigmund Freud to indicate the simultaneous presence of love and hate towards the same object. While the roots of ambivalence can be traced back to breast-feeding in the oral stage, it was reinforced during toilet-training as well. Freudian followers such as Karl Abraham and Erik H. Erikson distinguished between an early sub-stage with no ambivalence at all towards the mother’s breast, and a later oral-sadistic sub-phase where the biting activity emerges and the phenomenon of ambivalence appears for the first time. The child is interested in both libidinal and aggressive gratifications, and the mother’s breast is at the same time loved and hated.

While during the pre-oedipal stages ambivalent feelings are expressed in a dyadic relationship between the mother and the child, during the oedipal conflict ambivalence is experienced for the first time within a triangular context which involves the child, the mother and the father. In this stage, both the boy and the girl develop negative feelings of jealousy, hostility and rivalry toward the parent of the same sex, but with different mechanisms for the two sexes. The boy’s attachment to his mother becomes stronger, and he starts developing negative feelings of rivalry and hostility toward the father. The boy wishes to destroy the father so that he can become his mother’s unique love object. On the other hand, the girl starts a love relationship with her father. The mother is seen by the girl as a competitor for the father’s love and so the girl starts feeling hostility and jealousy towards her. The negative feelings which arise in this phase coexist with love and affection toward the parent of the same sex and result in an ambivalence which is expressed in feelings, behaviour and fantasies. The negative feelings are a source of anxiety for the child who is afraid that the parent of the same sex would take revenge on him/her. In order to lessen the anxiety, the child activates the defence mechanism of identification, and identifies with the parent of the same sex. This process leads to the formation of the Super-Ego.

According to Freud, ambivalence is the precondition for melancholia, together with loss of a loved object, oral regression and discharge of the aggression toward the self. In this condition, the ambivalently loved object is introjected, and the libido is withdrawn into the self in order to establish identification with the loved object. The object loss then turns into an ego loss and the conflict between the Ego and the Super-Ego becomes manifested. The same ambivalence occurs in the obsessional neurosis, but there it remains related to the outside object.

In the Work of Melanie Klein

The object relations theory of Melanie Klein pivoted around the importance of love and hate, concern for and destruction of others, from infancy onwards. Klein stressed the importance of inborn aggression as a reflection of the death drive and talked about the battle of love and hatred throughout the life span. As life begins, the first object for the infant to relate with the external world is the mother. It is there that both good and bad aspects of the self are split and projected as love and hatred to the mother and the others around her later on: as analyst, she would find herself split similarly into a “nice” and a “bad” Mrs Klein.

During the paranoid-schizoid position, the infant sees objects around it either as good or bad, according to his/her experiences with them. They are felt to be loving and good when the infant’s wishes are gratified and happy feelings prevail. On the other hand, objects are seen as bad when the infant’s wishes are not met adequately and frustration prevails. In the child’s world there is not yet a distinction between fantasy and reality; loving and hating experiences towards the good and bad objects are believed to have an actual impact on the surrounding objects. Therefore, the infant must keep these loving and hating emotions as distinct as possible, because of the paranoid anxiety that the destructive force of the bad object will destroy the loving object from which the infant gains refuge against the bad objects. The mother must be either good or bad and the feeling experienced is either love or hate.

Emotions become integrated as a part of the development process. As the infant’s potential to tolerate ambivalent feelings with the depressive position, the infant starts forming a perception of the objects around it as both good and bad, thus tolerating the coexistence of these two opposite feelings for the same object where experience had previously been either idealised or dismissed as bad, the good object can be accepted as frustrating without losing its acceptable status. When this takes place, the previous paranoid anxiety (that the bad object will destroy everything) transforms into a depressive anxiety; this is the intense fear that the child’s own destructiveness (hate) will damage the beloved others. Subsequently, for the coexistence of love and hate to be attainable, the child must believe in her ability to contain hate, without letting it destroy the loving objects. He/she must believe in the prevalence of the loving feelings over his/her aggressiveness. Since this ambivalent state is hard to preserve, under difficult circumstances it is lost, and the person returns to the previous manner keeping love and hate distinct for a period of time until he/she is able to regain the capacity for ambivalence.

Refer to The Life and Death Instincts in Kleinian Object Relations Theory.

In the Work of Ian Suttie

Ian Dishart Suttie (1898-1935) wrote the book The Origins of Love and Hate, which was first published in 1935, a few days after his death. He was born in Glasgow and was the third of four children. His father was a general practitioner, and Ian Suttie and both of his brothers and his sister became doctors as well. He qualified from Glasgow University in 1914. After a year he went into psychiatry.

