1757 – English poet Christopher Smart is admitted into St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics in London, beginning his six-year confinement to mental asylums.
1856 – Sigmund Freud, Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst (d. 1939).
1922 – Camille Laurin, Canadian psychiatrist and politician, 7th Deputy Premier of Quebec (d. 1999).
2012 – Jean Laplanche, French psychoanalyst and author (b. 1924).
Christopher Smart (11 April 1722 to 21 May 1771) was an English poet. He was a major contributor to two popular magazines, The Midwife and The Student, and a friend to influential cultural icons like Samuel Johnson and Henry Fielding. Smart, a high church Anglican, was widely known throughout London.
Smart was infamous as the pseudonymous midwife “Mrs. Mary Midnight” and for widespread accounts of his father-in-law, John Newbery, locking him away in a mental asylum for many years over Smart’s supposed religious “mania”. Even after Smart’s eventual release, a negative reputation continued to pursue him as he was known for incurring more debt than he could repay; this ultimately led to his confinement in debtors’ prison until his death.
St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics
St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics was founded in London in 1751 for the treatment of incurable pauper lunatics by a group of philanthropic apothecaries and others. It was the second public institution in London created to look after mentally ill people, after the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlem (Bedlam), founded in 1246.
Sigmund Freud (born Sigismund Schlomo Freud; 06 May 1856 to 23 September 1939) was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for evaluating and treating pathologies in the psyche through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst.
In founding psychoanalysis, Freud developed therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association and discovered transference, establishing its central role in the analytic process. Freud’s redefinition of sexuality to include its infantile forms led him to formulate the Oedipus complex as the central tenet of psychoanalytical theory. His analysis of dreams as wish-fulfilments provided him with models for the clinical analysis of symptom formation and the underlying mechanisms of repression. On this basis, Freud elaborated his theory of the unconscious and went on to develop a model of psychic structure comprising id, ego and super-ego. Freud postulated the existence of libido, sexualised energy with which mental processes and structures are invested and which generates erotic attachments, and a death drive, the source of compulsive repetition, hate, aggression, and neurotic guilt. In his later works, Freud developed a wide-ranging interpretation and critique of religion and culture.
Camille Laurin (06 May 1922 to 11 March 1999) was a psychiatrist and Parti Québécois (PQ) politician in the Canadian province of Quebec. A MNA member for the riding of Bourget, he is considered the father of Quebec’s language law known informally as “Bill 101”.
Jean Laplanche (21 June 1924 to 06 May 2012) was a French author, psychoanalyst and winemaker. Laplanche is best known for his work on psychosexual development and Sigmund Freud’s seduction theory, and wrote more than a dozen books on psychoanalytic theory. The journal Radical Philosophy described him as “the most original and philosophically informed psychoanalytic theorist of his day.”
From 1988 to his death, Laplanche was the scientific director of the German to French translation of Freud’s complete works (Oeuvres Complètes de Freud / Psychanalyse – OCF.P) in the Presses Universitaires de France, in association with André Bourguignon, Pierre Cotet and François Robert.
Psychoanalysis was founded by Sigmund Freud, and much of the early work on Psychoanalysis was carried out in Freud’s home city of Vienna and in central Europe. However, in the early 1900’s Freud began to spread his theories throughout the English speaking world. Around this time he established a relationship with Ernest Jones, a British neurosurgeon who had read his work in German and met Freud at the inaugural Psychoanalytical Congress in Salzburg. Jones went on to take up a teaching post at the University of Toronto, in which capacity he established the American Psychoanalytic Association.
When Jones returned to London, he established the society in 1913, as the London Psychoanalytical Society. The society had 9 founding members including William Mackenzie, Maurice Nicoll and David Eder. Almost immediately, the society was caught up in the international controversy between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Many of the society’s membership were followers of Jung’s theories, although Jones himself enjoyed a close relationship with Freud and wished for the society to be unambiguously Freudian. Jones had joined Freud’s Inner circle in 1912, and helped to oust Jung from the International Psychoanalytical Association.
