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Cavell, M. (2007). Comment on “The Return of the Repressed: Narcissism, Religion, and the Ferment in Psychoanalysis” by James W. Jones. Ann. Psychoanal., 35:61-65.

(2007). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 35:61-65

Comment on “The Return of the Repressed: Narcissism, Religion, and the Ferment in Psychoanalysis” by James W. Jones

Marcia Cavell, Ph.D.

In this illuminating essay James W. Jones shows how several interrelated changes in psychoanalytic thinking—about narcissism, the primary process, and the distinction between illusion and reality—pave the way to an attitude toward religion very different from Freud's. I am grateful to Jones for opening my eyes particularly on the issue of narcissism, and this will be my focus.

In “On Narcissism(1914) Freud abandoned his early dual instinct theory, in which ego interests were distinguished from the sexual instincts, for another instinct theory, also putatively dualistic, which distinguished ego libido from object libido. He argued that narcissistic pathologies in the adult are best understood as a retreat to a more primary narcissism in the infant, characterized by magical thinking, the primary process, and libidinal investment in the self. “Thus we form a conception of an original libidinal cathexis of the ego, part of which cathexis is later yielded up to objects” (p. 75). He added that there is “an antithesis between ego-libido and object-libido. The more of the one is employed, the more the other becomes depleted” (p. 76). The word absorbed is ambiguous, but I take Freud to mean that the more one loves oneself the less love one has for others, and the more for others, the less for oneself. Love apparently impoverishes the self, in something like the way in which an expense of semen sometimes is thought to waste creative energy.

Thus, in Freud's account, narcissism is the name either of a certain pathological condition or of an early developmental state which in health will be outgrown: The child's thinking slowly yields to the reality principle, she exchanges magic for science, and she accepts her own small place in the scheme of things.

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