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Searl, N. (1929). Danger Situations of the Immature Ego. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 10:423-435.

(1929). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 10:423-435

Danger Situations of the Immature Ego

N. Searl

The question of immaturity of the ego is a double one; its immaturity with regard to the external world, which in childhood is undoubted; and its immaturity with regard to the internal or psychic world, which is not to be taken so readily for granted. An incident which occurred during the analysis of a little patient of two and three-quarter years will illustrate the point. Walking into my room, he stooped when two steps over the threshold, pointed out some spots on the floor, and made a casual remark about them. An intricate series of mental evolutions underlay these apparently simple actions, but of this their ease and smoothness gave no hint. In the fraction of a second he had seen wet spots left by another child on the opposite side of the room, and found it essential not to see them; had wished both to distract his own attention and mine from them and to satisfy his curiosity regarding them, and had instantly selected without apparent search more permanent spots near to him, which were quite extraordinarily like the wet 'danger' spots. Yet this complicated process was carried out with speed and accuracy, and with an ease and poise an adult might envy. It was the tact of an experienced man of the world at two and three-quarters; mental agility corresponding to that physical agility which became more valuable than size and strength in the struggle for existence so many thousands of years ago.

Why was an ego capacity of such high grade not available for other situations, or at least not successful in dealing with them? For my small patient suffered from severe phobias and alternating moods of pronounced aggression. What are the danger situations of the immature ego which lead to such a crippling of its powers? Why, with analysis, can the ego of even quite a little child become capable of taking over from the super-ego the task of dealing with the id wishes?

Leaving the last question to the end, we may group these danger situations under three headings:

1. Those in which the danger is actual and purely external—these we know leave no after-effects where the ego is not damaged or weakened.

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