However, the outbreak of World War One in 1914 meant that the nascent society, which depended heavily on correspondence with psychoanalysts in Vienna, then part of Austria-Hungary, had to be suspended. There were a few informal meetings during the war, but these became less and less frequent as the war went on.
In 1919, Ernest Jones re-founded the society as the British Psychoanalytical Society, and served as its President. He took the opportunity to define the society as Freudian in nature, and removed most of the Jungian members. With the help of John Rickman, the society established a clinic and a training arm, known as the Institute of Psychoanalysis.
In the 1920s, Ernest Jones and the society grew increasingly under the influence of Melanie Klein. Jones was inspired by her writings to develop several of his own psychoanalytical concepts. In 1925, Klein delivered a series of talks at the society on her theories. Klein’s work was well received in London, but it attracted increasing controversy on the continent, where the majority of psychoanalysts were still based. Realising that her ideas were not warmly received at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, where Klein was based, Jones invited her to move to London, which she did later in 1925.
The rise of the Nazi Party in Germany and later in Austria, led to increasing numbers of German and Austrian Psychoanalysts fleeing to London, where they joined the burgeoning society. By 1937, 13 out of 71 members were refugees from Europe. Ernest Jones personally intervened to bring Sigmund Freud and his daughter, Anna Freud, to London. In 1938, Sigmund Freud wrote to Jones:
“The events of recent years have made London the principal site and center of the psychoanalytical movement. May the society carry out the functions thus falling to it in the most brilliant manner.”
By the start of the second world war, 34 out of 90 members were emigres from the continent.
However, the assimilation of so many prominent Psychoanalysts from continental Europe created tensions. The huge difference in the approaches of Anna Freud and Melanie Klein led to the development of several factions. Increasingly, presentations of papers at the society became thinly veiled attacks on opposing factions theories. For example, in March 1937 Melitta Schmideberg (Klein’s daughter) presented her paper: “After the Analysis – Some Phantasies of Patients”, which viciously attacked almost all of Klein’s ideas, though it did not mention her by name.
The views of the different Psychoanalysts: Kleinian, Freudian, and those who were not affiliated with either, led to increasing dysfunction, and things became so bad that a specific committee had to be established to deal with the problem.
The ‘Controversial Discussions’
By 1942, relations between the factions within the society had become so heated that a committee had to be convened to facilitate monthly discussions on the scientific nature of the society. The committee was chaired by three members of the society, each representing one of the major factions:
James Strachey: A member of the British Independent Group.
Marjorie Brierley: An ally of Melanie Klein.
Edward Glover: Who identified as ‘pure Freudian’, in opposition to Melanie Klein. Glover resigned from the society in 1944, along with several other Freudian psychoanalysts.
After heated debate, the committee resolved to a “gentleman’s agreement” – which ensured that each faction would have equal representation within all committees within the society. It was also agreed that training of future psychoanalysts at the institute would be organised into two pathways: one Kleinian, and one Freudian.
After World War Two
With the resolution of the controversial discussions, the society became dominated by independent psychoanalysts such as Donald Winnicott, Michael Balint or Wilfred Bion.
The Society Today
Through its related bodies, the Institute of Psychoanalysis and the London Clinic of Psychoanalysis, it is involved in the teaching, development, and practice of psychoanalysis at its headquarters at Byron House, west London. It is a constituent organisation of the International Psychoanalytical Association and a member institution of the British Psychoanalytic Council.
Typically, narcissistic parents are exclusively and possessively close to their children and are threatened by their children’s growing independence. This results in a pattern of narcissistic attachment, with the parent considering that the child exists solely to fulfil the parent’s needs and wishes. A narcissistic parent will often try to control their children with threats and emotional abuse. Narcissistic parenting adversely affects the psychological development of children, affecting their reasoning and their emotional, ethical, and societal behaviours and attitudes. Personal boundaries are often disregarded with the goal of moulding and manipulating the child to satisfy the parent’s expectations.
Narcissistic people have low self-esteem and feel the need to control how others regard them, fearing that otherwise they will be blamed or rejected and their personal inadequacies will be exposed. Narcissistic parents are self-absorbed, often to the point of grandiosity. They also tend to be inflexible, and lack the empathy necessary for child raising.
