Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Edward Edinger: The Ego-Self Axis

In what follows we shall be using three terms repeatedly to describe different forms of relatedness between ego and self. These terms should perhaps be introduced at the outset. They are: ego-self identity, ego-self separation, and ego-self axis. The meaning of these terms is indicated by the following figures representing progressive stages in the relationship between ego and self.
FIG. 1
FIG. 2
FIG. 3 Fig. 4
These diagrams represent progressive stages of ego-self separation appearing in the course of psychological development. The shaded ego areas designate the residual ego-self identity. The dotted line connecting ego-centre with self-centre represents the ego-self axis—the vital connecting link between ego and self that ensures the integrity of the ego....
Clinical observation leads one to the conclusion that the integrity and stability of the ego depend in all stages of development on a living connection with the self....

Damage to the ego-self axis leads to ego-self alienation. In this condition the ego loses, to a greater or lesser extent, its vital contact with the self—the ego's origin and source of energy and stability. Although ego-self alienation and ego-self separation often occur together, I think it is important to make a clear distinction between them. Ego-self separation ideally leads to a progressive reduction of ego-self identity without damage to the ego-self axis and eventually to consciousness of that axis. Ego-self alienation, however, damages the ego-self axis and causes an arrest or hindrance of growth....

Although for descriptive purposes it is helpful to distinguish ego-self separation from ego-self alienation, in practice they always occur together in some measure. This may be due to the fact that in early phases of development the ego-self axis is completely unconscious and therefore cannot be distinguished from the area of ego-self identity. Thus, any disturbing confrontation with reality that alters the latter is likely to affect the former. On the other hand, in psychotherapy, when the ego-self axis is undergoing repair, this simultaneously activates the remaining ego-self identity.....

I have attempted to differentiate two aspects of the relationship between ego and self. One aspect, strictly speaking, is not relationship at all but rather primitive inflated identity of ego and self deriving from the original infantile state of wholeness. The other aspect has been called, after Neumann, the ego-self axis and refers to the vital connecting link between self and ego which maintains the latter's functional autonomy. The process of psychotherapy and psychic development in general seems to alternate between (i) manifestations of ego-self identity, which require reductive criticism, and (ii) the need for enhancing or repairing the ego-self axis, which calls for a synthetic supporting approach.....Since ego cannot exist without the support of the self and the self apparently needs the ego to realize it, psychic development can be considered a continuous process of dialectic between ego and self leading paradoxically to both greater separation and greater intimacy.

Edward Edinger (1960). The Ego-Self Paradox. Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol. 5, pp. 3-18



  1. Dear Dr. Mark Winborn,

    Firstly, thank you very much for this post here! I am translating it into Vietnamese. But I do not really understand what is meant by “reductive criticism"? Does it relate to the meaning of "reductive" in Jung Lexicon by Daryl Sharp? I would be very grateful if you could explain this term for me.

    Best regards,

    Tung Hoang Do

  2. Dear Tung Hoang Do,

    Yes, Edinger is using "reductive criticism" in the same way Sharp uses the terms reductive and causal. As Edinger points out in this passage, depth psychology is always moving back and forth between the reductive (causes from personal history) and the teleological or synthetic which explores where psyche might be leading us in terms of our development.

    Best Wishes,

    Mark Winborn


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