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Gorkin, M. (1984). Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Pathological Mourning. Contemp. Psychoanal., 20:400-420.

(1984). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 20:400-420

Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Pathological Mourning

Michael Gorkin, Ph.D.


FOR MORE THAN A DECADE, THERE HAS been a steady interest among psychoanalysts in narcissistic personality disorders. Writing from different theoretical points of view, investigators have continued to define and refine our notions about this area of psychopathology. In this paper, my aim is to explore narcissistic disorders from a vantage point which has not been especially noted in the literature: namely, that of the psychology of mourning. It is my belief that narcissistic personalities are individuals whose pathology may be conceptualized, in part, as issuing from a failure in the mourning process. In brief, their tenacious maintenance of pathological self and object representations, and their inability to relinquish these representations for more realistic ones (and in so doing to develop the requisite ego and superego structures) can be viewed as deriving from a pathological mourning process.

A further aim of this paper is to examine the implicit and explicit theories of mourning espoused by two prominent investigators of narcissistic disorders, Kohut (1971), (1972), (1977) and Kernberg (1975), (1976). What I hope to demonstrate is that the highly contrasting metapsychological views of narcissistic personality disorders offered by these two writers include equally contrasting perspectives on the psychology of mourning. And, moreover, these varying perspectives contribute, in part, to their widely different technical approaches to the treatment of this pathology. In a final section of the paper, some evaluative comments about their respective technical approaches shall be made in light of the conceptualization of narcissistic personality and pathological mourning which I am here proposing.

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