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Woodmansey, A.C. (1966). The Internalization of External Conflict. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 47:349-355.

(1966). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 47:349-355

The Internalization of External Conflict

A. C. Woodmansey


It is postulated that, when the punitive superego arises by splitting of the ego during inter-personal conflicts in early life, this is the result of direct anger towards the self for actively maintaining the situation of danger; and that it is because this process incidentally extricates the child from the external battle that it persists as a specific mechanism of defence.

Such a concept differs, both in essence and in its implications, from one in which the superego is formed primarily by identification with parent figures (though such identification undoubtedly follows); and even from that of aggression turned back upon the self. The superego is also considered to be fundamentally distinct from the persecuting internal objects of Kleinian theory, fear of which, however, may be regarded as instigating its development.

The theory leads to a clear distinction between repression and superego function, and between the superego and the ego-ideal; and it accounts for the prevalence of both 'anal' traits and sexual inhibitions in obsessional patients.

Finally, the technical problem of analysing the superego is discussed with particular reference to the alternating roles of patient and analyst in the transference.

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