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Cohen, J. (1985). Thinking as a Narcissistic Resistance. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 13(1):77-92.

(1985). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 13(1):77-92

Thinking as a Narcissistic Resistance

Jonathan Cohen, M.D.


This article will discuss the conditions under which thinking can be a powerful narcissistic resistance to psychological understanding and personal growth.

The problem of the relationship between thought and reality is as old and important as philosophy itself, in both Eastern and Western traditions. To Lao-tzu (ca. 600 B.C.) are attributed the lines, “Existence is beyond the power of words/ To define:/ Terms may be used/ But are none of them absolute” (Bynner translation, 1944, p. 25). In Plato's epistemology, thinking aims at providing a picture of the true or essential form of things, which was once known and lost. All knowledge is therefore a form of re-cognition. Descartes developed the rationalist idea that certain knowledge of the material world could be attained through thought, which is a valid a priori. While God was the ultimate guarantor of rationality, rationality itself powerfully affirmed selfhood (“cogito ergo sum”). The method of controlled scientific observation derives from a Cartesian world view, and thus Descartes is rightly regarded as having set the stage for the great modern flowering of natural science. However, his epistemology has inherent in it the vexing problem of the veridicality of thought. This is a special problem when it comes to knowing about ourselves and others.

Freud took up this special problem. He made us pointedly aware that it is not only external reality that defies immediate knowing, but also our own inner worlds.

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