The Wisdom of the Ego

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Harvard University Press, 1995 - Psychology - 394 pages
4 Reviews
Something horrible happens, and our minds play tricks on us, tell us that it never happened, occurred differently than it did, isn't quite what it seems. Such trickery, George Vaillant tells us, is actually healthy. What's more, it can reveal the mind at its most creative and mature, soothing and protecting us in the face of unbearable reality, managing the unmanageable, ordering disorder. In The Wisdom of the Ego, Vaillant, one of America's preeminent psychiatrists, gives us an exhilarating look at how the mind's defenses work, and at how they evolve and change, and so, change us. Freud tells us that the first five years of life constitute destiny. If this were so, Vaillant asks, then how could so many deeply troubled youths become well-adjusted, productive adults? Drawing on the Study of Adult Development, based at Harvard University, this book takes us into the lives of such individuals - thriving men and women who suffered grievous disadvantages and abuses during childhood - to show us that the mind's remarkable defenses develop well into adulthood, that the maladjustments of adolescence can evolve into the virtues of maturity. In one fascinating case after another, he introduces us to middle-aged men and women learning how to love, to make meaning, to reorder chaos. Because creativity is so intrinsic to this alchemy of the ego, Vaillant mingles these life studies with psychobiographies of famous artists and others. We meet Florence Nightingale, the intractable hypochondriac and hopeless dreamer who, at the age of thirty-one, wrote in her diary, 'I see nothing desirable but death,' and we watch as she transforms her anguish into altruism, her hapless fantasies into fantastic success. In the tormented life of Sylvia Plath, we see psychosis as not only a defect but also an effort at repair, her poetry as an extraordinary illustration of the adaptive process.

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Review: The Wisdom of the Ego

User Review  - Blaine - Goodreads

All Buddhists should read this book. The ego is not the source of all your problems, rather, it is how you are able to do Buddhism in the first place. More later. Read full review

Review: The Wisdom of the Ego

User Review  - Shannon - Goodreads

Incredibly thought-provoking! Read full review


A Matter of Definition
Mutually exclusive ways of identifying the defenses
SelfDeceptions of Everyday Life
Necessary Questions
How Can We Prove That Defenses Exist?
Correlations between maturity of defenses and measures
The Ego and Adult Development
Major differences between the more and the less
Creativity and Psychotic Defenses
Mature Defenses
The Maturation of Defenses
Disadvantage Resilience and Mature Defenses
Eleven vulnerable Core City men and their
How Does the Ego Mature?

Psychosocial stages reached by members of
Life Histories
The Ego and Creativity

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About the author (1995)

George E. Vaillant is Professor of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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