This discussion of early identifications revived or persisting in the structure of the later superego begins with the distincton between the superego, which results from the breakdown of the Oedipus complex, and the ego ideal, a more narcissistic earlier structure based on the child's identification with a glorified parental figure—an identification that served to undo the child's feelings of weakness. These early identifications are not always completely integrated into the ego and may lead not to transformation of the personality but only to a longing to be like the idealized parent. These longings must be described as ego ideals. The ego is measured against them and self-esteem depends on the distance between them and the ego. Only if the ego is well developed does this measuring result in attempts to realize these ideals.
The origin of accentuated narcissistic ideals is twofold. The first origin is sudden threats to narcissistic intactness. For example, strong castraton anxiety may lead to withdrawal of libido from the object and its concentration on the ego. The development of grandiose ideals now serves to ensure phallic intactness and for this purpose early identifications with parents who appear grandiose are revived. The second origin is the persistence throughout childhood of the early identifications that supported the child's feeling of adequacy and that are normally transient and changing, developing slowly into permanent ones.
Pathologically the parental image may not become reduced to real proportions and the overvaluation of the object then serves as a means of achieving otherwise unreachable magnificence for the own ego. In more pathological cases the primitive
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imitative form of identification persists and no solid identification is formed; there is no ability to become like the object in reality and gratification must be instantaneous and can be obtained only through wish-fulfilling magic. In most of these cases the parental image is unmodified and grandiose.
These early identifications or ego ideals are unattainable either because they are too grandiose or because the ability to transform fantasy into reality is lacking. Either situation results in a permanent state of unsatisfied narcissism,—intense feelings of inferiority or states of depression of varying intensity. However, if the ego is at a more primitive level reality testing may be partly relinquished and a state of partial and temporary megalomania may prevail. Such persons feel that they really are whatever their narcissistic ideal may be even though they have not lost contact with reality. Although ego ideal and superego are fused and overlaid, any understanding of these narcissistic nonpsychotic states necessitates the concept of the ego ideal.
The author discusses only the grandiose archaic identifications. One of her cases illustrates how the castration complex revives early narcissistic identifications, which are then included in an otherwise normal superego; the other illustrates the abnormal development of identifications and the causes for the formation and persistence of a pathological ego ideal. The revival or persistence of early identifications within the later superego imbues the personality with the characteristics of the level of the ego at which the identification was originally made. In more regressed cases there is an admixture of sadistic forerunners of the superego.
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Gray, M. (1956). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. II, 1954. Psychoanal. Q., 25:615-616