Narcissism. Concept. Types. Pathological narcissism.

When it comes to talking about narcissism, it can be difficult for us to understand that before 1914, this concept was not given the relevance it has today in the international psychoanalytic and psychiatric literature. The subject of narcissism is very broad, which is why I have divided this article into two parts. The first deals with narcissism, its concept and its implications. The second part will deal with narcissistic disorders.

Historical context.

It is with the publication, in 1914 , of the book ” Introduction to Narcissism ” by Sigmund Freud, when this term begins to make its way into specialized circles. A little over a hundred years later, we could say that the term has been vulgarized and most of the time it is used in the broadest sense, to refer to someone in love with himself. In fact, when Freud coined the term, he turned to mythology and noticed Narcissus, a character who had precisely that characteristic of excessive love for his own person.

Suppression of sexuality.

We cannot help but recognize Freud’s genius when reflecting on the nature of sexual drives, he asks why they should be hidden and repressed. In Freud’s time, at the beginning of the 20th century, sexual desire, especially in women, was something unworthy and inadequate to social norms and therefore there was only one way for that desire: unconscious repression.

This work, “Introduction to Narcissism” represents an important shift in Freudian thought, since until then, psychoanalysis observed sexual desires in patients that clashed with their conscious representations and were repressed.

Freud, focused on the study of his hysterical patients, wonders at this moment what is the reason why these women should repress their sexuality. For Freud the answer is obvious: because they are unworthy desires. Here appears a nuance of great importance, these women were affected by their sexuality in the assessment of themselves. If they accepted their sexuality, their self-esteem was diminished, their narcissism affected them. We see here a comparison between narcissism and the assessment that the subject makes of himself. Accepting sexuality involves narcissistic discomfort or suffering.

Narcissism: a new dimension.

From “Introduction to Narcissism” a new dimension opens up for researchers: find out the degree of satisfaction with oneself, that is, what is the narcissistic balance that the person makes of himself. A continuous comparison arises in the subject between certain ideals (ideal self) and the representation he has of himself (ego ideal).

Basically, Freud’s great contribution is to understand the emergence of conflicts between narcissistic needs and sexual needs. Some people, because of their sexual needs, repress sexuality, while, for others, their narcissistic needs make them put a greater emphasis on their sexuality.

Sigmund Freud – In 1914 he published the book “Introduction to Narcissism”.

Narcissism concept.

The concept of narcissism is basic within the doctrinal body of psychoanalysis. It began to be highlighted in 1914 with Freud’s book “Introduction to Narcissism” where he uses this term to designate love towards oneself. It should be noted that at that time the term self-esteem was not in use .

The term was not new, because in 1987, the psychologist Alfred Binet, used it to define a fetishistic variant where sexual desire is focused on the subject’s body.

Years later, Havelock Ellis takes up the term to designate a perverse sexual behavior, related to the mythological character of Narcissus. Freud referred to the term narcissism, in 1910, to the particular form of object choice of homosexual individuals. In current psychoanalysis, the concept of narcissism has undergone some transformations. For Laplanche and Pontalis, ” narcissism means love of self-image .” We can still find some more meaning, before the definitive one that appears in 1914 with Introduction to Narcissism.

Primary and secondary narcissism.

This work has given rise to numerous theoretical disquisitions that, although important for the conceptualization of psychoanalytic doctrine, contribute little or nothing to the clinic. Thus we have the concepts primary narcissism and secondary narcissism. They are often used to describe the evolution of narcissism from a theoretical point of view.

Hugo Bleichmar says that primary narcissism is a rarely used term today. Freud refers to it to designate a state of satisfaction of the fetus in the womb. It is a kind of nirvana, which lasts until the moment of delivery and where the other does not exist.

With the appearance of the “other” and relationships with others, the individual directs his libido towards these new objects, and when at a later time that libido is directed again towards oneself, that is when we speak of secondary narcissism.


