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Satow, R. (1982). Response to Colleen Clements's “Misusing Psychiatric Models: the Culture of Narcissism”. Psychoanal. Rev., 69(2):296-302.

(1982). Psychoanalytic Review, 69(2):296-302

Response to Colleen Clements's “Misusing Psychiatric Models: the Culture of Narcissism”

Roberta Satow, Ph.D.

Dr. Clements' paper focuses on two major problems in Christopher Lasch's conceptualization of the “culture of narcissism” (1979). She underscores Lasch's incorrect understanding of the concept of narcissism as a “psychiatric” (sic) term. She also clarifies the general misapplication of a psychodynamic concept to a social system level. In my discussion I would like to expand on the first of these two fundamental criticisms of the culture of narcissism perspective and then go on to hypothesize why psychoanalysts have not criticized Lasch both for his misunderstanding of the term and his confusing of individual and structural levels of analysis.

I completely agree with Dr. Clements that the notion of narcissism as Lasch uses it bears no resemblance to the narcissistic personality disorder as described by either Kohut or Kernberg. However, I think that narcissism is the kind of concept that lends itself to that kind of distortion because it is so confusing even in its technical psychoanalytic meanings.

The Psychoanalytic Concept of Narcissism

The concept of narcissism is increasingly problematic in psychoanalytic as well as lay circles because its meaning has become extremely broad. Prior to its adoption by psychoanalysis, the concept of narcissism stayed rather close to the classic figure of Narcissus—the beautiful youth who gazed into the stream with desire at the sight of his own image. Since water is the primitive mirror, it is not surprising that Ovid's poem came to mind when Havelock Ellis read about several cases of erotic self-admiration.

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