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The Concept of Narcissism According to Freud


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The Concept of Narcissism According to Freud


Narcissism is a concept that so many researchers have investigated over the years. Among the researchers who took on the narcissism concept was Sigmund Freud back in 1914. He developed theories on the narcissism concept to help understand and explain what it is and perhaps what causes it. One of Freud’s other famous technical works is Superego which led to the development of narcissism theories, and in this work, he applies so many clinical terminologies. Freud defines narcissism as adoration that an individual gives themselves in the context of them being an entity of sexual desire (Cratsley, 2016). According to Sigmund Freud, narcissism is a form of neurosis, a type of mental illness.

An Exposition into Sigmund Freud’s Theories of Narcissism

Freud postulates that every human being has some degree of narcissism throughout the different levels of their development. He categorizes narcissism in two categories; primary narcissism and secondary narcissism. In Freud’s categorization, primary narcissism pre-existent in every person, and it is present from the time one is born. Freud hypothesizes that primary narcissism is what makes people have affection towards objects.

An example of primary narcissism is a mother expressing unadulterated love for her baby. Sigmund Freud proceeds to hypothesize that similar energy is present in young children (Roussillon, 2010). He explains that young children have a strong belief that they are superbeings and can perform astounding feats by simply using their words. Freud says that human beings direct their primary narcissism outwardly towards objects at some point in life since it brings a lot of conflict inside a person.

Contrary to primary narcissism, Freud explains secondary narcissism as the shift that happens when individuals turn their affection on an object back to themselves, after affection has already been projected to outward objects apart from themselves. He explains that a person is cut off from society and becomes disinterested in other people after this. Freud deduces that such individuals are likely to suffer from low self-esteem (Hyatt et al., 2018). This is because they are incapable of expressing love to other people, and they love being reciprocated. Additionally, this group of individuals is full of guilt and shame and is very defensive about shielding themselves. One of the symptoms of narcissism is the tendency to look for self-preservation and raise defence walls to protect oneself from getting hurt by other people.

Sigmund Freud has another interesting perspective on narcissism where he presumes that narcissism stems from a person’s sex drive (the urge to procreate) and self-preservation. He speculates that in childhood, self-preservation and sex drive are all the same. In Freud’s view, the level of affection “libido” extends to other people “object libido” determines the level of self-love “ego-libido”. He states that the concept of love/affection emanates from the need for the continuation of species. There must be a balance between the “object-libido” and “ego-libido” for human beings and species to survive. Directing too much energy on the inward person leads to an imbalance, resulting in an infected personality, a non-functional individual.


According to Freud, homosexuality is the purest form of narcissism, and most beautiful women are narcissist looking for self-adoration. The view on homosexuality and narcissism is among the key areas that scholars mainly criticize Freud. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory on narcissism is one that many scholars disagree with entirely. Freud postulates that mothers show their affection to children in an attempt to fulfil their narcissistic desires. Freud explains that in the development of a human being, everyone has self-censorship and that paranoid people have uncontrolled and strong ego ideals.


Cratsley, K. (2016). Revisiting Freud and Kohut on narcissism. Theory & Psychology, 26(3), 333–359.

Hyatt, C. S., Sleep, C. E., Lamkin, J., Maples-Keller, J. L., Sedikides, C., Campbell, W. K., & Miller, J. D. (2018). Narcissism and self-esteem: A nomological network analysis. PLOS ONE, 13(8), e0201088.

Roussillon, R. (2010). The deconstruction of primary narcissism. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 91(4), 821–837.

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