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Narcissus , oil painting by Caravaggio , 1594–1596, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

The expression narcissism stands in everyday psychological terms and colloquial in the broadest sense for the self-love and self-admiration of a person who considers himself more important and valuable than judging observers characterize him. In colloquial language, a person who is highly self-reliant and pays less attention to other people than to himself is referred to as a narcissist . Such use of the word “narcissism” usually implies a negative moral judgment about the person concerned.

The term is associated with a large number of very different psychological, social science, cultural and philosophical concepts. What exactly is meant by “narcissism” then depends on the respective theoretical concept. Demarcate the narcissistic personality disorder according to ICD-10 and DSM-5 .


The diagnosis “narcissism” and the predicate “narcissistic” are used in common parlance to describe a person who is critically polemical and who evades the claims of the community in a specific way in favor of an inflated ego claim. In fact, the accusation of “narcissism” marks a conflict between the external assessment and the self-assessment of the narcissist, whose consciousness behaves narcissistically to the extent that it immunizes itself against such criticism. Typically “narcissistic” seems to be affirming one's own narcissism, as recent studies suggest.

In the sense of an assessment from outside, however, the diagnosis of “narcissism” is accompanied by the accusation of a highly inflated, unrealistically positive self-assessment, self-centeredness, justification thinking and a lack of consideration for other people; Narcissists may exert destructive influences on those around them. However, as recent research has shown, narcissists are emotionally stable, satisfied with themselves and their lives, and well adapted to their life situation. Although they depend on admiration more than other people , they have a wide range of behaviors and perceptual patterns to meet their need for admiration and ward off criticism.

Concept and history of the concept


The term “narcissism” is derived from the ancient narcissus myth. In the Metamorphoses Ovid tells the story of the young man Narcissus , which comes from Greek mythology , and who rejects all admirers. After he also spurns Ameinias, Ameinias takes his own life and at the same time asks the gods to avenge his death. Nemesis hears his request and punishes Narcissus with insatiable self-love : he falls in love with his own reflection, which he sees in the water of a spring. Although he sees through the deception, he cannot turn away from this image and dies to turn into a daffodil in death . Originally, this myth was about hubris and punishment. In late antiquity, the legend of "transience" ( vanitas ) was emphasized.

The English poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge , who used it in a letter in 1822 , is one of the earliest authors with whom the use of the word "narcissism" can be proven . Alfred Binet is considered to be the first scientist to compare human behavior with the self-love of the mythical Narcissus , who cited the fable in 1887 in connection with a case of sexual fetishism . The British sexologist Havelock Ellis mentioned it in 1898 to evaluate the behavior of women who look at themselves in the mirror while naked. In 1899 he was followed by the German psychiatrist Paul Näcke , who introduced the term “narcissism” into science and thus designated “the most severe form of 'auto-eroticism'” , a phenomenon whose prevalence he estimated to be extremely low. Common to all sex science positions of the late 19th century was the assessment that narcissism (as being in love with oneself or as an erotic pleasure in one's own body) should be classified as a serious “gender confusion”.

Psychoanalysis has largely taken hold of the term. Freud established it in the official theoretical language of his school in 1914 with his essay “On the Introduction of Narcissism”. Mediated through Freud's psychoanalysis and the Freud reception of the Frankfurt School , the term has found wide acceptance in science and everyday language; it is used today in a wide variety of contexts, including a. in psychology , psychiatry , social psychology , philosophy , sociology , cultural and social criticism through to organizational research and management theory .

Ambiguity and vagueness

Although Narcissus was introduced early on by Freud, alongside Oedipus, as the second central icon of theoretic formation, the psychoanalytic narcissistic theory, especially in its post-Freudian development up to the present, is not uniform. Numerous controversial concepts and treatment approaches are hidden behind the psychoanalytic concept of narcissism. On the one hand, an almost inflationary use of the term in everyday life and science can be noticed, while on the other hand, there is no consensus on its conceptual basis. Indeed, due to its vagueness , the scientific applicability of the term is sometimes questioned. There is agreement above all with regard to the symptoms and manifestations of a narcissistic disorder or pathology.

Stefan Röpke, who led a research project on the subject of narcissism at the Charité , highlighted healthy narcissism and summarized the various concepts in a nutshell:

“A healthy, high level of self-esteem is positive. This way you get less sick, you can resolve professional conflicts better, and you have more stable partnerships. And what is narcissism? There are very different definitions. First this myth-telling by Ovid, then the concept of autoerotic disorder by Havelock Ellis. Then Freud , who calls it a normal stage of development, while the late Freud revises that and calls narcissism a problem of adulthood. Heinz Kohut says you are slipping back to a child's level of development. Otto F. Kernberg speaks of cold, indifferent or aggressive parents. Millon, on the other hand, argues in learning theory that the children who have made a little modeling clay are confirmed by their parents as highly gifted and are later confronted with reality when everyone no longer says how great you are. There is no uniform definition of healthy narcissism. "

- Stefan Röpke : The daily mirror

Wolfgang Schmidbauer published his position in 2018 under the title The secrets of mortification and the riddle of narcissism .

Depth psychological perspective

Early psychoanalysis

Isidor Sadger , who had been a member of Freud's Psychological Wednesday Society since 1906 , introduced the term “narcissism” in 1908 to psychoanalysis . Sadger dealt with homosexuality , which he initially considered - in the spirit of sexology - to be a narcissistic perversion , until he finally came to the conviction that normal sexual development always leads through a phase of narcissism, i.e. love of the self. Otto Rank , who shared this view, published the first psychoanalytic paper in 1911 that was entirely devoted to narcissism.

