We have learned that the libidio goes through an extensive development before it can enter the service of reproduction in a way which may be regarded as normal. Now I wish to present to you what importance this fact possesses for the causation of neuroses.
I believe we are in harmony with the teachings of general pathology in assuming that this development involves two dangers, inhibition and regression. In other words, with the universal tendency of biological processes toward variation, it must necessarily happen that not all preparatory phases of a given function are equally well passed through or accomplished with comparable thoroughness. Certain components of a function may be permanently held back in an early stage of development and the complete development is therefore retarded to a certain extent.
Let us seek analogies for these processes from other fields. If a whole people leaves its dwellings to seek a new home, as frequently happened in the early periods of the history of mankind, their entire number will certainly not reach the new destination. Setting aside other losses, small groups or associations of these wandering peoples would stop on the way, and, while the majority passes on, they would settle down at these way-stations. Or, to seek a more appropriate comparison: You know that in the most highly evolved mammals, the male seminal glands, which originally are located in the far depths of the abdominal cavity, begin to wander during a certain period of intra-uterine life until they reach a position almost immediately under the skin of the pelvic extremity. In the case of a number of male individuals, one of the paired glands may as a result of this wandering remain in the pelvic cavity, or may be permanently located in the canal through which both glands must pass in their journey, or finally the canal itself may stay open permanently instead of growing together with the seminal glands after the change of position has taken place normally. When, as a young student, I was doing my first piece of scientific research under the direction of von Brücke, I was working on the dorsal nerve-roots in the spinal cord of a small fish very archaic in form. I discovered that the nerve ganglia of these roots grow out from large cells which lie in the grey matter of the dorsal column, a condition no longer true of other vertebrates. But I soon discovered that such nerve cells are found outside the grey matter all the way to the so-called spinal ganglion of the dorsal root. From this I concluded that the cells of this group of ganglia had traveled from the spinal cord to the roots of the nerves. This same result is attested by embryology. In this little fish, however, the entire path of the journey was traceable by the cells that had remained behind. Closer observation will easily reveal to you the weak points of these comparisons. Therefore let me simply say that with reference to every single sexual impulse, I consider it possible for several of its components to be held back in the earlier stages of development while other components have worked themselves out to completion. You will realize that we think of every such impulse as a current continuously driving on from the very beginning of life, and that our resolving it into individual movements which follow separately one upon the other is to a certain extent artificial. Your impression that these concepts require further clarification is correct, but an attempt would lead to too great digression. Before we pass on, however, let us agree to call this arrest of a partial impulse in an early stage of development, a fixation of the instinct.
Regression is the second danger of this development by stages. Even those components which have achieved a degree of progress may readily turn backward to these earlier stages. Having attained to this later and more highly developed form, the impulse is forced to a regression when it encounters great external difficulties in the exercise of its function, and accordingly cannot reach the goal which will satisfy its strivings. We can obviously assume that fixation and regression are not independent of each other. The stronger the fixations in the process of development prove to be, the more readily will the function evade external difficulties by a regression back to those fixations, and the less capable will the fully developed function be to withstand the hindrances that stand in the way of its exercise. Remember that if a people in its wandering has left large groups at certain way-stations, it is natural for those who have gone on to return to these stations if they are beaten or encounter a mighty foe. The more they have left on the way, however, the greater is their chance of defeat.
For your comprehension of the neuroses it is necessary to keep in mind this connection between fixation and regression. This will give you a secure hold upon the question of the cause of neuroses — of the etiology of neuroses — which we shall soon consider.
