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Stewart, W.A. (1970). The Split in the Ego and the Mechanism of Disavowal. Psychoanal Q., 39:1-16.

(1970). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 39:1-16

The Split in the Ego and the Mechanism of Disavowal

Walter A. Stewart, M.D.


The term 'split in the ego' was intended to describe the coexistence in the ego of a realistic and distorted apperception of reality. It was particularly exemplified in the fetishist's view of the female genital. The view was based on the belief that perceptual distortions could only involve the preconscious.

In light of recent studies, this seems unlikely, and the term would not seem to describe anything new. Particularly there seems no more intimate relationship between the defense of disavowal and the so-called split in the ego than there is to the defense of repression. It is suggested that neither structural consequences nor prognostic significance can be attributed per se to the use of denial as a mechanism of defense. As a defense mechanism it can be seen in a variety of situations, extending from the desirable capacity to concentrate to the pathological. Most often both disavowal and repression coexist in the normal and neurotic. However, the mechanism of disavowal is seen most clearly in severe pathological disorders where repression has failed. As a result its presence has been seen to imply a poor prognosis, which could better be ascribed to the associated consequences of ego regression.

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