Throughout this article we will use terms such as “narcissization” or “narcissizing”, which are not very common in the language of the street. We understand by narcissization the process by which value is given to certain activities or objects. When a baby does an activity and his parents applaud or praise him, they are narcissizing (giving value) to that activity.

More useful is the differentiation, from the clinical point of view, between primary and secondary narcissization. In this sense, we speak of primary narcissistic disorder to refer to cases caused by narcissization that parents do to the child. That is, the child is invested from birth with all its narcissistic charge, which comes through the parents. We would speak of secondary narcissistic disorder, when a person, who presents a narcissistic deficit, tries to compensate for it and makes a defensive narcissistic disorder.

We can better understand the concept of secondary clinical narcissism with the example of the new rich: A person who has lived his childhood in poverty and that has produced narcissistic suffering, years later acquires great wealth and flaunts it. The subject narcissizes with this supervening wealth and falls into ostentation to compensate for his childhood narcissistic deficit.

Narcissism and self-esteem.

Freud used the term narcissist with two totally different meanings:  The first one is to refer to self-esteem . Freud did not speak of self-esteem. For a long time in psychoanalysis, self-esteem was not discussed. The term narcissism understood as self-esteem was generally used.

The other meaning of narcissism is to refer to someone who does not establish a relationship with the other , who does not recognize the other as different and only sees him in his image and likeness. This whole conception is based on the myth of Narcissus, who sees his image reflected in the water and falls in love with it. The narcissist is in love with his own image .

The narcissistic subject has an excessive love towards his own person.

The myth of Narcissus.

The myth of Narcissus.

Although there is an older Greek version, the best known story about Narcissus is that attributed to the Latin poet Ovid in his “Metamorphoses.”

Young Narcissus.

In this version it is said that Narcissus was a beautiful young man, the son of the nymph Liríope and the river god Cephiso. Narcissus’s mother, worried about the future of her son, went to the city of Thebes, to consult a famous blind seer named Tiresias. Liríope asked Tiresias if his son would live long, to which the blind man replied affirmatively, as long as Narcissus did not get to know himself (to see his own image).

At 16 years of age, Narciso was a young man of extraordinary beauty, who fell in love with both men and women. He was vain and unable to notice the beauty of others. The nymph Echo fell madly in love with Narcissus, and one day when he was hunting deer, she followed him through the forest. When the nymph, who had been punished to repeat the last word of each sentence, met him, she barely stammered a few words and Narcissus, seeing her, despised her in one of his many gestures of vanity. The myth tells that Eco never left the forest again and was left crying his sorrow for Narciso’s rejection and from that moment only his voice is heard, repeating the last words of those who cross the forest.

Nemesis’s Revenge.

Narcissus’s contemptuous attitude towards the nymph Echo deeply irritated Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, who decided to punish Narcissus for his vanity and arrogance. The goddess managed to deceive the young man approaching a stream of clear waters. There, Narcissus observed his reflected image and was impressed by his own beauty.

Every day he went to the stream and was ecstatic when he observed himself, but at the same time he was irritated by not being reciprocated. One day, unable to bear his frustration anymore, he took his life by throwing himself into the water. In the place, where his corpse floated, a beautiful flower grew, which they called narcissus, in memory of the beautiful young man.

Based on this mythological account of “The Metamorphoses” by Ovid, Freud takes the name of Narcissus, alluding to love for himself, to describe one of the fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis. The myth of Narcissus symbolically suggests that an individual, as a child, runs the risk of being fixed at a stage in his development by consolidating a specific image of himself, but is unable to carry out the task of becoming independent or separating.

Narcissus in love with his image reflected in the water. Jan Cossiers painting.

Narcissism and the Oedipus complex.  

As a result of the definition of narcissism, there has been a reformulation of the Oedipus complex, quite remarkable.