The term narcissism, as used in Sigmund Freud’s clinical study, includes behaviours such as self-aggrandisement, self-esteem, vulnerability, fear of losing the affection of people and of failure, reliance on defence mechanisms, perfectionism, and interpersonal conflict.
To maintain their self-esteem and protect their vulnerable true selves, narcissists seek to control the behaviour of others, particularly that of their children whom they view as extensions of themselves. Thus, narcissistic parents may speak of “carrying the torch”, maintaining the family image, or making the mother or father proud. They may reproach their children for exhibiting weakness, being too dramatic, being selfish, or not meeting expectations. Children of narcissists learn to play their part and to show off their special skill(s), especially in public or for others. They typically do not have many memories of having felt loved or appreciated for being themselves. Instead, they associate their experience of love and appreciation with conforming to the demands of the narcissistic parent.
Destructive narcissistic parents have a pattern of consistently needing to be the focus of attention, exaggerating, seeking compliments, and putting their children down. Punishment in the form of blame, criticism or emotional blackmail, and attempts to induce guilt may be used to ensure compliance with the parent’s wishes and their need for narcissistic supply.
Children of Narcissists
Narcissism tends to play out intergenerationally, with narcissistic parents producing either narcissistic or co-dependent children in turn. While a self-confident parent, or good-enough parent, can allow a child his or her autonomous development, the narcissistic parent may instead use the child to promote his or her own image. A parent concerned with self-enhancement, or with being mirrored and admired by their child, may leave the child feeling like a puppet to the parent’s emotional/intellectual demands.
Children of a narcissistic parent may not be supportive of others in the home. Observing the behaviour of the parent, the child learns that manipulation and guilt are effective strategies for getting what he or she wants. The child may also develop a false self and use aggression and intimidation to get their way. Instead, they may invest in the opposite behaviours if they have observed them among friends and other families. When the child of a narcissistic parent experiences safe, real love or sees the example played out in other families, they may identify and act on the differences between their life and that of a child in a healthy family. For example, the lack of empathy and volatility at home may increase the child’s own empathy and desire to be respectful. Similarly, intense emotional control and disrespect for boundaries at home may increase the child’s value for emotional expression and their desire to extend respect to others. Although the child observes the parent’s behaviour, they are often on the receiving end of the same behaviour. When an alternative to the pain and distress caused at home presents itself, the child may choose to focus on more comforting, safety-inducing behaviours.
Some common issues in narcissistic parenting result from a lack of appropriate, responsible nurturing. This may lead to a child feeling empty, insecure in loving relationships, developing imagined fears, mistrusting others, experiencing identity conflict, and suffering an inability to develop a distinct existence from that of the parent.
Sensitive, guilt-ridden children in the family may learn to meet the parent’s needs for gratification and seek love by accommodating the wishes of the parent. The child’s normal feelings are ignored, denied and eventually repressed in attempts to gain the parent’s “love”. Guilt and shame keep the child locked in a developmental arrest. Aggressive impulses and rage may become split off and not integrated with normal development. Some children develop a false self as a defence mechanism and become co-dependent in relationships. The child’s unconscious denial of their true self may perpetuate a cycle of self-hatred, fearing any reminder of their authentic self.
Narcissistic parenting may also lead to children being either victimised or bullies, having a poor or overly inflated body image, tendency to use and/or abuse drugs or alcohol, and acting out (in a potentially harmful manner) for attention.
Short-Term and Long-Term Effects
Due to their vulnerability, children are extremely affected by the behaviour of a narcissistic parent. A narcissistic parent will often abuse the normal parental role of guiding their children and being the primary decision maker in the child’s life, becoming overly possessive and controlling. This possessiveness and excessive control disempowers the child; the parent sees the child simply as an extension of themselves. This may affect the child’s imagination and level of curiosity, and they often develop an extrinsic style of motivation. This heightened level of control may be due to the need of the narcissistic parent to maintain the child’s dependence on them.
