Redl’s description of ego disorganization in the aggression-filled young delinquent is concrete and empirical. In Children Who Hate (Redl & Wineman 1951) some 23 commonly occurring mini-collapses of ego functioning in the children’s daily lives are documented, crisscrossing major areas of the control system. For example, fear and anxiety from any source, however mild, often result in complete breakdown of controls, precipitating total flight and avoidance, or ferocious attack and diffuse destructiveness. Similar failures occur in dealing with mistakes, disappointments, case history flare-ups, coping with even mild temptation, or with unexpected gratification, and even with success or victory in a game. And, while more normal youngsters tend to use materials in ways that are consistent with their inherent potential to offer gratifications, these children show a kind of “sublimation deafness” tending to use objects and materials to gratify basic urges directly. Redl argues that the breakdown and disorganization of ego-adaptive functions on the daily life scene is itself a causal source of hate from the pure overflow of stress and frustration thereby engendered. This system of hate is also seen, however, as being fed by developmental trauma and past nurturance deficits, in this way reflecting traditional theory’s claims of the damages of libidinal neglect.
As though the stored-up inner misery of such children and the poverty of their coping functions do not present an enormous enough clinical challenge, still another fascinating but tortuously baffling complexity stares us in the face. Side by side, with the puniness of the children’s ego functions, there lies an enigmatic and unexpected power. The selfsame ego, so unable to cope with the impulses themselves and other minimal daily stresses, suddenly, with an exasperating and ruthless efficiency, performs super-human tasks in defending impulse gratification at all costs rather than showing any tendency to reconcile reality demands, desires and social values.
This “delinquent ego” is depicted as battling on four fronts against surrender of impulse gratification:
Redl, F. & Wineman, D. (1951) Children who hate. Glencoe, IL: Free Press
Wineman, D. (1991). Fritz Redl: Matchmaker to Child and Environment – A Retrospective. In Morse, W.C. (Ed.) Crisis Interventions in Residential Treatment: The Clinical Innovations of Fritz Redl. New York: Haworth Press pp. 32-33