Sexual motivation

Until then, the Oedipus complex was understood in a very simplistic way, attending exclusively to its purely sexual aspect: the child wants to sleep with his mother and his father becomes a rival who must be expelled to achieve his goal. In the case of girls, it would be the reverse situation: the girl wants to sleep with her father and her mother is the adversary who opposes her wish. The complex appears motivated by sexual need.

Motivation to be appreciated.

Today we do not understand it this way. It is not that the child wants to sleep with his mother. What the child really seeks is to be the mother’s favorite and the rivalry arises, not because of sexual desire but because of the need to be more appreciated than the other parent. In reality, the Oedipus complex refers to a triangular situation (child-mother-father) that can be extended to any other type of relationship in the family, work or social sphere, which implies the formation of a triangle. The individual tries to win the affection and appreciation of another person and competes with a third party who tries to take his place.

“The Oedipus complex, with the new dimension it adopts, from the introduction of narcissism, is a triangular situation. The core of the Oedipus complex is a situation of three, where there is someone who wants to be someone else’s favorite, and that someone does not contemplate that that person may have a third as a favorite ”. (Bleichmar, H. 2013).

Extension of the Oedipus complex.

Any triangular situation, in which one aspires to displace a third party and become a favorite must be understood as an oedipal situation. We are facing a situation not linked to sexuality, but to narcissism, where preference and relegation prevail. Throughout life we ​​see numerous triangular situations, ranging from the normal to the pathological, impregnated with the narcissistic need to be preferred by another person (to be more valued narcissistically) and to displace a third party.

“If we understand the Oedipus complex in this way, it opens up a way for us to be able to analyze multiple situations and see that the theme of rivalry, comparative grievance is continually present in our lives. Understood in this way, we can accept Freud’s idea that the Oedipus complex occupies a central place in neuroses, insofar as it is continuously creating discomfort, creating competition, and creating needs for display and of relegating a third party. Understanding the Oedipus complex in this new way, we see how narcissism acquires greater importance than sexuality. Sexuality, in this new conception, becomes one more motivation, in a wide group of motivations ”. (Bleichmar, H. 2013).

The Oedipus complex is reformulated with the concept of narcissism.

Narcissism and motivational interjuego.

There is an interplay between different motivations, between sexuality and narcissism, but sometimes the motivation of self-preservation also comes into play and thus we see people who do not hesitate to risk their own lives to satisfy narcissistic or sexual needs. A clear example would be extreme sports. Many of the choices we make in life are determined by narcissistic needs that only seek satisfaction in the ” object of narcissistic activity .” An object (something or someone) is sought that satisfies the subject’s narcissistic need.

This narcissistic motivation is continually present in everyday life, only varying its intensity, which makes it oscillate between the normal and the pathological. This means that we should not speak of narcissism as something always negative, as there can be a normal or positive narcissism when they carry a social benefit.

Pathological narcissism.

What differentiates a normal narcissism from a pathological one is that it is a narcissism that does not try to take advantage of the other or seek their destruction, it is a narcissism that is useful to the person and is also useful to others. In pathological narcissism, the person harms himself or others and is of no use. Muñoz describes pathological narcissism as follows:

“In their relationships with others they are exploitative, because they consider that others are there to attend to their needs and they have no problem taking advantage of others to achieve their objectives. They do not usually have stable and long-lasting relationships and they break up frequently because no one is good enough for them. The narcissist looks for a special and superior person to brag about, but gets angry if his partner comes to the fore ”. (Muñoz, A. 2017).

Narcissism versus self-preservation.

Narcissistic motivation can be so powerful that it can cause such striking clinical pictures as anorexia. Sometimes the origin of this picture is that the narcissistic motivation is stronger than the need for self-preservation. In this regard, the psychoanalyst Emilce Dio Bleichmar argues that one of the possible causes of anorexia nervosa can be a narcissistic disorder, where thinness is seen as a valued attribute:

“Clearly the beginning is from the beginning of a diet to lose weight. In these cases, which are the majority of those that appear today, the prevailing motivation is the narcissistic gain that is expected to be obtained by improving the silhouette ”.

