Ego Interests

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The notion of ego interests points up a distinction between what serves the ego and what may harm it or place it in danger, as for example the pressures of the id, the commands of the superego, or simply love of an external object.

Freud used the term at least twice in his writings, once in the twenty-sixth Introductory Lecture, "The libido theory and narcissism" (1916-1917a, p. 414) and again in the paper "Analysis terminable and interminable" (1937c). In both contexts, Freud used the concept of the ego to mean an autonomous agency of mental life that makes no secret of its interests and can defend itself against the id and the superego. This defense can go as far as a refusal of all analysis, thus putting the treatment in jeopardy. In such cases one is confronted by resistance from the ego.

Even if it is rare, Freud's use of "ego interests" demonstrates that in his work he by no means neglected to take the ego into account. It is true, however, that Freud long concentrated his attention on the depths of the unconscious part of the mind, as shown by the epigraph he chose for The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a): "Flectere si nequeo Superos, Acheronta movebo" ("If I cannot move the Higher Powers, I will move the Infernal Regions"), from the Aeneid (7.312). He thus declined to attend to the "higher world" of which the ego was an integral part. He nevertheless acknowledged that exploring the depths of the psyche represents a threat to the ego, that it is in the ego's interest to recognize nothing beyond the conscious realm. But if this interest becomes too strong, overwhelming the functions that the ego is responsible for in company with the id and the superego, then behavioral problems will likely arise. Otherwise stated, it is in the ego's interest to establish a working balance with the id and the superego, but if for whatever reason the ego is so strongly cathected that it no longer heeds either the id or the superegoa state known as "narcissism"then there will occur disturbances of the kind that characterize what are now called "borderline cases," disturbances that Freud considered unsuitable for psychoanalytic treatment.

With these considerations as his starting point, Heinz Hartmann brought to the fore a particular group of tendencies of the egothe "ego interests"embracing several disparate behaviors such as egoism, the pursuit of the "useful," that is, of wealth, prestige, or power, but also that of intellectual acquisition.

Ernst Federn

See also: Ego; Ego (ego psychology).


Freud, Sigmund. (1900). The interpretation of dreams (Parts 1-2). SE, 4: 1-338; 5 : 339-625.

. (1916-1917a). Introductory lectures on psychoanalysis (Parts 1-3). SE, 15: 9-239; 16: 243-463.

. (1937c). Analysis terminable and interminable. SE, 23: 209-253.