This article series will be a condensed explication of Sigmund Freud’s “On Narcissism.” Freud will argue here, that there is a “primary” narcissism that is healthy and necessary to human development. This primary narcissism is a state of exclusive auto-eroticism in which libidinal cathexis is focused entirely upon oneself rather than any others.
He says that self-love is inseparable from the drive to self-preservation. Such primal self-love is inseparable from the primal desire to preserve one’s own life. For Freud, it is only secondary narcissism that is abnormal and pathological, and he says that it occurs during psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, in which libido withdraws from objects external to the individual and centers on himself instead.
He compares primary narcissism to the magical thinking of primitive peoples, arguing that the belief that spells or magical rites can affect the external world is a remnant of this primary narcissism, which he refers to as “an original libidinal cathexis of the ego.” He identifies a kind of libidinal “economy,” in which there is a ratio between object directedness towards oneself and those outside oneself. Being in love is an extreme manifestation of the latter and being a paranoid schizophrenic, he says, is an extreme manifestation of the former, but the libidinal economy of most individuals is somewhere in the middle.
For Freud, the “ego” does not exist at birth. It is gradually developed. Prior to the existence of the ego, as noted, is a condition of pervasive “auto-eroticism.” Freud referred to this state as one of “polymorphous perversity.” For Freud, narcissism follows auto-eroticism, and narcissism, which is understood by Freud as investment of libido in the ego, is seen as developing at the same time as the ego.Rather than replacing auto-eroticism, however, primary narcissism is built upon auto-eroticism, and the latter continues to exist even as it is superseded by a later phase.
Freud argues that in hypochondria, libido withdraws from the external world and is invested into the part of the body thought to be diseased. The hypochondriac, for Freud, is a neurotic, and he notes that the neurotic, the anxious neurotic and the neurasthenic can all suffer from discomforts which do not reflect any underlying, physiological problem.
Freud believed that sexual arousal is possible because the mind is capable of producing sensations on part of the body, and that it is this same underlying mechanism that is responsible for hypochondria., psychosomatic problems, neuroses, etc. Although psychoanalysis is now almost universally repudiated as an unscientific discipline, Freud saw himself as a scientist, and believed that human behavior would eventually be capable of being explained in purely naturalistic terms.
He argued that the mind is a machine whose purpose (among other things) is to get rid of dammed up energies by channeling them into other outlets. Mental illness occurs occurs gets blocked off or when libido is invested into things that are either unsatisfying or destructive. Freud acknowledged that this can be a difficult balance to strike, and argued that there must be a balance between ego strength and love of others.
Freud speaks in this work of the concept of “transference.” The neurosis who engages in transference invests libido to fantasies; that is, libido is “transferred” to fantasies on the grounds that the individual is experiencing frustration in trying to connect with real objects. Freud believed that different kinds of mental phenomena could be correlated with different distributions of libido throughout the body. Such libido can be associated with investment in the ego or the other.