Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics

Erich Fromm: On Narcissism

Narcissism is an orientation in which all one’s interest and passion are directed to one’s own person: one’s body, mind, feelings, interests… For the narcissistic person, only he and what concerns him are fully real; what is outside, what concerns others, is real only in a superficial sense of perception; that is to say, it is real for one’s senses and for one’s intellect. But it is not real in a deeper sense, for our feeling or understanding. He is, in fact, aware only of what is outside, inasmuch as it affects him. Hence, he has no love, no compassion, no rational, objective judgment. The narcissistic person has built an invisible wall around himself. He is everything, the world is nothing. Or rather: He is the world[….]

A person living in this mode is not necessarily very narcissistic. He may have broken through the shell of his narcissism, have an adequate appreciation of reality outside himself, not necessarily be “in love with himself”; he knows who he is and who the others are, and can well distinguish between subjective experience and reality. Nevertheless, he wants everything for himself; has no pleasure in giving, in sharing, in solidarity, in cooperation, in love. He is a closed fortress, suspicious of others, eager to take and most reluctant to give[….]

If a person has the will and the determination to loosen the bars of his prison of narcissism and selfishness, when he has the courage to tolerate the intermittent anxiety, he experiences the first glimpses of joy and strength that he sometimes attains. And only then a decisive new factor enters into the dynamics of the process. This new experience becomes the decisive motivation for going ahead and following the path he has charted… [An] experience of well-being — fleeting and small as it may be — … becomes the most powerful motivation for further progress[….]

Awareness, will, practice, tolerance of fear and of new experience, they are all necessary if transformation of the individual is to succeed. At a certain point the energy and direction of inner forces have changed to the point where an individual’s sense of identity has changed, too. In the property mode of existence the motto is: “I am what I have.” After the breakthrough it is “I am what I do” (in the sense of unalienated activity); or simply, “I am what I am.”

From The Art of Being by Erich Fromm, published by Constable and Company Ltd, 1993.

3 comments on “Erich Fromm: On Narcissism

  1. John Tieman
    June 29, 2016

    Reading Fromm reminded me of Judith Viorst’s Necessary Losses. One of my favorite books of psychoanalysis.

    “Our ego ideal is precious to us because it repairs a loss of our earlier childhood, the loss of our image of self as perfect and whole, the loss of a major portion of our infantile, limitless, ain’t-I-wonderful narcissism which we had to give up in the face of compelling reality. Modified and reshaped into ethical goals and moral standards and a vision of what at our finest we might be, our dream of perfection lives on–our lost narcissism lives on–in our ego ideal.”

    Somewhere else she talks of how the child develops narcissism, because the narcissistic parent makes a deal with the kid — lose yourself or lose me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Danielle Zitoun
    April 18, 2016

    Eric Fromm is one of my favorite prophets! The titles of his books alone are a poem of transcendence

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mlord102014
    April 16, 2016

    Thank you so much for this. I am a great admirer of Erich Fromm and use him extensively in my work.He is a brilliant man

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on April 16, 2016 by in Opinion Leaders, Social Justice and tagged , .
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