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Mittelmann, B. (1949). Ego Functions and Dreams. Psychoanal Q., 18:434-448.

(1949). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18:434-448

Ego Functions and Dreams

Bela Mittelmann, M.D.


The relation of dreams to the general integrative strength of the patient in the analysis, his defense mechanisms, his self-evaluation and interpersonal attitudes, his anxieties, his concept of himself, and reality testing are discussed. These are

commonly classed as ego functions. In the course of the presentation certain implications arose that will now form the basis of some general formulations.


We have found that some of the dynamic forces operating in defense mechanisms, in the function of self-evaluation and interpersonal attitudes, and further in the phenomenon of anxiety, as well as in the concept of the self and reality testing, can be unconscious in the truest sense of the word. These dynamic forces are then subject to the same primary processes as the functions assigned to the id, that is, sexuality and hostility; moreover, they may be subject to defenses similar to those to which the forces of the id are subject: condensation, displacement, representation by the opposite, the presence of contradictions, dramatization, and symbolization. They show the same urgency for preserving the total psychic functioning. The same may be said of the unconscious dynamic forces commonly attributed to the superego, namely, guilt and a striving for ideals, as illustrated by the condensations and displacements in the self-accusations of the depressed and the ideals of some obsessional neurotics. To this may be added the statement that the forces attributed to any of the single agencies may be in conflict within themselves (2). Thus the individual may attempt to allay anxiety both by submitting to and by overpowering his adversary. Aggressive masculinity may be in conflict with submissive homosexuality, and the need to be a hero and avenge a wrong may clash with the command, 'Thou shalt not kill', both of which may be egosyntonic.


Hostility may be in the foreground when anxiety—and sexuality when hurt self-esteem—is the initiating force; need for affection may predominate when the problem is one of sexuality. To this may be added sexualization of aggression and of anxiety, negative therapeutic results and criminal action arising from a sense of guilt. It is concluded that the psychological phenomena presenting themselves in any one of the functions

commonly attributed to the id (sexuality and aggression), superego (moral conscience and ideals), or ego (need for safety, mastery, reality testing, self-esteem, and affection) may be initially motivated by forces attributed to each of the other agencies. One might say that dynamically they are interchangeable. In every significant psychopathological manifestation the forces commonly attributed to all three systems participate in a complex manner. In any given instance, the relative relationship of these forces has to be investigated behind the dominant presentation.

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