FERENCZI’S EVOLVING CONCEPTION OF NARCISSISIC PATHOLOGY AND ITS BASIS IN TRAUMA*

Abstract

Ferenczi’s landmark contributions to understanding and treating psychological trauma are inseparable from his evolving conception of narcissism, though he grasped their interrelationship only gradually. Ultimately, he saw narcissistic disorders as the result of how children cope with abuse or neglect, and their aftermath—they identify and comply with the needs of the aggressor, and later of people more generally, and dissociate their own needs, feelings, and perceptions; and they compensate for their submission and sacrifice of self by regressing to soothing omnipotent fantasies—which, ironically, may facilitate continued submission. Ferenczi’s experiments in technique were designed to help patients overcome their defensive retreat to omnipotent fantasies and regain their lost selves. His earliest experiment, active technique, in which he frustrated patients, was a direct attack on their clinging to omnipotent fantasy. But as he came to see such narcissistic personality distortions as a way of coping with the residue of early trauma, his focus shifted to the underlying trauma. His loving and indulgent relaxation technique was intended as an antidote to early emotional neglect. His final experiment, mutual analysis, characterized by the analyst’s openness and honesty in examining his own inevitable insincerities, was an attempt to heal the damage from parents’ hypocrisy about their mistreatment, which Ferenczi came to see as most destructive to the child.

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Correspondence to Jay Frankel.

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Address correspondence to Jay Frankel, Ph.D., 300 Mercer Street, Apt. 3L, New York, NY 10003, USA; e-mail: jaybfrankel@gmail.com

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Frankel, J. FERENCZI’S EVOLVING CONCEPTION OF NARCISSISIC PATHOLOGY AND ITS BASIS IN TRAUMA*. Am J Psychoanal 77, 213–222 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s11231-017-9097-2

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Keywords

  • Ferenczi
  • trauma
  • narcissism
  • identification with the aggressor
  • omnipotent fantasy
  • experiments in technique
  • hypocrisy