Narcissistic injury

Narcissistic injury, also known as "narcissistic wound" or "wounded ego" are emotional traumas that overwhelm an individual's defense mechanisms and devastate their pride and self worth.[1] In some cases the shame or disgrace is so significant that the individual can never again truly feel good about who they are and this is sometimes referred to as a "narcissistic scar".[2][3][4]

Freud maintained that "losses in love" and "losses associated with failure" often leave behind injury to an individual's self-regard.[2]


Adam Phillips has argued that, contrary to what common sense might expect, therapeutic cure involves the patient being encouraged to re-experience "a terrible narcissistic wound" – the child's experience of exclusion by the parental alliance – in order to come to terms with, and learn again, the diminishing loss of omnipotence entailed by the basic "facts of life".[5]

Further psychoanalytic developmentsEdit

Freud's concept of what in his last book he called "early injuries to the self (injuries to narcissism)"[6] was subsequently extended by a wide variety of psychoanalysts. Karl Abraham saw the key to adult depressions in the childhood experience of a blow to narcissism through the loss of narcissistic supply.[7] Otto Fenichel confirmed the importance of narcissistic injury in depressives[8] and expanded such analyses to include borderline personalities.[9]

Edmund Bergler emphasized the importance of infantile omnipotence in narcissism,[10] and the rage that follows any blow to that sense of narcissistic omnipotence;[11] Annie Reich stressed how a feeling of shame-fuelled rage, when a blow to narcissism exposed the gap between one's ego ideal and mundane reality;[12] while Lacanians linked Freud on the narcissistic wound to Lacan on the narcissistic mirror stage.[13]

Finally, object relations theory highlights rage against early environmental failures that left patients feeling bad about themselves when childhood omnipotence was too abruptly challenged.[14]


Narcissists are often pseudo-perfectionists and create situations in which they are the center of attention. The narcissist's attempts at being seen as perfect are necessary for their grandiose self-image. If a perceived state of perfection is not reached, it can lead to guilt, shame, anger or anxiety because the subject believes that they will lose the admiration and love of other people if they are imperfect.[15]

Behind such perfectionism, self psychology would see earlier traumatic injuries to the grandiose self.[16]


Wide dissemination of Kohut's concepts may at times have led to their trivialization. Neville Symington points out that "You will often hear people say, 'Oh, I'm very narcissistic,' or, 'It was a wound to my narcissism.' Such comments are not a true recognition of the condition; they are throw-away lines. To really recognise narcissism in oneself is profoundly distressing and often associated with denial."[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Freud, S; Strachey (editor), J. (1964). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud -- Volume XVI (1916-1917): Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (Part III) (1 ed.). London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis. p. 279. …an experience which within a short period of time presents the mind with an increase of stimulus too powerful to be dealt with or worked off in the normal way, and this must result in permanent disturbances of the manner in which the energy operates. {{cite book}}: |last2= has generic name (help)
  2. ^ a b Freud, Sigmund (1991) [1915]. On Metapsychology. London: Penguin UK. p. 291. ISBN 978-0140138016.
  3. ^ Lavender Ph.D., Neil J. "The Narcissistic Wound: The first cut is always the deepest". Psychology Today. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  4. ^ Chapman, PhD., Leslie. "Freud's Trauma".
  5. ^ Adam Phillips, The Beast in the Nursery (1998) pp. 99–110
  6. ^ Freud, Sigmund (1939). Moses and Monotheism. New York: Knopf Doubleday. p. 120. ISBN 978-1578989379.
  7. ^ Fenichel, Otto (1946). The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis. Abingdon, England: Routledge. p. 404. ISBN 978-1134617647.
  8. ^ Fenichel, p. 405
  9. ^ Fenichel, p. 451
  10. ^ Cooper, Arnold M. (2006). "The Narcissistic-Masochistic Character". In Cooper, Arnold M. (ed.). Contemporary Psychoanalysis in America. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Publishing. p. 116. ISBN 1-58562-232-X.
  11. ^ Bergler, Edmund (1970). Halliday, Jon; Fuller, Peter (eds.). The Psychology of Gambling. London: International Universities Press. pp. 176, 182. ISBN 978-0823655700.
  12. ^ O'Connell, Mark (2013). John Banville's Narcissistic Fictions. London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 115. ISBN 978-1349348343.
  13. ^ Murray, Timothy; Smith, Alan K. (1998). Repossessions: Psychoanalysis and the Phantasms of Early Modern Culture. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. p. xiv. ISBN 978-0816629602.
  14. ^ Casement, Patrick (1996). Further Learning from the Patient. Abingdon, England: Routledge. pp. 86, 131–32. ISBN 978-0415823937.
  15. ^ Sorotzkin, Benzion (April 18, 2006). "The Quest for Perfection: Avoiding Guilt or avoiding shame?". Psychology Today. New York City: Sussex Publishers. Archived from the original on March 9, 2008.
  16. ^ Arnold M. Cooper, "Introduction" in Arnold M. Cooper ed., Contemporary Psychoanalysis in America (2006) p. xxxiv
  17. ^ Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London 2003) p. 10

Further readingEdit


  • Cooper J & Maxwell N. Narcissistic Wounds: Clinical Perspectives (1995)
  • Levin JD. Slings and Arrows: Narcissistic Injury and Its Treatment (1995)