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Sandler, J. (1960). The Background of Safety. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 41:352-356.

(1960). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 41:352-356

The Background of Safety

Joseph Sandler

Freud distinguished, in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety(8), between the experience of trauma and that of danger. In the traumatic situation the ego is helplessly exposed to quantities of excitation which cannot be discharged or in any way controlled. Situations of danger, on the other hand, are those in which the ego anticipates a situation which it cannot master, which is potentially traumatic. The experience of trauma, that is of helplessness, is the same no matter what the source of the uncontrollable excitation may be, and in the course of development highly specialized methods are evolved whereby traumatic excitation, the threat of trauma implicit in the danger situation, and the correlated affect of anxiety may be avoided. The source of potentially traumatic excitation may be the id or stimulation of the sense organs. In the earliest undifferentiated phase of development, however, no distinction is made by the infant between excitations arising from different sources.

Some of the techniques which the ego develops for dealing with potentially traumatic excitation have been studied in detail, in particular the mechanisms of defence. Yet all the functions of the ego which subserve adaptation, including those of the conflict-free sphere (9), can be considered as being directed towards the mastery of excitation. I want to single out for discussion one, from some points of view the most important, of the ego's functions through which the ego controls and contains excitation which might otherwise be traumatic.

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