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Stolorow, R.D. (1975). Narcissus Revisited. Am. J. Psychoanal., 35(3):286-286.

(1975). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 35(3):286-286

Narcissus Revisited

Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D.

Classical Freudian psychoanalysis found in the figure of Narcissus a mythological symbol of the economic or libido-theory conception of narcissism. According to the libido theory, narcissistic self-absorption and self-infatuation represent a fixation upon one's own self taken as a sexual love object. However, a reexamination of the Narcissus myth reveals allusions to the defensive-reparative function of narcissism, a function clearly recognized by Horney.

According to the myth, Narcissus’ “beauty was so great, all the girls who saw him longed to be his, but he would have none of them. He would pass the loveliest carelessly by, no matter how much she tried to make him look at her.” So it went with Echo, the fairest of the nymphs, who had fallen in love with Narcissus. One day Echo beckoned rapturously to him with her arms outstretched. But Narcissus turned away from her in angry disgust, and asserted, “I will die before I give you power over me.” His assertion proved prophetic when some time thereafter he was condemned by the goddess Nemesis to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool. “Now I know,” he cried, “what others have suffered from me, for I burn with love of my own self—and yet how can I reach that loveliness I see mirrored in the water? But I cannot leave it. Only death can set me free.” And so he died, ceaselessly pining after his own mirror image.

Narcissus’ assertion that he would die before giving Echo power over him clearly alludes to the defensive-reparative function of his self-insulating tendency.

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