The American Journal of Psychoanalysis

, Volume 63, Issue 4, pp 365–376

The “Incompatible Idea” Revisited: The Oft-Invisible Ego-Ideal and Shame Dynamics

  • Melvin R. Lansky


The observation that incompatibility with conscience initiates deployment of defense goes back to Freud's conceptualization of the “incompatible idea” put forward in Studies on Hysteria. In this view, consciousness itself, insofar as it gives rise to painful affect resulting from conflict with the conscience, is the cornerstone for dynamic thinking, first as regards repression of traumatic memory and later for dynamic thinking generally. Subsequent discoveries about the conscience tended to give rise to pars pro toto thinking in which the new discovery replaced rather than added to the basic notion of conscience. Such pars pro toto imbalance exists in full force in psychoanalytic thinking today: Modern conflict theory privileges the postoedipal retaliative aspect of the conscience, as Kleinian thinking does for the preoedipal projective aspects of retaliation. Neither conceptualizes shame adequately. Kohut appreciated the role of shame, but discarded the notion of incompatibility with the ego-ideal. The incompatible idea model still provides an all-inclusive model for conceptualizing the conscience in the context of intrapsychic conflict.

shame incompatible idea conscience superego intrapsychic conflict 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Brenner, C. (1982). The mind in conflict. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  2. Brenner, C. (1994). The mind as conflict and compromise formation. J. Clin. Psychoanal., 3, 473–485.Google Scholar
  3. Brenner, C. (2002). Conflict, compromise formation, and structural theory. Psychoanal. Q., 71, 397–417.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Breuer J., and Freud, S. (1893-1895). Studies on hysteria. Standard edition 2. London: Hogarth.Google Scholar
  5. Ellenberger, H. (1970). The discovery of the unconscious. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  6. Frankiel, R. (2000, December). Envy and the danger of difference. Paper presented at the midwinter meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association Panel on Envy, “To have and have not: clinical treatment of envy,” New York.Google Scholar
  7. Freud, S. (1900). The interpretation of dreams. Standard edition 4 and 5. London: Hogarth.Google Scholar
  8. Freud, S. (1905). Three essays on sexuality. Standard edition 7. London: Hogarth.Google Scholar
  9. Freud, S. (1914). On narcissism: an introduction. Standard edition 14. London: Hogarth.Google Scholar
  10. Freud, S. (1916). Some character types met with in psychoanalytic work. Standard edition 14. London: Hogarth.Google Scholar
  11. Freud, S. (1921). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. Standard edition 18. London: Hogarth.Google Scholar
  12. Freud, S. (1923). The ego and the id. Standard edition 19. London: Hogarth.Google Scholar
  13. Freud, S. (1924). The dissolution of the Oedipus complex. Standard edition 19. London: Hogarth, pp. 172–179.Google Scholar
  14. Freud, S. (1925). Some psychical consequences of the anatomic distinction between the sexes. Standard edition 19. London: Hogarth.Google Scholar
  15. Freud, S. (1926). Inhibitions, symptoms, and anxiety. Standard edition 20. London: Hogarth.Google Scholar
  16. Hartmann, H., and Lowenstein, R. (1962). Notes on the superego. Psychoanal. Study Child, 17, 42–81.Google Scholar
  17. Hutson, P. (1996). The envy complex: Its recognition and analysis. In M. Goldberger (Ed.), Danger and defense (pp. 221–240). Northvale, NJ: Aronson.Google Scholar
  18. Jacobson, J. (1994). Signal affect and our psychoanalytic confusion of tongues. J. Am. Psychoanal. Assoc., 42, 15.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Kernberg, O. (1976). A psychoanalytic classification of character pathology. In Object relations theory and clinical psychoanalysis (pp. 139–160). New York: Aronson.Google Scholar
  20. Kilborne, B. (2002). Disappearing persons: Shame and appearance. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  21. Klein, M. (1933). The early development of conscience in the child. In S. Lorand (Ed.), Psychoanalysis today (pp. 149–162). New York: Covici-Friede.Google Scholar
  22. Kohut, H. (1971). The analysis of the self. New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  23. Kohut, H. (1972). Thoughts on narcissism and narcissistic rage. Psychoanal. Study Child, 27, 360–400.Google Scholar
  24. Kohut, H. (1977). The restoration of the self. New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  25. Lansky, M. (1992). Fathers who fail. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.Google Scholar
  26. Lansky, M. (1995). Posttraumatic nightmares: Psychodynamic explorations. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.Google Scholar
  27. Lansky, M. (1997). Envy as process. In M. Lansky and A. P. Morrison (Eds.), The widening scope of shame (pp. 327–338). Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.Google Scholar
  28. Lansky, M. (Unpublished). Trigger and screen. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  29. Lansky, M. (in press). Conscience and the project of a psychoanalytic science of human nature: A clarification of the usefulness of the superego concept. Psychoanal. Inquiry. Google Scholar
  30. Morrison, A. (1987). Shame: The underside of narcissism. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.Google Scholar
  31. Morrison A., Lansky, M. (1999, July). Shame and envy. Paper presented at the International Psychoanalytic Congress, Santiago, Chile.Google Scholar
  32. Piers, G., and Singer, M. (1953). Shame and guilt. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.Google Scholar
  33. Rangell, L. (1954). The psychology of poise-with special elaboration on the psychic significance of the snout or perioral region. Int. J. Psychoanal., 35, 313–333.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Rapaport, D. (1957). A theoretical analysis of the superego concept. In M. Gill, (Ed.), Collected Papers of David Rapaport (pp. 530–568). New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  35. Retzinger, S. (1991). Violent emotions: Shame and rage in marital quarrels. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  36. Rothstein, A., and Tyson, P. (1985). Perspectives on the superego. (Panel Report.) J. Am. Psychoanal. Assoc., 33, 217–231.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Scheff, T. (1990). Microsociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  38. Scheff, T. (1993). Bloody revenge: Emotions, nationalism, and war. Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  39. Wurmser, L. (1981). The mask of shame. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Wurmser, L. (2000). The power of the inner judge. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melvin R. Lansky

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations