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Margolis, B.D. (1983). The Contact Function of the Ego: Its Role in the Therapy of the Narcissistic Patient. Psychoanal. Rev., 70(1):69-81.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Review, 70(1):69-81

The Contact Function of the Ego: Its Role in the Therapy of the Narcissistic Patient

Benjamin D. Margolis

A Bridge to the Object

The ego has been described as a substructure of personality defined by its functions (Hartmann, 1950). Among these, Freud (1933) especially emphasized the importance of the functions that are directed toward reality, i.e., toward objects, representing the urge toward need- and wish-fulfillment. A conceptualization of this aspect of ego development has emerged in recent years in the writings of Hyman Spotnitz and his co-workers (Spotnitz, 1961, 1963a, 1963b, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1976; Spotnitz and Meadow, 1976; Spotnitz and Nagelberg, 1952; Spotnitz, Nagelberg, and Feldman, 1953, 1956; Borowitz, 1978). Out of their experiences in treating narcissistic patients, they have identified a contact function of the ego which reflects the person's capacity to perceive an other, to reach out to him, and to establish a relationship with him as object. As Spotnitz (1963a) defines it, the contact function represents “the patient's … direct attempts to elicit some personal information about the analyst or to involve the analyst in some emotional problem he is unable to express in words” (p. 54).

The term “contact” in the context of psychic development was introduced by Winnicott in 1945, when he stated that “at the start a simple contact with external or shared reality has to be made [by the infant]” (p. 154). The term was further employed extensively in Winnicott's


* This paper was completed under the auspices of the California Graduate Institute. It was presented at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies, November 13, 1981.

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