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Sperling, O.E. (1963). Exaggeration as a Defense. Psychoanal Q., 32:553-548.

(1963). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 32:553-548

Exaggeration as a Defense

Otto E. Sperling, M.D.


In principle, exaggeration is characteristic of all emotions, passions, grief, and remorse. If not moderated by the ego, derivatives of the id and of the superego have a tendency to be excessively

intense and oblivious to the hierarchy of goals. Only an intelligent mind which has a concept of an adequate minimum and of the subordination of the means to an end can avoid or correct exaggeration. The ego may participate in exaggeration in three ways: 1, it may be overwhelmed by the id (for example, in psychosis and in hysteria); 2, it may be overwhelmed but secondarily tries to integrate the happenings by the illusion or delusion that what happened was only an exaggeration (especially in schizophrenia); and 3, in the case of exaggeration as a defense, the ego may awaken too late to prevent the expression of id or superego derivatives, but goes along with it, exaggerates it, and, realizing the danger, gains the strength to dispel the fog of passion or remorse and thereby triumphs.

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