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Bornstein, M. (2004). Prologue. Psychoanal. Inq., 24(4):487-489.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 24(4):487-489


Melvin Bornstein, M.D.

Many years ago, i attended a seminar taught by richard sterba. He ended the seminar with an extemporaneous comment that Goethe once wrote, Man cannot rise to heights that are beyond the ideals of his teachers. I never was able to get back to speak with Richard about his extemporaneous comment, and I have not been able to find the source of the quotation, but Sterba's words have remained with me and returned as I sat down to write this prologue.

Today I have a deeper appreciation of the meaning of Richard's words and why they came to mind as I began writing. I understand today how deeply the ego ideal guides our motivations. It provides courage in dealing with our vulnerabilities and our unknowable future. We are the recipients of the ego ideals of our parents and teachers, their ideology, morals, ethics, honesty, integrity, and decency. Without identifications of our parents' and teachers' ego ideals, we are lost in setting our sights on the future. I believe there is truth in Sterba's comment, regardless of its source; without the structure of the ego ideal that guides the direction of our motivations, we are without a compass in stormy seas.

The teachers who have trained us to be psychoanalysts have enormous influence on us. The settings in which they taught us contribute to that influence. The theory our teachers embrace and the cogency of their arguments can be debated, accepted, or refuted, but the kind of analysts they strive to become reflects their ego ideals, and, to some degree, we are bounded by those ideals.

In 2002, the editors of Psychoanalytic Inquiry published an issue titled “From Ego Psychology to Pluralism and Diversity: An American Psychoanalytic Odyssey.” Our thinking was to understand better the enormous changes that have occurred in psychoanalysis during the past half-century. We had to understand the analysts who have lived through this period.

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