Tag Archives: Psychoanalysis

Primed To Understand: Psychoanalysis

This paper discusses the Freudian definition of narcissism, and the idea that this is a normal behavior in childhood which the adult ego reverts back to following trauma.  Viewed as an act of recovery by Freud, this regression, when used in conjunction with psychoanalytic priming, can help those affected to work through their mental disorders by allowing the patient to realize their condition.  


Narcissism, as defined by Freud, is “the attitude of a person who treats his own body in the same way…a sexual object is ordinarily treated.” Narcissists typically lack empathy, generally showing concern for just themselves.  However, this may be a part of “the regular course of human sexual development,” as Freud suggests that there is a period of narcissism that is normal in early childhood.  This early child hood narcissism develops into the “real ego” and the “ego ideal,” which he regards as an attempt to maintain the “narcissistic perfection of one’s childhood.”  When this perfection can no long be retained, one may unconsciously seek “to recover it in the new form of an ego ideal.”  This new ego ideal is a delusion in a sense, and “the substitute for the lost narcissism of (one’s) childhood.”  According to Freud, these delusions can be “part of an attempt at recovery” (Freud, 1914/1986).  Along with self-introspection and psychoanalytic technique, they can help to assist in recovery by drawing the malignant behaviors to the surface; where, no longer part of the unconscious, they can be ‘worked on’ proactively instead of continually ignored, repressed or ruminated upon.

Donald Capps, in his work “John Nash’s Post-delusional Period: A Case of Transformed Narcissism,” suggests that delusion, narcissism, and other correlative disorders can be overcome by actualization or mentalizing, much like the case of the Nobel Prizewinning mathematical genius he has studied.  Capps hypothesizes the root of Nash’s dysfunction as being from many possible traumas, including inconsistency in parenting, denial as a family habit, a childhood accident in which a friend was killed, awkwardness as a “bookish” young boy, and apathetic behavior towards school in his teenage years.  Nash’s adult trauma’s are also detailed, which included ridicule from colleagues and failure to live up to his (and his mothers) expectations of brilliance.  Capps believed that the delusional state that Nash went into, which included bouts of extreme paranoia, alcoholism, and a dangerous obsession with numerology, signified an unconscious attempt at recovery, much along the line of Freud’s belief.  Although Nash was forced to leave his career for some time, he was able to overcome his delusions.  Capps believes that “the process by which Nash was able to liberate himself from the control of his delusions was the transformation of his narcissistic self” (Capps, 2004).  By using creativity, humor and wisdom on top of his ability to think abstractly about his condition, Nash was able to self-actualize his way to controlling his disorder.

Dr. Michael Ermann also believes that narcissism stems from an unsatisfied ego-state, based an ideal-self created by perceptions made in childhood.   He finds that “archaic” feelings can be “activated,” and ultimately worked through, using psychoanalysis.  Much like the case of John Nash, Ermann believes that patients can be primed to achieve ‘mentalization,’ or the ability to understand one’s own mental state.  He suggests that this activity could prove therapeutic in allowing patients to move beyond the issues they face.  During a specific analytic encounter with ‘Paul,’ who he describes as narcissistic, he attempts to awaken buried “feelings of not being wanted, not being welcome, not being loved, not being cared for, of being abandoned and being done harm.” Ermann describes Paul as outwardly “successful,” but also as someone dealing with “diverse identity problems…associated with depressive feelings.” Paul suffered from persistent dreams and waking ideation regarding the safety of his son in fanciful situations in which, contrary to his idealized protective role as a father, he was unable to save or rescue him.  By priming him on these issues, Dr. Ermann was able to coax further information about Paul’s father’s infidelity, and abandonment of him as a child.  Ermann also found that Paul cheated on his wife and had unresolved parental distrust, believing that his mother risked his life during her pregnancy “because of her hate for her husband.”  Eventually, Paul learns that he was born seven weeks premature; that his mother didn’t risk his life out of spite.  Paul was able to mentalize this and overcome his own infidelities and patterns of indignation.  Ermann believes that by “going through the preverbal states of (Paul’s) earliest existence where he had the unconscious feeling of not being born into his own life,” Paul was able to find peace (Ermann, 2007).