For the present we have still to discuss various aspects of regression. With the knowledge you have gained concerning the development of the function of libido, you must expect two kinds of regression: incestuous return to the first libidinous objects and return of the entire sexual organization to an earlier stage of development. Both occur in the transference neuroses and play an important part in its mechanism. Especially is the return to the first incestuous objects of libido a feature that the neurotic exhibits with positively tiresome regularity. We could say far more about regression of libido if we took into consideration another group of neuroses: neurotic narcism. But we cannot do this now. These conditions give us a clue to other stages of development of the function of libido, which have not been mentioned previously, and correspondingly show new kinds of regression. But I think the most important task before me at this point is to warn you not to confuse regression and suppression, and aid you to see clearly the connection between the two processes. Suppression, as you know, is the process by which an act capable of becoming conscious, in other words, an act that belongs to the fore-conscious system, is rendered unconscious and accordingly is thrust back into the unconscious system. Similarly we speak of suppression when the unconscious psychic act never has been admitted into the adjoining fore-conscious system but is arrested by the censor at the threshold. Kindly observe that the conception of suppression has nothing to do with sexuality. It describes a purely psychological process, which could better be characterized by terming it localized. By that we mean that it is concerned with the spatial relationships within the psyche, or if we drop this crude metaphor, with building up the psychological apparatus out of separate, psychic systems.
Through these comparisons we observe that up to this point we have not used the word regression in its general, but in a very special sense. If you accord it the general meaning of return from a higher to a lower stage of development you must include suppression as a form of regression, for suppression may also be described as the reversion to an earlier and lower stage in the development of a psychic act. Only in regard to suppression, this tendency to revert is not necessarily involved, for when a psychic act is held back in the early unconscious stage we also term it suppression in a dynamic sense. Suppression is a localized and dynamic conception, regression purely descriptive. What up this point we have called regression and considered in its relation to fixation, was only the return of libido to former stages of its development. The nature of this latter conception is entirely distinct and independent of suppression. We cannot call the libido regressions purely psychical processes and do not know what localization in the psychological apparatus we should assign to them. Even though the libido exerts a most powerful influence on psychic life, its organic significance is still the most conspicuous.
Discussions of this sort, gentlemen, are bound to be somewhat dry. To render them more vivid and impressive, let us return to clinical illustrations. You know that hysteria and compulsion-neurosis are the two chief factors in the group of transference neuroses. In hysteria, libidinous return to primary, incestuous sexual objects is quite regular, but regression to a former stage of sexual organization very rare. In the mechanism of hysteria suppression plays the chief part. If you will permit me to supplement our previous positive knowledge of this neurosis by a constructive suggestion, I could describe the state of affairs in this manner: the union of the partial instincts under the domination of the genitals is accomplished, but its results encounter the opposition of the fore-conscious system which, of course, is bound up with consciousness. Genital organization, therefore, may stand for the unconscious but not for the fore-conscious. Through this rejection on the part of the fore-conscious, a situation arises which in certain aspects is similar to the condition existing before the genitals had attained their primacy. Of the two libido regressions, the regression to a former stage of sexual organization is by far the more conspicuous. Since it is lacking in hysteria and our entire conception of the neuroses is still too much dominated by the study of hysteria which preceded it in point of time, the meaning of libido regression became clearer to us much later than that of repression. Let us be prepared to widen and change our attitude still more when we consider other narcistic neuroses besides compulsion-neurosis and hysteria in our discussion.
In contrast to this, regression of libido in compulsion-neurosis turns back most conspicuously to the earlier sadistico-anal organization, which accordingly becomes the most significant factor expressed by the symptoms. Under these conditions the love impulse must mask itself as a sadistic impulse. The compulsion idea must therefore be reinterpreted. Isolated from other superimposed factors, which though they are not accidental are also indispensable, it no longer reads: “I want to murder you”; rather it says “I want to enjoy you in love.” Add to this, that simultaneously regression of the object has also set in, so that this impulse is invariably directed toward the nearest and dearest persons, and you can imagine with what horror the patient thinks of these compulsion ideas and how alien they appear to his conscious perception. In the mechanism of these neuroses, suppression, too, assumes an important part, which it is not easy to explain in a superficial discussion of this sort. Regression of the libido without suppression would never result in neurosis but would finally end in perversion. This makes it obvious that suppression is the process most characteristic of neurosis, and typifies it most perfectly. Perhaps I shall at some future time have the opportunity of presenting to you our knowledge of the mechanism of perversions and then you will see that here also things do not work themselves out as simply as we should best like to construe them.