Narcissistic parents are quick to anger, putting their children at risk for physical and emotional abuse. To avoid anger and punishment, children of abusive parents often resort to complying with their parent’s every demand. This affects both the child’s well-being and their ability to make logical decisions on their own, and as adults they often lack self-confidence and the ability to gain control over their life. Identity crisis, loneliness, and struggle with self expression are also commonly seen in children raised by a narcissistic parent. The struggle to discover one’s self as an adult stems from the substantial amount of projective identification that the now adult experienced as a child. Because of excessive identification with the parent, the child may never get the opportunity to experience their own identity.
Mental Health Effects
Studies have found that children of narcissistic parents have significantly higher rates of depression and lower self-esteem during adulthood than those who did not perceive their caregivers as narcissistic. The parent’s lack of empathy towards their child contributes to this, as the child’s desires are often denied, their feelings restrained, and their overall emotional well-being ignored.
Children of narcissistic parents are taught to submit and conform, causing them to lose touch of themselves as individuals. This can lead to the child possessing very few memories of feeling appreciated or loved by their parents for being themselves, as they instead associate the love and appreciation with conformity. Children may benefit with distance from the narcissistic parent. Some children of narcissistic parents resort to leaving home during adolescence if they grow to view the relationship with their parent(s) as toxic.
In children, narcissistic withdrawal may be described as ‘a form of omnipotent narcissism characterised by the turning away from parental figures and by the fantasy that essential needs can be satisfied by the individual alone’.
For adults, ‘in the contemporary literature the term narcissistic withdrawal is instead reserved for an ego defence in pathological personalities’. Such narcissists may feel obliged to withdraw from any relationship that threatens to be more than short-term.
Freud used the term ‘to describe the turning back of the individual’s libido from the object onto themselves….as the equivalent of narcissistic regression’. On Narcissism saw him explore the idea through an examination of such everyday events as illness or sleep: ‘the condition of sleep, too, resembles illness in implying a narcissistic withdrawal of the positions of the libido on to the subject’s own self’. A few years later, in ‘”Mourning and Melancholia”…Freud’s most profound contribution to object relations theory’, he examined how ‘a withdrawal of the libido…on a narcissistic basis’ in depression could allow both a freezing and a preservation of affection: ‘by taking flight into the ego love escapes extinction’.
Otto Fenichel would extend his analysis to borderline conditions, demonstrating how ‘in a reactive withdrawal of libido…a regression to narcissism is also a regression to the primal narcissistic omnipotence which makes its reappearance in the form of megalomania’.
For Melanie Klein, however, a more positive element came to the fore: ‘frustration, which stimulates narcissistic withdrawal, is also…a fundamental factor in adaptation to reality’. Similarly, ‘Winnicott points out that there is an aspect of withdrawal that is healthy’, considering that it might be ‘”helpful to think of withdrawal as a condition in which the person concerned (child or adult) holds a regressed part of the self and nurses it, at the expense of external relationships”‘.
However, from the mid-20th century onwards, attention has increasingly focused on
‘the case in which the subject appeals to narcissistic withdrawal as a defensive solution…a precarious refuge that comes into being as a defense against a disappointing or untrustworthy object. This is found in studies of narcissistic personalities or borderline pathologies by authors such as Heinz Kohut or Otto Kernberg’.
Kohut considered that ‘the narcissistically vulnerable individual responds to actual (or anticipated) narcissistic injury either with shamefaced withdrawal or with narcissistic rage’. Kernberg saw the difference between normal narcissism and ‘ pathological narcissism…[as] withdrawal into “splendid isolation”‘ in the latter instance; while Herbert Rosenfeld was concerned with ‘states of withdrawal commonly seen in narcissistic patients in which death is idealised as superior to life’, as well as with ‘the alternation of states of narcissistic withdrawal and ego disintegration’.
Closely related to narcissistic withdrawal is ‘schizoid withdrawal: the escape from too great pressure by abolishing emotional relationships altogether’. All such ‘fantastic refuges from need are forms of emotional starvation, megalomanias and distortions of reality born of fear’.
