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Fenchel, G.H. (1958). The Role of the Ego Concept in Modern Psychoanalytic Thought. Psychoanal. Rev., 45C(3):92-101.

(1958). Psychoanalytic Review, 45C(3):92-101

The Role of the Ego Concept in Modern Psychoanalytic Thought

Gerd H. Fenchel

Freud accepted biological formulations in working out his schematization of the structure of personality. He distinguished between instincts of self-preservation and instincts of race preservation and made these the basis of his classification of ego and sex instincts. He postulated that all libido was at first accumulated in the ego, which put forth and withdrew object cathexes. During the early stage of infant development narcissism prevails with no object cathexis; the latter is achieved between the ages of three and five with the development of the Oedipal phase. The three psychic structures of Id, Ego and Superego develop gradually from a mass of undifferentiated sensations perceived by the infant during the first years of life.

The roots of the ego have their origin in those impulses that are usually attributed to the id, and thus not all of the ego will function according to the reality principle and on a conscious level. First and foremost, according to Freud, 7 the ego develops from a matrix of bodily sensations. Differentiations arise through the substitution of identifications for object cathexes by the method of introjection. Gradually, the introjected parents become an ego-ideal and assume the role of a conscience, or superego, with the dissolution of the Oedipus complex. Mediating between instincts and ego-ideal is the structure of the ego which must respond to external pressures; thus, the superego assumes the functions of instinct scrutiny and leaves the ego free to perform reality testing. This latter function is performed under pressure from both instinctual and superego sources, making the ego proper a servant or mediator between the external world, the id and the superego.

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