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Hinshelwood, R. (2020). The Function of Symbol-Formation: Pinning down the Ego Function. Brit. J. Psychother., 36(1):32-44.

(2020). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 36(1):32-44

The Function of Symbol-Formation: Pinning down the Ego Function

R.D. Hinshelwood

This paper follows my previous paper in the Journal in 2018, which examined Hanna Segal's theory of symbol-formation and the various modifications she made to it. In this paper it is argued that the specific functions involved in symbol-formation need to be examined for which fails. To use one thing (a symbol) to represent another requires a kind of suspension of reality; to take one thing as if it were really another underpins the capacity to represent. And yet it does not invalidate the knowledge that the symbol has a separate existence of its own. There is a double relation to the symbol - which is a mark on a piece of paper, and is also the thing it represents. I have termed this the 'as-if’ function that is needed in order to use symbols and representations. It is also the precise location of failure in symbolic equations, where the as-if quality breaks down into a simple mistaken identity of the symbol with its referent. This addition to Freud's list of ego-function involved in the reality principle is crucial to the development of representation, and ultimately of the capacity for civilization.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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