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Blum, H.P. (1985). Superego Formation, Adolescent Transformation, and the Adult Neurosis. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 33:887-909.

(1985). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 33:887-909

Superego Formation, Adolescent Transformation, and the Adult Neurosis

Harold P. Blum, M.D.


The superego is heir to the Oedipus complex but has a much larger developmental legacy which includes preoedipal precursors and the influence of latency and adolescence. The superego continues to change in function and content throughout life, and radical transformation in adolescence may result in developmental discontinuity as well as core developmental continuity. A case is discussed in which adolescence was overlooked in previous analysis and in which adolescent superego modification had a major impact on the patient's character and his adult neurosis. The developmental significance of adolescence experienced under conditions of social isolation and rejection with forebodings of the Holocaust was unrecognized in sanctioned silence and shared analytic denial. These repeated earlier experiences of silent submission and stifled protest, and the silent suffering of the patient and his family, were an integral part of his humiliating and emasculating adolescent experiences. The intimidated adolescent, threatened from within and without, identified with the aggressor as well as with the victim. Identification with the aggressor and glorified victor contributed

to a final adolescent structuralization of a punitive, sadistic superego and a rigidly perfectionistic ego ideal. As an adult, he tended to passive masochistic compliance with diminished self-esteem and unconscious self-denigration. He was prone to shame and guilt, self-criticism, and hidden hypercritical attitudes toward others. The adolescent internalization of aggression, intense castration anxiety, and pervasive narcissistic mortification led to retreat from resolution of revived oedipal conflict and to concomitant detrimental superego alteration. These issues were of major importance for analytic understanding and therapeutic progress.

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