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Fingarette, H. (1958). The Ego and Mystic Selflessness. Psychoanal. Rev., 45A(1/2):5-40.

(1958). Psychoanalytic Review, 45A(1/2):5-40

The Ego and Mystic Selflessness

Herbert Fingarette


The specific objectives of this paper are twofold. First, I wish to provide a significantly amplified theoretical psychoanalytic analysis of mysticism. The discussion touches upon the complex but urgent problems in connection with creativity and pathology, sublimation and regressive defense, the role of infantilism and fantasy in normal or creative psychic equilibria, and the processes of transition from some of these states to others. Second, I hope to illuminate aspects of both mysticism and psychoanalysis by showing how the mystic way, when successfully pursued, at times runs parallel to the way of psychoanalytic therapy, how the two eventuate ideally in results which in important respects are congruent. Crucial psychological processes underlying both “ways” will be shown to be the same.

It would be absurd to suppose that the two “ways” are identical. Until now, however, the genuine and important differentiating characteristics have usually been stressed, partly due to the fact that early studies were largely id-oriented. I shall therefore leave brief discussion of the latter aspects of the matter until the end of this paper. Appearing, as they will, after extensive discussion of the similarities and common psychological processes, the important differences between psychoanalysis and mysticism will not disappear but will reappear in a new light. It behooves us, however, to devote our main energies here to developing the picture in terms of the developments in psychoanalytic ego psychology-a viewpoint which tends to reveal similarities rather than differences.

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