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Nunberg, H. (1942). Ego Strength and Ego Weakness. Am. Imago, 3C(3):25-40.

(1942). American Imago, 3C(3):25-40

Ego Strength and Ego Weakness

Herman Nunberg, M.D.

It seems to me that the ultimate solution of the problem of this discussion cannot be given at present. For, if we wish to estimate the strength or weakness of the ego, we must be able to measure the energies of this ego. This we are not yet equipped to do. We can, however, on the basis of individual observations and reflections, draw certain conclusions concerning the relative strength or weakness of the ego in definite situations.

Freud succinctly expresses this idea in one sentence: “The crucial point of the whole situation (i.e., health or illness) is the relative strength or weakness of the ego.” (Ges. Schr. Vol. XI, p. 374). This indicates our problem. We must inquire what is meant by the relativity of the energy of the ego? What relation is to be understood when this term is used? The larger or smaller amount of energy within the ego itself, or the relation of the ego energy to the energy of the id, the superego, or the outside world? I think all of these relations are comprised in this concept.

In psychoanalytic literature the ego has often been discussed as though it were an independent system, complete in itself. We know, however, that this is by no means true. Freud states: “There is no primary antagonism between the ego and the id; they belong together, and in healthy states they cannot be distinguished from each other” (Ges. Schr. Vol. XL, p. 327).

It is evident why this must be so. The ego is, in fact, only a part of the id, which has evolved from the id under the influence of the outer world and has taken over certain tasks which the id is unable to perform. Thus we may say that the id has created its ego.

The ego is fed by energies coming from the instincts of the id. If we did not have to take other moments into account, we might assume, on the basis of this consideration, that the ego is strong or weak according to the quantities of energy developed by the instincts, in short, that the strength or weakness of the ego depends on the instincts.

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