We cannot help but be amazed at the intensity of the narcissistic satisfaction, which comes to put existence at stake. Anorexia in these cases occurs in people with enormous willpower, but with the wrong goals. Alongside this pathology we find sports heroes, with great will and adequate goals. Thus, we see how behind different situations we can find the same motivation. There are very diverse pictures that have the same narcissistic motivation.

Narcissism can manifest itself in high-risk sports and activities

The narcissistic code.

When we speak of code, we mean that a person metabolizes all the information within a certain perspective, everything that happens he experiences from his own point of view, that is, he absorbs everything that happens within a code.

The rating code.

narcissistic person is continually looking to see if they value it or not . All your uptake is done from a valuation perspective . So the question arises from what perspective is reality captured? The phobic captures reality from the perception of danger. Hedonic people grasp reality by seeing the possibilities for pleasure. These are codes that make the information to be incorporated within a certain scheme.

Looking at the clinic, it is very important to observe how each patient captures reality. Each one does it in a stable and prevalent way and also in a punctual way. The narcissistic personality looks at reality from the point of view: I am valued or not, I am worth a lot or I am worth little, I get admiration or not . These codes may vary with people, but the story is the same.

The analyst before the codes.

Filters or codes (we can call them the same way) are character traits that make us grasp one reality and disregard another. Patients very often in a monotone way have the same story in a different way with different characters. It is not so important to analyze the character with whom he interacts but the action he carries out.

“People are storytellers, who always tell the same story with different characters, but with the same structure.” (Bleichmar, H. 2013).

The analyst should not lose himself in the anecdote of the story, but through the anecdote he can grasp the structure of the story, the repetitiveness. When observing what is repetitive, the therapist must point it out to the patient and make him see that this repetitive behavior is possibly due to something very important to him. The therapist should not attack the code, but point to it to try to find out how that code came to be formed. In the case of the narcissist, the therapist must point out the repetitive pattern of assessment and delve into its genesis.

The narcissistic subject is constantly evaluating all his actions.

Narcissism as the motor of the psyche.

We have already mentioned previously that narcissism usually carries negative connotations and we have seen that this is not exactly the case, since there is normal narcissism and pathological narcissism.

Narcissism and psychic functions.

But there is still more, narcissism is necessary as a stimulus for the development of the functions of the human psyche .

When the young child performs some motor activity, for example, he moves his hand joyfully, if he is not looked at with enthusiasm, this activity is not narcissized, it does not receive the approval and the narcissistic assessment. If when the child speaks he is not made to feel that he is pleasant and well valued by the significant figures for him, the act of speaking does not value him.

The passion and enthusiasm for doing any type of thing is because it is endowed with a possibility of narcissistic contribution to the person. Therefore, it is essential for psychological development that there is a narcissization , that is, that the various activities are endowed with narcissistic value. If a person when he thinks is made to feel that he thinks badly, stop thinking. Hugo Bleichmar says:

“Narcissism is the food of functions. There is no normal psychic functioning if this function has not previously received a narcissistic pleasure. If the man or the woman does not feel a certain pride in their sexuality, the sexual desire is lost ”.

Narcissism despite negative connotations is absolutely essential for the development of human capacities. It is necessary to undertake activities. This is very important to explain the deficit in certain psychic functions, because they did not receive a sufficient narcissistic contribution. Progress in the acquisition of skills and resources depends precisely on whether those resources have obtained a narcissistic assessment.

Narcissism and sexuality.

The same can be said about sexuality. There must be a narcissization of sexuality. If the man or woman does not feel a certain pride in their sexuality, it is deactivated.

