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Indian J Psychol Med. 2016 May-Jun; 38(3): 269–272.
PMCID: PMC4904770

Demystifying Complexes, Transference, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder with Jung and Lacan


This will be the third and final letter, I write on narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) to this journal (following the work from 2012 to 2015) where I will elucidate Lacan's description of transference in his seminar “The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis” with a phenomenological interpretation of Jung's writing on complexes to show their relevance to demystifying NPD.

In seminar XI, Lacan says “What Freud shows us, from the outset, is that the transference is essentially resistant, Ubertragungswiderstand. The transference is the means by which the communication of the unconscious is interrupted, by which the unconscious closes up again. Far from being the handing over of powers to the unconscious, the transference is, on the contrary, its closing up.”[1] In this letter, I want to demonstrate how this description of transference can be understood in more depth when it is applied to NPD and if Jung's writings on complexes are integrated. In Gildersleeve, 2016, I provided a Heideggerian description of Jung's writing on complexes. When my previous writing on complexes is aligned next to Lacan's writing on transference, it can be recognized that transference is a result of Dasein's (Heidegger's name for human beings) inauthentic understanding of the meaning of the experience of a complex/the unconscious. In my previous work,[2] I explained that instead of authentically understanding the experience of a complex as the call of guilt from conscience which discloses the truth of Dasein's “not being at home,” an inauthentic understanding flees facing the truth of guilt from falling prey and therefore lacks the discovery of new possibilities for being in the world. Conversely, if Dasein is resolute to authentically listen to the call of conscience to exist in the truth of Being, Dasein can authentically confront complexes/the unconscious and develop an interpreted understanding of new possibilities to expand the meaning of its being in the world. With this, the meaning of transference in psychotherapy can be developed, and the task of psychoanalysis can then be understood as aiming to authentically open the unconscious by leading the analysand to recognize their closure of the unconscious through the inauthentic understanding of the experience of a complex and the resulting transference.


Before I show the relationship of Jung's work on complexes and Lacan's on transference and then relating this to NPD, I will start by explaining the Heideggerian interpretation of Jung's work on complexes that I completed in.[2] That article explained that the ontological meaning of a complex is phenomenologically disclosed when Dasein's world is conspicuously experienced as unready to hand and “not-being-at-home.” In the experience of a complex, angst, conscience, and guilt are saliently disclosed in a moment of conspicuous obstructiveness and obstinacy, which results in the ready-to-hand losing its readiness-to-hand in a certain way.

Dasein can have an authentic or inauthentic understanding of the experience of a complex, and I will make the argument in this letter that transference is a result of Dasein's inauthentic understanding. When Dasein has an authentic understanding of a complex, the closure of the unconscious through transference can be stopped. Alternatively, transference is the constitution of inauthentically turning away from understanding the meaning of the experience of a complex/the unconscious and falling prey to familiar average everydayness “tears understanding away from projecting authentic possibilities” (Ibid) which leaves the complex buried within the unconscious when transference occurs.

This is reflected in the quote I cited earlier by Lacan.[1] In other words, transference is resistant to the angst, conscience, and guilt of the experience of a complex, which are saliently disclosed in a moment of conspicuous obstructiveness and obstinacy, and results in the ready-to-hand losing its readiness-to-hand in a certain way. Dasein becomes entangled through transference when there is an inauthentic understanding of the meaning of this experience of a complex/the unconscious. The unconscious is communicating to Dasein in the experience a complex, and this is interrupted by transference which closes the unconscious through an inauthentic understanding. As a result of Dasein falling prey from inauthentically understanding the meaning of the experience of a complex, the truth of its possibilities of care for its own most authentic being-in-the-world are undiscovered/unconscious. This lack of discovery can lead to neglect and loss of meaning to Dasein's existence resulting in obstinacy of complexes and the obstructiveness of being in the world.


When continuing his explanation of transference Lacan says “What causes it, and this will be the other side of our examination of the concepts of the transference is — To come back to the question mark inscribed in the left part, the shaded, reserved part — What I have designated by the object a.”[1] To further elucidate the object a, it is instructive to look at Bruce Fink's writing where he says “When analysands recount fantasies to their analyst, they are informing the analyst about the way in which they want to be related to object a, in other words, the way they would like to be positioned with respect to the other's desire. Object a, as it enters into their fantasies, is an instrument or plaything with which subjects do as they like, manipulating it as it pleases them, orchestrating things in the fantasy scenario in such a way as to derive a maximum of excitement therefrom.”[3] From this, it can be appreciated that object a plays a role in transference and with Fink's writing, we can understand that object a is the other's desire from the perspective of the analysand. Object a is what the analysand believes the other's desire is and thus can be a fantasy when the analysand manipulates it to derive pleasure or excitement rather than what the other's desire actually is. Now, if object a causes transference, and transference is the closing of the unconscious, then object a can be understood to be part of Dasein's inauthentic understanding of the experience of a complex/the unconscious. Thus, transference occurs when object a (the desire of the other) has not been understood authentically because it has been manipulated by the analysands fantasy to derive pleasure or excitement. This can be better understood by referring to Lacan's schema of a hoop net [Figure 1]. Lacan says “When I speak to you of the unconscious as of that which appears in the temporal pulsation, you may picture it to yourselves as a hoop net (nasse) which opens slightly at the neck and at the bottom of which the catch of fish will be found.”[1]