‘Narcissists will isolate themselves, leave their families, ignore others, do anything to preserve a special…sense of self’ Arguably, however, all such ‘narcissistic withdrawal is haunted by its alter ego: the ghost of a full social presence’ – with people living their lives ‘along a continuum which ranges from the maximal degree of social commitment…to a maximal degree of social withdrawal’.
If ‘of all modes of narcissistic withdrawal, depression is the most crippling’, a contributing factor may be that ‘depressed persons come to appreciate consciously how much social effort is in fact required in the normal course of keeping one’s usual place in undertakings’.
Object relations theory would see the process of therapy as one whereby the therapist enabled his or her patient to have ‘resituated the object from the purely schizoid usage to the shared schizoid usage (initially) until eventually…the object relation – discussing, arguing, idealizing, hating, etc. – emerged’.
Fenichel considered that in patients where ‘their narcissistic regression is a reaction to narcissistic injuries; if they are shown this fact and given time to face the real injuries and to develop other types of reaction, they may be helped enormously’ Neville Symington however estimated that ‘often a kind of war develops between analyst and patient, with the analyst trying to haul the patient out of the cocoon…his narcissistic envelope…and the patient pulling for all his worth in the other direction’.
In I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, the therapist of the protagonist wonders ‘”if there is a pattern….You give up a secret to our view and then you get so scared that you run for cover into your panic or into your secret world. To live there.”‘.
More generally, the 1920s have been described as a time of ‘changes in which women were channelled toward narcissistic withdrawal rather than developing strong egos’.
Narcissistic mortification is “the primitive terror of self dissolution, triggered by the sudden exposure of one’s sense of a defective self … it is death by embarrassment”.
Narcissistic mortification is a term first used by Sigmund Freud in his last book, Moses and Monotheism, with respect to early injuries to the ego/self. The concept has been widely employed in ego psychology and also contributed to the roots of self psychology.
When narcissistic mortification is experienced for the first time, it may be defined as a sudden loss of control over external or internal reality, or both. This produces strong emotions of terror while at the same time narcissistic libido (also known as ego-libido) or destrudo is built up. Narcissistic libido or ego-libido is the concentration of libido on the self. Destrudo is the opposite of libido and is the impulse to destroy oneself and everything associated with oneself.
Early Developments: Bergler, Anna Freud, and Eidelberg
Edmund Bergler developed the concept of narcissistic mortification in connection with early fantasies of omnipotence in the developing child, and with the fury provoked by the confrontations with reality that undermine his or her illusions. For Bergler, “the narcissistic mortification suffered in this very early period continues to act as a stimulus throughout his life”.
Anna Freud used the term in connection with her exploration of the defence mechanism of altruistic surrender, whereby an individual lives only through the lives of others – seeing at the root of such an abrogation of one’s own life an early experience of narcissistic mortification at a disappointment with one’s self.
Psychoanalyst and author Ludwig Eidelberg subsequently expanded on the concept in the fifties and sixties. Eidelberg defined narcissistic mortification as occurring when “a sudden loss of control over external or internal reality…produces the painful emotional experience of terror”. He also stressed that for many patients simply to have to accept themselves as having neurotic symptoms was itself a source of narcissistic mortification.
Kohut and Self Psychology
For Heinz Kohut, narcissistic injury – the root cause of what he termed narcissistic personality disorder – was broadly equivalent to the humiliation of mortification. Kohut considered that “if the grandiosity of the narcissistic self has been insufficiently modified…then the adult ego will tend to vacillate between an irrational overestimation of the self and feelings of inferiority and will react with narcissistic mortification to the thwarting of its ambitions”.
Object Relations Theory
Unlike ego psychologists, object relations theorists have traditionally used a rather different, post-Kleinian vocabulary to describe the early woundings of narcissistic mortification. Recently however such theorists have found analogies between Freud’s emphasis on the sensitivity of the ego to narcissistic humiliation and mortification, and the views of Bion on ‘nameless dread’ or Winnicott’s on the original agonies of the breakdown of childhood consciousness. At the same time ego psychologists have been increasingly prepared to see narcissistic mortification as occurring in the context of early relations to objects.
