A narcissistic defence against affects and the illusion of self-sufficiency

Int J Psychoanal. 1975 Aug;56(3):275-82.


A narcissistic defence against affects, unlike isolation, is a defence against an object relationship. Object relations are strengthened by the sharing of genuine affects so that the failure to share feelings or the presentation of false feelings creates distance between the self and other objects. The defence is similar to that of denial in that it entails a modification of the ego's own structure. We have suggested that this modification consists of a precocious but fragile establishment of a sense of self. The defence may occupy a sector of the personality or reflect a more massive structural arrest. When there is this structural arrest, we believe that this narcissistic defence forms the basis for the narcissistic character disorder described by Kohut and the false self of Winnicott. This precocious sense of self leading to an illusion of self-sufficiency may also be found in other disorders, including the borderline patient, but the borderline patient, in contrast, suffers from a failure of internalization which leads to object hunger in contrast to the denial of object need of the narcissistic disorder. We suspect that the environmental trauma that may contribute to the narcissistic disorder is less severe as compared to the borderline states and may consist of the mother's failure to accept the child's separateness and autonomy, resulting in a fear of the mother's intrusiveness. The fear of the maternal object's intrusiveness contributes to the relative inability to form a therapeutic alliance in the psychoanalysis of narcissistic character disorders. The analyst's interpretations are experienced as dangerous, not necessarily because of their content but due to the fear of the analyst's intrusive influence. Our understanding of the means of effecting therapeutic change must be modified in patients with narcissistic character disorders for, in contrast to the 'classical' neurotic, analytic progress is not obtained by means of interpreting the transference neurosis in the context of a working or therapeutic alliance. Although we acknowledge that the psychoanalysis of narcissistic disorders can lead to significant therapeutic gains, such analyses may prove to be interminable if the gains do not also result in the establishment of a transference neurosis and therapeutic alliance.

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Character
  • Defense Mechanisms*
  • Ego
  • Humans
  • Narcissism*
  • Object Attachment
  • Personality Disorders / therapy
  • Psychoanalytic Therapy
  • Self Concept*
  • Transference, Psychology