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Spitz, R.A. (1961). Some Early Prototypes of Ego Defenses. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 9:626-651.

(1961). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 9:626-651

Some Early Prototypes of Ego Defenses

René A. Spitz, M.D.

Conflict and defense are among the most fundamental and important concepts introduced by Freud in his earliest psychoanalytic publications. He mentioned them already in the letters to Fliess; they remain the focus of our attention to this day. Freud continued refining these concepts and, speaking of the instinct being turned back on the ego and of the instinct undergoing reversal from activity to passivity, he remarked: "Perhaps they represent attempts at defense which, at higher stages of the development of the ego, are effected by other means" (15).

Here a development of the defenses from a more primitive to a more organized stage is clearly suggested. Subsequently this suggestion was taken up by other authors, beginning with Anna Freud's discussion of the chronological sequence of defense mechanisms (9). In 1939, Hartmann (22) started exploring some of the early physiological prototypes for later psychological defenses, a question taken up more recently by Menninger (29) and Greenacre (20).

It is the purpose of this paper to apply the genetic principle to some of the defense mechanisms of the ego in an attempt to uncover some of their physiological prototypes. In this attempt I will consider phenomena of neonate behavior and functioning, both perceptual and neurophysiological. I have selected them because their mode of functioning seems to present sufficient analogies with the mode of functioning of specific later defense mechanisms to warrant investigation. In some cases, I will be able to point out certain transitional features.

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