You will most readily reconcile yourself with these elucidations of fixation and regression, when you consider them as a preface to the investigation of the etiology of neuroses. Towards this I have only advanced a single fact: that people become neurotically ill when the possibility of satisfying their libido is removed, ill with “denial,” as I expressed myself, and that their symptoms are the substitutes for the denied gratification. Of course, that does not mean that every denial of libidinous satisfaction makes every person neurotic, but merely that in all cases known of neurosis, the factor of denial was traceable. The syllogism therefore cannot be reversed. You also understand, I trust, that this statement is not supposed to reveal the entire secret of the etiology of neurosis, but only emphasizes an important and indispensable condition.
Now, we do not know, in the further discussion of this statement, whether to emphasize the nature of denial or the individuality of the person affected by it. Denial is very rarely complete and absolute; to cause a pathological condition, the specific gratification desired by the particular person in question must be withheld, the certain satisfaction of which he alone is capable. On the whole there are many ways of enduring abstinence from libidinous gratification without succumbing to a neurosis by reason thereof. Above all we know of people who are able to endure abstinence without doing themselves injury; they are not happy under the circumstances, they are filled with yearning, but they do not become ill. Furthermore, we must take into consideration that the impulses of the sex instinct are extraordinarily plastic, if I may use that term in this connection. One thing may take the place of the other; one may assume the other’s intensity; if reality refuses the one gratification, the satisfaction of another may offer full compensation. The sexual impulses are like a network of communicating channels filled with fluids; they are this in spite of their subjugation to the primacy of the genitals, though I realize it is difficult to unite these two ideas in one conception. The component impulses of sexuality as well as the total sexual desire, which represents their aggregate, show a marked ability to change their object, to exchange it, for instance, for one more easily attainable. This displacement and the readiness to accept substitutes must exert powerful influences in opposition to the pathological effect of abstinence. Among these processes which resist the ill effects of abstinence, one in particular has won cultural significance. Sexual desire relinquishes either its goal of partial gratification of desire, or the goal of desire toward reproduction, and adopts another aim, genetically related to the abandoned one, save that it is no longer sexual but must be termed social. This process is called “sublimation,” and in adopting this process we subscribe to the general standard which places social aims above selfish sexual desires. Sublimation is, as a matter of fact, only a special case of the relation of sexual to non-sexual desires. We shall have occasion to talk more about this later in another connection.
Now your impression will be that abstinence has become an insignificant factor, since there are so many methods of enduring it. Yet this is not the case, for its pathological power is unimpaired. The remedies are generally not sufficient. The measure of unsatisfied libido which the average human being can stand is limited. The plasticity and freedom of movement of libido is by no means retained to the same extent by all individuals; sublimation can, moreover, never account for more than a certain small fraction of the libido, and finally most people possess the capacity for sublimation only to a very slight degree. The most important of these limitations clearly lies in the adaptability of the libido, as it renders the gratification of the individual dependent upon the attainment of only a very few aims and objects. Kindly recall that incomplete development of the libido leaves extensive and possibly even numerous libido fixations in earlier developmental phases of the processes of sexual organization and object-finding, and that these phases are usually not capable of affording a real gratification. You will then recognize libido fixation as the second powerful factor which together with abstinence constitutes the causative factors of the illness. We may abbreviate schematically and say that libido fixation represents the internal disposing factor, abstinence the accidental external factor of the etiology of neurosis.
