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Rubinfine, D.L. (1958). Problems of Identity. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 6:131-142.

(1958). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 6:131-142

Problems of Identity

David L. Rubinfine, M.D.

This panel was organized and developed around three papers presented by K. R. Eissler, Phyllis Greenacre, and Margaret Mahler. It is noteworthy that each paper began with an attempt at a definition of "identity, " and that all of the presentations stressed the significance of the formation of the sexual aspects of the self-image and the resolution of bisexual identifications in the development of the "sense of identity."

The papers by Greenacre and Mahler primarily explored the vicissitudes of identity formation in terms of early object relationships and identifications, against the background of maturational events in infancy and childhood.

To provide a theoretical explanation for certain clinical observations, Eissler suggested that in addition to the three provinces of personality, the id, ego, and superego, there develops another structural differentiation in the ego: the "self." He was further inclined to the view that this fourth province is established fully only at puberty, with genital maturity. While the child becomes partially aware of his identity, these "prestages" do not include the full capacity of the subject to take itself as object, i.e., it has not reached the explicit phase. Eissler maintained that the sense of identity was based on the ego's capacity to experience itself as a continuum. The subject feels he has always existed. The mechanism of repression seems to be a prerequisite for this experience. While the ego's past is subjectively represented in the present, this does not signify that all its experiences are accessible as memories. Extensive amnesias are necessary to this feeling of continuity. Often in schizophrenics whose manifest illness started with a sudden alteration in ego feeling, there is a sense of discontinuity based on all too distinct memories of the time before its onset. Similarly, the return of deeply repressed memories in analysis is often accompanied by feelings of depersonalization. Eissler labeled the "I am I" experience "self-cognizance" and observed that just as the main task of puberty vis-à-vis the instincts is to establish adequate relationships to the opposite sex, so its main task with respect to the ego is to consolidate the ego's relation to itself.

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