Physical Sensations and Psychological Perceptions
An individual’s experience of mortification may be accompanied by both physical and psychological sensations. Physical sensations such as: burning, painful tingling over the body, pain in the chest that slowly expands and spreads throughout the torso, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, sweating, blanching, coldness and numbness can be experienced by the individual suffering from mortification. The psychological sensations described are feeling shocked, exposed, and humiliated. Descriptions of this experience can be, for example: “It feels like I won’t survive” and “I have the absolute conviction that he or she hates me and it’s my fault”. These sensations are always followed by shock, although they may have happened on various occasions, they also prompt the need for the individual suffering to do something both internally and externally, to effect a positive self-image in the eyes of their narcissistic object. Narcissistic mortification is extreme in its intensity, global nature, and its lack of perspective, causing the anxiety associated with it to become traumatic.
Normal versus Pathological
In Eidelberg’s view, a normal individual would usually be able to avoid being overwhelmed by internal needs because they recognise these urges in time to bring about their partial discharge. However, Eidelberg does not view occasional outbursts of temper as a sign of disorder. An individual experiencing pathological narcissistic mortification is prone to become fixated on infantile objects, resulting in an infantile form of discharge. He or she cannot be satisfied by the partial discharge of this energy, which takes place on an unconscious level, and this in turn interferes with their well-being. According to Eidelberg, the denial of an infantile narcissistic mortification can be responsible for many defensive mechanisms.
Internal versus External
Narcissistic mortification can be:
Occurs when an individual is overstimulated by their emotions. For example, while debating with classmates on the importance of stem cell research an outspoken student loses his temper causing an uproar. The student has just exhibited an overstimulation of his emotions and used this outburst to relieve internal tension.
Occurs when something out of one’s control influences a situation, for example, an individual who is held at gunpoint while having their wallet stolen. This individual does not hold any control over the scenario nor the actions of the gunman, but their reaction to being held at gunpoint influences the next scenario and what the gunman does next.
In Cult Leadership
To escape the narcissistic mortification of accepting their own dependency needs, cult leaders may resort to delusions of omnipotence. Their continuing shame and underlying guilt, and their repudiation of dependency, obliges such leaders to use seduction and manic defences to externalise and locate dependency needs in others, thus making their followers controllable through a displaced sense of shame.
Death, Anxiety, and Suicide
Because in Western culture death is sometimes seen as the ultimate loss of control, fear of it may produce death anxiety in the form of a sense of extreme shame or narcissistic mortification. The shame in this context is produced by the loss of stoicism, productivity, and control, aspects that are highly valued by society and aspects that are taken away as one ages. Death according to Darcy Harris:
‘is the ultimate narcissistic wound, bringing about not just the annihilation of self, but the annihilation of one’s entire existence, resulting in a form of existential shame for human beings, who possess the ability to ponder this dilemma with their higher functioning cognitive abilities.’
Individuals who hold this anxiety are ashamed of mortality and the frailty that comes along with it; and may attempt to overcome this reality through diversions and accomplishments, deflecting feelings of inferiority and shame through strategies like grandiosity in similar fashion to those with narcissistic personality traits.
Narcissistic mortification may also be produced by death of someone close. Such a loss of an essential object may even lead through narcissistic mortification to suicide.
Among the many motives behind suicidal activities in general are shame, loss of honour, and narcissistic mortification. Those who suffer from narcissistic mortification are more likely to participate in suicidal behaviours and those who do not receive the proper help more often than not succeed. Suicide related to narcissistic mortification is different from normal sorrow in that it is associated with deep rooted self-contempt and self-hatred.
