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Freeman, T. (1957). Journal of the American Psycho-Analytic Association 4, 1956, No. 1: Erik Homburger Erikson. 'The Problem of Ego Identity.'. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 38:134.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Journal of the American Psycho-Analytic Association 4, 1956, No. 1: Erik Homburger Erikson. 'The Problem of Ego Identity.'

(1957). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 38:134

Journal of the American Psycho-Analytic Association 4, 1956, No. 1: Erik Homburger Erikson. 'The Problem of Ego Identity.'

Thomas Freeman

This paper by Erikson is a comprehensive account of his concept of ego identity. It is very difficult to condense this long paper into a relatively short abstract without losing much of what the author wishes to convey. While this abstract can indicate some of the main headings a full appreciation of the article can only be gained by reading it in full. To obtain a total picture of ego identity it must be approached from a number of different angles. Erikson names three approaches—biographic, pathographic, and theoretical.

George Bernard Shaw is the subject chosen to illustrate the biographic method. The raw material which provides the genetic aspects comprises the impressions from daily life, observations of personality development in young children and observations on mildly disturbed young people. This material is used to demonstrate something of the genetics of identity. Erikson outlines a psychosocial programme of development which begins with the mechanisms of introjection and projection and leads to the later identifications of childhood. The end of adolescence is the time of an overt identity crisis. Identity formation neither begins nor ends with adolescence, but is a lifelong development. The individual has to find a means of integrating the psychosexual with the psychosocial aspects on any given level of development. Crises occur when changes in the former demand readjustments to maintain integration with the latter. Identity appears as only one concept within a wider conception of the human life cycle which envisages childhood as a gradual unfolding of the personality through phase-specific psychosocial crises. A diagram illustrates the various stages of psychosocial development.

The pathographic aspect or clinical picture of identity diffusion is provided by a description of a syndrome to be observed in disturbed young people. The time of breakdown, the problem of intimacy vis-à-vis isolation, diffusion of time perspective, diffusion of industry, choice of negative identity, specific factors in family and childhood, are some of the subjects discussed in detail in this section of the paper. In the concluding chapter entitled 'Ego and Environment' identity formation is considered to have both a self aspect and an ego aspect. It is a part of the ego in the sense that it represents the ego's synthesizing function in meeting one of its frontiers, namely the actual social structure of the environment and the image of reality as transmitted to the child during successive childhood crises. Until the matter of ego versus self is sufficiently defined to permit a terminological decision Erikson has decided to use the term identity to suggest a social function of the ego, which results, in adolescence, in a relative psychological equilibrium essential to the tasks of young adulthood. A final subject of discussion is the relationship between identity and ideologies.

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Article Citation

Freeman, T. (1957). Journal of the American Psycho-Analytic Association 4, 1956, No. 1. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 38:134

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