Narcissism of small differences

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The narcissism of small differences (German: der Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen) is the phenomenon that it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and that are related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and are ridiculing each other because of sensitiveness to these details of differentiation.[1] The term was coined by Sigmund Freud in 1917, based on the earlier work of British anthropologist Ernest Crawley: Crawley, in language which differs only slightly from the current terminology of psychoanalysis, declares that each individual is separated from others by a taboo of personal isolation, this narcissism of minor differences.[2]


The term appeared in Civilization and Its Discontents (1929–30) in relation to the application of the inborn aggression in man to ethnic (and other) conflicts, a process still considered by Freud, at that point, as a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression.[3] For Lacanians, the concept clearly related to the sphere of the Imaginary: the narcissism of small differences, which situates envy as the decisive element in issues that involve narcissistic image.[4] American psychiatrist Glen O. Gabbard has suggested that Freud's narcissism of small differences provides a framework to understand that in a loving relationship, there can be a need to find, and even exaggerate, differences in order to preserve a feeling of separateness and self.[5]

In terms of postmodernity, consumer culture has been seen as predicated on the narcissism of small differences to achieve a superficial sense of one's own uniqueness, an ersatz sense of otherness which is only a mask for an underlying uniformity and sameness.[6] The phenomenon has been portrayed by the British comedy group Monty Python in their satirical 1979 film Life of Brian and by author Joan Didion in an essay (part of her 1968 book Slouching Towards Bethlehem) about Michael Laski, the founder of the Communist Party USA (Marxist–Leninist).[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sigmund Freud, Civilization, Society and Religion (Penguin Freud Library 12) p. 131 and p. 305
  2. ^ Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (Penguin Freud Library 7, 1991) p. 272
  3. ^ Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, p. 305
  4. ^ Roberto Harari, Lacan's Seminar on Anxiety: An Introduction(2001) p. 25
  5. ^ Gabbard, Glen O. M.D., On Hate in Love Relationships: The Narcissism of Minor Differences Revisited, Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 62:229–238
  6. ^ Clive Hazell, Alterity (2009) p. 97
  7. ^ Paul, Ari (2015-09-02). "Will Socialists Back Bernie? Definitely Maybe". The Observer. Retrieved 2016-09-10. 

Further reading[edit]