I seize the opportunity to warn you of taking sides in a most unnecessary conflict. In scientific affairs it is a popular proceeding to emphasize a part of the truth in place of the whole truth and to combat all the rest, which has lost none of its verity, in the name of that fraction. In this way various factions have already separated out from the movement of psychoanalysis; one faction recognizes only the egoistic impulses and denies the sexual, another appreciates the influence of objective tasks in life, but ignores the part played by the individual past, and so on. Here is occasion for a similar antithesis and subject for dispute: are neuroses exogenous or endogenous diseases, are they the inevitable results of a special constitution or the product of certain harmful (traumatic) impressions; in particular, are they called forth by libido fixation (and the sexual constitution which goes with this) or through the pressure of forbearance? This dilemma seems to me no whit wiser than another I could present to you: is the child created through the generation of the father or the conception of the mother? Both factors are equally essential, you will answer very properly. The conditions which cause neuroses are very similar if not precisely the same. For the consideration of the causes of neuroses, we may arrange neurotic diseases in a series, in which two factors, sexual constitution and experience, or, if you wish, libido-fixation and self-denial, are represented in such a way that one increases as the other decreases. At one end of the series are the extreme cases, of which you can say with full conviction: These persons would have become ill because of the peculiar development of their libido, no matter what they might have experienced, no matter how gently life might have treated them. At the other end are cases which would call forth the reversed judgment, that the patients would undoubtedly have escaped illness if life had not thrust certain conditions upon them. But in the intermediate cases of the series, predisposing sexual constitution and subversive demands of life combine. Their sexual constitution would not have given rise to neurosis if the victims had not had such experiences, and their experiences would not have acted upon them traumatically if the conditions of the libido had been otherwise. Within this series I may grant a certain preponderance to the weight carried by the predisposing factors, but this admission, too, depends upon the boundaries within which you wish to delimit nervousness.
Allow me to suggest that you call such series complementary series. We shall have occasion to establish other series of this sort.
The tenacity with which the libido clings to certain tendencies and objects, the so-called adhesiveness of the libido, appears to us as an independent factor, individually variable, the determining conditions of which are completely unknown to us, but the importance of which for the etiology of the neuroses we can no longer underestimate. At the same time we must not overestimate the closeness of this interrelation. A similar adhesiveness of the libido occurs — for unknown reasons — in normal persons under various conditions, and is a determining factor in the perverse, who are in a certain sense the opposite of nervous. Before the period of psychoanalysis, it was known (Binet) that the anamnesia of the perverse is often traced back to an early impression — an abnormality in the tendency of the instinct or its choice of object — and it is to this that the libido of the individual has clung for life. Frequently it is hard to say how such an impression becomes capable of attracting the libido so intensively. I shall give you a case of this kind which I observed myself. A man, to whom the genital and all other sex stimuli of woman now mean nothing, who in fact can only be thrown into an irresistible sexual excitation by the sight of a shoe on a foot of a certain form, is able to recall an experience he had in his sixth year, which proved decisive for the fixation of his libido. One day he sat on a stool beside his governess, who was to give him an English lesson. She was an old, shriveled, unbeautiful girl with washed-out blue eyes and a pug nose, who on this day, because of some injury, had put a velvet slipper on her foot and stretched it out on a footstool; the leg itself she had most decorously covered. After a diffident attempt at normal sexual activity, undertaken during puberty, such a thin sinewy foot as his governess’ had become the sole object of his sexuality; and the man was irresistibly carried away if other features, reminiscent of the English governess, appeared in conjunction with the foot. Through this fixation of the libido the man did not become neurotic but perverse, a foot fetishist, as we say. So you see that, although exaggerated and premature fixation of the libido is indispensable for the causation of neuroses, its sphere of action exceeds the limits of neuroses immeasurably. This condition also, taken by itself, is no more decisive than abstinence.
And so the problem of the cause of neuroses seems to become more complicated. Psychoanalytic investigation does, in fact, acquaint us with a new factor, not considered in our etiological series, which is recognized most easily in those cases where permanent well-being is suddenly disturbed by an attack of neurosis. These individuals regularly show signs of contradiction between their wishes, or, as we are wont to say, indication of psychic conflict. A part of their personality represents certain wishes, another rebels against them and resists them. A neurosis cannot come into existence without such conflict. This may seem to be of small significance. You know that our psychic life is continually agitated by conflicts for which we must find a solution. Certain conditions, therefore, must exist to make such a conflict pathological. We want to know what these conditions are, what psychic powers form the background for these pathological conflicts, what relation the conflict bears to the causative factors.