A study by Hunyady, Joesephs and Jost also uses psychoanalytic priming techniques to understand narcissism in their patients.  The three researchers share the Freudian belief “that reminders of…the child’s real or imagined perception of the parents’ sexual relationship—as well as the child’s knowledge of their parents’ own sexual infidelity—can activate unconscious conflict around sexual infidelity in adulthood.”   In their study of 316 people, Hunyady et al. asked primed questions in an attempt to activate “the Oedipal situation.”  They hoped to lead these people, who they described as having narcissistic traits, “to become more prohibitive towards sexual infidelity.”  The researchers conducted their study in three parts, first with questionnaires to measure the degree of narcissism in each individual.  The participants then “read a paragraph that contained the priming manipulation,” which asked them to “identify with the protagonist of the story by writing down what that person may have been feeling or thinking.”  The participants were then asked about their attitudes towards relationships and infidelity, as well as other demographic information and further questions regarding behavioral history.  The evidence the researchers gathered confirmed a correlation between narcissism, infidelity, and parental infidelity.  Hunyady et al. felt that “narcissistic people defend against painful and angry feelings by disidentifying with the victim.” They did find a positive outcome in that when participants were “led to identify and empathize with the victim of betrayal, they became disapproving” of their patterns of behavior (Hunyady, Josephs & Jost, 2008).

The analysis of how primed, but self guided treatment for issues such as narcissism must be explored further.  Successful examples of narcissistic regression, mentalization, and disorder transformation such as that of ‘Paul’ or John Nash’s should be analyzed for the benefit brought to both the patient and scientific community.  The techniques used in the study by Hunyady et al. provide a reasonable ground in which to start from.  Participants were asked to self-rate themselves on 29 different items, and then asked to respond to primed paragraphs, crafted to explore the depths of the respondents’ attitudes towards infidelity (Hunyady, Josephs & Jost, 2008).  This type of questioning could be useful far beyond the just study of the correlation of narcissism to infidelity.

An appropriate size gender segregated sampling of more than 100 people would be ideal to test.  The ideal age group would be individuals aged 28-45, because of the increased likelihood of post childhood traumas in which to study.  Ethnicities, though not outwardly important, should be catalogued, in case surprising data is revealed upon that basis.  The first part of the study should be a self-response questionnaire to gauge personality traits.  The Millon Multi-Axis Personality Measure should be used in which respondents will be asked questions and instructed to offer their level of disagreement (1) or agreement (6) on a number scale.  The participants will then be asked primed paragraph length sample stories with clear victims and villains; afterwards they shall discuss the characters they associated with positively and for what reasons.  The primed questions should reveal the participants’ attitudes about the types of narratives presented (benevolence, infidelity, etc.).  The final part of the study should include other data to assist in the analytic process, such as, but not limited to: history of sleep disturbances, indignation or spite, co-dependency, heightened self awareness, protective instincts, indecisiveness, fixation on past relationships, depression, body image, outlook on relationships, addiction, family history of mental disorders, sexual history, academic performance, recollection of childhood, living situation, socioeconomic circumstances; all based on short answer response or satisfaction indices.  It is likely that a number of these factors correlate, as witnessed in the case of John Nash or ‘Paul.’  As an extension of this project, hormone levels can also be monitored to determine the physiological impact of age.

The development of a narcissistic personality may come as compensation for a shattered self image, but channeled positively, those afflicted can (and do) go on to live healthy lives.  The psychological scar can be worked though with self reporting, testing, primed questioning, and psychoanalytic analysis. Whereby previously, “the frequent causation of paranoia by an injury to the ego, by frustration of satisfaction” could once lead to “the possible transformation of ideals in paraphrenic (schizophrenic) disorders,” (Freud, 1914/1986) many individuals may be able to come out of the psychoanalytic process with a healthy realization of self worth.   Knowing and understanding oneself could possibly be the best treatment for those with these types of mental disorders.


Capps, D. (2004). John Nash’s Postdelusional Period: A Case of Transformed Narcissism. Pastoral Psychology, 52(4), 289-313. Retrieved from Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection database.

Ermann, M. (2007). “You touched my heart”: Modes of memory and psychoanalytic technique. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 16(4), 222-227. Retrieved from Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection database.

Freud, S. (1914/1986). On narcissism: An introduction. In Morrison, A. P. (Ed.). Essential papers on

narcissism (pp. 17–43). New York: New York University Press.

Hunyady, O., Josephs, L., & Jost, J. (2008). Priming the Primal Scene: Betrayal Trauma, Narcissism, and Attitudes Toward Sexual Infidelity. Self & Identity, 7(3), 278-294. Retrieved from Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection database.

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Know Yourself: Understand Your World

Psychoanalysis can change a person.

