Narcissistic injury

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The concept of narcissistic injury does not appear as such in Freud.

Since Freud, the theoretical elaboration of narcissism and the development of new entities of psychopathology has led to the creation of this concept to describe the consequences, on the narcissistic level, of a trauma to the psychic apparatus arising from internal or external factors.

It should be remarked, however, that the introduction of the concept of narcissism (1914) prepared the way in metapsychology for the notion of narcissistic injury, if one also takes into account the Freudian propositions concerning the development of the ego in relation to the exigencies of the reality principle, and his ideas about infantile helplessness (Hilflosigkeit).[1]

On the one hand, conflicting drives, and, on the other, the object and its vicissitudes inflict a series of traumas on narcissism, whereby the anguish linked to loss and/or separation becomes structural.

Thereby, birth, weaning, anality, the castration complex, and the fear of death are all prototypical phenomena that give rise to narcissistic injuries.

Further reflection on narcissism, and the post-Freudian clinic, have led to theories in which the notion of narcissistic injury occupies a central place, as well as to developments and modifications in psychoanalytic technique.

In the United States, the "Self Psychology" of Heinz Kohut and the description of borderline states and narcissistic personalities by Otto Kernberg have made this category central, allowing the evaluation of psychic organization and serving as transference-countertransference guide in the course of the analysis.

Heinz Kohut particularly has stressed the significance of "narcissistic rage" as a reaction to narcissistic injury: faced with the failure of the self-object, narcissistic rage would be the aggressive result of shame.

In France, Béla Grunberger considered that narcissistic injury, inflicted on the ego by the vicissitudes of a disappointed ego-ideal, is an integral part of narcissism; accordingly, this theory made narcissistic injury a pivotal notion, since the impotence inherent in the human condition constitutes, in itself and from the outset, a narcissistic injury, one that is preponderant subsequently in the dialectic between narcissism and the drives, as well as being the source of ethics and civilization.

Andre Green, stressing the role of the object, speaks of object trauma, whose very existence is the cause of injury, calling for never-completed reparation.

The notion of narcissistic injury is useful in accounting for the rapports between narcissism, the drives, and the object.

However, as critics of Kohut point out, its excessively univocal development risks de-emphasizing sexuality.

See Also


  1. Freud. 1911b.
  • Freud, Sigmund. (1914c). On narcissism: An introduction. SE, 14: 67-102.