I hope I shall be able to give you satisfactory answers to these questions even if I must make them schematically brief. Self-denial gives rise to conflict, for libido deprived of its gratification is forced to seek other means and ends. A pathogenic conflict arises when these other means and ends arouse the disfavor of one part of the personality, and a veto ensues which makes the new mode of gratification impossible for the time being. This is the point of departure for the development of the symptoms, a process which we shall consider later. The rejected libidinous desires manage to have their own way, through circuitous byways, but not without catering to the objections through the observance of certain symptom-formation; the symptoms are the new or substitute satisfaction which the condition of self-denial has made necessary.
We can express the significance of the psychic conflict in another way, by saying: the outer self-denial, in order to become pathological, must be supplemented by an inner self-denial. Outer denial removes one possibility of gratification, inner denial would like to exclude another possibility, and it is this second possibility which becomes the center of the ensuing conflict. I prefer this form of presentation because it possesses secret content. It implies the probability that the inner impediment found its origin in the prehistoric stage of human development in real external hindrances.
What powers are these which interpose objections to libidinous desire, who are the other parties to the pathological conflict? They are, in the widest sense, the non-sexual impulses. We call them comprehensively the “ego impulses”; psychoanalysis of transference neuroses does not grant us ready access to their further investigation, but we learn to know them, in a measure, through the resistance they offer to analysis. The pathological struggle is waged between ego-impulses and sexual impulses. In a series of cases it appears as though conflict could exist between various purely sexual desires; but that is really the same thing, for of the two sexual desires involved in the conflict, one is always considerate of the ego, while the other demands that the ego be denied, and so it remains a conflict between the ego and sexuality.
Again and again when psychoanalysis claimed that psychological event was the result of sexual impulses, indignant protest was raised that in psychic life there were other impulses and interests besides the sexual, that everything could not be derived from sexuality, etc. Well, it is a great pleasure to share for once the opinion of one’s opponents. Psychoanalysis never forgot that non-sexual impulses exist. It insisted on the decided distinction between sexual and ego-impulses and maintained in the face of every objection not that neuroses arise from sexuality, but that they owe their origin to the conflict between sexuality and the ego. Psychoanalysis can have no reasonable motive for denying the existence or significance of ego-impulses, even though it investigates the influence sexual impulses play in illness and in life. Only it has been destined to deal primarily with sexual impulses, because transference neuroses have furnished the readiest access to their investigation, and because it had become obligatory to study what others had neglected.
It does not follow, either, that psychoanalysis has never occupied itself at all with the non-sexual side of personality. The very distinction of the ego from sexuality has shown most clearly that the ego-impulses also pass through a significant development, which is by no means entirely independent of the development of the libido, nor does it fail to exert a reaction upon it. To be sure, we know much less about the evolution of the ego than about libido development, for so far only the study of narcistic neuroses has promised to throw light on the structure of the ego. There is extant the notable attempt of Ferenczi to construct theoretically the stages of ego development, and furthermore we already possess two fixed points from which to proceed in our evolution of this development. We do not dream of asserting that the libidinous interests of a person are from the outset opposed to the interests of self-preservation; in every stage, rather, the ego will strive to remain in harmony with its sexual organization at that time, and accommodate itself thereto. The succession of the separate phases of development of libido probably follows a prescribed program; but we cannot deny that this sequence can be influenced by the ego, and that a certain parallelism of the phases of development of the ego and the libido may also be assumed. Indeed, the disturbance of this parallelism could become a pathological factor. One of the most important insights we have to gain is the nature of the attitude which the ego exhibits when an intensive fixation of its libido is left behind in one stage of its development. It may countenance the fixation and accordingly become perverse or, what amounts to the same thing, become infantile. Or it may be averse to this attachment of the libido, the result of which is that wherever the libido is subject to fixation, there the ego undergoes suppression.
In this way we reach the conclusion that the third factor of the etiology of neuroses is the tendency to conflict, upon which the development both of the ego and libido are dependent. Our insight into the causation of the neuroses has therefore been amplified. First, the most generalized factor, self-denial, then the fixation of the libido, by which it is forced into certain directions, and thirdly, the tendency to conflict in the development of the ego, which has rejected libidinous impulses of this kind. The state of affairs is therefore not so confused and difficult to see through, as you may have imagined it to be in the course of my explanation. But of course we are to discover that we have not, as yet, reached the end. We must add still a new factor and further analyze one we already know.
