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Balint, M. (1960). Primary Narcissism and Primary Love. Psychoanal Q., 29:6-43.

(1960). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 29:6-43

Primary Narcissism and Primary Love

Michael Balint, M.D.



It is a curious but easily verifiable fact that for many years Freud held three conflicting views of the individual's most primitive relation with his environment. The first of them was published in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) and remained unchanged in all later editions, though it is worth noting that this book and The Interpretation of Dreams were the only ones that Freud revised and amended with each new edition to include all discoveries made subsequent to the previous edition. Oddly enough this passage occurs in the last section of the third and last essay, which has the subtitle Die Objektfindung, a beautifully concise expression which had to be translated rather clumsily into English as The Finding of an Object. Freud wrote there: 'At a time at which the first beginnings of sexual satisfaction are still linked with the taking of nourishment, the sexual instinct has a sexual object outside the infant's own body in the shape of its mother's breast. It is only later that the instinct loses that object, just at the time, perhaps, when the child is able to form a total idea of the person to whom the organ that is giving it satisfaction belongs. As a rule the sexual instinct then becomes autoerotic, and not until the period of latency has been passed through is the original relation restored. There are thus good reasons why a child sucking at its


Various parts of this paper were presented at the inaugural meeting of the Pittsburgh Psychoanalytic Society and to the Psychoanalytic Societies of London, Montreal, New York, and Washington, in 1959-1960.

I wish to record my great indebtedness to Mr. James Strachey, who kindly allowed me to draw upon his unrivaled knowledge of Freud's writings whenever a doubtful point arose.

1 Standard Edition, VII, p. 222 (italics added).

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