The author surveys Freud's views on early psychic functioning by reviewing the theoretical constructs and formulations in his papers from a three-fold viewpoint: 1, the innate data and initial conditions of this earliest period; 2, the theories dealing with instinctual drives, ego development, and the resulting psychic contents; 3, separation of the ideal models of earlier psychic functioning inferable from these hypotheses. Throughout his presentation the author underscores the significance of the change from passivity to activity as a general principle of ego development and the central element in the unfolding of psychic structure.
Freud's central contribution to the theory of earliest mental functioning is the concept of the instinctual drives and their epigenesis as innate givens which serve as the nuclei around which experiences organize. He postulated inborn apparatuses for both drivedischarge and drive restraint in his references to channels or pathways of affective discharge and to thresholds respectively. He regarded affects and consciousness as innate involvements in earliest psychic functioning.
Freud attributed inhibitory tendencies to the experiences of conflict between the instinctual drives and external reality, and a gradual differentiation of drives, restraints, and structures from the internalization of the conflicts. The drive-inhibiting structures can develop too early or be excessively strengthened by experiences with resulting fixation at, or regression to, early zonal position. The experiences of frustration and deprivation constitute an essential condition for the ability to distinguish between inner and outer reality; i.e., ego from object. In the process of differentiation of the self and the object a 'purified pleasure ego' prevails and introjects everything pleasurable, while it ejects everything painful; hate plays a specially significant role, particularly in the distinction of self from nonself. The system perceptual consciousness, with its command of motor innervations which determine whether a perception can be made to
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disappear, has the function of orienting the individual accurately between inner and outer reality. This function is enhanced by the reduction of the sensory intensity of stimuli impinging upon consciousness from within, by the attachment of verbal symbols to memory traces, and by the formation of the superego to scrutinize its mental derivatives before they reach the status of percepts, distinguishing them from percepts in the external world. Freud assumed that the mother's constant libidinal investment in the infant stimulates the growth of his libidinal reservoir. In fact, as a general principle of ego development Freud elaborated the change from the passive to the active mode, which in infancy particularly was an identification with the active mother.
Freud assumed the core of the ego's inhibitory functions to reside in the central nervous system. He described innate thresholds against stimuli (stimulus barriers) which serve as precursors of, and apparatuses for, later defense mechanisms. He thought some elements of defense would derive from such inherited physiological modes as incorporation and ejection; others like displacement are primitive instinctual mechanisms used secondarily for defense. The author is of the opinion that the simple barriers to instinctual-drivedischarge described by Freud, and the early mechanisms like 'turning against the self' and 'reversal into the opposite', share the characteristics of instinctual drives, and that drive-restraining mechanisms may be the precursors of the superego.
Rubinfine concludes his summary with models of early psychic functioning. In the first model, the drives are regulated by the pleasure principle; in the second, the concept of drive-inhibiting forces and structures prevails. In these models the change from passivity to activity accompanies and regulates the development of structure.
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(1962). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. IX, 1961. Psychoanal. Q., 31:421-422