Figure 1
Hoop net[1]

This illustration shows the object a blocking the gap/opening where the unconscious appears, and therefore, this is also an illustration of transference which closes the unconscious with the fantasy of object a. Lacan explains this by saying “We can conceive of the closing of the unconscious through the effect of something that plays the role of obturator — The object a, sucked, breathed, into the orifice of the net.” “This schema is quite inadequate, but it is a bulldozer schema which renders congruent the notion that the transference is both an obstacle to remembering and a making present of the closure of the unconscious, which is the act of missing the right meeting just at the right moment”.[1]

This is relevant to Jung's work on complexes because Jung explains they always contain something like a “conflict-they are either the cause or the effect of a conflict.”[4] The transference illustrates this conflict between the fantasy of object a and the unconscious. An inauthentic understanding in response to the experience of a complex result in transference which attempts to interrupt the complex by making it unconscious with the fantasy of object a, and this is illustrated in Lacan's schema [Figure 1]. Furthermore, complexes are “vulnerable points” which we do not like to remember and still less to be reminded of by others, but which frequently come back to mind unbidden and in the most unwelcome fashion,”[5] and the inauthentic fantasy of object a and transference attempt to close off the complex and the unconscious from consciousness.

As a result, complexes and the unconscious ontologically represent the truth of existence which Dasein does not want to face, however inauthentically blocking the truth/unconscious/complex with the object a in transference is ineffective as the truth continues to exist even if Dasein inauthentically flees this truth. By not having an authentic understanding, Dasein's Being is constantly threatened because it is in the untruth of Being and, therefore, cannot appropriately or realistically care for its being in the world. Complexes/the unconscious contain the truth of Dasein's undiscovered possibilities for being authentic, and they contain “an opening to new possibilities of achievement”[5] and “are therefore, in this sense, focal or nodal points of psychic life which we would not wish to do without.”[5] However, “in these circumstances there is the greatest temptation simply to follow the power Instinct and to identify the ego with the self-outright, in order to keep up the illusion of the ego's mastery”[4] and Jung converges with Lacan again here who also wants to eradicate identification with the ego in psychoanalysis.

This is seen when Lacan says to advise an analysand to identify with the ego “is to misunderstand that it is precisely this part that is concerned in the transference, that it is this part that closes the door, or the window, or the shutters, or whatever — And that the beauty with whom one wishes to speak is there, behind, only too willing to open the shutters again.”[1] Therefore, it is important to emphasize that the ego is what closes the “the door, or the window, or the shutters, or whatever” on the unconscious with the fantasy of object a in transference and, therefore, the analyst should not “proceed on the basis of an alliance with the healthy part of the subject's ego” because “wherever it is formulated, can only contaminate practice.”[1] Lacan suggests instead that “the discourse of the other that is to be realized that of the unconscious is not beyond the closure, it is outside. It is this discourse, which through the mouth of the analyst, calls for the reopening of the shutter”[1] and how this is achieved with NPD will be explained in the last part of this letter with Fink's writing on traversing the fantasy.


Fink explains “the analyst must play the role of object a, the other as desire, not as language. The analyst must steer clear of the role in which analysands often cast him or her.”[3] Fink adds “the analyst must endeavor to embody desirousness, revealing as few personal likes and dislikes, ideals, and opinions as possible, providing the analysand as little concrete information about his or her character, aspirations, and tastes as possible” and by “Maintaining his or her constant enigmatic desire for something else, the Lacanian analyst aims, not at modeling the analysands desire on his or her own, but rather at shaking up the configuration of the analysands fantasy, changing the subject's relation to the cause of desire: Object a.”

In other words, the analyst will provoke the fantasy and transference in the analysand by opening the unconscious for the analysand by “Maintaining his or her constant enigmatic desire for something else.”[3] If the analyst's desire is enigmatic/unconscious to the analysand, then the analysand will engage in transference with the fantasy of object a to close the unconscious if they are inauthentic in their understanding of the experience of this obstruction to their being in the world. The psychoanalyst aims to change this by “shaking up the configuration of the analysands fantasy, changing the subject's relation to the cause of desire: Object a”[3] by leading the analysand to see their inauthentic understanding of object a (the desire of the analyst) is a fantasy.