To show you the influence of ego development in the formation of a conflict, and so to give an illustration of the causation of neuroses, I should like to cite an example which, although it is entirely imaginary, is not far removed from probability in any respect. Drawing upon the title of a farce by Nestroy, I shall label this example “On the ground floor and in the first story.” The janitor lives on the ground floor, while the owner of the house, a rich, distinguished man, occupies the first story. Both have children, and we shall assume that the owner permits his little daughter to play unwatched with the child of the people. Then it may easily happen that the games of the children become “naughty,” that is, they assume a sexual character; they play “father and mother,” watch each other in the performance of intimate performances and mutually stimulate their genitals. The janitor’s daughter, who, in spite of her five or six years of age, has had occasion to make observations on the sexuality of adults, probably played the part of the seducer. These experiences, even though they be of short duration, are sufficient to set in motion certain sexual impulses in both children, which continue in the form of onanism for several years after the common games have ceased. So far the consequences are similar; the final result will be very different. The janitor’s daughter will continue onanism possibly to the commencement of her periods, abandon it then without difficulty, not many years later find a lover, perhaps bear a child, choose this or that path of life, which may likely enough make of her a popular artist who ends as an aristocrat. Perhaps the outcome will be less brilliant, but at any rate she will work out her life, free from neurosis, unharmed by her premature sexual activity. Very different is the effect on the other child. Even while she is very young she will realize vaguely that she has done wrong. In a short while, perhaps only after a violent struggle, she will renounce the gratification of onanism, yet still retain an undercurrent of depression in her attitude. If, during her early childhood, she chances to learn something about sexual intercourse, she will turn away in explicable disgust and seek to remain innocent. Probably she is at the time subjected anew to an irresistible impulse to onanism, of which she does not dare to complain. When the time arrives for her to find favor in the eyes of a man, a neurosis will suddenly develop and cheat her out of marriage and the joy of life. When analysis succeeds in gaining insight into this neurosis, it will reveal that this well-bred, intelligent girl of high ideals, has completely suppressed her sexual desires, but that unconsciously they cling to the meager experiences she had with the friend of her childhood.
The difference of these two destinies, arising from the same experience, is due to the fact that one ego has experienced development while the other has not. The janitor’s daughter in later years looks upon sexual intercourse as the same natural and harmless thing it had seemed in her childhood. The owner’s daughter had experienced the influence of education and had recognized its claims. Thus stimulated, her ego had forged its ideals of womanly purity and lack of desire which, however, could not agree with any sexual activity; her intellectual development had made unworthy her interest in the woman’s part she was to play. This higher moral and intellectual evolution of her ego was in conflict with the claims of her sexuality.
I should like to consider today one more point in the development of the ego, partly because it opens wide vistas, partly because it will justify the sharp, perhaps unnatural line of division we are wont to draw between sexual and ego impulses. In estimating the several developments of ego and of libido, we must emphasize an aspect which has not frequently been appreciated heretofore. Both the ego and the libido are fundamentally heritages, abbreviated repetitions of an evolution which mankind has, in the course of long periods of time, traversed from primeval ages. The libido shows its phylogenetic origin most readily, I should say. Recall, if you please, that in one class of animals the genital apparatus is closely connected with the mouth, that in another it cannot be separated from the excretory apparatus, and in others it is attached to organs of locomotion. Of all these things you will find a most fascinating description in the valuable book of W. Bölsche. Animals portray, so to speak, all kinds of perversions which have become set as their permanent sexual organizations. In man this phylogenetic aspect is partly clouded by the circumstance that these activities, although fundamentally inherited, are achieved anew in individual development, presumably because the same conditions still prevail and still continue to exert their influence on each personality. I should say that originally they served to call forth an activity, where they now serve only as a stimulus for recollection. There is no doubt that in addition the course of development in each individual, which has been innately determined, may be disturbed or altered from without by recent influences. That power which has forced this development upon mankind, and which today maintains the identical pressure, is indeed known to us: it is the same self-denial enforced by the realities — or, given its big and actual name, Necessity, the struggle for existence, the [Greek] ‘Ananchê. This has been a severe teacher, but under him we have become potent. The neurotics are those children upon whom this severity has had a bad effect — but there is risk in all education. This appreciation of the struggle of life as the moving force of development need not prejudice us against the importance of “innate tendencies in evolution” if their existence can be proved.
