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Ribble, M. (1936). Ego Dangers and Epilepsy. Psychoanal Q., 5:71-86.

(1936). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 5:71-86

Ego Dangers and Epilepsy

Margaret Ribble

Among the "danger situations" in the life of human beings which predispose to neurosis Freud calls attention to the factor of prolonged and helpless infancy. The human young is perhaps of all newborn mammals the most passive and the poorest organized. Without adequate care and stimulation he will die. He cannot deal with the multiplicity of stimuli coming from the environment nor can he relieve the physiological tensions arising within his body. The natural counterpart to this helplessness is of course the mother who, when she is healthy, knows and supplies the infant's needs so adequately that no danger situation arises. This "mothering" not only continues the functions of the uterus and placenta but actively stimulates the sensory-motor-perceptive faculties of the child so that the ego becomes gradually organized to preserve itself and the libidinal instincts are directed toward the first love object.

What happens, however, when the mothering is done by a deeply neurotic woman, when the core of her neurosis is the conflict over being feminine, and this conflict has been revived to new intensity by the function of motherhood?

The case material in this paper from the analysis of an eleven-year-old boy with petit mal deals with such a situation. This child suffered from hunger from the day of his birth. His mother, an intelligent but neurotic woman, decided to nurse him (much against her own wishes) because her physician had advised it. For seven months she followed with compulsive rigidity a schedule of breast feeding. The child failed to gain weight and she saw that her breast milk was not sufficient, but she was unable to make any intelligent move to supplement it. A veritable Tantalus situation arose.

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