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Hartmann, H. (1950). Comments on the Psychoanalytic Theory of the Ego. Psychoanal. St. Child, 5:74-96.

(1950). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 5:74-96

Original Articles

Comments on the Psychoanalytic Theory of the Ego

Heinz Hartmann, M.D.

As early as in the nineties, and even before his interest had definitely shifted from physiological to psychological theory, Freud speaks of an ego, partly in a sense that foreshadows considerably later developments of ego psychology. However, the closer elaboration of this part of his work had to be postponed during a period in which his main concern was with the development of other aspects of psychoanalysis. All the revolutionary work of those years approached personality via what today we would call the study of the id. Thus, in analysis, a broad fundament of facts and hypotheses was laid down—on the laws governing unconscious mental processes, on the characteristics and development of instinctual drives and on some aspects of psychic conflict—the absence of which had been a severe handicap to preanalytic psychology. The fact that Freud's investigation of the id preceded his approach to structural psychology is indeed one of the most momentous events in the history of psychology.

When, after the time of comparative latency of his interest in the ego, Freud in the early twenties explicitly came to constitute ego psychology as a chapter of analysis, this step was made possible, and as a matter of fact imperative, by the convergence of clinical and technical as well as theoretical insight he had gained in the meantime. Today this phase in the development of ego psychology is accepted by most analysts as an integral part of their theoretical and practical thinking. It had a far-reaching modifying influence also on many earlier hypotheses in other fields of analysis; e.g., technique, the theory of anxiety, or the theory of instinctual drives. Despite all this, one gets the impression that Freud himself considered his formulations of that period rather as a bold first inroad into a new territory than as a systematic presentation of ego psychology or as the last word on the structural aspects of personality. In his later papers, up to his last ones, we find modifications and reformulations the importance of which has as yet not always been realized. Some of these I shall discuss later.

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