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The notion of das Ich (literally "the I") was present in Freud's thought from the earliest days of psychoanalysis, but over the years it underwent serious theoretical modifications, often connected to advances in clinical practice. The term had long designated the self-conscious person as a whole, but in 1923 Freud assigned it the role of an agency of the mental apparatus with a mediating and regulatory function vis-à-vis the id, the superego, and external reality. He would always, however, allow a measure of ambiguity to persist with respect to the two meanings, and it was only after his death that they were disentangled and promoted separately in contradistinction to one another. With the stress placed by the proponents of ego psychology on the ego's adaptative functions, the notion tended to be upstaged by the "self," the "I," or the "subject."

To begin with, then, Freud tended to employ "das Ich " in a sense akin to that of the philosophers, that is to say as a synonym for "conscious person." Only later did he reserve the term for a portion of the mental personality, in accordance with his constant concern to distinguish analysis from synthesis. But the German word remained ambiguous, along with its use in Freud's writing, and its translation into other languages inevitably occasioned problems and debates. The choice of "ego" by the translators of the Standard Edition has been challenged, by Bruno Bettelheim among others: "To mistranslate Ich as 'ego' is to transform it into jargon that no longer conveys the personal commitment we make when we say 'I' or 'me"' (Bettelheim, p. 53). As for the early French psychoanalysts, they hesitated between "ego" and "le Moi " before plumping for this last term in preference to either "ego" or "Je."

Very early on in his thinking, contemporary research on "split personality," that is to say, on the dissociation of consciousness, along with his own use of hypnosis, led Freud to place the ego qua consciousness in the position of an active judge in the conflicts underlying psychopathological symptoms. In his article on "The Neuro-Psychoses of Defence" (1894a), he emphasized the "task which the ego, in its defensive attitude, sets itself of treating the incompatible idea as 'non arrivée "' (p. 48). The following year, he described the ego at length in biological terms, in the "Project for a Scientific Psychology," (1950a [1895]), as a group of neurones designed to control primary processes and avoid unpleasure: "the ego is to be defined as the totality of the psi cathexes at the given time" (p. 323). As thus characterized, the ego was no longer synonymous with the whole person: Its future role as a psychical agency was foreshadowed, and it was already responsible for regulating energy flows, a task that would to fall to it more and more clearly in the psychological context.

Freud's "first topography," founded on the distinctions between the Conscious, the Preconscious, and the Unconscious, made no essential appeal to the ego, which makes its appearance in The Interpretation of Dreams mainly as the bearer of the wish for sleep or else as a key actor at the center of the masquerade in which, as censor, it itself cloaks unconscious wishes: "Dreams are completely egoistic. Whenever my own ego does not appear in the content of the dream, but only some extraneous person, I may safely assume that my own ego lies concealed, by identification, behind this other person; I can insert my ego into the context. On other occasions, when my ego does appear in the dream, the situation in which it occurs may teach me that some other person lies concealed, by identification, behind my ego. In that case, the dream should warn me to transfer on to myself, when I am interpreting the dream, the concealed common element attached to this other person. There are also dreams in which my ego appears along with other people who, when the identification is resolved, are revealed once again as my ego. These identifications should then make it possible for me to bring into contact with my ego certain ideas whose acceptance has been forbidden by the censorship. Thus my ego may be represented in a dream several times over, now directly and now through identification with extraneous persons" (1900a, pp. 322-23). The "my ego" here stood for "the representation of myself" in the sense of identity. This early link made by Freud between the ego and processes of identification is noteworthy.

Over the next fifteen years Freud developed the notion, not so much in topographical terms, for in that sense the ego remained within the Preconscious-Conscious system, but in dynamic and economic terms, especially with respect to its role in the regulation of pleasure/unpleasure. The notion of "ego instincts," also known as "self-preservative instincts," as distinct from the "sexual instincts," was introduced by Freud as early as 1910; he observed that the two classes of instincts "have in general the same organs and systems of organs at their disposal" (1910i, pp. 215-16). Even if, not long before, he had ironized on "His Majesty the Ego, the hero alike of every daydream and of every story" (1908e, p. 150), Freud now deemed external reality one of the constraints that the ego was obliged to confront. In "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning," he drew a distinction between a "pleasure ego," related to the infant's attempts to achieve a hallucinatory satisfaction of its wishes, and a "reality ego" developed over time in response to life's failure to supply satisfaction: "Just as the pleasure-ego can do nothing but wish, work for a yield of pleasure, and avoid unpleasure, so the reality-ego need do nothing but strive for what is useful and guard itself against damage" (1911b, p. 223). The ego was thus being presented more and more as an essential working part in the regulation of a complex mental system.

In the same year of 1911, the problem of psychotic patients led Freud, stimulated in this regard by Jung's research on the issue, to complete his first reflections on narcissism and identification, begun in his study of Leonardo da Vinci the year before. In his "Psycho-Analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia," he argued that dementias, especially schizophrenic dementia, should be seen as involving "the detachment of libido" from the external world and its "regression on to the ego" (p. 76), in memory of that time when "a person's only sexual object [was] his own ego" (p. 72). In "The Claims of Psycho-Analysis to Scientific Interest," he offered this summary of his view of the nature of the neuroses: "The primal conflict which leads to neuroses is one between the sexual instincts and those which maintain the ego. The neuroses represent a more or less partial overpowering of the ego by sexuality after the ego's attempts at suppressing sexuality have failed" (1913j, p. 181).

