Normal adult narcissism
This is a normal self-esteem based on normal structures of the self. The individual has introjected whole representations of objects, has stable objects relationships and a solid moral system. The superego is fully developed and individualized.
Normal infantile narcissism
Regulation of self-esteem occurs through gratifications related to the age, which include or imply a normal infantile system of values, demands or prohibitions.
- Regression to the regulation of infantile self-esteem. The ideal ego is dominated by infantile pursuits, values and prohibitions. The regulation of self-esteem is overly dependent on expressions or defences against infantile pleasures, which are discarded in adult life. This is the mildest type of narcissistic pathology.
- Narcissistic choice of object. This type is more severe than the first one but more rare. The representation of the infantile self is projected on an object and then identified through that same object. Thus, a libidinal association is generated, where the functions of the self and the object have been exchanged.
- Narcissistic personality disorder. This type is different from both normal adult narcissism and from regression to normal infantile narcissism. It is the most severe type and is suitable for psychoanalysis.
In Kernberg’s view, narcissistic personalities are differentiated from both normal adult narcissism and from fixation at or regression to normal infantile narcissism. Fixation at a primitive stage of development or lack of development of specific intrapsychic structures is not adequate to explain the characteristics of narcissistic personalities. Those characteristics (through a process of pathological differentiation and integration of ego and superego structures) are the consequence of pathological object relationships. Pathological narcissism is not merely the libidinal investment in the self but in a pathological, underdeveloped structure of the self. This pathological structure presents defences against early self and object images, which are either libidinally or aggressively invested. The psychoanalytic process brings to the surface primitive object relations, conflicts and defences, which are typical of the developmental stages that precede the stability of the object.