Psychoanalysis can change a person.

Potentials of Psychoanalysis (for better or for worse):

Sigmund Freud, perhaps the most recognized psychologist ever, had a radical idea for his time. He thought that what went on in the mind was “mostly hidden” from conscious awareness.  Freud considered this hidden section, the unconscious, to be a vast area “containing thoughts, wishes, feelings, and memories.” Freud assumed that the unconscious manifested itself occasionally in what we say or do. and that the meaning of our actions could be analyzed and found to represent these primal thoughts. We keep them repressed; “forcibly blocking them from our consciousness because they would be too unsettling to acknowledge.”  He used a certain technique called free association, otherwise, capturing and recording his patients’ spontaneity of thought.  The thoughts would then be analyzed and interpreted in an attempt to map the subconscious.  Freud felt that these techniques could help in “treating psychological disorders by seeking to expose and interpret unconscious tensions.” (Myers, 422) From his ideas, the field of psychoanalysis was born. His techniques would be expanded upon by others and eventually put into practice on a wider scale.

Freud’s personality theories and psychoanalysis would come into pressing need, according to Adam Curtis, producer of the BBC documentary series, The Century of the Self.   He tells how an increase in mental instability had occurred after the depravity of World War 2.  Prominent psychologists and world leaders felt that Nazism had created irrational individuals, and that violent nationalistic tendencies could escalate worldwide.  American soldiers faced “an extraordinary number of mental breakdowns” (Curtis, 2:08) and “forty-nine percent of all soldiers evacuated from combat were sent back because they suffered from mental problems.” The Army began to use psychoanalysis and found that the stress of combat had triggered repressed violent feelings and desires, proving Freudian theory “that underneath, humans are driven by primitive irrational forces.” (Curtis, 5:00) In an interview, Ellen Herman, Historian of American Psychology, states that politicians believed that because of what was witnessed in the war, “that human beings could act very irrationally because of this sort of teeming and raw and unpredictable emotionality…the kind of chaos that lived at the base of human personality could in fact infect the society social institutions to such a point that the society itself would become sick…that’s what they believe happened in Germany in which the irrational, the anti-democratic went wild.” (Curtis, 6:45) It was felt that the use of psychoanalytic principles held hope in erasing these irrational emotions. Freud’s daughter, Anna, expanded on his techniques and led the psychoanalytic movement after his death.  She thought it was possible for people to learn how to manage these dark “inner forces.” (Curtis, 9:45)

In 1946, The National Mental Health Act would be signed into law to raise awareness of mental illness.  Brothers Carl and Will Menninger, who led psychiatry efforts for the Army,  would train hundreds of new psychoanalysts.  They hoped to, according to Curtis, implement Anna Freud’s psychoanalysis techniques on a wider scale.  Robert Wallerstein, Psychoanalyst for the Menninger Clinic from 1949-1966, described the Menningers’ belief that “psychoanalytic thinking could make for the betterment of society…because you could change the way the mind functioned; and you could take the ways in which people did hurtful things to themselves and others and alter them by enlarging their understanding… this was the vision psychoanalysis brought…that you could really change people…and you could change them almost in limitless ways.” (Curtis, 12:38-14:45) Dr. Harold Blum, found that a person who went through the psychoanalytic process became “more insightful, much more understanding, and a much better regulated person…the regulatory aspects of the human mind would really be in charge, instead of being overwhelmed by our passions and our darker impulses.” (Curtis 16:37)

In The Century of the Self, interviews were conducted with many people closely linked to Freud and the Menningers, as well as leading psychoanalysts.  Its credibility as a product of the BBC makes it a trustworthy source.  The information was presented attractively and the language used in the film easily accessible to the average viewer.  The use of historical video footage strongly supported the narration and interview material.  It is impressive to watch footage of 1930s and 40s irrationality, especially during the segments on Nazism.  The video captures the nationalistic fervor and unjustified violence of the time, as shown in one segment with pro-Hitler Austrians chasing Jewish people down the streets. (Curtis, 6:30) The irrationality of their behavior is clearly obvious when shown in context with the historical narrative.  I understand the Army’s concern about combat veterans returning home disturbed.  It is still a concern today, which makes me wonder why we keep “corrupting” humans with darker repressed thoughts and emotions by going to war.  Being at ease with this dark imagery and creating a well rounded individual by looking inside oneself seems purely beneficial; not only for war veterans, but every human being.  I agree with Anna Freud in that through introspection and discussion one can “conquer their inner demons.”

