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Aldendorff, H. (1956). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. II, 1954: Psychological Aspects of the Organism Under Stress, Parts I and II. Karl A. Menninger. Pp. 67-106 and pp. 280-310.. Psychoanal Q., 25:282-283.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. II, 1954: Psychological Aspects of the Organism Under Stress, Parts I and II. Karl A. Menninger. Pp. 67-106 and pp. 280-310.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25:282-283

Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. II, 1954: Psychological Aspects of the Organism Under Stress, Parts I and II. Karl A. Menninger. Pp. 67-106 and pp. 280-310.

Herbert Aldendorff

The author is dissatisfied with present-day psychiatric nosologies and the looseness of the concept of defense. Psychology, including clinical psychiatric observations and psychoanalytic hypotheses, should find a place in a general system of behavior. Application of the concept of homeostasis to psychology has been too limited, and the factors of growth and progressive differentiation of the organism must be represented. The theoretical biologist von Bertalanffy arrived at concepts similar to those considered by Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, but with important differences. In living 'open' systems, a 'steady state' prevails. Supplies of energy are imported and the process of entropy (disintegration of the system) that operates in inorganic 'closed' systems is counteracted. Biological forces—growth, reproduction, senescence—continuously threaten the homeostatic balance. 'Irritability and autonomous activities are smaller waves of process superimposed on the continuous flux of the system, irritability consisting in reversible disturbances after which the system comes back to its steady state, and autonomous activities consisting in periodic fluctuations.' Menninger contends that the concept of the 'steady state' should not be confined to the biochemical adjustment of the organism, but should include all psychological phenomena. It is pragmatically justifiable to think of tendencies of disintegration as force in a negative direction. The 'ego' is an organized functional part of the mental apparatus governed by 'cybernetic feedbacks' and 'servomechanisms'. Manifestations of the life instinct and the death instinct must be mediated by the ego, which constitutes a cybernetic mechanism. 'The ego is thus a crystallized representative of the life instinct as well as its regulator', striving for maintenance of an optimal physio-psycho-sociological balance. Physical and psychic pain are warning signals. If such signals are not heeded and imbalance continues, disability and finally death ensue. Illness is decompensation of the ego and a shift in the 'steady state', with regressive reorganization of the homeostatic pattern of the organism.

Menninger illustrates in detail the mobilization of 'normal' devices for meeting

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a minor emergency. He lists these 'minor' devices and the more radical and expensive expedients adopted by the ego in major crises. These major expedients include psychosis—a term the author would like to abandon—and ultimately death. He believes that 'this conceptualization of the ego's regulatory function provides us with a broader frame of reference for understanding mental illness and will enable us to discard some of our vague, many-faceted, traditional terms in exchange for more definite and precise designations of process and stage. It also helps us to align our psychoanalytic concepts with general organismicbiologic theory.'

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Article Citation

Aldendorff, H. (1956). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. II, 1954. Psychoanal. Q., 25:282-283

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