In a 1979 critique of Freud’s “On Narcissism,” [RenĂ©] Girard suggests that what Freud diagnosed was not a kind of personality at all, not something people are or have, but the ordinary dynamic of all desire. We’re all performing self-sufficiency as best we can, Girard argues, though we’ve become selves by imitating others, in the first place; such dependence on others is our fundamental, existential state. We become friends and fall in love with people upon whom we can project our fantasies that there are some selves that are, unlike our own, replete unto themselves, and thereby irresistible. But it is we who’ve made a mask for them, and when they turn away, the mask inevitably falls, and we call them fake, as if they’ve tricked us. It’s easier to diagnose them as narcissists than to admit to this, but there aren’t any narcissists, according to Girard; it’s only in relation to the fullness we fantasized they had that we then call them by the name of what our desire makes us feel: empty. Yet Freud was “really taken in,” freezing the dialectics of desire into a powerful mythology about the immaturity and selfishness of especially attractive others.

Kristen Dombek, The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism