The Monster in the Mirror: Theoretical and Clinical Reflections on Primary Narcissism and Melancholia

  • Dorothée Bonnigal-Katz
Part of the Studies in the Psychosocial book series (STIP)


In Freud’s 1914 theorisation of primary narcissism, the shift from auto-erotism to object-love coincides with the emergence of the ego as an internal object. Underlying this twofold advent is the mediation of a narcissistic formation predicated on a double process of self-idealisation and identification. Interestingly, Freud discovers this narcissistic entity retrospectively, in what he perceives as an inability, in human subjects, to mourn ‘the lost narcissism of [their] childhood in which [they were their] own ideal’. This leads Freud to postulate the existence of an ideal ego, ‘the target of the self-love’ that is constitutive of infantile narcissism and that elicits, via mechanisms of displacement and projection, the unconscious preservation of a narcissistic ideal of omnipotence and perfection. Something unmournable thus seems to preside over human subjectivity from the outset, arising from the lethal convergence of self-idealisation and identification. Such is the monster in the mirror, the unamendable narcissistic entity whose vicissitudes this chapter offers to explore in relation to a series of clinical observations and theoretical reflections. More specifically, this chapter focuses on clinical material that illustrates Freud’s 1917 account of melancholia: ‘a profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-revilings, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment’ (244). Often plagued with a persistent case of negative therapeutic reaction, on the edge of unanalysability, the cases discussed feature an ego that does not always seem able to prevent its own destruction—another typical trait of melancholia, according to Freud, making melancholia ‘so interesting—and so dangerous’ (252). By elucidating the murderous fantasies and the mechanisms that tie melancholia to primary narcissism, this chapter strives to demonstrate how the melancholic ego is always in the process of disintegrating, as if the identification with the self-idealized totality in the mirror had to be undone relentlessly and the ego had to be fed to the monster in the mirror.


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© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dorothée Bonnigal-Katz
    • 1
  1. 1.Leamington SpaUK

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