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In 1911 Freud, in "Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning" (1911b [1910]), distinguished between a pleasure-ego "that can do nothing but wish, work for a yield of pleasure, and avoid unpleasure," and a reality-ego that "need do nothing but strive for what is useful and guard itself against damage" (p. 223), then, in 1915 he described a "purified-pleasure-ego" (p. 136) in the course of his metapsychological reflections on "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes" (1915c).

The purified pleasure-ego is the result of a distinction between an ego and a non-ego, and the splitting of both the external and internal world into what is pleasurable and what is not. Certain instincts are considered to be unpleasant and are then rejected or rather "projected" outside, whereas objects that are a source of satisfaction are "introjected." "The original reality-ego, which distinguished internal and external by means of a sound objective criterion, changes into a purified 'pleasure-ego', which places the characteristic of pleasure above all others. For the pleasure-ego the external world is divided into a part that is pleasurable, which it has incorporated into itself, and a remainder that is extraneous to it. It has separated off a part of its own self, which it projects into the external world and feels as hostile" (p. 136).

We find these same distinctions unchanged in the article entitled "Negation": "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" (1925h, p. 237).

Following the example of Melanie Klein, who was inspired by this notion to describe projective identification (Manual Furer, 1977; James Grotstein, 1994), the majority of Anglo-Saxon writers who have described the first phases in the development of the mind have referred to this "purified pleasure-ego" as linked to the splitting into "pleasant" and "unpleasant" which becomes "good" and "bad." The symbiotic phase described by Margaret Mahler is very close to this (Julio Granel, 1987). And Heinz Kohut goes so far as to indicate in a footnote in Forms and Transformations of Narcissism (1966) that "The purified pleasure ego may be considered as a prestage of the structure which is referred to as the narcissistic Self in the present essay" (p. 246n).

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Ego; Illusion; "Instincts and their Vicissitudes"; Internal object; Grandiose self; Pleasure ego/reality ego; Primary object; Projection; Reality principle; Shame; Symbiosis/symbiotic relationship; Turning around.


Freud, Sigmund. (1915c). Instincts and their vicissitudes. SE, 14: 109-140.

Furer, Manuel (1977). Psychoanalytic dialogue: Kleinian theory today. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 25, 371-385.

Granel, Julio A. (1987). Considerations on the capacity to change, the clash of identifications and having accidents. International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 14, 483-490.

Grotstein, James S. (1994). Projective identification and countertransference: a brief commentary on their relationship. Contemporary Psycho-Analysis, 30, 578-592.

Kohut, Heinz. (1966). Forms and transformations of narcissism. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 14, 243-272.