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Schafer, R. (1968). The Mechanisms of Defence. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 49:49-62.

(1968). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 49:49-62

The Mechanisms of Defence

Roy Schafer


I believe there to be a significant gap in the psychoanalytic theory of the mechanisms of defence. I shall try to bring out the nature of this gap and shall then propose a means of filling it. Clinical and technical considerations will play important parts in the development of my thesis. But it will be necessary, first, to set the scene within which this theoretical problem exists. In the course of setting this scene, I shall try to make it plain that the problem of defence is a special instance of a general problem in psychoanalytic ego psychology. Briefly, this general problem has to do with a lag in the explicit and systematic development of dynamic propositions concerning the ego system.

The Theoretical Scene

Beginning with the appearance of The Ego and the Id(Freud, 1923), much has been written on the right understanding of the ego as a structural-functional and energic development. It has come to be said that the ego is a structure defined by its functions. This structure emerges by a process of differentiation from an undifferentiated id-ego matrix, and it becomes the distinctively human organ of adaptation. As a rudimentary organ, the ego takes shape around certain primary autonomous functions and apparatus. Normally, it goes on steadily to expand its scope, refine its functions, and tighten its synthesis. The ego's development is marked by the attainment of secondary autonomous functions, those which originate in conflict and, through the intervention of the ego, become independent of their origins.

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