According to a paper presented by Mary Libbey, “On Narcissistic Mortification”, presented at the 2006 Shame Symposium, long-term goal of psychoanalytic treatment for those who suffer from narcissistic mortification is to transform the mortification into shame. She says by transforming it into shame it enables the sufferer to tolerate and use it as a signal; the process of transforming mortification into shame entails working through both the early mortifying traumas as well as the defences, often unstable, related to them. If an individual sufferer does not go through this transformation, he or she is left with two unstable narcissistic defences. Libbey says these defences are: self-damning, deflated states designed to appease and hold on to self-objects, and narcissistic conceit, which is designed to project the defective self experiences onto self-objects. Both of these defensive styles require a continuation of dependence on the self-object. Transforming the mortification into shame makes it possible for self-appraisal and self-tolerance, this ultimately leads to psychic separation and self-reliance without the need to sustain one’s mortification, according to Libbey’s paper.
In the 21st Century
Postmodern Freudians link narcissistic mortification to Winnicott’s theory of primitive mental states which lack the capacity for symbolisation, and their need for re-integration. Returning in the transference to the intolerable mortification underpinning such narcissistic defences can however also produce positive analytic change, by way of the (albeit mortifying) re-experience of overwhelming object loss within an intersubjective holding environment.
21st century American analysts are particularly concerned with the potential production of narcissistic mortification as a by-product of analytic interpretation, especially with regard to masochistic personality disorder.
Narcissistic mortification at injuries to self-esteem has been seen as pervading Captain Ahab’s motivations in his confrontation with Moby-Dick.
Mortification at one’s self is seen in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein when the Creature stares at his reflection in a pool of water. This is where he becomes convinced that he is in fact the Creature and becomes filled with despondence and mortification.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 December 25, 1925, from complications of a lung infection and may have suffered from lung cancer.
Foreclosure (also known as “foreclusion”; French: forclusion) is the English translation of a term that the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan introduced into psychoanalysis to identify a specific psychical cause for psychosis.
According to Élisabeth Roudinesco, the term was originally introduced into psychology ‘in 1928, when Édouard Pichon published, in Pierre Janet’s review, his article on “The Psychological Significance of Negation in French”: “…[and] borrowed the legal term forclusif to indicate facts that the speaker no longer sees as part of reality’.
According to Christophe Laudou, the term was introduced by Damourette and Pichon.
Freud vs Laforgue
The publication took part against the background of the Twenties dispute between Freud and René Laforgue over scotomisation. ‘If I am not mistaken’, Freud wrote in 1927, ‘Laforgue would say in this case that the boy “scotomises” his perception of the woman’s lack of a penis. A new technical term is justified when it describes a new fact or emphasizes it. This is not the case here’. Freud went on to suggest that if one wanted to ‘reserve the word “Verdrängung” [“repression”] for the affect, then the correct German word for the vicissitude of the idea would be “Verleugnung” [“disavowal”]’.
Lacan’s Introduction of Foreclosure
In 1938 Lacan relates the origin of psychosis to an exclusion of the father from the family structure thereby reducing this structure to a mother-child relationship. Later on, when working on the distinctions between the real, imaginary and symbolic father, he specifies that it is the absence of the symbolic father which is linked to psychosis.
Lacan uses the Freudian term, Verwerfung, which the “Standard Edition” translates as “repudiation”, as a specific defence mechanism different from repression, “Verdrängung”, in which “the ego rejects the incompatible idea together with its affect and behaves as if the idea has never occurred to the ego at all.” In 1954 basing himself on a reading of the “Wolf Man” Lacan identifies Verwerfung as the specific mechanism of psychosis where an element is rejected outside the symbolic order as if it has never existed. In 1956 in his Seminar on Psychoses he translates Verwerfung as forclusion, that is foreclosure. “Let us extract from several of Freud’s texts a term that is sufficiently articulated in them to designate in them a function of the unconscious that is distinct from the repressed. Let us take as demonstrated the essence of my Seminar on the Psychoses, namely, that this term refers to psychosis: this term is Verwerfung (foreclosure)”.
Lacan and Psychosis
The problem Lacan sought to address with the twin tools of foreclosure and the signifier was that of the difference between psychosis and neurosis, as manifested in and indicated by language usage. It was common analytic ground that “when psychotics speak they always have some meanings that are too fixed, and some that are far too loose, they have a different relation to language, and a different way of speaking from neurotics.” Freud, following Bleuler and Jung had pointed to ‘a number of changes in speech…in schizophrenics…words are subjected to the same process as that which makes the dream’. Lacan used foreclosure to explain why.
