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The term "skin-ego" designates a mental representation that the child forms on the basis of its experience of the surface of its body and uses to picture itself as the vessel of mental contents. The skin-ego belongs to the period in development when the psychic ego differentiates from the body ego on the practical level while remaining indistinguishable from it in the imagination. Intermediate between metaphor and concept, the notion of the skin-ego was worked out by Didier Anzieu and first presented in 1974.

According to Anzieu, the ego encloses the psychic apparatus much as the skin encloses the body. The chief functions of the skin are transposed onto the level of the skin-ego, and from there onto the level of the thinking ego. The functions of the skin-ego are to maintain thoughts, to contain ideas and affects, to provide a protective shield, to register traces of primary communication with the outside world, to manage intersensorial correspondences, to individuate, to support sexual excitation, and to recharge the libido. In brief, the skin-ego is an interface between inside and outside, and is the foundation of the container/contained relationship.

The skin-ego develops and is enriched by integration into the various envelopes of the sensorimotor system. It has two functional aspects, with one aspect focused on excitations of either internal or external origin and the other oriented toward communications with its entourage.

An important part of psychoanalytic work with borderline patients is the reconstruction of the earliest phases of the skin-ego and their consequences for mental organization. This task calls on the techniques of transitional analysis.

Didier Anzieu

See also: Adhesive identification; Body image; Ego; Infant development; Infant observation; Protective shield; Psychic envelope; Skin; Tenderness.


Anzieu, Didier. (1974). Le moi-peau. Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, 9, 195-208.

. (1989). The skin ego (Chris Turner, Trans.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. (Original work published 1985)

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