Freud's concept of narcissism

Sigmund Freud (1909)

Sigmund Freud started using the term in 1909 and incorporated it into his libido theory . In 1914 he published his work on the introduction of narcissism , in which he distinguished the “ narcissistic neuroses ” (= psychoses ) from the transference neuroses . Freud differentiated between primary and secondary narcissism and explained psychotic illnesses in such a way that sufferers became fixated on primary narcissism in early childhood and later regressed to this phase .

Primary and Secondary Narcissism

By "primary narcissism" Freud understood a (presumed, hypothetical) state which all people go through in the oral phase of their early childhood and which is characterized by the fact that the child perceives himself as one with the mother and the difference between subject (himself) and object (mother) has not yet completed. It therefore focuses its sexual energy ( libido ) exclusively on itself. Many later authors took up this idea and developed it further, including Margaret Mahler , who coined the term “ symbiotic phase ”. "Primary narcissism" is a metapsychological, purely theoretical construct. It cannot be proven by empirical means, and this term is hardly used in modern psychology today.

By “secondary narcissism” Freud understood a narcissism that only occurs in later phases of life, after man has already overcome the fusion of subject and object. In secondary narcissism, the person withdraws his sexual energy from external objects and redirects the libido to himself. This state occurs especially after disappointed love and self-esteem and is an important and indispensable element in the personality maturation of every person; according to Freud it enables u. a. the formation of an ego ideal . When psychoanalysts speak of “narcissism” today, they almost always mean the secondary form, which - unlike “primary narcissism” - not only forms a heuristic model, but can also be empirically proven in its diverse manifestations.

Problems of the Freudian concept of narcissism

How u. a. the Argentine psychoanalyst Willy Baranger showed, Freud revised and modified his concept of narcissism many times, without being able to completely free it from vagueness and internal contradictions. Freud remained vague, especially with regard to the question of whether narcissism was a transitory stage in completely normal human development or a perversion.

Analytical psychology

One of the starting points for the division between Freud and his student CG Jung was the criticism that the latter made of Freud's 1911 case study on Daniel Paul Schreber . Jung was convinced that Freud's libido theory was not applicable to this case and declared the theory to have failed.

The CG Jung student Erich Neumann made considerable corrections to the Freudian concept of primary narcissism for analytical psychology in 1955 . While Freud had understood it as an intrauterine primal state of symbiotic fusion of an absolute pleasure self with its environment, Neumann conceived it as a primal “being in unified reality” , the “total participation mystique (cf. participation mystique in Lucien Lévy-Bruhl ) beyond subject-object split to be developed , in which the self is everything and everything the self. Neumann called this initial state the uroboric phase . This is not - as the Freudian doctrine assumes - relational because it is objectless, but as the original relationship of the child to the mother, the basis of further development. Freud's description of primary narcissism ( auto-eroticism , magical consciousness and omnipotence ) is, according to Neumann, misleading:

“The concept of power only makes sense if there is already an ego whose libido charge as will is strong enough to want power, to exercise it and to take possession of an object. None of this applies to the subject and object-free phase of the uroboric pre-ego time. The pleasure-oriented experience of unity that belongs to it therefore has nothing to do with power and must be interpreted differently. Because this phase was viewed as autoerotic in the sense of objectless self-love, it could be understood and interpreted as 'primary narcissistic'. However, one can only do justice to the psychological reality of this phase if one formulates it paradoxically, because as an ego-like constellation it cannot be described by a subject-object relationship. So when one speaks of objectless self-love, one must at the same time speak of subjectless all-love as well as subject- and objectless all-being-loved. "

Pathologization of narcissism in Ferenczi

Sándor Ferenczi

A key figure in post-Freudian theory formation was Sándor Ferenczi . In works such as Attempt a Genital Theory (1924), he modified Freud's concept of primary narcissism. Ferenczi did not understand primary narcissism as a stage that must be overcome in order to get to the object. Instead, he interpreted it as the archaic source from which every psychic ontogenesis occurs, as the initially given, narcissistically wishing and willing ego , which subjects the libido to the longing for the prenatal paradise of fetal intrauterine existence. With this remythologization of the subject concept, Ferenczi gave decisive impulses not only to ego psychology and the neo-Freudian school ( Karen Horney , Erich Fromm ), but also to the English object relationship tradition ( Michael Balint ). While the Freudian libido theory was a theory of inner psychological conflicts, Ferenczi localized the central conflict outside of the person, in the area of ​​tension between the ego and an environment that disturbs and hinders the ego's narcissistic calm and regressive striving. Ferenczi distanced himself even more from Freud when he assumed that in this area of ​​tension - in addition to a conflictual course - a harmonious, largely conflict-free course of development is also possible. From a psychological point of view, this is the most significant point because Ferenczi reinterpreted narcissism as a disorder for which harmful environmental conditions are responsible. Although the term “narcissism” rarely appears in his writings, Alfred Adler had already created a favorable climate and many theoretical conditions for this interpretation. Ferenczi's pupil, Michael Balint , conceived primary narcissism in 1965 as the infant's need to be loved (Ferenczi's “passive object love” of the child). According to Bálint, the frustration of this love leads either to secondary narcissism or to active object love, which the child learns in order to be loved itself. Bálint's conception of primary narcissism (which he calls "primary love") was largely based on that of his teacher Ferenczi. However, Bálint wrote mainly about the child's impotence and dependence on the mother. Bálint interpreted the feelings of omnipotence, which are in the foreground in Ferenczi's descriptions of primary narcissism, as secondary formations, as a "desperate attempt to defend oneself against a crushing feeling of powerlessness" . Bálint was particularly interested in the "basic disorder", the pathogenic developments between mother and child that lead to a fundamental deficiency in the psychological structure; According to Bálint, this deficiency manifests itself in the fact that human closeness is either avoided or sought in an exaggerated manner.