Alfred Adler's theories were doubtless not without their influence, too, on the questions Freud was asking himself at this time, even if he felt that Adler underestimated the importance of unconscious processes, and wrote to Jung on March 3, 1911: "I would never have expected a psychoanalyst to be so taken in by the ego. In reality the ego is like the clown in the circus, who is always putting in his oar to make the audience think that whatever happens is his doing" (Freud/Jung Letters, p. 400). We know that Freud would modify this view later, but for now he kept the emphasis on the socius: "psycho-analysis has fully demonstrated the part played by social conditions and requirements in the causation of neurosis. The forces which, operating from the ego, bring about the restriction and repression of instinct owe their existence essentially to compliance with the demands of civilization" (1913j, p. 188).

In 1912 Freud could still describe the ego as synonymous with the mental personality as a whole, as he did in a letter to Ludwig Binswanger of July 4, 1912: "I have long suspected that not only the repressed but also the dominant aspect of our life, the essence of the ego, is unconscious though not inaccessible to the conscious" (1992 [1908-38], p. 90). But his paper "On Narcissism: An Introduction" (1914b) marked the turning-point which endowed the ego with a new significance in theory as in practice: "Thus we form the idea of there being an original libidinal cathexis of the ego, from which some is later given off to objects, but which fundamentally persists and is related to the object-cathexes much as the body of an amoeba is related to the pseudopodia which it puts out. . . . We see also, broadly speaking, an antithesis between ego-libido and object-libido" (pp. 75-76). Another observation of Freud's raised an issue which has never since ceased being debated, that of the genesis of the ego: "we are bound to suppose that a unity comparable to the ego cannot exist in the individual from the start; the ego has to be developed" (pp. 76-77). The distinction between ego instincts and sexual instincts was preserved, even if Freud stressed that "the hypothesis of separate ego-instincts and sexual instincts (that is to say, the libido theory) rests scarcely at all upon a psychological basis, but derives its principal support from biology" (p. 79). In this same text another idea too was introduced into the theory of analysis, that of the ideal ego against which the actual ego is measured: "Repression . . . proceeds from the self-respect of the ego. . . . This ideal ego [Idealich ] is now the target of the self-love which was enjoyed in childhood by the actual ego. The subject's narcissism makes its appearance displaced on to this new ideal ego [Dieses neue ideale Ich ] which, like the infantile ego, finds itself possessed of every perfection" (pp. 93-94). At the same timeand this was what distanced Freud from the theories of Jung, who had just parted company with himit was essential not to confuse "homage to a high ego ideal" with the sublimation of the libidinal instincts (p. 94). In the first case repression was reinforced, according to Freud, whereas in the second sublimated instinctual satisfaction made repression unnecessary. As for the "special psychical agency which performs the task of seeing that narcissistic satisfaction from the ego ideal is ensured and which, with this end in view, constantly watches the actual ego and measures it by that ideal" (p. 95), this was clearly the adumbration of the future superego.

In 1915 Freud added the following observation to the third edition of his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality : "In contrast to object-libido, we also describe ego-libido as 'narcissistic' libido. . . . Narcissistic or ego-libido seems to be the great reservoir from which the object-cathexes are sent out and into which they are withdrawn once more; the narcissistic libidinal cathexis of the ego is the original state of things, realized in earliest childhood, and is merely covered by the later extrusions of libido, but in essentials persists behind them" (1905d, p. 218). In this perspective, progression from auto-erotism to genital heterosexuality could include a moment characterized by a narcissistic or even a homosexual object-choice. In the Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Freud went on to evoke a possible view of the ego's strength which was destined to have not a little influence on the post-Freudian theory of psychoanalytic technique: "A person only falls ill of a neurosis if his ego has lost the capacity to allocate his libido in some way. The stronger his ego, the easier will it be for it to carry out that task. Any weakening of his ego from whatever cause must have the same effect as an excessive increase in the claims of the libido and will thus make it possible for him to fall ill of a neurosis" (1916-17a [1915-17], p. 387). The suggestion that a weak ego needed "strengthening" gained considerable currency among analysts after the Second World War, along with the idea of the therapeutic alliance which it was felt should be achieved between the therapist and the healthy part of the patient's ego. Both Melanie Klein and Jacques Lacan, each in their own way, contested this approach.

During the 1915-1920 period, Freud's theory of the ego underwent many refinements as his metapsychological papers and summarizing lectures of introduction to psychoanalysis continued to synthesize his thought. But it would be a mistake to overlook the fact that in a good number of his theoretical speculations the coexistence of old and new ideas was still quite possible, and that contradictions often appear if Freud's formulations are placed side by side. Thus in 1918, on the point of unveiling a completely new view of the ego, Freud could still write: "the neurotic patient presents us with a torn mind, divided by resistances. As we analyze it and remove the resistances, it grows together; the great unity which we call his ego fits into itself all the instinctual impulses which before had been split off and held apart from it. The psycho-synthesis is thus achieved during analytic treatment without our intervention, automatically and inevitably. We have created the conditions for it by breaking up the symptoms into their elements and by removing the resistances" (1919a [1918], p. 161).

It would not be long, however, before the said "great unity" was dismantled. His reflections on schizophrenia led Freud to create the class of "narcissistic neuroses." Those on melancholia brought forth the category of "narcissistic identification," meaning the identification of the ego with a lost object: "Thus the shadow of the object fell upon the ego, and the latter could henceforth be judged by a special agency, as though it were an object, the forsaken object. In this way an object-loss was transformed into an ego-loss and the conflict between the ego and the loved person into a cleavage between the critical activity of the ego and the ego as transformed by identification" (1917e [1915], p. 249). It was from this time, too, that identification took on an ever greater significance in Freud's account of the ego's genesis and development. It was said, after all, to be the earliest mode of object-cathexis. And identification was invoked by Freud, in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c), as the bond that structures all social organization.

