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Civilization and its Discontents

being in love threatens to obliterate the boundaries between ego and object. Against all the evidence of his
senses, the man in love declares that he and his beloved are one, and is prepared to behave as if it were a
fact. A thing that can be temporarily effaced by a physiological function must also of course be liable to
disturbance by morbid processes. From pathology we have come to know a large number of states in which
the boundary line between ego and outer world become uncertain, or in which they are actually incorrectly
perceived—cases in which parts of a man’s own body, even component parts of his own mind, perceptions,
thoughts, feelings, appear to him alien and not belonging to himself; other cases in which a man ascribes
to the external world things that clearly originate in himself, and that ought to be acknowledged by him.
So the ego’s cognizance of itself is subject to disturbance, and the boundaries between it and the outer world
are not immovable.
Further reflection shows that the adult’s sense of his own ego cannot have been the same from the
beginning. It must have undergone a development, which naturally cannot be demonstrated, but which
admits of reconstruction with a fair degree of probability. 3 When the infant at the breast receives stimuli,
he cannot as yet distinguish whether they come from his ego or from the outer world. He learns it gradually
as the result of various exigencies. It must make the strongest impression on him that many sources of
excitation, which later on he will recognize as his own bodily organs, can provide him at any time with
sensations, whereas others become temporarily out of his reach—amongst these what he wants most of all,
his mother’s breast—and reappear only as a result of his cries for help. Thus an object first presents itself to
the ego as something ex-isting outside, which is only induced to appear by a particular act. A further stimulus
to the growth and formation of the ego, so that it becomes something more than a bundle of sensations, i.
e., recognizes an outside, the external world. is afforded by the frequent, unavoidable and manifold pains
and unpleasant sensations which the pleasure-principle, still in unrestricted domination, bids it abolish
or avoid. The tendency arises to dissociate from the ego everything which can give rise to pain, to cast it out
and create a pure pleasure-ego, in contrast to a threatening outside, not-self. The limits of this primitive
pleasure-ego cannot escape readjustment through experience. Much that the individual wants to retain
because it is pleasure-giving is nevertheless part not of the ego but of an object; and much that he wishes
to eject because it torments him yet proves to be inseparable from the ego, arising from an inner source. He
learns a method by which, through deliberate use of the sensory organs and suitable muscular movements,
he can distinguish between internal and external —what is part of the ego and what originates in the outer
world—and thus he makes the first step towards the introduction of the reality-principle which is to control
his development further. This capacity for distinguishing which he learns of course serves a practical
purpose, that of enabling him to defend himself against painful sensations felt by him or threatening him.
Against certain painful excitations from within the ego has only the same means of defence as that employed
against pain coming from without, and this is the starting-point of important morbid disturbances.
3 Cf. the considerable volume of work on this topic dating from that of Ferenczi (Stages in the Development of the
Sense of Reality, 1913) up to Federn’s contributions. 1926, 1927 and later.
In this way the ego detaches itself from the external world. It is more correct to say: Originally the ego
includes everything, later it detaches from itself the external world. The ego-feeling we are aware of now
is thus only a shrunken vestige of a far more extensive feeling—a feeling which embraced the universe and
expressed an inseparable connection of the ego with the external world. If we may suppose that this
primary ego-feeling has been preserved in the minds of many people—to a greater or lesser extent— it
would co-exist like a sort of counterpart with the narrower and more sharply outlined ego-feeling of
maturity, and the ideational content belonging to it would be prec i se ly the not ion of l imi t l ess ext ens ion and
oneness with the universe—the same feeling as that described by my friend as “oceanic. “ But have we any
right to assume that the original type of feeling survives alongside the later one which has developed from
it?
Undoubtedly we have: there is nothing unusual in such a phenomenon, whether in the. psychological or
in other spheres. Where animals are concerned, we hold the view that the most highly developed have
arisen from the lowest. Yet we still find all the simple forms alive today. The great saurians are extinct and
have made way for the mammals, but a typical representative of them, the crocodile, is still living among
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