Although his work has been out of print in England for some years, it is still relevant today. It has been often cited and makes a contribution towards understanding the more difficult aspects of family relationships and friendships. He can be seen as one of the first significant object relations theorists and his ideas anticipated the concepts put forward by modern self psychologists.

Although Ian Suttie was working within the tradition set by Freud, there were a lot of concepts of Freud’s theory he disagreed with. First of all, Suttie saw sociability, the craving for companionship, the need to love and be loved, to exchange and to participate, to be as primary as sexuality itself. And in contrast with Freud he didn’t see sociability and love simply as a derivative from sexuality. Secondly, Ian Suttie explained anxiety and neurotic maladjustment, as a reaction on the failure of finding a response for this sociability; when primary social love and tenderness fails to find the response it seeks, the arisen frustration will produce a kind of separation anxiety. This view is more clearly illustrated by a piece of writing of Suttie himself: ‘Instead of an armament of instincts, latent or otherwise, the child is born with a simple attachment-to-mother who is the sole source of food and protection… the need for a mother is primarily presented to the child mind as a need for company and as a discomfort in isolation’.

Ian Suttie saw the infant as striving from the first to relate to his mother, and future mental health would depend on the success or failure of this first relationship (object relations). Another advocate of the object relations paradigm is Melanie Klein. Object relations was in contrast with Freud’s psychoanalysis. The advocates of this object relations paradigm all, in exception of Melanie Klein, held the opinion that most differences in individual development that are of importance for mental health could be traced to differences in the way children were treated by their parents or to the loss or separation of parent-figures. In the explanation of the love and hate relationship by Ian Suttie, the focus, not surprisingly, lies in relations and the social environment. According to Suttie, Freud saw love and hate as two distinct instincts. Hate had to be overcome with love, and because both terms are seen as two different instincts, this means repression. In Suttie’s view however, this is incompatible with the other Freudian view that life is a struggle to attain peace by the release of the impulse. These inconsistencies would be caused by leaving out the social situations and motives. Suttie saw hate as the frustration aspect of love. “The greater the love, the greater the hate or jealousy caused by its frustration and the greater the ambivalence or guilt that may arise in relation to it.” Hate has to be overcome with love by the child removing the cause of the anxiety and hate by restoring harmonious relationships. The feeling of anxiety and hate can then change back into the feeling of love and security. This counts for the situation between mother and child and later for following relationships.

In Suttie’s view, the beginning of the relationship between mother and child is a happy and symbiotic one as well. This happy symbiotic relationship between mother and baby can be disrupted by for example a second baby or the mother returning to work. This makes the infant feel irritable, insecure and anxious. This would be the start of the feeling of ambivalence: feelings of love and hate towards the mother. The child attempts to remove the cause of the anxiety and hate to restore the relationship (retransforming). This retransforming is necessary, because hate of a loved object (ambivalence) is intolerable.

In the Work of Edith Jacobson

The newborn baby is not able to distinguish the self from others and the relationship with the mother is symbiotic, with the two individuals forming a unique object. In this period, the child generates two different images of the mother. On one hand there is the loving mother, whose image derives from experiences of love and satisfaction in the relationship with her. On the other hand, there is the bad mother, whose image derives from frustrating and upsetting experiences in the relationship. Since the child at this stage is unable to distinguish the self from the other, those two opposite images are often fused and confused, rather than distinguished. At about six months of age, the child becomes able to distinguish the self from the others. He now understands that his mother can be both gratifying and frustrating, and he starts experiencing himself as being able to feel both love and anger.

This ambivalence results in a vacillation between attitudes of passive dependency on the omnipotent mother and aggressive strivings for self expansion and control over the love object. The passive-submissive and active-aggressive behaviour of the child during the pre-oedipal and the early oedipal period is determined by his ambivalent emotional fluctuations between loving and trusting admirations of his parents and disappointed depreciation of the loved objects. The ego can use this ambivalence conflicts to distinguish between the self and the object. At the beginning, the child tends to turn aggression toward the frustrating objects and libido towards the self. Hence, frustration, demands and restrictions imposed by parents within normal bounds, reinforce the process of discovery and distinction of the object and the self. When early experiences of severe disappointment and abandonment have prevented the building up of un-ambivalent object relations and stable identifications and weakened the child’s self-esteem, they may result in ambivalence conflict in adulthood, which in turn causes depressive states.