Even though I am certain of the hope that psychoanalysis poses, I have to agree with Dr. Owen Renik, former editor in chief of the American Psychoanalytic Association. He believes that “the profession is in a great decline” and concedes that “the decline will continue.” Renick feels that the failure of its lies in the fact that it “took on a self-perpetuating guild mentality.”  This could be because of the glut of psychoanalysts after the passing of the National Mental Health Act. I theorize that the broadened market of psychoanalysts was probably one of lesser quality or training than the “masters” that had worked in the field decades earlier.  Renick feels that psychoanalysis has lost its “spirit of open-ended inquiry (and)…orientation above all to be helpful to the patient.” I agree with him about the importance of the field and I am just as optimistic about its ability to bounce back.  Renick says it’s possible to mitigate and “reverse the decline, but it will be necessary to escape the clutches of an establishment that, unhappily, has increasingly gotten away from the original scientific enterprise…it means applying concepts scientifically to better understand patients. (Carey)

Psychoanalyst Lucy Holmes is less cynical about the field in her article Wrestling with Destiny: the Promise of Psychoanalysis. She asks, “Can knowledge save us from malevolent destiny? If we can be courageous enough to confront what we don’t know or…what we don’t want to know, can we win control over our own destiny?” Holmes believes this is the type of therapeutic potential that psychoanalysis offers.   She makes the claim that destiny exists and calls is “repetition compulsion”—a “dark power in every human being that unchecked can propel a person against his will to a tragic end.” Holmes mentions the work of LaPlanche and Pontalis, who describe this “as an ungovernable process originating in the unconscious” in which “the subject deliberately puts himself in distressing situations, thereby repeating an old experience that he does not consciously remember.” She also recalls Freud, who stated, “What is not remembered will be repeated.” Holmes believes that if left unchecked, “our fate becomes an automatic and impulsive repetition of unpleasurable situations.”  (Holmes, 44)

Holmes then transitions to the ideas of Bollas, who she felt looked at destiny in a positive manner.  Bollas believed destiny as being the “urge to articulate our true selves…the creative potential in a person’s life.”  Holmes feels that psychoanalysis exists to help an individual meet “with his destiny, to articulate his true nature.” Holmes views psychoanalysis as “a corrective emotional experience…therapeutic in its simple essence—spending time with a person who is completely focused on understanding you.” (Holmes 46-47)  Aiding in this process is a modern comprehension about the evolution of the human brain.  She describes neuroscientist Paul MacLean’s studies of brain as consisting of “three basic structures…each with “its own way of perceiving and responding to the world”…the “three brains” have evolved methods of communicating with each other.”  The more primitive brain governs mechanical and unconscious behaviors, otherwise called instinct. The second brain, or the limbic system, developed next and allowed for the senses to “operate together and create a primitive memory system.”  Holmes feels that “emotions are generated but do not become conscious here.” The relatively modern third brain, called the cerebral cortex, developed over the last one hundred thousand years as the “center of thinking and reasoning… where consciousness resides.”

The hope with psychoanalysis is that patients can “convert into language the electrical impulses pulsing up from the primitive brain.” These impulses pass through circuits in the second brain as feelings and eventually manifest themselves in the consciousness in our repetitive compulsions.  With the psychoanalytic process, “we are inviting access by the cerebral cortex to…the lower brains.”  Holmes believes the process fortifies “the young and often overpowered upper brain against the instincts and primitive feelings.”  When these impulses from the lower brain are articulated, “instincts lose their primitive power…and feelings can be felt and verbalized.” She feels that as individual analysis progresses, “communication from the lower two brains gradually becomes data, not commands…the patient can evaluate this data and then decide how she wants to deal with it…at this point, the patient takes charge of her own destiny.” (Holmes, 48)


Carey, Benedict. (2006, October 10). An Analyst questions the self-perpetuating side of therapy. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/10/health/psychology/10conv.html?pagewanted=all

Curtis, Adam. (Director). (2002). The Century of the self episode two [Video]. Retrieved from http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8953172273825999151#docid=-678466363224520614

Holmes, Lucy. (2007). Wrestling with destiny: the promise of psychoanalysis. Modern Psychoanalysis, 32(1). Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdf?vid=6&hid=8&sid=0992032c-d42d-41f6-bbed-a1b91f9ed2b9%40sessionmgr14

Myers, David G. (2008). Exploring psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

neat cover image found here.

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