Beyond the Pleasure Principle, however, was the text that contained the first hint of Freud's abandoning the psychical apparatus as described in 1900: "it is certain that much of the ego is itself unconscious, and notably what we may describe as its nucleus" (1920g, p. 19). Furthermore, the introduction of the death instinct in the same work rendered obsolete Freud's earlier distinction between ego instincts and sexual instincts, for both self-preservation and the relief of tension due to unpleasure now fell within the remit of a death instinct which the ego appeared to serve, whether in its inhibiting and repressive functions or in resistances, observed during treatment, that were linked to the repetition compulsion.

Three years later, in The Ego and the Id (1923b), the ego finally achieved the status of an important agency in the description of the mental personality. The starting point of this work was the assertion that "A part of the ego, tooand Heaven knows how important a partmay be Ucs., undoubtedly is Ucs. " (p. 18). The old account based on the Cs./Pcs./Ucs. schema was discarded, these substantives to be confined henceforward to a solely adjectival use denoting properties, but the processes described earlier to explain "coming to consciousness" remained valid: unconscious thing-presentations still had to be brought into connection with word-presentations in order to become conscious (see "The Unconscious" [1915e]). The ego was now described as wearing a "cap of hearing," the origin of perception and of the memory traces that perpetuated it.

The Ego and the Id views the ego primarily as a surface differentiation of the id under the influence of the external world; it conveys the demands of the external world to the instinctual agency of the id, with which it remains in permanent contact at its base. As a messenger of reality, the ego replaces the reign of the pleasure principle by that of the reality principle, imposing the constraints of the social environment. It is the agent of the repression (or the sublimation) of the instincts, of the censorship of dreams, and the cause of resistances to the treatment, and it manages object-cathexes and controls motility. All these responsibilities do not preclude a certain passivity of the ego. Recalling the tale of Itzig, who does not know where he is going, and says "Ask my horse!", Freud writes: "Thus in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength while the ego uses borrowed forces. The analogy may be carried a little further. Often a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide it where it wants to go; so in the same way the ego is in the habit of transforming the id's will into action as if it were its own" (p. 25).

But "The ego is first and foremost a bodily ego; it is not merely a surface entity, but is itself the projection of a surface" (p. 26). This idea was elaborated by Freud in a note added to the English translation of The Ego and the Id published in 1927: "the ego is ultimately derived from bodily sensations, chiefly from those springing from the surface of the body. It may thus be regarded as a mental projection of the surface of the body, besides, as we have seen above, representing the superficies of the mental apparatus" (p. 26n). (Here it is possible to discern the origins of the "skin-ego" described by Didier Anzieu in 1985 [Anzieu, 1989]). The ego derives energy from narcissistic libido, and in this connection Freud evokes the possibility of a libido (even an Eros) that is "desexualized" or "sublimated," "displaceable and neutral"and, one can only suppose, not easily reconcilable with the theses of ego psychology on an autonomous and conflictless ego. At all events, according to Freud, "The narcissism of the ego is . . . a secondary one, which has been withdrawn from objects" (pp. 44-46).

The importance of processes of identification is much emphasized in The Ego and the Id. Identification is the basis of the earliest object-cathexes and retains this function first in the form of incorporation and later as identification proper. (As early as 1909 Sándor Ferenczi had described the growth of the ego in terms of introjection.) But the fate of object-cathexes is that they must be abandoned in the course of a person's history, and Freud concludes in this connection that the mechanism of melancholia is universally applicable. Thanks to narcissistic identification, the abandoned object is perpetuated within the ego, which seeks on this basis to make itself loved by the id: "I am so like the object" (p. 30). Freud is thus able to frame the following proposition, so often misread since: "It may be that this identification is the sole condition under which the id can give up its objects. At any rate the process, especially in the early phases of development, is a very frequent one, and it makes it possible to suppose that the character of the ego is a precipitate of abandoned object-cathexes and that it contains the history of those object-choices" (p. 29). As we shall see, the restriction here, that only the "character" of the ego and not the ego as a whole is involved in this process, would often be overlooked subsequently; all the same, Freud's evocation of the successioneven the contradictory coexistenceof object identifications in the case of "multiple personalities" (pp. 30-31) shows just how much the ego remains the seat of identifications for him.

We should note lastly in this context that the Other, as object, made its definitive entrance into psychoanalytic theory in The Ego and the Id, opening the way to the discussion of "object relations" that was to have a greater and greater effect on practice in the future. And, along with the Other, the past, tradition, and intergenerational transmission, or in other words the ego's primal identifications with the two parents, which were also placed at the origin of the other agency described, the superego.

The distinction between individual and ego is nevertheless very clearly drawn: "We shall now look upon an individual as a psychical id, unknown and unconscious, upon whose surface rests the ego, developed from its nucleus the Pcpt. [perception-consciousness] system. If we make an effort to represent this pictorially, we may add that the ego does not completely envelop the id, but only does to the extent to which the system Pcpt. forms its [the ego's] surface, more or less as the germinal disc rests upon the ovum. The ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it" (p. 24).

As we know, each of the hypotheses set forth in The Ego and the Id was subject to theoretical developments, often divergent ones, in later years. Freud himself never ceased working on them, as when, in "Neurosis and Psychosis," he offered a "simple formula. . . which deals with what is perhaps the most important genetic difference between a neurosis and a psychosis: neurosis is the result of a conflict between the ego and its id, whereas psychosis is the analogous outcome of a similar disturbance between the ego and the external world " (p. 149). Or when, in "The Economic Problem of Masochism," he clarified the point that "the function of the ego is to unite and to reconcile the claims of the three agencies which it serves; and we may add that in doing so it also possesses in the super-ego a model which it can strive to follow" (1924c, p. 167). Again, in "Negation," Freud recalled that "the original pleasure-ego wants to introject into itself everything that is good and to eject from itself everything that is bad. What is bad, what is alien to the ego and what is external are, to begin with, identical"; and also that "The other sort of decision made by the function of judgementas to the real existence of something of which there is a presentation (reality-testing)is a concern of the definitive reality-ego, which develops out of the initial pleasure-ego. It is now no longer a question of whether what has been perceived (a thing) shall be taken into the ego or not, but of whether something which is in the ego as a presentation can be rediscovered in perception (reality) as well" (1925h, p. 237).

In Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, Freud would underscore the ego's functions in the regulation of the instincts, giving back to the idea of "defense mechanisms" a place that had long been usurped by the notion of "repression." He also modified his theory of anxiety, assigning it a source in the ego, which, when confronted by danger, triggered anxiety as a signal and so mobilized defensive processes: "whereas I formerly believed that anxiety invariably arose automatically by an economic process, my present conception of anxiety as a signal given by the ego in order to affect the pleasure-unpleasure agency does away with the necessity of considering the economic factor." It was probable, Freud added, that "the earliest repressions as well as most of the later ones are motivated by an ego-anxiety of this sort in regard to particular processes in the id" (1926d [1925], p. 140).

The question of the ego was raised directly or indirectly, and new considerations on the subject were adduced, throughout Freud's later work. The notion of "disavowal" (1927e) and the study of perversions, even more than the descriptions in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930a [1929]) and An Outline of Psycho-Analysis (1940a [1938]), were what led Freud to his last great formulation concerning the egothat on the "splitting of the ego": Faced by a conflict between the instinctual demand for masturbatory pleasure and the apprehension of the reality of the threat of castration, the child embraces two contradictory positions simultaneously, "at the price of a rift in the ego which never heals but which increases as time goes on. The two contrary reactions to the conflict persist as the centre-point of a splitting of the ego. The whole process seems so strange to us because we take for granted the synthetic nature of the processes of the ego. But we are clearly at fault in this. The synthetic function of the ego, though it is of such extraordinary importance, is subject to particular conditions and is liable to a whole number of disturbances" (1940e [1938], p. 276).

On the clinical plane, the ego's role was defined by Freud in the conclusion to the twenty-third of the New Introductory Lectures a passage that has caused a very great deal of ink to flow, especially in France. The "therapeutic efforts of psycho-analysis," Freud writes, are "to strengthen the ego, to make it more independent of the super-ego, to widen its field of perception and enlarge its organization, so that it can appropriate fresh portions of the id. Where id was, there ego shall be. It is a work of culturenot unlike the draining of the Zuider Zee" (1933a [1932], p. 80). Freud returned to the matter in "Analysis Terminable and Interminable": "As is well known, the analytic situation consists in our allying ourselves with the ego of the person under treatment, in order to subdue portions of his id which are uncontrolledthat is to say to include them in the synthesis of his ego. The fact that a co-operation of this kind habitually fails in the case of psychotics affords us a first solid footing for our judgement. The ego, if we are to be able to make such a pact with it, must be a normal one. But a normal ego of this sort is, like normality in general, an ideal fiction. The abnormal ego, which is unserviceable for our purposes, is unfortunately no fiction. Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other and to a greater or lesser extent; and the degree of its remoteness from one end of the series and of its proximity to the other will furnish us with a provisional measure of what we have so indefinitely termed an 'alteration of the ego"' (1937c, p. 235).

Anna Freud, in The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, published in 1936, was the first to revisit and round out her father's hypotheses. This was the start of a series of studies by Anna Freud centered on the psychology of the ego, sometimes to the detriment of the interpretation of unconscious fantasies. In 1939, Heinz Hartmann laid the groundwork of what the psychoanalytical migration to the United States would develop into ego psychology thanks to the work of Ernst Kris, Rudolph Loewenstein, David Rapaport, Paul Federn, and so many others. So influential was ego psychology that for a time this theoretical orientation appeared to constitute the most thoroughgoing expression of Freudian orthodoxy.

In point of fact, Hartmann's idea of the "autonomy" of the ego, which he proposed as early as 1939, was in contradiction with Freud's views on the origins of this mental agency, which for him could never be anything but conflicted, bound up as it was with the relations between instinctual demands and the requirements of external reality. According to Hartmann, certain functions of the ego developed independently of the id and were essentially in the service of the individual's adaptation to the environment; the socialization factor was also underlined by Erik Erikson (1950). The notion of "primary narcissism" and that of a gradual development of the ego and its object relationships then became the subject of lively debate, notably with the Kleinian analysts.

For Melanie Klein, the ego and its object relationships existed from birth, as witness the early split between good and bad objects or the mechanisms of projection and projective identification, which manifested themselves right away. Klein's use of the term "self" should also be noted; her students and followers called upon it more and more, feeling that it helped distance them from the over-"mechanistic" account of the ego put forward by the American school. Things were not so simple, however, for the Americans too adopted the idea of a selfHeinz Kohut even invented a "self psychology"and some of them sought to give identity priority over the haze in which Freud had ultimately left the definition of the ego as distinct from the notion of the person. In a parallel development, the stress placed on "object relationships" by Anglo-Saxon authors (W. R. D. Fairbairn, Margaret Mahler, Otto Kernberg) or French ones (Maurice Bouvet) shifted theoretical and above all clinical interest away from the state of an ego in need of cure and onto the vicissitudes of the pregenital and genital relations established by a subject who repeated these in the transference.

In France, there was no sarcasm too biting for Jacques Lacan when it came to the proponents of ego psychology, and he based himself on his theory of organization by language to place the ego resolutely in the realm of the Imaginary. His notion of the "mirror phase," first proposed in 1936, was intended to account for the constitution, by means of specular identification, not of the ego but rather of an "I" which foreshadowed the significance assumed later in his theory by the "subject" (Lacan, 1977 [1949]). He nonetheless devoted his 1954-55 Seminar to "The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis" (Lacan, 1993 [1981]). Piera Aulagnier, for her part, abandoned the notion of the ego in favor of a concept of the "I" different from Lacan's.

