Narcissistic defences are those processes whereby the idealised aspects of the self are preserved, and its limitations denied. They tend to be rigid and totalistic. They are often driven by feelings of shame and guilt, conscious or unconscious.
Narcissistic defenses are among the earliest defense mechanisms to emerge, and include denial, distortion, and projection. Splitting is another defense mechanism prevalent among narcissists - seeing people and situations in black and white terms, either as all bad or all good.
A narcissistic defense, with the narcissist's typical over-valuation of the self, can come to the fore at any stage of development.
- unconscious repression
- conscious denial
- distortion (including exaggeration and minimization) and lies
- psychological projection (blaming somebody else)
- enlisting the help of one or more of his or her codependent friends who will support his or her distorted view.
Freud did not focus specifically on narcissistic defenses, but did note in On Narcissism how “even great criminals and humorists, as they are represented in literature, compel our interest by the narcissistic consistency with which they manage to keep away from their ego anything that would diminish it”. Freud saw narcissistic regression as a defensive answer to object loss – denying the loss of an important object by way of a substitutive identification with it.
Freud also considered social narcissism as a defence mechanism, apparent when communal identifications produce irrational panics at perceived threats to 'Throne and Altar' or 'Free Markets', or in English over-reaction to any questioning of the status and identity of William Shakespeare.
Otto Fenichel considered that “identification, performed by means of introjection, is the most primitive form of relationship to objects” a primitive mechanism only used “if the ego's function of reality testing is severely damaged by a narcissistic regression.”
Fenichel also highlighted “eccentrics who have more or less succeeded in regaining the security of primary narcissism and who feel 'Nothing can happen to me'....[failing] to give up the archaic stages of repudiating displeasure and to turn toward reality”.
Jacques Lacan, following out Freud's view of the ego as the result of identifications, came to consider the ego itself as a narcissistic defence, driven by what he called “the 'narcissistic passion' ...in the coming-into-being (devenir) of the subject”.
Melanie Klein, emphasised projective identification in narcissism, and the manic defence against becoming aware of the damage done to objects in this way. For Kleinians, at the core of manic defences in narcissism stood what Hanna Segal called “a triad of feelings - control, triumph and contempt”.
Object relations theory
In the wake of Klein, object relations theory, including particularly the American schools of Otto Kernberg and Heinz Kohut has explored narcissistic defences through analysis of such mechanisms as denial, projective identification, and extreme idealization.
Kernberg emphasised the role of the splitting apart introjections, and identifications of opposing qualities, as a cause of ego weakness. Kohut too stressed the fact in narcissism "vertical splits are between self-structures (among others) - 'I am grand' and 'I am wretched' - with very little communication between them".
Neville Symington however placed greater weight on the way "a person dominated by narcissistic currents...survives through being able to sense the emotional tone of the other...wearing the cloaks of others"; while for Spotnitz the key element is that the narcissist turns feelings in upon the self in narcissistic defense.
Kernberg emphasised the positive side to narcissistic defenses, while Kohut also stressed the necessity in early life for narcissistic positions to succeed each other in orderly maturational sequences.
Others like Symington would maintain that "it is a mistake to split narcissism into positive and negative...we do not get positive narcissism without self-hatred".
The twenty-first century has seen a distinction drawn between cerebral and somatic narcissists – the former building up their self-sense through intellectualism, the latter through an obsession with their bodies, as with the woman who, in bad faith, invests her sense of freedom only in being an object of beauty for others.
- Sir Philip Sidney is said to have seen poetry in itself as a narcissistic defense.
- Jean-Paul Sartre's aloof, detached protagonists have been seen as crude narcissists who preserve their sense of self only by petrifying it into solid form.
- Shaw J.A. (1999). Sexual Aggression, American Psychiatric Publishing, pp. 28-9.
- Gerald Alper, Self Defence in a Narcissistic World (2003) p. 10
- Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (1990) p. 132
- Barry P.D., Farmer S. (2002). Mental Health and Mental Illness, p. 175.
- Lubit R. (2002). "The long-term organizational impact of destructively narcissistic managers", Academy of Management Executive, 16(1), 127-138.
- Wilber K., Engler J., Brown D. (1986). Transformations of Consciousness: Conventional and Contemplative Perspective of Development, Boston: New Science Library, New York City, NY, p. 150
- Millon, Theodore; Carrie M. Millon; Seth Grossman; Sarah Meagher; Rowena Ramnath (2004). Personality Disorders in Modern Life. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0-471-23734-5.
- Thomas D Narcissism: Behind the Mask (2010)
- Elsa Schmid-Kitsikis, "Narcissistic Defenses"
- Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology (PFL 11), p. 83
- Freud, Metapsychology, p. 258
- Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (PFL 7) p.352
- James Shapiro, Contested Will (2010) p. 344
- Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946), p. 147-8
- Fenichel, p. 510
- Elisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan (Oxford 1997), p. 111
- Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection (London 1997), pp. 21-22
- James S. Grotstein, "Foreword", in Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London 1993), p. xii
- Hanna Segal, Introduction to the Work of Melanie Klein (London 1964), p. 70
- Jean-Michel Quinodoz, The Taming of Solitude (2004), p. 168
- Otto F. Kernberg, Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism (London 1990) p. 29
- Kohut, quoted in Josephine Klein, Our Need for Others (London 1994) p. 222
- Symington, p. 52 and p. 88
- James G. Fennessy, "The Narcissistic Defense"
- Elsa Ronningstam, Disorders of Narcissism (1997) p. 128
- Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self (Madison 1971) p. 215
- Symington, p. 113 and p. 58
- Simon Crompton, All about Me (London 2007) p. 28-9
- Jack Reynolds, Understanding Existentialism (2006) p. 143
- Jonathan Goldberg, Voice Terminal Echo (1986) p. 47
- J. A. Kotarba/A. Fontana, The Existential Self in Society (1987) p. 85
- Adamson, J./Clark, H. A., Scenes of Shame (1999)
- Federn, Paul, "Narcissism in the structure of the ego", International Journal of Psychoanalysis (1928) 9, 401-419.
- Green, André, Life narcissism, death narcissism (Andrew Weller, Trans.), London and New York: Free Association Books (1983).
- Grunberger, Béla (1971), Narcissism: Psychoanalytic essays (Joyce S. Diamanti, Trans., foreword by Marion M. Oliner). New York: International Universities Press.
- Tausk, Viktor (1933), "On the origin of the "influencing machine" in schizophrenia" In Robert Fliess (Ed.), The psycho-analytic reader. New York: International Universities Press. (Original work published 1919)