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Erikson, E.H. (1956). The Problem of Ego Identity. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 4:56-121.

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(1956). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 4:56-121

The Problem of Ego Identity

Erik Homburger Erikson


In a number of writings (8), (9), (10), (11) I have been using the term ego identity to denote certain comprehensive gains which the individual, at the end of adolescence, must have derived from all of his pre-adult experience in order to be ready for the tasks of adulthood. My use of this term reflected the dilemma of a psychoanalyst who was led to a new concept not by theoretical preoccupation but rather through the expansion of his clinical awareness to other fields (social anthropology and comparative education) and through the expectation that such expansion would, in turn, profit clinical work. Recent clinical observations have, I feel, begun to bear out this expectation. I have, therefore, gratefully accepted two opportunities offered me to restate and review the problem of identity. The present paper combines both of these presentations. The question before us is whether the concept of identity is essentially a psychosocial one, or deserves to be considered as a legitimate part of the psychoanalytic theory of the ego.

First a word about the term identity. As far as I know Freud used it only once in a more than incidental way, and then with a psychosocial connotation. It was when he tried to formulate his link to Judaism, that he spoke of an "inner identity" which was not based on race or religion, but on a common readiness to live


1 Austen Riggs Center, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The research on which this paper is based is supported by a grant of the Field Foundation to the Riggs Center.

2 At the 35th Anniversary Institute of the Judge Baker Guidance Center in Boston, May, 1953, and at the Midwinter Meetings of the American Psychoanalytic Association, New York, 1953.

3 "… die klare Bewusstheit der inneren Identität" (17).

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