Present-day psychoanalysis is clearly more interested in synthetic approaches to the individual and the individual's relationship to others than in the ego as the frontier agency to which Freud accorded so much importance, as described above. No doubt the considerable extension of the psychoanalytic approach to psychotic patients has contributed to this tendency to globalize the person and be less attentive to an ego conceived as "weak" or "in pieces." There can be no doubt, either, that the emphasis placed on the adaptive functions of the ego has in the eyes of many amounted to a bastardization of psychoanalysis favoring more and more "psychotherapeutic" or even political goals, and thus running counter to the liberation that Freud's discoveries imply. At all events, it is vital to keep in mind what clinical and therapeutic issues underlie and determine such theoretical divergences, namely adaptation to reality, the interpretation of unconscious fantasies, social adjustment, autonomy/disalienation, and so on.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Binding/unbinding of the instincts; Cathectic energy; Defense mechanisms; Depersonalization; Ego and the Id, The ; Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, The ; Ego alterations; Ego (analytical psychology); Ego autonomy; Ego boundaries; Ego (ego psychology); Ego feeling; Ego functions; Ego ideal; Ego ideal/ideal ego; Ego-instinct; Ego interests; Ego-libido/object-libido; Ego Psychology and Psychosis ; Ego psychology; Ego Psychology and the Problem of Adaptation ; Ego-syntonic; Federn, Paul; Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego ; Hartmann, Heinz; I; Id; Identification; Identity; Infantile omnipotence; Kris, Ernst; Loewenstein, Rudolph M.; Megalomania; Narcissism; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis ; "On Narcissism: An Introduction"; Outline of Psychoanalysis, An ; Passion; Perception-consciousness (Pcpt.-Cs.); Pleasure ego/reality ego; Primary identification; ; Psychoanalytic treatment; Purified-pleasure-ego; Structuralism and psychoanalysis; Self (analytical psychology); Self-hatred; Self-image; Self-preservation; Skin-ego; "Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence, The"; Superego; Therapeutic alliance; Tube-ego.


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Further Reading

Busch, Fred. (1995). The ego at the center of clinical technique. Northvale, NJ: Aronson Inc.

Gray, Paul. (1994). The ego and the analysis of defense. Northvale, NJ: Aronson Inc.

Marcus, Eric. (1999). Modern ego psychology. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47, 843-872.

Opatow, Barry. (1993). On the drive-rootedness of psychoanalytic ego psychology. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 74, 437-458.

Orgel, Shelley. (1995). K. R. Eissler's "Effect of structure ego on analytic technique.". Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 64, 551-570.

Pine, Fred. (1990). Drive, ego, object, and self. New York: Basic Books.

Wallerstein, Robert. (2002). The growth and transformation of American ego psychology. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 50, 135-170.

Ego (Ego Psychology)

views updated Jun 08 2018


The theories of the ego grouped under the rubric of "ego psychology" originated in Vienna before the Second World War and were developed in the United States by virtue of the migration of their chief proponents, namely Heinz Hartmann, Ernst Kris, and Rudolf Loewenstein. To these names must be added those of Paul Federn, of Hermann Nunberg, and of a good many other authors who helped give wide currency to conceptions of the ego that were destined to attract violent criticism, in France, from Jacques Lacan.

The substantival "das Ich " was so common in German (as was its equivalent in various other languages), that Freud, in the early part of his career, when he was actively searching for the new, paid it little mind. To begin with, Freud took the ego to be an indivisible unity, largely coextensive with the body, and therefore with consciousness. As Goethe had written, "To produce in oneself a new and better ego, thus to construct oneself as permanent, to live in oneself and create" ("Ein neues besseres Ich in uns erzeugen, uns so ewig bilden, in uns fortleben und schaffen ").

In 1914, however, Freud would write that the ego may at times "play the ludicrous part of the clown in a circus" (1914d, p. 53). We may say, in other words, that from the historical point of view psychoanalysis did not undertake an investigation of the ego before the First World War: Psychoanalysis was the science of the unconscious, whereas for Freud the ego belonged to the realm of consciousness. The notion of the ego is very hard to circumscribe and it has a different meaning for each psychological theory, so here we shall confine ourselves to the psychoanalytic sense. The translation of the term into languages other than German further complicates the issue. The great confusion in English stems from the use of the Latin "ego" rather than the English "self" or "me." In French there is ambiguity too, between "le je " and "le Moi."

Freud believed that the ego developed like a skin over the unconscious (or, in his later accounts, over the id) and that it was not present from birth. The phenomenon of narcissistic cathexis led him to conclude that the ego was in part unconscious. The Unconscious/Preconscious/Conscious scheme thus came to seem inadequate, and Freud spent fifteen years working out a new subdivision of the mind into id, ego, and superego"agencies" that his followers treated as structures. This was an error, for structures are static, whereas agencies are dynamic.

The origin of the ego became an essential issue for psychoanalysis, and has been responsible in part for the latter growth of research into early childhood. Historically speaking, after Freud's death the notion of the ego eventually became the central preoccupation of psychoanalysis, to the detriment of the id. One reason for this was the increase of ego disturbances as compared with neurotic complaints, at least among analytic patients. Such disturbances were seen as the cause of perversions and other human behavioral problems. Certainly, the aphorism "Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach, in meiner Brust " ("Two souls reside, alas, in my breast") had long been familiar, but it had engaged no clinical application. Further research into the psychology of the ego was undertaken in Freud's wake, first by Anna Freudwho indeed began during her father's life-timeand then by Heinz Hartmann and Paul Federn.