When Lacan first uses the Freudian concept of Verwerfung (repudiation) in his search for a specific mechanism for psychosis, it is not clear what is repudiated (castration, speech). It is in 1957 in his article “On a question preliminary to any possible treatment of psychosis” that he advances the notion that it is the Name-of-the-Father (a fundamental signifier) that is the object of foreclosure. In this way Lacan combines two of his main themes on the causality of psychosis: the absence of the father and the concept of Verwerfung. This ideas remains central to Lacan’s thinking on psychosis throughout the rest of his work.
Lacan considered the father to play a vital role in breaking the initial mother/child duality and introducing the child to the wider world of culture, language, institutions and social reality – the Symbolic world – the father being “the human being who stands for the law and order that the mother plants in the life of the child…widens the child’s view of the world.” The result in normal development is “proper separation from the mother, as marked out by the Names-of-the-father.” Thus Lacan postulates the existence of a paternal function (the “Name of the Father” or “primordial signifier”) which allows the realm of the Symbolic to be bound to the realms of the Imaginary and the Real. This function prevents the developing child from being engulfed by its mother and allows him/her to emerge as a separate entity in his/her own right. It is a symbol of parental authority (a general symbol that represents the power of father of the Oedipus complex) that brings the child into the realm of the Symbolic by forcing him/her to act and to verbalise as an adult. As a result, the three realms are integrated in a way that is conducive to the creation of meaning and successful communication by means of what Lacan calls a Borromean knot.
When the Name-of-the-Father is foreclosed for a particular subject, it leaves a hole in the Symbolic order which can never be filled. The subject can then be said to have a psychotic structure, even if he shows none of the classical signs of psychosis. When the foreclosed Name-of-the-Father re-appears in the Real, the subject is unable to assimilate it and the result of this collision between the subject and the inassimilable signifier of the Name-of-the-father is the entry into psychosis proper characterized by the onset of hallucinations and/or delusions. In other words, when the paternal function is “foreclosed” from the Symbolic order, the realm of the Symbolic is insufficiently bound to the realm of the Imaginary and failures in meaning may occur (the Borromean knot becomes undone and the three realms completely disconnected), with “a disorder caused at the most personal juncture between the subject and his sense of being alive.” Psychosis is experienced after some environmental sign in the form of a signifier which the individual cannot assimilate is triggered, and this entails that “the Name-of-the-Father, is foreclosed, verworfen, is called into symbolic opposition to the subject.” The fabric of the individual’s reality is ripped apart and no meaningful Symbolic sense can be made of experience. “Absence of transcendence of the Oedipus places the subject under the regime of foreclosure or non-distinction between the symbolic and the real’; and psychotic delusions or hallucinations are the consequent result of the individual’s striving to account for what he/she experiences.
Censorship (psychoanalysis) (Zensur) is the force identified by Sigmund Freud as operating to separate consciousness from the unconscious mind.
In his 1899 The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud identified a force working to disguise the dream-thoughts so as to make them more acceptable to the dreamer. In his wartime lectures, he compared its operation to the contemporary newspapers, where blanks would reveal first-hand the work of the censor, but where allusions, circumlocutions, and other softening techniques also showed attempts to work round the censorship of thoughts in advance. He went on to characterise the motivating force, which he called “the self-observing agency as the ego-censor [Zensor], the conscience; it is this that exercises the dream-censorship [Zensur] during the night, from which the repressions of inadmissable wishful impulses proceed”.
Another tool used by the dream-censorship was regression to archaic symbolic forms of expression unfamiliar to the conscious mind. Where all such measures of censorship failed, however, the result could be the development of nightmares and insomnia.
Freud found the same effects of disguise and omission taking place in the construction of neurotic symptoms, under the influence of the censorship, as in dreams. He would eventually assign the role of censor to the mental agency he would term the superego.
Sartre questioned how the censorship could operate unless it was already aware of the contents of the unconscious, and thought the phenomena Freud described could be better understood in terms of bad faith.