Primary narcissism, as distinct from secondary narcissism, is the state of mind a child has from birth to 5 years of age. It perceives itself to be the centre of the universe, omnipotent and all valuable. The child believes it is more important than others, that it is special and that it should get favorable treatment.
This attitude is meant to decline as the child learns it is not the centre of the universe and there are others that are of equal value and importance. Realizing the importance of others reduces primary narcissism.
As the child reduces its sense of primary narcissism, the more it develops a sense of the other. To articulate when this occurs we can look at the Gessell Developmental Scales which explains the normal development of children at various ages. The emotion of jealousy is especially pertinent here, it is assumed that when a child first feels jealous that means it has started to see the other as a separate person. It gives an indication the child now has a sense of me and the other, and hence can be jealous of the other. Before that there is nothing to be jealous of as the other is seen as part of self.
2 years – possessive of own things but not jealous of others
2.5 years – expresses jealousy of siblings (peers)
3 years – expresses jealousy of siblings (peers)
4 years – may express jealousy of mother – father relationship
From this we can postulate that deciding on a life position is a two stage process.
First the child is deciding on the OKness of self from at least 0 – 2 years. During this time the psychological presence of others is not understood as the scales indicate and the child is not making any conclusions about the okness or not okness of others. Hence a child will either adopt the life position of I+U? or I-U? in this period. Most often this is only an interim psychological state which changes as the child moves out of the state of primary narcissism.
It is at about the age of 2 years where the child’s cognitive development allows it to psychologically understand that there are others in the world and hence it is in a position to decide about the OKness of others.
At 2 years of age as is shown on the developmental scales the child shows the first behavioral signs of recognizing others by displaying possessiveness. It is beginning to understand about others and its possessions up until 5 years when primary narcissism is said to stop. When this happens the child is then in a state of mind where it can begin to decide about the okness and not okness of others and then one of the other five life positions can be adopted.
“I’m not-OK, You’re not-OK” (I-U-)
“I’m not-OK, But You’re Worse” (I-U–)
“I’m a Bit More OK Than You Are” (I++U+)
“I’m OK, You’re OK” (I+U+)
“I’m not-OK, You’re OK” (I-U+)
If the child never resolves its state of primary narcissism then it will never adopt one of these five positions and remains as I+U? or I-U?, which is typical of the narcissistic, borderline and some anti social personalities.
In summary the formation of a life position involves two steps
0 – 2 years of age – deciding on the okness of self
2 – 5 years of age – deciding on the okness of others