Object relationship theory

Melanie Klein (1945)

Melanie Klein rejected the Freudian concept of primary narcissism since 1945 and postulated that even in infants there is no love and no fantasies that do not include internal and external objects. Her entire object relationship theory was based on the assumption that the center of emotional life is not a primordial all-one, but object relationships. Narcissism only saw it there where Freud had spoken of “secondary narcissism”; H. when withdrawing from external relationships and identifying defensively with an idealized internal object. But even here Klein deviated from Freud by emphasizing that this narcissism was associated with envy and aggression from the start . Her student Herbert Rosenfeld later worked out these destructive aspects of narcissism even further. Hanna Segal deepened what Klein had already written about narcissism and envy.

In an effort to understand narcissism, Donald Winnicott - one of the prominent exponents of British object relationship theory outside Melanie Klein's school - contributed his concept of the false self , which was published in German translation in the mid-1970s. This groundbreaking book was published in its third edition in 2020.

Ego psychology

The concept of narcissism was made more precise when Heinz Hartmann , a representative of ego psychology , introduced the term “ self ” into psychoanalytic terminology in 1950 . He was later followed by Erik H. Erikson and Edith Jacobsohn . Freud's structural model of the psyche had only known the ego , which mediates between id and super-ego as an executive authority and reacts to the demands of the environment. The merit of ego psychology consisted in the systematic description of the functions that the ego also has, namely e.g. B. Thinking, perceiving and acting. Hartmann defined the self as a sub-instance of the ego, namely as the totality of self-representations - i.e. H. the psychological precipitation (images, ideas, memories, etc.) of one's own person - in the self. Unlike the barren and abstract Freudian I, this self can be loved , and consequently Hartmann defined narcissism as a libidinal cathexis of the self.

Self psychology

Heinz Kohut took up Hartmann's definition of the self in 1971 and 1977, but went beyond Hartmann and declared that the self is the “center of the spiritual universe” of every human being. In the output of Freud's theorem of "primary narcissism" he maintained an independent development of the self apart from the development of sexuality: Narcissism is not understood here as a development stage on the path to the object, but is given an autonomous meaning, the subject of Kohut's self psychology is . In analogy to the classical psychoanalysis of the drive subject, Kohut drafts a treatment concept for disorders and pathologies in the development of the self that no longer discredits narcissistic needs for reflection, recognition and appreciation a priori as an infantile defense against drive autonomy.

According to Kohut, children have three main needs: a. a need for responsiveness on the part of the parents (in the form of a grandiose narcissistic behavior of the child, which is mirrored and confirmed by the parents), b. a need to form an idealized idea of ​​the parents, and c. a need for belonging or an alter ego . An intact, i.e. H. The child develops an autonomous self when the satisfaction and frustration of these needs are balanced against each other in such a way that they learn to stabilize themselves on their own. According to Kohut, pathological narcissism arises when the responsiveness of the parents is either chronically inadequate or the frustration is traumatic . He named the constant hunger for admiration and appreciation as a typical symptom.

In the tradition of self-psychology is also the case analysis Der Flieger by the psychoanalyst Hermann Argelander from 1972. Through the very precise description of a psychoanalysis lasting several years, which was made possible by taking notes during the analytical sessions, the intertwining of anal drive conflicts on the one hand and an earlier narcissistic character structure on the other illustrated along the resulting transference scenes and exemplified the changed perspective of self-psychology.

Kohut-Kernberg controversy

For him, Kohut's concept of autonomous narcissism also meant the “end of psychoanalysis” and its now outdated neurosis theory based on a sex-repressive culture. The new self-psychology was hotly debated within psychoanalysis with regard to its connectivity to classical positions. The controversy between Kohut and Otto F. Kernberg in the 1970s is an example of this debate about so-called “Kohutism” .

Kohut understood pathological narcissism as a mere inhibition of the development of the healthy development of the self, which arises from the fact that the child alleviates frustrations and deprivations that the mother expects of him through fantasized omnipotence and through the idealization of the mother. As adults, those affected can indeed make great adjustments, but retain a lifelong fear of renewed experiences of powerlessness and shame as well as the secret hope of the greatness dreamed of as a child. Kohut understood normal adult narcissism, fixation or regression on normal child narcissism, and pathological narcissism as three facets of the same thing, between which there are fluid transitions.

Kernberg took the classic drive theory position, which saw narcissism in adults as a deviating form of normal development towards mature object love. The aim of the therapy is not the "healing of the self" (cf. Kohut 1979), but rather the achievement of fully valid, genital sexuality. In contrast to Kohut, he viewed the narcissization of culture caused by the dissolution of classic family socialization as a regressive symptom. He was convinced that narcissism was a pathological development that was qualitatively different from infantile narcissism. The “warm” narcissism of the child was contrasted with the “cold” narcissism of the adult, which is to be countered therapeutically not through confirmation and recognition (Kohut), but through confrontation with the denied aggression, the “narcissistic anger”: an adult “.. .sexual relationship presupposes a maturity that allows access to one's own childish feelings and the overcoming of one's own aggressions ”. Kernberg did not see the cause of the pathological development in the child's frustrations and deprivations suffered at an early age, but in its exploitation as the mother's narcissistic object. In order to avoid the destructive contempt they suffered as children, those affected become exploiters themselves in adulthood.

