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Hendrick, I. (1951). Early Development of the Ego: Identification in Infancy. Psychoanal Q., 20:44-61.

(1951). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 20:44-61

Early Development of the Ego: Identification in Infancy

Ives Hendrick, M.D.


We have attempted to arrive at a tentative hypothesis as to the the role of ego-identification in the early phases of infantile ego development. This is a field of genetic and dynamic psychology about which we have very few data. Consequently, we are far more concerned with focusing attention on the importance of the problem, than with drawing conclusions which may be proved or refuted in the present state of our knowledge.

Observations of the infant, psychoanalytic knowledge of the

nature of identification at later stages of development, and clinical descriptions of defects in adult egos do, however, provide us with a fund of knowledge from which we can reasonably make certain inferences which are in harmony with known laws of biological and psychological development. This gives a preliminary working concept of processes yet to be thoroughly investigated and understood.

Presumably ego-identification in infancy is initiated by pleasure in imitation, but it differs from imitation in that it contributes permanently to integrations effective in influencing a segment of the outer world. This earliest type of identification presumably becomes possible when the primitive mother image becomes an emotionally cathected object because the mother then inevitably becomes an ambivalent object (the person from whom is expected what in some way she fails to gratify). We assume that the infant then may develop those tendencies which are precursors of the failure to achieve for oneself in later life what others do not perform for him.

Identification presumably at first selects partial functions of which the infant is biologically capable from the matrix of the mother's highly integrated conduct, and it will be in the modification or mobilization of these partial functions—finger movements, tones of voice, gestures, etc.—that the earliest imprint on permanent patterns of the individual will be apparent. It is the development of these and of increasingly elaborate levels of integration which provide the individual with his executant capacities for effective work and modification and control of the environment. They are essential to the development of a useful ego organization, and the failure of essential ego-identification will result in defect in some ego-function in adult life.

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