According to Freud, the formation of the ego was a process that grew out of the bonds established with the mother or mother-substitute. Those bonds could in fact be looked upon as subject-object relationships, after the fashion of the English school. From its beginnings, the ego was the agency of the mind whose task it was to address the realities of life. Only thanks to the love and continual care of the mother or mother-substitute could adaptation to reality be achieved. Freud felt that this normally occurred during the third year of life, when the child's ego was ready to adapt itself also, beyond the family circle, to the outside world as represented by the kindergarten.

The ego's development did not stop at this point, however, but continued into adulthood, continually exposing the ego to innumerable dangers which orientated it in this way or that. Genetic factors surely played a major role, even if this could not as yet be proved. Anna Freud emphasized that its development in childhood shaped the most important portion of the ego. Only when this development was arrested or when it regressed was therapeutic intervention called for.

In summary, the ego may be described as that agency which protects the id and which must come to terms with the demands of the superego. It represents in large part the individual's social environment, although it is also strongly determined in its development by familial factors. A lack of love and acknowledgment during the first years of life may have two kinds of consequences: an autonomous ego may develop which is concerned only with itself, which is narcissistically cathected, and which is capable of achieving remarkable successes in reality without making genuine contact with other individuals or with society; alternatively, the ego may wither, failing either to fashion links with the outside world or to draw satisfaction from within. Between these two extremes every imaginable intermediate situationor "ego state"may be met with. But such ego states also depend on an outside world with the capacity to transform the ego-ideal into an ideal ego which, as early as the third year of life, allies itself with the superego to form an agency of great power in the life of the individual.

Thus the earliest object relationships produce distinct character types: an ego strong in its narcissism but socially ill-adapted; an ego that is weak, and undeveloped in all respects; or an ego that is bound to a strong superego and thus able to assert itself in the world. This last type is represented by highly religious individuals and probably constitutes the commonest form of human life.

The psychoanalytic psychology of the ego was inaugurated in 1923 with the publication of Freud's major work The Ego and the Id (1923b). For Freud, the ego was intimately linked to the body, thus ensuring the basic unity of the human being. Assuming that everyone knew what the ego was, he offered no definition and confined himself to describing its functions. In 1929 Hermann Nunberg developed the notion of the ego's synthetic function. Whereas Freud thought that after an analysis synthesis occurred spontaneously, Nunberg showed that it was in fact the work of the ego, whose essential task was to bring together the various tendencies of the human individual and place them in the service of social life. Nunberg felt that the higher functions dependent on the ego, such as artistic and scientific activity, were in fact governed by it; Freud for his part thought they remained under the influence of the id, like a horseman on his mount.

In 1930, Anna Freud published a book dealing with other ego functions, notably the defenses. She argued that a set of human behaviors arose from the need to fend off danger, and that responsibility here fell to the ego. One of the most important defense mechanisms was identification with the aggressor as a way of conjuring away threats, but of course this ploy was not always successful. Repression, forgetting, and the splitting of the ego were other defensive tactics. The positive ego functions were synthesis and identification with the ideal ego.

After Freud's death, Heinz Hartmann expanded some ideas that he had presented earlier, proposing that the ego's most significant function was adaptation, made possible by virtue of the ego's two forms: on the one hand, the ego ruled by the instincts, and on the other, an ego free of conflict, which Hartmann called the self. For Hartmann the ego was entirely defined by its functions. He also held that a conflict-free ego was present from birth. Aberrant human behavior was in large measure the result of a failure to adapt to social conditions. This outcome occurred quite independently of the instincts, and it also had constitutional determinants. The "autonomous" ego could be overwhelmed by the aggressive instinct, which was the path to psychosis.

This account was defining for psychoanalytic ego psychology after the Second World War. It brought psychoanalysis back towards academic psychology, as also closer to individual psychology. It tended to make it more compatible with sociology and opened the way for it to become a natural science. It supplied the foundation for a psychoanalytic sociology that would trace the development of the social ego from infancy to old age, an approach pioneered in Erik Erikson's book Childhood and Society (1950). This conception of the ego also constituted a link to behavioral studies and relied on the observations of Jean Piaget, whose work on the development of intelligence in children buttresses the notion of an "autonomous ego." Finally, Hartmann's ego psychology led eventually to the psychology of the self developed by Heinz Kohut.

Hartmann's approach was in part the result of the transplantation of psychoanalysis to the English-speaking world. An accurate English translation of Ich would have been "self"; the use of the Latin "ego" turned Ichpsychologie into "ego psychologyinto something both strange and foreign-sounding. And "self," meanwhile, was translated into German as the Selbst.

Paul Federn's approach here was very different to Hartmann's. Drawing on his experience of analyzing a schizophrenic artist as early as 1905, as well as on his observations of other mental patients, and of himself, Federn concluded that the ego was the feeling of "Ich bin Ich selbst,""I am I myself," the sense of self-identity in time in space. He thus posed the question not in terms of the function but rather in terms of the essence of the ego.

Ernst Federn

See also: Adaptation; Alterations of the ego; Cathectic energy; Ego; Ego autonomy; Ego boundaries; Ego feeling; Ego Functions; Ego interests; Ego psychology; Ego Psychology and the Problem of Adaptation ; Ego states; Egosyntonic; Federn, Paul; Hartmann, Heinz; Identity; Kris, Ernst; Loewenstein, Rudolf M; Psychosexual development; Self; Self psychology; Self-image; Self-representation; Stage (or phase); United States.


Erikson, Erik H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.z

Federn, Paul. (1926). Ego-psychology and the psychoses (E. Weiss, Ed.). New York: Basic Books, 1952.

