CriticaLink | Freud: On Narcissism | Reading Guide for I: 73-76

At this point we may attempt some discussion of the self-regarding attitude…

Freud devotes most of the remainder of the essay to an examination of "self-regard," a basic component of personality that provides keys to a psychoanalytic understanding of the ego. We often use the terms "egotistical" or "egocentric" (and "egomaniac") to describe people whose have an inflated sense of themselves. For Freud, a person's investment in his or her own self-image is related less to basic ego-instincts for self-preservation than to naricissistic libido. To explain this distinction, Freud turns to a discussion of love.

To love someone, in Freud's model, is to extend libido outward to an object, thus depleting the supply of libido available for narcissistic investments in one' s own ego. Loving, then, contributes to the lowering of self-regard. Having one's love returned, however, restores one's self-regard and replenishes one's narcissism. Love is characterized here as a dialect in which one has to give in order to get. Disturbances in the love relationship (in the dialectical structure of love) such as impotence or the repression of erotic impulses lead to various kinds of psychological disturbances.

Freud again critiques Alder, who has argued that physical inferiorities of different kinds lead some people to high levels of achievement as a form of compensation. Freud makes the important point that psychoanalysis has more to do with images and representations of reality than with reality itself--what we think of our bodies and how we experience them rather than what they are objectively like.

While it might be tempting to read Freud as suggesting the comforting slogan "You have to love yourself in order to love others," the two scenarios he lays out at the end of this section point to a more complicated state of affairs. He again presents the model of love as the extension of libido outward, which reduces self-regard; self-regard is replenished (and narcissism restored) by the corresponding experience of being loved by the other person. In the second model, the extension of libido is repressed, the reduction of self-regard is not replenished from the outside, but can only be restored by withdrawing libido from objects and investing it in the ego. This produces what Freud ironically calls a "happy love," an intact narcissism. For Freud, a real "happy love" is a kind of recapitulation of an early state of development, in which object-libidio and ego-libido are fused.