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Smith, D.L. (1988). Narcissism since Freud: Towards a Unified Theory. Brit. J. Psychother., 4(3):302-312.

(1988). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 4(3):302-312

Re-Evaluation

Narcissism since Freud: Towards a Unified Theory

David Livingstone Smith

Narcissism has been a subject of considerable interest to many psychoanalytic theorists since its introduction to psychoanalytic thinking in 1909. The fascination exerted by the theory of narcissism might in part be attributed to the fact that by all accounts narcissism is a pivotal psychoanalytic concept, and yet it is by no means clear how the concept can be unproblematically integrated with other significant branches of psychoanalytic metatheory (e.g. the structural theory). Perhaps more significantly, though, narcissism is the area of psychoanalytic inquiry which devotes most attention to the question of the nature of the ‘I’ (self, ego, identity or whatever else one chooses to call it): the experiencing subject. Freud himself was uncomfortable with the position of narcissism in psychoanalytic theory and proposed a whole sequence of major theoretical alterations during the course of his career (Smith 1985). The place of narcissism has become even more unsettled in the wake of theoretical and technical innovations since Freud's death while its importance has, paradoxically, grown.

In the present paper I will set out to explore how the theory of narcissism has been developed by writers other than Freud and to investigate to what extent these often conflicting formulations can be reconciled. I will begin this survey with the contributions of two classical analysts: Karl Abraham and Sandor Ferenczi. Although I have explored their contributions at greater length elsewhere (Smith 1985), I think they deserve mention as two of the earliest representatives of two distinct theoretical traditions.

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