Kernberg emphasizes the importance of envy as an unconscious motivation and the separation of sexuality from feelings of tenderness and love as a hallmark of narcissism. The narcissist needs an audience that he wants to be envied and admired by and that he despises at the same time. The ideal partner for such a personality is the masochist. For narcissists, suffering typically only arises in the second half of life: "For such people, aging processes are particularly difficult to cope with."

While Freud had assumed that narcissistically disturbed people - Freud was naturally thinking of psychotics - could not be cured, Kohut and Kernberg systematically described the relationship between patient and therapist and developed therapeutic approaches that - according to their disparate views on narcissism - but clearly different.

Pathological and healthy narcissism

Basically, a psychogenetic term narcissism (narcissism as a necessary stage of development and normal omnipresent phenomenon) must be differentiated from the more common, diagnostically used term with negative connotations in the sense of an undesirable development . In the latter character-pathological sense, Freud understood narcissism to be the libido that is directed towards the self instead of towards an object. This leads to a character trait in which a low self-esteem is compensated for by an exaggerated assessment of one's own importance and a great desire for admiration . In this tradition of understanding the term, narcissism describes the developmental phase to be overcome under the sign of an ethic of maturity , which is to be replaced by genital, oedipalized object sexuality.

In the further development of the term, however, there was a further differentiation of the meaning. Heinz Kohut , for example, viewed narcissism as an important element of personality, not only as a phase that every person goes through, but also as an important function in adulthood to stabilize the self as a psychological structure.

In the tradition of Kohut, who advocates a healthy, autonomous narcissism, Alice Miller is also (inexplicably) . She sees the term as a positive quality, as she explains, among others, in The Drama of the Gifted Child . To them, being narcissistic is normal, healthy and denotes someone who can pursue their interests. According to Miller, a narcissistic disorder arises when a child is not allowed to articulate their own feelings and interests and later needs an "outlet" for them. This usually manifests itself in depression and / or feelings of greatness, which are only two sides of the same coin. Miller's widespread revision of the concept of narcissism finally led her to turn decisively away from psychoanalysis and drive-theoretical thinking .

Successful narcissism, as Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis assumed in 1967, escapes the aporias of pure mirror image (compare also mirror stage ) by transferring the narcissistic libido to a real other as a beloved role model . A successful “narcissism would be characterized by the fact that the subject can be gripped lovingly through this image” . Thus, in the form of narcissistic identification , the “internalization of an (intersubjective) relationship” would take the place of pure self-centeredness. In this sense, narcissism not only makes a necessary contribution to the formation of the ego (Freud) in general, but to the inner-soul structure formation of the self by establishing it as an authority. The typical narcissist would therefore have no self, despite so-called “self-centeredness”, to which a real reference could be directed. His self is based solely on mirroring his own grandiosity . In doing so, he closes himself off from real encounters with others, over whom he feels manically superior.


In psychoanalytic theory, not only narcissistic personality disorder is derived from narcissistic disorder. Also, depression , suicidality , aggression , dissociation , self-aggression and hyperactivity , symptoms of narcissistic disorders to be.

Empirical research

The instrument most widely used in social psychological and personality psychological research for determining the construct of narcissism is the Narcissistic Personality Inventory . It relates to the personality trait narcissism in the general population, not to clinical manifestations with disease value such as narcissistic personality disorder .

A team of researchers from the University of Illinois conducted an empirical study in 2010 concluded that narcissism is not just a question of generation, but above all of age. According to this, people between the ages of 18 and 29 tend to be particularly narcissistic. According to the researchers, this is the case at all times and in all generations.

A popular assumption is that behind narcissists' positive conscious opinion of themselves, in reality, subconsciously, is hidden low self-esteem. However, recent empirical research that has used both conscious (explicit) and unconscious (implicit) measures of self-worth does not support it. Rather, narcissists have a positive opinion of themselves in areas of personal empowerment (such as status and intelligence) and a "only" neutral view of themselves in areas of community (such as kindness and morality).

Narcissism is also part of the concept of the Dark Triad .

A self-idealization - that is, the exaggerated self-assessment - children get from their exaggeratedly praising parents, as modern empirical research shows. In the development of adolescent narcissism, “inflating praise” (inflated praise) and “parental overvaluation”, that is, the overestimation by parents that is carried over to the children over time, play a central role.

According to a study, celebrities in the entertainment industry are more narcissistic than other people and therefore have better career opportunities in the media.

Political orientation

A person's narcissism is also related to their political orientation. This is the conclusion of a study by the University of Leipzig, which was presented by Alexander Yendell, Elmar Brähler and others in October 2018. In Germany, for example, voters with a preference for the AFD have the highest narcissism values, followed by supporters of the Left Party. In the middle were the supporters of the Greens and the Union parties. The slightest tendency towards narcissism was found among voters of the FDP and SPD. Other possible explanatory variables such as age, gender, education, East-West origin and self-classification on the political spectrum were also taken into account.