Who was Karl Abraham?

Introduction

Karl Abraham (03 May 1877 to 25 December 1925) was an influential German psychoanalyst, and a collaborator of Sigmund Freud, who called him his ‘best pupil’.

Life

Abraham was born in Bremen, Germany. His parents were Nathan Abraham, a Jewish religion teacher (1842-1915), and his wife (and cousin) Ida (1847-1929). His studies in medicine enabled him to take a position at the Burghölzli Swiss Mental Hospital, where Eugen Bleuler practiced. The setting of this hospital initially introduced him to the psychoanalysis of Carl Gustav Jung.

Collaborations

In 1907, he had his first contact with Sigmund Freud, with whom he developed a lifetime relationship. Returning to Germany, he founded the Berliner Society of Psychoanalysis in 1910. He was the president of the International Psychoanalytical Association from 1914 to 1918 and again in 1925.

Karl Abraham, Psychoanalyst (1)
Karl Abraham, Psychoanalyst.

Karl Abraham collaborated with Freud on the understanding of manic-depressive illness, leading to Freud’s paper on ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ in 1917. He was the analyst of Melanie Klein during the years 1924-1925, and of a number of other British psychoanalysts, including Edward Glover and Alix Strachey. He was a mentor for an influential group of German analysts, including Karen Horney, Helene Deutsch, and Franz Alexander.

Karl Abraham studied the role of infant sexuality in character development and mental illness and, like Freud, suggested that if psychosexual development is fixated at some point, mental disorders will likely emerge. He described the personality traits and psychopathology that result from the oral and anal stages of development (1921).

Abraham observed his only daughter, Hilda, reporting on her reaction to enemas and infantile masturbation by her brother. He asked that secrets be shared with him but he was careful to respect her privacy and some reports were not published until after Hilda’s death. Hilda was later to become a psychoanalyst.

In the oral stage of development, the first relationships children have with objects (caretakers) determine their subsequent relationship to reality. Oral satisfaction can result in self-assurance and optimism, whereas oral fixation can lead to pessimism and depression. Moreover, a person with an oral fixation will present a disinclination to take care of him/herself and will require others to look after him/her. This may be expressed through extreme passivity (corresponding to the oral benign suckling substage) or through a highly active oral-sadistic behaviour (corresponding to the later sadistic biting substage).

In the anal stage, when the training in cleanliness starts too early, conflicts may result between a conscious attitude of obedience and an unconscious desire for resistance. This can lead to traits such as frugality, orderliness and obstinacy, as well as to obsessional neurosis as a result of anal fixation (Abraham, 1921). In addition, Abraham based his understanding of manic-depressive illness on the study of the painter Segantini: an actual event of loss is not itself sufficient to bring the psychological disturbance involved in melancholic depression. This disturbance is linked with disappointing incidents of early childhood; in the case of men always with the mother (Abraham, 1911). This concept of the prooedipal “bad” mother was a new development in contrast to Freud’s oedipal mother and paved the way for the theories of Melanie Klein.

Another important contribution is his work “A short study of the Development of the Libido”, where he elaborated on Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917) and demonstrated the vicissitudes of normal and pathological object relations and reactions to object loss.

Moreover, Abraham investigated child sexual trauma and, like Freud, proposed that sexual abuse was common among psychotic and neurotic patients. Furthermore, he argued (1907) that dementia praecox is associated with child sexual trauma, based on the relationship between hysteria and child sexual trauma demonstrated by Freud.

Abraham (1920) also showed interest in cultural issues. He analysed various myths suggesting their relation to dreams (1909) and wrote an interpretation of the spiritual activities of the Egyptian monotheistic Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (1912).

Death

Abraham died prematurely on December 25, 1925, from complications of a lung infection and may have suffered from lung cancer.

On This Day … 25 December

People (Births)

  • 1875 – Francis Aveling, Canadian psychologist and priest (d. 1941).

People (Deaths)

  • 1925 – Karl Abraham, German psychoanalyst and author (b. 1877).

Francis Aveling

Francis Arthur Powell Aveling MC ComC (25 December 1875 to 06 March 1941) was a Canadian psychologist and Catholic priest. He married Ethel Dancy of Steyning, Sussex in 1925.

