Freud believed that the mechanics of narcissism could be studied through observation of sexual behavior of humans. He was particularly concerned with examining the pleasure infants take in certain bodily functions and activities. It is the mother whom the infant has as its first significant obect. An infant’s attachment to its mother was understood by Freud as an “anaclitic” object choice. In such attachment, sexual instincts are determined by ego-instincts. On the other hand, there are also object choices which, Freud said, indicated an underlying disruption in sexual development, using the examples of homosexuals. In general, his interest in his theory of narcissism focused on interruption of sexual development and abnormal sexual attachments different kinds of individuals would develop during adulthood.
Freud believed that humans both start out with both anaclitic and narcissistic object choices but that attachment to one tends to dominate the other. He believed that men tend to be governed by their anaclitic object choice, leading to a compulsive pursuit of women. This is sen by him as a result of their primary narcissism and its investment in their mothers for narcissistic need. Women, however, have a less intense anaclitic object choice, Freud said. Their bond with their mothers is not as strong as in the case of men.
Women tend to be passive and choose a desire to be loved rather than a desire to love. Those with an anaclitic love object are attracted to narcissistic individuals, he said. An example of this might be the tendency of our media to be infatuated with the unattainable woman. Freud is careful to note, however, that some women take anaclitic object choices like men, but that this is somewhat uncommon.
Next, Freud discusses the relation of narcissism to the so-called castration complex and its accompanying castration anxiety. Boys are afraid of the loss of the phallus, on the one hand, and women experience “penis envy,” on the other. The boy can still be in a state of primary narcissism in such a way that their libido is not differentiated, but they may still behave, Freud said, in a way that seems to indicate the investment of libido in a specific area of the body. Libidinal flows become frustrated by cultural artifacts such as rules and codes of conduct. Humans internalize these authorities and libido becomes repressed. This repression does not work for some individuals. Others, however, reject or disavow their existence.
Those who repress their desires may have an “ideal ego,” whose purpose is to deal with these desires. They have an idealized or projected image of themselves to which they attempt to conform. Thus, pleasure is not destroyed, but is pursuit vicariously through the set up of an ideal to pursue. It is within this context that idealization and sublimation are discussed. In idealization, much is made of the object of desire. It is given a value which exceeds what it is actually worth. Men usually do this with human, since they engage in anaclitic attachment. Sometimes the ego itself becomes the idealized object. In the case of sublimation, however, erotic desire is transformed into something else, such as love of God or altruistic activities. Thus, libido is “sublimated” rather than merely repressed.
The ego attempts to live up to the standards of the ideal ego. This idea anticipates Freud’s later development of the concept of the “superego,” which is basically the person’s conscience, or the internalization of an imperious authority which prevents them from transgressing certain behavioral bounds. Sometimes this superego is excessive punitive or persecutory; a tendency Freud believed he observed in paranoid individuals.
For Freud, pursuit of the ideal ego is an innately homosexual tendency, since it is love of oneself, and therefore, love of someone of the same sex. Homosexual tendencies are satisfied in such a way, in this case, that this behavior avoids societal censure of it. Freud believed that paranoia is an example of rebellion against the societal prohibitions which are internalized in the development of the ideal ego. The paranoid individual is rebelling against his superego, and the conspiracies they believe in and the voices they hear are externalizations of the ideal ego.
For Freud, individuals with unusual self-regard or egotism think in such a way because of narcissistic libido. To lend libido to something is to love it. Investing libido into one’s own self is, therefore, a form of self-love. Loving another person decreases one’s self-regard because of the differential in the libidinal economy, and feeling loved oneself replenishes this narcissism.
One empties one’s own libido into another and receives it back (or not) from such a person. It is in this vein that he critiques Adler, who emphasizes the role of physiological inferiority leading to compensatory behavior, on the ground that psychoanalysis should be concerned with how one experiences and understands one’s own body and reality, rather than in terms of real infirmities.
Freud denies that humans are born with an ego. Self-hood is produced gradually through infancy and childhood. It is the ideal ego which disrupts primary narcissism, and the differentiation of self from other begins. this intrusion is the result of external expectations, rules, codes of conduct, etc. from the outside. The individual seeks satisfaction from the fulfillment of these rules and prescriptions about behavior.
For Freud, there are three sources of self-concept:
1) Residual primary narcissism
2) Satisfaction of returned love
3) Fulfillment of the fantasized expectations of the ideal ego
Freud believed that pursuit of happiness has to do with regression of a primordial state experienced as an infant in which there is no distinction between ego-libido and object-libido. Since humans cannot return to this state, humans instead idealize all of their objects of desire. This is related, Freud believed, to real or imagined deficits in the ego. Those with a real or imagined deficit in some area may seek individuals who do not have this deficit, or who have the quality which we wish we did not lack.