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Brogan, J.A. (1977). Relation of Ego to Id, Superego, and Reality. Am. J. Psychoanal., 37(3):229-234.

(1977). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 37(3):229-234

Relation of Ego to Id, Superego, and Reality

John A. Brogan, M.A.

For a number of years theorists have been concerned with how and to what degree a person is able to maintain ego autonomy. Describing both as “parameters of the relative autonomy of the ego,” Rapaport defined ego activity as “control over drive demands” in accordance with reality demands and ego passivity as “helplessness in the face of drive demands.”1 By relative autonomy, Rapaport was referring to the idea that one's ego functioning is never completely independent from either the demands of one's basic drives or one's external environment.2 In this conception, an inverse relationship exists between the two types of ego autonomies (id and external environment)—that is, extreme autonomy from one's instinctual drives impairs one's autonomy from the external environment and vice versa (cf. Holt 3).

Regarding ego autonomy from environmental demands, Erika Fromm illustrated the various ego-active or ego-passive ways by which one either maintains or fails to maintain independence from such demands.4 She further clarified the distinction between behavioral (or motoric) and dynamic activity and passivity, a distinction noted earlier by Rapaport.1

The theory of ego autonomy was extended by Stolar and Fromm to consider ego-superego relations.5 In outlining forms of ego activity and passivity with regard to superego demands, they suggested that one defends against superego demands in much the same way as one defends against drive demands and against demands coming from the environment.

Although perhaps never explicitly identified, the development of these aspects of the theory of ego activity and passivity has been accompanied by a positive valuation upon the maintenance of ego autonomy via the ego-active conditions as the means by which one's health or well being is best served. The issue of theoretical and clinical significance will be explored here: is one's healthy ego functioning necessarily always dynamically active in relation to the demands of one's drives, superego organization, and external reality?

Ego functioning is defined in terms of its relations to id, superego, and external reality, as well as in terms of its own characteristics (i.e., its own structural integrities or deficiencies).

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