Popular science presentations

In 2016, the psychiatrist and neuroscientist Raphael M. Bonelli criticized the theory- heavy narcissism discussion of the 20th century and advocates a scientific understanding of narcissism taking into account empirical research results. For his model of narcissism, he refers to the neurobiological and genetic research of Robert Cloninger , in particular the “three dimensions of character” (self-directedness, cooperativeness, self-transcendence). From this point of view, narcissism is characterized by the three-step process

  1. Self-idealization - in the sense of an inflated self-esteem and an inflated self- assessment. The narcissist has a great understanding of their own importance and believes they are "special" and unique.
  2. External devaluation - in the sense of a contempt and active degradation of the other, which leads to an inability to cooperate . The narcissist therefore shows a greed for admiration, displays a sense of entitlement, is exploitative , unwilling to empathize , envious and arrogant .
  3. Self-immanence - as a contrast to self- transcendence in Victor Frankl and Robert Cloninger. The narcissist cannot get excited about a higher ideal than himself.

Everyone has narcissistic parts that need to be recognized. Bonelli works out that these proportions are not fate, but changeable. Narcissism is a continuum until diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder , but all narcissism is harmful. There is no such thing as good or healthy narcissism (as Alice Miller postulated). Because narcissism is always the tendency to idealize oneself by suppressing one's weaknesses and exaggerating one's strengths and thereby devaluing others. Bonelli sharply distinguishes narcissism from perfectionism : While the perfectionist is self-insecure and fearful and circling around himself and slips into the mask of the perfect in order to please, the narcissist sees himself beyond the others because of his self-idealization and external devaluation. Because of this, he acts exploitative, manipulative and ruthless. In contrast to the perfectionist, he does not have a fragile, but an excessive self-esteem: Referring to the above-mentioned studies on self-esteem in narcissists, Bonelli sees the theory of allegedly low self-esteem and lack of self-love as refuted (Fromm). Also, contrary to many claims, the narcissist is not incapable of empathy (in contrast to the autistic ) but rather unwilling. The narcissistic lack of self-transcendence - called self- immanence by Bonelli - manifests itself in a lack of values , a lack of ideals and a lack of selfless commitment to the general public.

Since children correctly perceive the exaggerated self-assessment of their overly praising parents as such (see above research), Bonelli sees no empirical support for the theory of cold, hostile parents (Kernberg) as the cause of narcissism.

Narcissism in Culture and Society

Narcissus vs. Oedipus: 1968 and the Consequences

The upheaval in societal guiding principles in the 1960s also affected the assessment and assessment of narcissism. This change was theoretically prepared in the critical theory of the 1950s. The narcissism debate within psychoanalysis (Kohut-Kernberg controversy) reflected the general social struggle for authority , recognition and identity . External repression against “internal” repression was the main theme of the time.


The Freud reception of the Frankfurt School around Adorno and Horkheimer sought to make psychoanalytic thinking fruitful for thinking that was critical of culture and society . Herbert Marcuse's narcissism experienced a momentous re-evaluation and reassessment: His rehabilitation of narcissism in instinctual structure and society (orig. Eros and Civilization from 1955) had a great influence on the student movement and the social upheavals of the 1960s. In Marcuse's work, Narcissus becomes the new model of an erosfounded culture, which is juxtaposed with the adapted Oedipus and the Promethean achievement principle of traditional civilization: In his draft he mutates into a tangible utopia of a society freed from superfluous repression (surplus repression) under the sign of the pleasure principle .

As a psychoanalyst and social philosopher , Erich Fromm applied the psychoanalytic concepts of the individual to society in a critical discussion with Freud. He described narcissism as the opposite pole to love and differentiated not only the narcissism of the individual but also the group narcissism (see patriotism or fanaticism ). According to Fromm, narcissists tend to relate to their environment by gaining power over them. In Die Kunst des Liebens (orig. 1956) he differentiates self-love as a productive form of narcissism from selfishness as destructive narcissism: Freud follows the Calvinistic idea that has been handed down in western thought , which readily combines both forms: self-love is the most harmful pestilence ( Calvin). In his differentiating view, Fromm refers to the biblical commandment to love one's neighbor :

“Love for others and love for ourselves are not alternatives; on the contrary, one can observe with all those who are able to love others that they also love themselves. "

- Erich Fromm: 1956

On the contrary, selfishness as destructive narcissism is precisely a sign of a lack of self-love and ultimately of self-hatred . Unable to enjoy themselves and their creativity, the selfish narcissist see the world only as an opportunity for selfish gainful advantage and selfish exploitation. He emphasizes the aspect of lack of objectivity in narcissists: "One can define narcissism as a state of experience in which only the person himself, his body, his needs, his feelings, his thoughts, his property, everything and everything that belongs to him, is experienced as completely real, while everything and everything that does not form part of oneself or is not the object of one's own needs is not of interest, has no full reality (...); affectively it remains without weight and color. "

Cultural and social criticism

In his application of psychoanalysis to society, Fromm had outlined the concept of “ social character ”, which should make it possible to typify the point of intersection between familial and social socialization. The main focus in dealing with the fascist past was the authoritarian character . In the 1970s, the narcissistic character or a “new type of socialization” diagnosed as narcissistic replaced the authoritarian character in the socio-psychological and educational debate. The crisis of authority in the generational conflict typical of the time corresponded to the polemics of the argument: the “authoritarian shit” faced the “oral flipper”. On the basis of Kohut's theory of narcissism, the refusal to adapt to society by recent youth has been diagnosed as a narcissistic mass phenomenon. While the socio-historical weakening of paternal authority was traditionally used as the broad-based cause of deficit development, the context of the reasoning changed against the background of the more recent theoretical developments. Turning away from a patricentric-oedipal perspective, the focus was now on the “narcissistic” mother-child dyad: “In it, the main problem was no longer the weak father, but the cold or symbiotic embracing mother who was supposed to bring out the narcissistic character of her children . Maternal coldness, tendency towards symbiosis or other characteristics of the parents conducive to narcissism were attributed to varying degrees to both family and social factors. "

