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Maenchen, A. (1946). A Case of Superego Disintegration. Psychoanal. St. Child, 2:257-262.

(1946). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 2:257-262

A Case of Superego Disintegration

Anna Maenchen, Ph.D.

The main factors hampering the development of the superego in wartime have been studied thoroughly by Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham (2). The children under observation in the Hampstead Nurseries were mostly of pre-school age, that is their development was beyond the appearance of the formal superego function (5) and before the integration of the superego. During this period the child is occupied with the complicated task of mastering his destructive and aggressive wishes. Exposure to the destructiveness of war makes it extremely difficult for him to achieve this. The child does not become cruel and aggressive because of these conditions but may remain so because of them. A second factor is the often abrupt separation of the child from its mother which is inevitable when an area has to be evacuated at a moment's notice. Subsequent wandering through evacuation centers, hospitals, and nurseries, from one pair of hands into another, throws the small child in a "no-man's land of affection" in which the feelings of the child are turned inward. There is nobody whom the child loves enough and with whom he can identify. As one small boy in the Hampstead Nurseries expressed it, "I'm nobody's nothing."

We in this country had little opportunity to observe the impact of the war on the developing superego. It is true that here, too, many homes were broken up as a consequence of the war. But in those cases the damage done to small children was not different from that we meet so frequently in our social agencies' cases, those children with a history of a dozen foster-homes behind them. And it makes quite a difference whether a five-year-old is actually dug out from a collapsed air raid shelter or whether he just listens to the machinegun noise over the radio.

Although American children were not personally subjected to bombing and fighting, some pre-adolescent children were profoundly affected by the ideological aspects of the war.

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