Used in everyday life to indicate self-love and egoism, the concept has a more technical meaning to orthodox psychoanalytic theory. Primary narcissism refers to the love of self which, Freud argues, must precede the ability to love others. This stage of development is also typified by the opposite of self-love-self-hatred. Secondary narcissism is identifying with, and then introjecting, an object (person) making it part of oneself. A ‘narcissistic object choice’ involves identifying with a person on the basis of that person's similarity to oneself.
The concept has been extended by the American social historian Christopher Lasch (The Culture of Narcissism, 1980, and The Minimal Self, 1984) into an instrument of social analysis and criticism. Lasch, who is unusual on the political Left for promoting the virtue of family life, argues that modern society has crippled human abilities for love and commitment. The social changes associated with modernity (the development of large bureaucracies and technological change), and consequent changes in family relationships (especially the comparative absence of the father), have allegedly made it difficult to develop beyond narcissism. The dominant personality type of modern society is said to be internally impoverished, fluctuating between exaggerated self-love and self-hatred, consequently needing parasitic relationships to reinforce the former; it is unable to tolerate frustration, inadequacy, and strong feelings, due to a lack of ego-development. Lasch sees a number of cultural phenomena-from the emphasis on health and sporting achievement through to the New Left of the 1960s, sexual liberation movements, and much modern feminism-as manifestations of narcissism. The narcissistic personality is often successful in the outside world, but feels an inner emptiness, and concentrates on survival rather than investing in the future.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

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