Ego Feeling

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Ego feeling is central to Paul Federn's ego psychology, together with ego boundary and ego state. It is one's experience of one's own bodily and mental existence, a phenomenological description of a connected psychic sensation, and involves the experience of space, time, and causality as an entity.

It is the experiential aspect of the ego boundary, the feeling by which the person is able to sense what is ego and what is non-ego, and thus, what is real and not real. Paul Schilder also focused on the phenomenology of ego experience, especially in depersonalization and the experience of time. Federn (1926/1952) affirms a connection between his conception of ego feeling and Schilder's (1923/1953) concept of body schema.

For Federn, ego feeling is the simplest but also the most extensive psychic state present in the personality. Through a process of egotization, bodily and psychic elements attain ego feeling and inclusion within the ego boundary. He described bodily ego feeling (motor and sensory memories pertaining to one's person), mental ego feeling (reflecting inner perceptions), and superego feeling (the superego being an ego state with its own boundaries). Federn demonstrated how interrelationships among these different ego feelings change in different states of consciousness, such as in a normal awake state, in falling asleep and waking up, in dreams, in fainting, in ecstasy, in regression, and in the major psychopathological conditions.

An ego feeling pervades one's whole being while one is awake. But under conditions of fatigue, sleep, illness, and psychosis, the ego feeling is prone to serious restrictions. Ego feeling is intact when the ego is cathected, and is absent when there is no cathexis. Repression results in a depletion of ego cathexis. Disturbances in ego feeling reflects changes in ego cathexis and may result in severe anxiety and other mental symptoms, especially feelings of estrangement and depersonalization. Depersonalization involves de-egotization and is related to a fixation in the development of ego feeling.

Mental ego feeling is experienced as located inside the bodily ego during waking. In sleep, bodily ego feeling is the first to vanish, then superego feeling, while mental ego feeling remains the longest. There is an absence of ego feeling during states of dreamless sleep.

The formulation of the concept of ego feeling is one of Paul Federn's most original and valuable contributions, and presents a challenge to psychoanalytic theorists to utilize its potential.

Marvin S. Hurvich

See also: Ego; Ego (ego psychology).


Bergmann, Martin S. (1963). The place of Paul Federn's ego psychology in psychoanalytic metapsychology. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 11, 97-116.

Federn, Paul. (1952). Ego psychology and the psychoses. New York: Basic Books. (Original work published 1926)

Pao, Ping-Nie. (1975). The place of Federn's ego psychology in a contemporary theory of schizophrenia. International Review of Psychoanalysis, 2, 467-480.

Schilder, Paul. (1953). Medical psychology (David Rapaport, Trans.). New York: International Universities Press. (Original work published 1924)

Weiss, Edoardo. (1960). The structure and dynamics of the human mind. New York: Grune and Stratton.