Narcissistic Object Choice in Sexual Orientation Identity Development: A Freudian Perspective on Homosexual Identity Formation

Neil Gleason:
St. Olaf College

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Abstract: Within the field of LGBT psychology, several models of homosexual orientation identity development have been proposed, and most of these models emphasize the importance of assuming a non-heterosexual identity. Freud’s theories of homosexuality are reinterpreted and integrated into these contemporary models in order to shed light on both the importance of non-heterosexual identity formation and the complications that can arise from it. Specifically, Freud’s concepts of “narcissistic object choice” and “identification” reveal how homosexual individuals can form paradoxical attachments with heterosexual objects, and how these paradoxes can be resolved through the assumption of a homosexual identity.

Introduction: Over the past century, our understanding of human sexual nature has grown immensely, and we have finally begun to acknowledge the broad diversity of sexual desire and expression. However, with this exploration comes the incessant need to understand why we have sexual diversity. The origins of homosexuality in particular remain a daunting mystery. Freud offered one of the first, and still most controversial, explanations for homosexuality. He claimed that the attachments formed with parental objects in early childhood shape adulthood expressions of sexuality and that homosexuality is the result of an abnormal pattern of attachment to the parental objects (Freud, 1922). Although these theories have been largely refuted, there are redeemable ideas behind these theories, including Freud’s concepts of “identification” and “narcissistic object choice,” which can be integrated into the current models of sexual identity development.

In the past few decades, several models of sexual orientation identity development have been proposed. These models attempt to identify specific stages that individuals undergo during the process of forming a sexual identity or a self-concept of who one is sexually. Models for homosexual identity development were actually proposed first, and these models became the forerunners to models of heterosexual identity development, which have only been proposed in the last few years (Hill, 2008). Most models of homosexual identity development emphasize the importance of assuming a non-heterosexual identity. This includes D’Augelli’s (1994) model, which emphasized “exiting heterosexual identity” and “developing a lesbian-gay-bisexual personal identity status” as important steps in the formation of identity. The concept of identity is also an important aspect of Freud’s theories of sexual development, and Freud’s concept of “identification” bears several similarities to concepts of identity discussed in these models of sexual orientation identity development. In addition, Freud’s theories of the origins of homosexuality, and specifically, his concept of “narcissistic object choice,” have particularly interesting implications for identity formation when integrated into these models. Before we can discuss these connections, however, we must discuss Freud’s theories in further detail in order to see where these connections can be made.

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