Cultural and social critics extended this diagnosis to characterize a change in values ​​in society as a whole. They established the term “narcissistic society” or “culture” to accuse it of a predominance of selfish values ​​and a general addiction to self-expression, prominence and fame. The narcissistic society is understood as a society that benefits people with narcissistic traits or character disorders by following “narcissistic” rules and their questionable values. However, depending on the point of view, a certain concept of narcissism is brought up critically in order to transfer it from individual pathology to cultural and social phenomena. In the tradition of Fromm and Wilhelm Reich , this is exemplified by Alexander Lowen :

“On the individual level it (narcissism) is a personality disorder that is characterized by an excessive care of one's own image at the expense of the self. Narcissistic people are more interested in how they appear to others than in what they are feeling. In fact, they deny feelings that contradict the image they are striving for. Because they act without feeling, they are prone to seductive and manipulative behavior and seek power and domination. They are egoists, focused on their own interests, but lack the true values ​​of the self - namely, self-expression, serenity, dignity, and integrity. On the cultural level, narcissism can be seen in a loss of human values ​​- in a lack of interest in the environment, in the quality of life, in others. A society that sacrifices the natural environment for profit and power reveals that it is insensitive to human needs. When wealth ranks higher than wisdom, when fame is admired more than dignity, when success is more important than self-respect, culture itself overestimates the 'image' and has to be viewed as narcissistic. "

- Alexander Lowen, narcissism. The Denial of the True Self (1992)

Originally, the conservative cultural criticism made use of this transference, referring to a concept of narcissism that is based on Freud's conception of familial socialization (narcissism as a lack of maturity). The American historian and social critic Christopher Lasch provided the basis for this debate with the much-discussed bestseller The culture of narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations (1979). Lasch advocated the provocative thesis at the time that American society, a good decade after the protest movement of the late 1960s, was increasingly characterized by “narcissistic tendencies”. The 68 movement , with which he himself had sympathized, he now interpreted as a “narcissistic cultural revolution”. This was initially started under the sign of self-realization , but then - as a "therapeutic society" - entered the dead end of a hedonism characterized by a lack of attachment and generativity . He saw the causes of the narcissistic deformation of American society in the dissolution of traditional family ties and the associated childhood trauma. Lasch's argument was a combination of psychoanalytic, Marxist and conservative elements, from a Freud-based criticism of capitalism and modernism.

The German psychiatrist and author Hans-Joachim Maaz formulated a new edition of this critical use of the controversial term in Die Narcissistic Society: A Psychogram (2012). He attests that Western consumer societies have a lack of orientation and morality. The people of this society are driven by a greed for consumer goods or other advantages in school, work and private life. Narcissism is particularly pronounced among celebrities (politicians, managers, stars), but it affects the population as a whole. Greed is an expression of a narcissistic personality disorder; more and more people are becoming narcissists, i. H. to personalities who strive for recognition and confirmation, but who are really deeply insecure. The narcissistic deficit needs to be compensated for by the distractions of the consumer, entertainment and tourism industries that are omnipresent in people's lives. The “not being able to get your neck full”, the incessant search for the “kick” is also the deeper cause of the ongoing crises in the financial, economic and social systems of modern societies; these can ultimately only be remedied if ways and means were found to get the problem of narcissism under control.

In 2013, the Austrian psychiatrist and court expert Reinhard Haller published a book entitled “The Narcissism Trap”, in which he also portrays narcissism as a phenomenon with socio-cultural, not just individual psychological implications. The author certifies that today's leadership elites in business and society have the same character structures that he can also determine in his practice as a court expert in felons. Haller calls for a return to altruistic values.

The boom in the socio-psychological term narcissism can also be seen in a publication by GEO Verlag in 2012 with the significant title: Narcissism: Are We Becoming Society on the Ego Trip?

In 2013, the future Pope Francis spoke of the "theological narcissism" of a church that only "revolves around itself". Instead of the living proclamation of the Gospel, the self-adulation and mere administration of the faith have taken place: “If the Church does not go out of herself to preach the Gospel, she revolves around herself. Then she becomes sick (cf. the crooked woman in the Gospel ). The evils that develop in church institutions over time are rooted in this self-centeredness. It is a spirit of theological narcissism. "

This criticism apparently contributed significantly to the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new Pope. In his Christmas address to the Curia in 2014, he repeated this diagnosis. In the catalog of the 15 “curial” diseases he criticized the narcissistic self-centeredness within the institution as an elitist turning away from God: “It is the sickness of the rich fool from the Gospel who believed to live forever (cf. Lk 12 : 13-21  EU ), and those who make themselves masters and feel superior to everyone instead of serving everyone. It often stems from the addiction to power and from the 'complex of the chosen', from narcissism, who passionately looks at one's own likeness and not the image of God that is visible in the face of others, especially the weakest and neediest (Evangelii Gaudium 197- 201). "

Organizational research and management theory

The term is also used in organizational research and management theory, which investigates how the attitudes and actions of “narcissistic” personalities in management levels affect the success of a company. At the same time, narcissism is understood as a collective trait according to which whole groups and organizations can show narcissistic traits in their ways of seeing and acting. As in general, this raises the difficult question of how productive forms of narcissism (such as visionary action) can be distinguished from destructive forms (such as megalomania).

The psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg found on the basis of studies on social organizations (hospitals, religious institutes, educational institutions, non-political organizations) that when a person with a narcissistic and paranoid personality is at the head of an organization, those closest to him are those who flatter him know and who fearlessly submit because they manipulate him. The requirement to submit to a dangerous power makes the entire organization "adaptively paranoid". "Those who cannot identify with the system go into internal emigration or flee."


Psychological literature

Psychoanalytic specialist literature

  • Martin Altmeyer : Narcissism and Object. An intersubjective understanding of self-centeredness. 2nd Edition. Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2004, ISBN 3-525-45872-X .
  • Béla Grunberger : From narcissism to the object. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1976, ISBN 978-3-518-07280-6 ; also Psychosozial-Verlag, Giessen 2001, ISBN 978-3-89806-057-8 .
  • Otto F. Kernberg , Hans-Peter Hartmann (Ed.): Narcissism. Basics - disorders - therapy. Schattauer, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-7945-2466-7 .
  • Heinz Kohut : Narcissism. A theory of the psychoanalytic treatment of narcissistic personality disorders. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1976, ISBN 3-518-27757-X .
  • Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis , »Narcissism«, in: The vocabulary of psychoanalysis ( Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse , 1967), Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1973.
  • Roland Mugerauer: Narcissism. 2nd, revised and expanded edition with a foreword. Tectum, Marburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-8288-2459-1 .
  • Gerd Rudolf : Structure-related psychotherapy. Guide to the psychodynamic therapy of structural disorders . 3rd, revised. and exp. Edition. Schattauer, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-7945-2857-8 ( limited preview in the Google book search).
  • Winfrid Trimborn: The betrayal of the self. On the violence of narcissistic defense . In: Psyche . tape 57 , no. 11 , 2003, p. 1033-1056 .
  • Hans-Jürgen Wirth : Narcissism and Power. For the psychoanalysis of mental disorders in politics (=  psyche and society ). 5th edition. Psychosozial, Giessen 2011, ISBN 978-3-8379-2152-6 ( [accessed on June 17, 2017] From the publisher with table of contents, reviews and excerpts): “With the help of detailed case studies - Uwe Barschel, Helmut Kohl , Joschka Fischer and Slobodan Milosevic - the author analyzes the interrelations between individual psychopathology and the ethnic, religious and cultural identity conflicts of the surrounding group. "

Literature on Myth

  • Ovid : Metamorphoses . In the translation by Erich Rösch. Munich 1980.
  • Almut-Barbara Renger (Ed.): Myth of Narcissus. Reclam, Leipzig 1999.
  • Friedrich Wieseler: Narkissos. An art-mythological treatise with an appendix on the narcissuses and their relationship in the life, myth and cult of the Greeks. Goettingen 1856.
  • Mirko Gemmel: Reflections on the mirror motif in the Narcissus myth. In: Critical Reports. Journal for art and cultural studies. Issue 2/2004: Spiegel und Spiegelungen. Pp. 67-75.

