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Stolar, D. Fromm, E. (1974). Activity and Passivity of the Ego in Relation to the Superego. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 1:297-311.

(1974). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 1:297-311

Activity and Passivity of the Ego in Relation to the Superego

Donald Stolar and Erika Fromm


At present, the theory of ego activity and ego passivity is far from complete. In fact, Schafer (1968) argues that a distinct definition of activity–passivity is far in the future and that some of the conceptual problems connected with it are perhaps insurmountable. See, for instance, the paradox of 'passive mastery' or the fact that 'the ego' is a conglomeration of functions, not a monolithic structure. Some ego functions can be very active while at the same time others can be passive or inactive. One can sit in one's chair, riveted, motionless, while actively and with great interest watching an exciting show. And in fact one and the same ego function can be passive with respect to an area of conflict while simultaneously being active in conflict-free areas. A neurotic with a facial tic cannot actively use the decision-making functions of his ego to stop the tic and extricate the facial part of his motor apparatus from the overwhelming need to perform the tic movement. But he can walk wherever he wants to, think freely about his work or his love, and actively and freely use many other ego functions (see also Gruenewald et al., 1972p. 7).

Notwithstanding such conceptual difficulties, the authors believe that the concepts of ego activity and ego passivity should be further discussed and may still serve a useful purpose, particularly with regard to the ego's confrontation of the superego. Perhaps vis-à-vis the superego, the monolithic concept 'the' ego which Schafer and Beres (1971) do not approve of, is a bit more permissible in a working hypothesis, at least for the time being.

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