Now, this can be shown to be important to the treatment of NPD. In an earlier letter in this journal,[6] I highlighted that narcissistic behavior can be explained through the narcissist desire to be recognized by another consciousness as “in-itself for-itself,” as, in other words, an object with freedom. The reason for this desire to be objectified as a subject is that it provides the recognition of an established identity or self which the narcissistic lacks. This is important to a narcissist as it can prevent anxiety arising from an awareness of the free subjectivity/desire of others, which results in an ambiguous dialectical struggle for recognition of identity with others during life.

This is the “narcissistic complex” or fantasy of object a because it denies the truth of the subjectivity/freedom/desire of another consciousness and results in the experience of angst, conscience, and guilt in a moment of conspicuous obstructiveness and obstinacy when the other disrupts this fantasy/complex. Therefore, the object a (the desire of the other) for the narcissistic does not recognize the subjectivity of the desire of the other and therefore when the other actualizes their freedom as a subject the narcissist will inauthentically understand the experience of their complex by attempting to close what is unconscious to them (the subjectivity/desire of the other) through transference. Thus, referring back to Lacan's schema, the narcissist will block the opening/gap in the hoop net with the transference of the fantasy of their object a.

In contrast to this, traversing the fantasy involves the authentic understanding of the other's desire, which consists in the “the free recognition of each individual in the other each posing himself and the other at the same time as object and as subject in a reciprocal movement” (from Bauer in Gildersleeve, 2015).[6] Therefore, to traverse the fantasy of object a, an authentic mutual recognition is required, which occurs when the analysand with NPD recognize themselves and the other (psychoanalyst) as dialectically ambiguous objects as well as subjects. The analyst accentuates this reality to the analysand by frequently making the enigma of the narcissist's complex/unconscious (the analyst's desire) explicit to the analysand in analysis.

Fink provides an elucidating clinical example of how the analyst leads the analysand to traverse the fantasy of object a. Fink says “Imagine, for a moment, an analysand – ensconced upon the analyst's couch, talking about his or her dream from the night before, filling the room with his or her discourse, hoping that it will be interesting and satisfying to the analyst, thus in a fantasy mode ($ ◊ a) — Being suddenly interrupted with a word uttered by the analyst. Analysands often tailor their discourse, due to transference love, hoping to say what their analysts want them to say, what they think their analysts want to hear, and until such an interruption comes — Whether with a cough, a grunt, a word, or the termination of the session — They can go on believing that they are achieving their purpose. Such interruptions often serve to jolt analysands, suddenly bringing them back to the realization that they know not what their analysts want or mean, that the latter are looking for something else in their discourse than what the analysands intended.”[3]

This is a good example to show the “narcissistic complex” and this example shows the analysands fantasy of object a being interrupted by what is unconscious to the analysand (desire of the other/analyst). In this situation, the analysand with NPD may shut out the unconscious through transference of the fantasy of the object a and continue to have an inauthentic understanding of their “narcissistic complex” which is to not recognize the subjectivity of another consciousness. Therefore, for traversing of this fantasy to take place, the analyst should continue this “Lacanian practice of 'punctuating' and 'scanding' the analysand's discourse (which) serves to disconnect the analysand therefrom, confronting the analysand with the enigma of the analyst's desire.”[3]

By opening the unconscious/complex and highlighting the analysand's fantasy of object a, the analyst introduces a gap between the fantasy of object a and the desire of the analyst making “that relationship untenable, inducing a change therein.” As a result, traversing the fantasy can “also be formulated in terms of increasing 'signifierization' — A turning into signifiers — Of the other's desire” until “the subject finally gains access to the signifier of the others desire S(Ø)” which in the case of NPD is the other's subjectivity/desires that had hitherto been denied.

Finally, “the encounter with the other's desire constitutes a traumatic experience of pleasure/pain or jouissance” and, therefore, the analyst should be mindful that this is the ultimate aim of traversing the fantasy for the analysand. In conclusion, psychoanalysis with NPD requires the analyst to make their desire enigmatic to the analysand, and this can repeatedly shake up the inauthentic complex/fantasy of object a until the analysand gains access to an authentic understanding of the signifier of the other's desire and by taking that “traumatic event upon him or herself, and assumes responsibility for that jouissance.”[3]

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


1. Lacan J, Miller JA. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Vol. 11. New York: WW Norton & Company; 1998.
2. Gildersleeve M. The phenomenology and ontology of complexes. Procedia Soc Behav Sci. 2016;217:967–76.
3. Fink B. The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press; 1997.
4. Jung CG. The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. In: Hull R, translator. The Collected Works of CG Jung. Princeton University Press; 1969.
5. Jung CG. In: Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Dell W, translator. New York: Psychology Press; 2001.
6. Gildersleeve M. Beauvoir and demystifying paradoxical characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder. Indian J Psychol Med. 2015;37:251–3. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

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