Freud, Anna. (1936). The ego and the mechanisms of defence. (Cecil Baines, Trans.). London: Hogarth, 1937.

Freud, Sigmund. (1914d). On the history of the psychoanalytic movement. SE, 14: 1-66.

. (1923b). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.

Nunberg, Hermann. (1930). The synthetic function of the ego. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 7.


views updated May 11 2018

ego In the history of philosophy and pre-Freudian psychology, the word ‘ego’ (Latin for ‘I’) has usually meant the ‘self’: the rational, autonomous subject of consciousness, which, at the same time, is the object of the individual's self-consciousness. At least since the end of the Renaissance, the notion of the self has been fundamental to human identity. Whereas Man had previously been represented as an entity connected with and dependent upon a divinely ordered cosmos, the meaning of humanity came, by the Enlightenment, to be located increasingly in the interior of individual human beings, characterized by reason and by autonomy from the outer cosmos.

Immanuel Kant emphasized that morality was inseparable from true autonomy: the autonomous human agent chose to submit himself to the moral law. This law was not imposed by external authorities but by what Kant called the noumenal ego, a part of one's own self that could be shown by philosophical argument to exist beyond doubt but was wholly imperceptible and inaccessible to empirical investigation. Unlike the phenomenal ego, which was perceptible to self as well as others, and roughly synonymous with the personality, the noumenal ego was the inviolate and inviolable source of human reason and morality — and, therefore, of human autonomy.

The Kantian concept of the ego contrasted sharply with that of David Hume, who believed, scandalously, that there was nothing called the self — human beings were mere bundles of sensations. In the late nineteenth century, a similar idea was argued with great force by the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach. A thoroughgoing phenomenalist — Mach also rejected the concept of the atom — he argued that human individuality was simply due to different ways in which the Humean bundles of sensations were configured in different individuals. ‘The ego’, Mach proclaimed in 1886, ‘is beyond salvage’ (Das Ich ist unrettbar). As it happened, the ego was salvaged over the next few decades by one of Mach's own compatriots, Sigmund Freud — but the Freudian ego was a puny caricature of the heroic Enlightenment conception that Mach was attacking.

His early experience with hysterics had shown Freud that the self was not necessarily unitary: one part of the self could remain rational, intelligent, and moral, while another went completely crazy. His study of dreams had convinced him that there were regions of the mind seething with activity but inaccessible to the waking consciousness. Freud's first model of the mind was laid out topographically like a feuding empire (rather like the tottering Habsburg Empire at the turn of the century, of which Freud was a citizen) in which individual regions battled for supremacy with each other. Soon, Freud replaced this scheme with the more sophisticated structural model, using a new vocabulary of different psychic agencies, not of different regions. The mind, he now felt, was a system but not a closed system. The agency of the mind that was directly open to the external world, Freud called simply the ‘I’ (das Ich) but his English translators turned it into the ‘ego’. The Freudian ego represented rationality and common sense, ensured safety and self-preservation, translated thoughts into action, and repressed unacceptable impulses. Consciousness was attached to the ego but not all of the ego was conscious: whatever consciousness it possessed was largely due to its links with the perceptual system, with the body. The ego was intimately related to another agency of the psyche, the id, which was fully unconscious, completely irrational, understood only immediate satisfaction, and was the ultimate source of the passions driving human beings. The ‘power of the id’, Freud asserted, ‘expresses the true purpose of the individual organism's life. This consists in the satisfaction of its innate needs.’ Instead of being a totally rational being, the individual human was merely ‘a psychical id, unknown and unconscious, upon whose surface rests the ego’.

What, however, of morality? It had no necessary link with consciousness, Freud argued — locating it almost casually in a third agency of the mind: the super-ego, which developed out of the ego and was an unconscious mental representative of one's parents and parent-surrogates such as teachers. The major reason for its development was the fear of castration: consequently, Freud asserted, the female super-ego never attained the strength and implacability of the male. The super-ego was punitive, of course, and often irrationally so, but it was not merely the conscience. It was also the vehicle of the ego-ideal, the standard by which the self judged itself, the ideal it tried to emulate, and whose demands for ever greater perfection it strove to fulfil.

The Freudian self as a whole, then, was, at best, a consortium of potentially conflicting members. The conscious ego maintained psychic unity by mediating between external reality, the demands of the id, and the strictures of the super-ego. ‘We are warned by a proverb against serving two masters at the same time,’ Freud wrote. ‘The poor ego has things even worse: it serves three severe masters and does what it can to bring their claims and demands into harmony with one another … No wonder that the ego so often fails in its task.’ In such a messy situation, psychological problems were to be expected, and the task of the psychoanalyst was to strengthen the ego: to make it as independent of the super-ego as possible, to widen its field of perception, and to enlarge it so that it could take over fresh portions of the id. ‘Where id was, there ego shall be’ was how Freud summed up the therapeutic endeavour of psychoanalysis. The ego, that valiant warrior of the Enlightenment, had been cut down to twentieth-century size: robbed of its sovereignty and unassailable might, it now needed a therapist's help to conquer unreason!

Chandak Sengoopta


Freud, S. (1961). The Ego and the Id (1923). In The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 19, (ed. J. Strachey et al.). Hogarth Press, London.
Porter, R. (ed.) (1997). Rewriting the self: histories from the Renaissance to the present. Routledge, London.
Taylor, C. (1989). Sources of the self: the making of the modern identity. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

See also consciousness; personality.

Ego (Analytical Psychology)

views updated Jun 08 2018


Carl Gustav Jung proposed the following definition of the ego: "By ego I understand a complex of ideas which constitutes the centre of my field of consciousness and appears to possess a high degree of continuity and identity. Hence I also speak of an ego-complex " (Jung, 1921, p. 425).