Life

Francis Aveling was born at St. Catharines, Ontario 25 December 1875. He went to Bishop Ridley College in Ontario and McGill University before studying at Keble College at the University of Oxford, England. Aveling was received into the Roman Catholic Church by Father Luke Rivington in 1896 and entered the Pontificio Collegio Canadese in Rome. There he earned his doctor of divinity degree. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1899, and served as a curate in Tottenham, before becoming first rector of Westminster Cathedral Choir School. He was also a chaplain at the Cathedral, and to St. Wilfrid’s Convent, Chelsea.

In 1910, Aveling obtained a doctor of philosophy degree at the age of 35 from the University of Louvain (his advisor was Albert Michotte), and in 1912 he was recipient of a doctor of science degree from the University of London, and received the Carpenter Medal following his work On the Consciousness of the Universal and the Individual: A Contribution to the Phenomenology of the Thought Process. Subsequently, Aveling received his doctor of letters degree from the University of London.

Career

Aveling taught at University College, London from 1912 as a Lecturer (Assistant Professor), under the leadership of Charles Spearman, until the First World War. During that war he served in France as a chaplain in the British Army, after which he returned to the University of London. In 1922, he transferred to King’s College, London where he was promoted to reader (associate professor), and later to professor of psychology. He was an extern examiner in philosophy at the National University of Ireland; and a lecturer in pedagogical methods for the London County Council.

Aveling authored several books. He was the doctoral advisor of Raymond Cattell From 1926 until 1929, Aveling was also a president of the British Psychological Society. Aveling was a member of the Council of the International Congresses, of the Aristotelian Society, of the council and advisory board of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, of the council of the British Institute of Philosophical Studies and of the Child Guidance Council.

He was a contributor to the Dublin Review, The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Catholic World, The nineteenth Century, The Journal of Psychology, and the Catholic Encyclopaedia.

Karl Abraham

Karl Abraham (03 May 1877 to 25 December 1925) was an influential German psychoanalyst, and a collaborator of Sigmund Freud, who called him his ‘best pupil’.

Abraham was born in Bremen, Germany. His parents were Nathan Abraham, a Jewish religion teacher (1842-1915), and his wife (and cousin) Ida (1847-1929). His studies in medicine enabled him to take a position at the Burghölzli Swiss Mental Hospital, where Eugen Bleuler practiced. The setting of this hospital initially introduced him to the psychoanalysis of Carl Gustav Jung.

In 1907, he had his first contact with Sigmund Freud, with whom he developed a lifetime relationship. Returning to Germany, he founded the Berliner Society of Psychoanalysis in 1910. He was the president of the International Psychoanalytical Association from 1914 to 1918 and again in 1925.

Karl Abraham collaborated with Freud on the understanding of manic-depressive illness, leading to Freud’s paper on ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ in 1917. He was the analyst of Melanie Klein during the years 1924-1925, and of a number of other British psychoanalysts, including Edward Glover and Alix Strachey. He was a mentor for an influential group of German analysts, including Karen Horney, Helene Deutsch, and Franz Alexander.

Karl Abraham studied the role of infant sexuality in character development and mental illness and, like Freud, suggested that if psychosexual development is fixated at some point, mental disorders will likely emerge. He described the personality traits and psychopathology that result from the oral and anal stages of development (1921).

Abraham observed his only daughter, Hilda, reporting on her reaction to enemas and infantile masturbation by her brother. He asked that secrets be shared with him but he was careful to respect her privacy and some reports were not published until after Hilda’s death. Hilda was later to become a psychoanalyst.

In the oral stage of development, the first relationships children have with objects (caretakers) determine their subsequent relationship to reality. Oral satisfaction can result in self-assurance and optimism, whereas oral fixation can lead to pessimism and depression. Moreover, a person with an oral fixation will present a disinclination to take care of him/herself and will require others to look after him/her. This may be expressed through extreme passivity (corresponding to the oral benign suckling substage) or through a highly active oral-sadistic behaviour (corresponding to the later sadistic biting substage).

In the anal stage, when the training in cleanliness starts too early, conflicts may result between a conscious attitude of obedience and an unconscious desire for resistance. This can lead to traits such as frugality, orderliness and obstinacy, as well as to obsessional neurosis as a result of anal fixation (Abraham, 1921). In addition, Abraham based his understanding of manic-depressive illness on the study of the painter Segantini: an actual event of loss is not itself sufficient to bring the psychological disturbance involved in melancholic depression. This disturbance is linked with disappointing incidents of early childhood; in the case of men always with the mother (Abraham, 1911). This concept of the prooedipal “bad” mother was a new development in contrast to Freud’s oedipal mother and paved the way for the theories of Melanie Klein (May-Tolzmann, 1997).

