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Sobo, S. (1977). Narcissism as a Function of Culture. Psychoanal. St. Child, 32:155-172.

(1977). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 32:155-172

Narcissism as a Function of Culture

Simon Sobo, M.D.


1. The breakdown of values, rules, and authority over the last decade in American society was used as an opportunity to study some of the roots of the conscience and the interrelationship between narcissism, the superego, and the ego ideal.

2. It was argued that the superego needs consistent reinforcement in adolescent and adult experience. When this is lacking, regression to preoedipal narcissistic dynamics occurs even without major trauma.

3. In this light, the importance of the oedipus complex in helping the process of separation-individuation was stressed.

4. Developmental changes in the ego ideal from its original wish-fulfilling mechanism to its later personification of the father

(and still later, society and other important figures) was examined. The later elements are added to the original mechanism, but the ego ideal retains its wish-fulfilling aspect.

5. The superego was seen as a refinement over the original rage accompanying the word "no" (i.e., no gratification) in that it brought structure and strength as opposed to chaos and helplessness through identification with the aggressor. However, using Freud's original statement that the primal force of the conscience is helplessness, I argued that gratification of the ego ideal may lessen the power of the superego. Basic trust and the sublimated goals of the ego ideal strengthen obedience to the superego, but the unsublimated wishes of the ego ideal work in the opposite direction.

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