Jung actually conceives the ego-complex (or complex of the ego; Ichkomplex ) as both a content and a condition of consciousness, which is definitive because, he writes, "a psychic element is conscious to me only in so far as it is related to my ego-complex" (p. 425).

The restriction of the ego to the field of consciousness is particularly significant for Jung and the development of his analytical psychology because in his diagnostic studies of associations in 1904 he had already been able to demonstrate unconscious complexes affecting the conscious mind and capable of causing disturbances in ego functioning. It was this work that had formed the basis for his agreement with Freud and his psychoanalytic theories.

However, following his break with Freud in 1913, Jung embarked on a clearer elaboration of his own psychological theories. His personal experience had led him to emphasize the extremely important role of a firm anchoring of the conscious viewpoint in the ego because, as he explained, the ego not only has to manage the conflicts with the external world but also to confront intrapsychic material that manifests and operates from the unconscious.

His entire interest was henceforth directed at investigating the contents of the unconscious. This led him to the following discovery: To the extent that the ego approaches unconscious material in a way that is both receptive and critical, it becomes clear that an organizational element is at work there, such that dreams, for example, can be considered to interrelate with a meaningful process of transformation. This suggested the obvious hypothesis that it is not only our conscious ego that possesses a capacity for organization, initiative and purpose: It is in fact the development of our personality in its entirety, including our potential for consciousness, that is "directed" by a center operating in the unconscious.

To distinguish it from the ego, Jung called this center the "Self." To the definition of the ego-complex quoted above, he therefore added the following point: "But inasmuch as the ego is only the centre of my field of consciousness, it is not identical with the totality of my psyche. . . . I therefore distinguish between the ego and the self, since the ego is only the subject of my consciousness, while the self is the subject of my total psyche, which also includes the unconscious" (p. 425).

Jung devoted himself principally to the interaction between the ego and the unconscious and to the question of discovering how the ego can gain experience of a Self that is subordinate to it. He demonstrated that this is a task that belongs to the individuation process in the second half of life, which presupposes and requires the existence of a strong enough ego that can allow itself to be substantially influenced by the Self without thereby succumbing to a loss of boundaries that would be pathological if not psychotic. Something that Jung did not undertake to explain at great length was the question of knowing how it is that the Self, as a guiding agency of psychic development, stimulates and guides an appropriate maturation of the ego, and it is principally his successors who have worked on this (Neumann, 1963/1973; Fordham, 1969).

Mario Jacoby

See also: Animus-anima; Collective unconscious (analytical psychology); Compensation (analytical psychology); Ego; Numinous (analytical psychology); Self (analytical psychology); Shadow (analytical psychology).


Fordham, Michael. (1969). Children as individuals. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Jacoby, Mario. (1990). Individuation and Narcissism: The Psychology of the Self in Jung and Kohut (Myron Gubitz, Trans.). London and New York: Routledge. (Original work published 1985)

. (1904-1906). Experimental researches. Coll. Works, Vol. II. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

. (1921). Psychological types. Coll. Works, Vol. VI. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Neumann, Erich. (1973). The child: structure and dynamics of the nascent personality (Ralph Manheim, Trans.). London: Hodder and Stoughton. (Original work published 1963)


views updated May 29 2018


In psychoanalytic theory, the part of human personality that combines innate biological impulses (id) or drives with reality to produce appropriate behavior.

Sigmund Freud believed that human personality has three components: the id , the ego and the superego . In his scheme, the id urges immediate action on such basic needs as eating, drinking, and eliminating wastes without regard to consequences. The ego is that portion of the personality that imposes realistic limitations on such behavior. It decides whether id-motivated behavior is appropriate, given the prevailing social and environmental conditions.

While the id operates on the "pleasure principle," the ego uses the "reality principle" to determine whether to satisfy or delay fulfilling the id's demands. The ego considers the consequences of actions to modify the powerful drives of the id. A person's own concept of what is acceptable determines the ego's decisions. The ego also must "negotiate" with the superego (conscience ) in the often bitter battle between the id's drives and a person's own sense of right and wrong. Repression and anxiety may result when the ego consistently overrides the id's extreme demands.

Further Reading

Atkinson, Rita L.; Richard C. Atkinson; Edward E. Smith; and Ernest R. Hilgard. Introduction to Psychology. 9th ed. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987.

Zimbardo, Philip G. Psychology and Life. 12th ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1988.


views updated May 14 2018

e·go / ˈēgō/ • n. (pl. e·gos) a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance: a boost to my ego. ∎  Psychoanalysis the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity. Compare with id and superego. ∎  an overly high opinion of oneself: some major players with really big egos. ∎  Philos. (in metaphysics) a conscious thinking subject.DERIVATIVES: e·go·less adj.


views updated May 29 2018

ego Self or ‘I’ which the individual consciously experiences. According to Sigmund Freud, it is the conscious level of personality that deals with the external world, and also mediates the internal demands made by the impulses of the id and the prohibitions of the superego.


views updated May 17 2018

ego (philos.) conscious thinking subject; (colloq.) self. XIX. — L., the pron. I.
So egoism belief that nothing exists but one's own mind; theory which regards self-interest as the basis of morals XVIII; egotism XIX. — F. égoïsme — modL. egōismus. egotism practice of talking about oneself; self-conceit, selfishness XVIII; the t is of uncert. orig. So egoist, egotist XVIII.


views updated Jun 27 2018

ego a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance; in metaphysics, a conscious thinking subject; in psychoanalysis, the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity. The term is recorded from the early 19th century, and comes from Latin, literally ‘I’.


views updated May 23 2018

ego (eg-oh) n. (in psychoanalysis) the part of the mind that develops from a person's experience of the outside world and is most in touch with external realities.