For a time women did not receive that narcissistic assessment and then sexuality did not develop as a pleasant activity. In Victorian times no woman was proud of the intensity of her sexual desire. For that sexual desire to exist, there must be a certain feeling of pride in that desire. Otherwise, it causes discomfort and sexual function is abolished.

Kohut, contrary to many psychoanalytic currents, has emphasized the need to stimulate narcissism not only in the child but also in psychoanalytic treatment. Classical psychoanalysis wanted to dismantle the defenses and connect the human being with all the negative and horrible that he kept in his unconscious. Right now, we have a more balanced and humane view of therapy: we know the importance of making a narcissistic assessment of the patient’s progress in therapy.

The narcissization of sexuality favors a satisfactory relationship.

Narcissism and object choice.

In the “Introduction to Narcism” Freud talks about the choice of object and refers to the reasons why one person chooses another.

Choice of object by shoring.

For Freud there are two types of choices: One would be the choice by underpinning. It is so named because the choice is based on something else. In this case, someone may choose another and fall in love with another for self-preservation needs. It is chosen and a falling in love and a choice of the other takes place because the other proppers. A choice is made based on self-preservation.

Narcissistic choice.

The other type is the narcissistic choice, which is when you love the other because loving the other produces a feeling of increased self-worth. For Freud, women make their choice of object or person they love out of narcissism. This position, harshly criticized by feminist movements, nowadays does not hold up and has been widely surpassed.

These two forms of choice were pointed out by Freud in 1914. Today, we would consider more ways of choosing: because it gives us peace of mind, because it gives us security, because it makes us feel that we are not alone, and so on.

The importance of Freud’s contribution to object choice lies in the definition of why one chooses narcissistically?

You choose what you are. 

“I choose someone who thinks like me, who is like me and who by being like me reaffirms that what I am is valid.” The interesting thing about the matter is that when a person falls in love with someone who thinks like him, he is validating himself in his thinking and there Freud demonstrated a fine clinical acuity. This explains why we are more likeable to people who are more similar to us, who have tastes similar to ours. These are narcissistic choices. This would be one of the subtypes of narcissistic choice.

Another subtype would be when someone chooses the other, precisely because they have the opposite tastes to theirs or because they are someone very different from their way of being. This form of choice also narcissizes the subject. Freud considers that one chooses narcissistically when choosing:

“To what you yourself were, to what you would like to be or to the person who was part of yourself.”

Good people have a certain sympathy when they see people who are what one was: children who go to school, students of the same career, and you feel a current of sympathy towards them.

You choose what you want to be.

One also chooses in a narcissistic way what one would like to be , what constitutes a certain ideal for that person. When the subject falls in love with someone who is how he would like to be, by participation that person obtains what he would like to be. Thus, many couple choices are made so that the other gives the person the identity of what they would like to be and this is obtained through participation.

Narcissistic choice of object. Why is it chosen narcissistically?

You choose what was part of yourself.

Finally, one also chooses in a narcissistic way what was part of one . Here Freud thought about motherhood and fatherhood: “It is my product. It is a part of myself. ” A person narcissistically loves another, when in loving that other he enhances his own narcissism and revalues ​​himself. This work by Freud is interesting because it shows us the way we choose. It is clearly insufficient, but we cannot forget that it was written 104 years ago and must be viewed from that perspective.

Object of narcissistic activity.

There are several uses of the other to achieve narcissistic satisfaction: Object of narcissistic activity is someone who allows a person to perform an activity that allows them to feel better. The subject needs the other to develop his activity that provides him with narcissistic satisfaction. He uses it in the sense that without the other he cannot do that activity. For example, objects of narcissistic activity would be the students of a teacher who enjoys his narcissism while teaching, or the audience that attends a concert by a violinist. In these cases, the narcissistic subject seeks more his personal delight than to please the students or the audience.


This article is a part of the abstract of the monograph “Narcissism” that is part of the TFM of the “University Specialist Course in Clinical and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy”. You can download the complete work at the following link:

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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