Narcissistic neurosis is a term introduced by Sigmund Freud to distinguish the class of neuroses characterised by their lack of object relations and their fixation upon the early stage of libidinal narcissism.[1] The term is less current in contemporary psychoanalysis,[2] but still a focus for analytic controversy.[3]

Freud considered such neurosis as impervious to psychoanalytic treatment, as opposed to the transference neurosis where an emotional connection to the analyst was by contrast possible.[4]

Freud's changing ideas

Freud originally applied the term "narcissistic neurosis" to a range of disorders, including perversion, depression, and psychosis.[5] In the 1920s, however, he came to single out "illnesses which are based on a conflict between the ego and the super-ego... we would set aside the name of 'narcissistic psycho-neuroses' for disorders of that kind"[6]melancholia being the outstanding example.

About the same time, in the wake of the work of Karl Abraham, he began to modify to a degree his view on the inaccessibility of narcissistic neurosis to analytic treatment.[7] However his late lectures from the thirties confirmed his opinion of the unsuitability of narcissistic and psychotic conditions for treatment "to a greater or less extent";[8] as did his posthumous 'Outline of Psychoanalysis'.[9]

Later developments

From the twenties onwards, Freud's views of the inaccessibility of the narcissistic neuroses to analytic influence had been challenged, first by Melanie Klein,[10] and then by object relations theorists more broadly.[11]

While classical analysts like Robert Waelder would maintain Freud's delimiting standpoint into the sixties, eventually even within ego psychology challenges to the 'off-limits' view of what were increasingly seen as borderline disorders emerged.[12]

Relational psychoanalysis, like Heinz Kohut, would also take a more positive approach to narcissistic neurosis, emphasising the need for a partial or initial participation in the narcissistic illusions.[13]

In retrospect, Freud's caution may be seen as a result of his unwillingness to work with the negative transference, unlike the post-Kleinians.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (PFL 1) p. 471-2
  2. ^ J. Laplanche/J-B Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis (2012) p. 258
  3. ^ J-M Quinodoz, Reading Freud (2005) p. 132-4
  4. ^ Introductory Lectures p. 473 and p. 499
  5. ^ Quinodoz, p. 70
  6. ^ Sigmund Freud, On Psychopathology (PFL 10) p. 216
  7. ^ Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (PFL 7) p. 139
  8. ^ Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (PFL 2) p. 190
  9. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 447
  10. ^ Quinodoz, p. 132
  11. ^ Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (1993) p. xi-ii
  12. ^ Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (1988) p. 129-32
  13. ^ G. Mascialino, A Critical Appraisal of Relational Approaches to Psychoanalysis (2008) p. 56-8
  14. ^ Quinodoz, p. 129

Further reading