It is worth noting that sexual instincts and instincts of self-preservation do not behave similarly when they are confronted with the necessities of actuality. It is easier to educate the instincts of self-preservation and everything that is connected with them; they speedily learn to adapt themselves to necessity and to arrange their development in accordance with the mandates of fact. That is easy to understand, for they cannot procure the objects they require in any other way; without these objects the individual must perish. The sex instincts are more difficult to educate because at the outset they do not suffer from the need of an object. As they are related almost parasitically to the other functions of the body and gratify themselves auto-erotically by way of their own body, they are at first withdrawn from the educational influence of real necessity. In most people, they maintain themselves in some way or other during the entire course of life as those characteristics of obstinacy and inaccessibility to influence which are generally collectively called unreasonableness. The education of youth generally comes to an end when the sexual demands are aroused to their full strength. Educators know this and act accordingly; but perhaps the results of psychoanalysis will influence them to transfer the greatest emphasis to the education of the early years, of childhood, beginning with the suckling. The little human being is frequently a finished product in his fourth or fifth year, and only reveals gradually in later years what has long been ready within him.
To appreciate the full significance of the aforementioned difference between the two groups of instincts, we must digress considerably and introduce a consideration which we must needs call economic. Thereby we enter upon one of the most important but unfortunately one of the most obscure domains of psychoanalysis. We ask ourselves whether a fundamental purpose is recognizable in the workings of our psychological apparatus, and answer immediately that this purpose is the pursuit of pleasurable excitement. It seems as if our entire psychological activity were directed toward gaining pleasurable stimulation, toward avoiding painful ones; that it is regulated automatically by the principle of pleasure. Now we should like to know, above all, what conditions cause the creation of pleasure and pain, but here we fall short. We may only venture to say that pleasurable excitation in some way involves lessening, lowering or obliterating the amount of stimuli present in the psychic apparatus. This amount, on the other hand, is increased by pain. Examination of the most intense pleasurable excitement accessible to man, the pleasure which accompanies the performance of the sexual act, leaves small doubt on this point. Since such processes of pleasure are concerned with the destinies of quantities of psychic excitation or energy, we call considerations of this sort economic. It thus appears that we can describe the tasks and performances of the psychic apparatus in different and more generalized terms than by the emphasis of the pursuit of pleasure. We may say that the psychic apparatus serves the purpose of mastering and bringing to rest the mass of stimuli and the stimulating forces which approach it. The sexual instincts obviously show their aim of pleasurable excitement from the beginning to the end of their development; they retain this original function without much change. The ego instincts strive at first for the same thing. But through the influence of their teacher, necessity, the ego instincts soon learn to adduce some qualification to the principle of pleasure. The task of avoiding pain becomes an objective almost comparable to the gain of pleasure; the ego learns that its direct gratification is unavoidably withheld, the gain of pleasurable excitement postponed, that always a certain amount of pain must be borne and certain sources of pleasure entirely relinquished. This educated ego has become “reasonable.” It is no longer controlled by the principle of pleasure, but by the principle of fact, which at bottom also aims at pleasure, but pleasure which is postponed and lessened by considerations of fact.
The transition from the pleasure principle to that of fact is the most important advance in the development of the ego. We already know that the sexual instincts pass through this stage unwillingly and late. We shall presently learn the consequence to man of the fact that his sexuality admits of such a loose relation to the external realities of his life. Yet one more observation belongs here. Since the ego of man has, like the libido, its history of evolution, you will not be surprised to hear that there are “ego-regressions,” and you will want to know what role this return of the ego to former phases of development plays in neurotic disease.
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