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The Narcissism of small differences is a term coined by Sigmund Freud in 1917, based on the earlier work of British anthropologist Ernest Crawley. 'Crawley, in language which differs only slightly from the current terminology of psychoanalysis, declares that each individual is separated from the others by a "taboo of personal isolation"...this "narcissism of minor differences"'[1]. The term describes 'the phenomenon that it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other' - 'such just these details of differentiation'[2].

The term appeared in Civilization and Its Discontents (1929–1930)[3] in relation to the application of the inborn aggression in man to ethnic (and other) conflicts - a process still considered by Freud at that point in time as 'a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression'[4]

For Lacanians, the concept cleary related to the sphere of The Imaginary: 'the narcissism of small differences, which situates envy as the decisive issues that involve narcissistic image'[5].

Glen O. Gabbard, M.D. suggested Freud's "Narcissism of Small Difference" provides a framework within which to understand that in a loving relationship there can be a need to find, and even exaggerate, differences in order to preserve a feeling of separateness and self.[6]

In terms of postmodernity, consumer culture has been seen as predicated on 'the "narcissism of small differences" achieve a superficial sense of one's own uniqueness, an ersatz sense of otherness which is only a mask for an underlying uniformity and sameness'[7].

Further reading


  1. Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (Penguin Freud Library 7, 1991) p. 272
  2. Sigmund Freud, Civilization, Society and Religion (Penguin Freud Library 12) p. 131 and p. 305
  3. Freud, Sigmund, Civilization and Its Discontents
  4. Freud, Civilization p. 305
  5. Roberto Harari, Lacan's Seminar on Anxiety: An Introduction (2001) p. 25
  6. Gabbard, Glen O. M.D.On Hate in Love Relationships: The Narcissism of Minor Differences Revisited(1993). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 62:229-238
  7. Clive Hazell, Alterity (2009) p. 97


fr:Narcissisme des petites différences

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