Literature on narcissism as a collective phenomenon

Web links

Commons : Narcissism  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Narcissism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Keyword: Narcissism on dudenonline
  2. Narcissists reveal a single question . In: Spiegel online. August 6, 2014, accessed February 28, 2017.
  3. ^ P. Rose, WK Campbell: Greatness feels good: A telic model of narcissism and subjective well-being. In: SP Shohov (ed.): Advances in psychology research. Volume 31, Nova, Hauppauge, NY 2004, pp. 1-15.
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  5. The metamorphoses Ovids , in which the two are brought together legends of echo and narcissus in a story, it is here as the source used (Metamorphosis, Book 3, verses 339-510).
  6. Coleridge wrote on January 15, 1822: "Of course, I am glad to be able to correct my fears as far as public Balls, Concerts, and Time-murder in Narcissism." Definition of narcissism. Retrieved September 22, 2015 .
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  23. The Jungian school differs from Freud's sexual genetic approach. Neumann described the mental development essentially as the development of the I-self axis with regard to the so-called centroversion (first half of life, development of the I) and individuation (second half of life, self-development, integration of I and self in the sense of the wholeness of personality)
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  38. ^ Erik H. Erikson: The Problem of Ego Identity. In: Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Volume 4, Issue 1, January 1956, pp. 56-121; Edith Jacobsohn: The Self and the Object World. New York 1964 (German: The Self and the World of Objects. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1964)
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  50. See u. d. the following: Jean Laplanche / Jean-Bertrand Pontalis (EA 1967): The vocabulary of psychoanalysis . Frankfurt am Main 1984, first volume p. 317 ff.
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  52. Brent W. Roberts, Grant Edmonds, Emily Grijalva: It Is Developmental Me, Not Generation Me: Developmental Changes Are More Important Than Generational Changes in Narcissism. In: Perspectives on Psychological Science. Volume 5, Issue 1, January 2010, pp. 97-102.
  53. a b W. K. Campbell, JK Bosson, TW Goheen, CE Lakey, MH Kernis: Do narcissists dislike themselves "deep down inside"? In: Psychol Sci. 18 (3), Mar 2007, pp. 227-229.
  54. ^ Daniel N. Jones, Delroy L. Paulhus: Differentiating the Dark Triad Within the Interpersonal Circumplex . In: Horowitz, Leonard M., Strack, Stephen (Eds.): Handbook of interpersonal psychology: theory, research, assessment and therapeutic interventions . Wiley, Hoboken, NJ 2011, ISBN 978-0-470-47160-9 , pp. 249-267 .
  55. a b E. Brummelman, p Thomaes, B. Orobio de Castro, G. Overbeek, BJ Bushman: "That's not just beautiful - that's incredibly beautiful!": The adverse impact of inflated praise on children with low self-esteem . In: Psychol Sci. 25 (3), Mar 2014, pp. 728-735; E. Brummelman, S. Thomaes, G. Overbeek, B. Orobio de Castro, MA van den Hout, BJ Bushman: On feeding those hungry for praise: person praise backfires in children with low self-esteem. In: J Exp Psychol Gen. 143 (1), Feb 2014, pp. 9-14; E. Brummelman, S. Thomaes, M. Slagt, G. Overbeek, BO de Castro et al .: My Child Redeems My Broken Dreams: On Parents Transferring Their Unfulfilled Ambitions onto Their Child. In: PLoS ONE. 8 (6), 2013, p. E65360; E. Brummelman, S. Thomaes, GM Walton, AM Poorthuis, G. Overbeek, B. Orobio de Castro, BJ Bushman: Unconditional regard buffers children's negative self-feelings. In: Pediatrics. 134 (6), Dec 2014, pp. 1119-1126.
  56. a b E. Brummelman, p Thomaes, SA Nelemans, B. Orobio de Castro, BJ Bushman: My child is God's gift to humanity: development and validation of the Parental Overvaluation Scale (POS). In: J Pers Soc Psychol. 108 (4), Apr 2015, pp. 665-79; E. Brummelman, S. Thomaes, SA Nelemans, B. Orobio de Castro, G. Overbeek, BJ Bushman: Origins of narcissism in children. In: Proc Natl Acad Sci US A. 112 (12), Mar 24, 2015, pp. 3659-3662.
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  59. Study: AfD voters are more often narcissists. In: PZ. Retrieved June 17, 2020 .
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  61. RM Bonelli: Male Narcissism: The Drama of Love, which circles around itself. Kösel-Verlag, Munich 2016, p. 10.
  62. RM Bonelli: Male Narcissism: The Drama of Love, which circles around itself. Kösel-Verlag, Munich 2016, p. 32 ff.
  63. Sabine Ertl: Love revolving around itself. In: Wiener Zeitung . November 21, 2016.
  64. RM Bonelli: Male Narcissism: The Drama of Love, which circles around itself. Kösel-Verlag, Munich 2016, p. 112.
  65. RM Bonelli: Male Narcissism: The Drama of Love, which circles around itself. Kösel-Verlag, Munich 2016, p. 150.
  66. Eli Zaretzky: Freud's century: the history of psychoanalysis. Cape. 12: The sixties, post-Fordism and the culture of narcissism. 2009, pp. 436-471.
  67. See Rolf Wiggershaus : Die Frankfurter Schule. History, Theoretical Development, Political Significance. dtv, Munich 1988; esp. chap. 6, Marcuse's “Dialectic of Enlightenment”: Eros and Civilization. Pp. 553-565.
  68. ↑ in addition : Marc-Pierre Möll: Kulturkritik von Herbert Marcuse. Thinking critical of totalitarianism from the left. (PDF; 38.1 kB; accessed on March 4, 2013), p. 7 ff .; Klaus Laermann: Narcissus against Oedipus. In: The time . March 19, 1993 (accessed February 27, 2013)
  69. Erich Fromm: Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalysis. Size and limits. 3. Edition. dtv, Munich 1984, chap. Narcissism. Pp. 48–58 (orig. Greatness and Limitations of Freud's Thought. NY 1980)
  70. Erich Fromm: The art of loving. Hayne, Munich 2001, chap. Self love. Pp. 71-77. (orig .: The Art of Loving. Harper and Row, New York 1956)
  71. ^ Otto F. Kernberg, Hans-Peter Hartmann: Narcissism - Basics, Disorders, Therapy . Schattauer Verlag 2006, p. 37.
  72. originally Thomas Ziehe : Puberty and Narcissism. 1975; on this: W. Bohleber, M. Leuzinger: Narcissism and Adolescence. Critical remarks on the new type of socialization. In: The new theories of narcissism: back to paradise? ed. v. Psychoanalytical Seminar Zurich . Syndikat, Frankfurt am Main 1981, pp. 125-138.
  73. Martin Dornes: The modernization of the soul. Frankfurt am Main 2012; Cape. Narcissism. P. 102 ff.
  74. ^ C. Lasch: The culture of narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations. New York 1979; German: The age of narcissism. From the American by Gerhard Burmundt. Steinhausen, Munich 1980; see. Presentation of the basic theses on ( memento from April 19, 2013 in the Internet Archive ). Note in Germany: Narcissism: Face of the Epoch . In: Der Spiegel . No. 32 , 1979 ( online ). A more recent publication from the USA with a similar focus is e.g. BD Pinsky, SM Young: The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America. Harper, 2009, ISBN 978-0-06-158233-2 .
  75. ^ Hans-Joachim Maaz: The narcissistic society. A psychogram . 2nd, revised edition. Beck, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-406-64041-4 .
  76. I am the navel of the world, the psychoanalyst Marie-France Hirigoyen on Donald Trump and the question of how we defend ourselves against the toxic power of narcissists , interview conducted by Ute Cohen in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on June 7, 2020, page 37
  77. Reinhard Haller : The Narcissus trap: Instructions for people and self-knowledge. ecowin 2013. Also:
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  79. Against "theological narcissism" ; For the healing of the crooked woman, cf. Luk 13, 10-17. Here Francis brings narcissism together with the theological topos of homo curvatus , the "crooked" or "crooked man".
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