Another important contribution is his work “A short study of the Development of the Libido”, where he elaborated on Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917) and demonstrated the vicissitudes of normal and pathological object relations and reactions to object loss.

Moreover, Abraham investigated child sexual trauma and, like Freud, proposed that sexual abuse was common among psychotic and neurotic patients. Furthermore, he argued (1907) that dementia praecox is associated with child sexual trauma, based on the relationship between hysteria and child sexual trauma demonstrated by Freud.

Abraham (1920) also showed interest in cultural issues. He analysed various myths suggesting their relation to dreams (1909) and wrote an interpretation of the spiritual activities of the Egyptian monotheistic Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (1912).

Abraham died prematurely on 25 December 1925, from complications of a lung infection and may have suffered from lung cancer.

On This Day … 03 May

People (Births)

  • 1877 – Karl Abraham, German psychoanalyst and author (d. 1925).

Karl Abraham

Karl Abraham (03 May 1877 to 25 December 1925) was an influential German psychoanalyst, and a collaborator of Sigmund Freud, who called him his ‘best pupil’.

Life

Abraham was born in Bremen, Germany. His parents were Nathan Abraham, a Jewish religion teacher (1842-1915) and his wife (and cousin) Ida (1847-1929). His studies in medicine enabled him to take a position at the Burghölzli Swiss Mental Hospital, where Eugen Bleuler practiced. The setting of this hospital initially introduced him to the psychoanalysis of Carl Gustav Jung.

Collaborations

In 1907, he had his first contact with Sigmund Freud, with whom he developed a lifetime relationship. Returning to Germany, he founded the Berliner Society of Psychoanalysis in 1910. He was the president of the International Psychoanalytical Association from 1914 to 1918 and again in 1925.

Karl Abraham collaborated with Freud on the understanding of manic-depressive illness, leading to Freud’s paper on ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ in 1917. He was the analyst of Melanie Klein during 1924-1925, and of a number of other British psychoanalysts, including Edward Glover, James Glover, and Alix Strachey. He was a mentor for an influential group of German analysts, including Karen Horney, Helene Deutsch, and Franz Alexander.

Karl Abraham studied the role of infant sexuality in character development and mental illness and, like Freud, suggested that if psychosexual development is fixated at some point, mental disorders will likely emerge. He described the personality traits and psychopathology that result from the oral and anal stages of development (1921). Abraham observed his only daughter Hilda Abraham reporting on her reaction to enemas and infantile masturbation by her brother. He asked that secrets be shared with him but he was careful to respect her privacy and some reports were not published until after Hilda’s death. Hilda was later to become a psychoanalyst.

In the oral stage of development, the first relationships children have with objects (caretakers) determine their subsequent relationship to reality. Oral satisfaction can result in self-assurance and optimism, whereas oral fixation can lead to pessimism and depression. Moreover, a person with an oral fixation will present a disinclination to take care of him/herself and will require others to look after him/her. This may be expressed through extreme passivity (corresponding to the oral benign suckling substage) or through a highly active oral-sadistic behaviour (corresponding to the later sadistic biting substage).

In the anal stage, when the training in cleanliness starts too early, conflicts may result between a conscious attitude of obedience and an unconscious desire for resistance. This can lead to traits such as frugality, orderliness and obstinacy, as well as to obsessional neurosis as a result of anal fixation (Abraham, 1921). In addition, Abraham based his understanding of manic-depressive illness on the study of the painter Segantini: an actual event of loss is not itself sufficient to bring the psychological disturbance involved in melancholic depression. This disturbance is linked with disappointing incidents of early childhood; in the case of men always with the mother (Abraham, 1911). This concept of the prooedipal “bad” mother was a new development in contrast to Freud’s oedipal mother and paved the way for the theories of Melanie Klein (May-Tolzmann, 1997).

Another important contribution is his work “A short study of the Development of the Libido”, where he elaborated on Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917) and demonstrated the vicissitudes of normal and pathological object relations and reactions to object loss.

Moreover, Abraham investigated child sexual trauma and, like Freud, proposed that sexual abuse was common among psychotic and neurotic patients. Furthermore, he argued (1907) that dementia praecox is associated with child sexual trauma, based on the relationship between hysteria and child sexual trauma demonstrated by Freud.

Abraham (1920) also showed interest in cultural issues. He analysed various myths suggesting their relation to dreams (1909) and wrote an interpretation of the spiritual activities of the Egyptian monotheistic Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (1912).