Wisdom of the Ego: Childhood Adverse Experiences Are Not Destiny

Today’s readers probably can’t appreciate how radical George Valliant’s work was in its day.

George Valliant drew upon a longitudinal study of adult development to challenge the Freudian idea of childhood adverse experiences as destiny.

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Free download of George Valliant’s Wisdom of the Ego

wisdom of the ego



Today’s readers probably can’t appreciate how radical George Valliant’s work was in its day.

George Valliant drew upon a longitudinal study of adult development to challenge the Freudian idea of childhood adverse experiences as destiny.



You can learn more about the study Valliant headed

Harvard study of development 


Summary of the Harvard Grant Study: Triumphs of Experience

I know, in his last book, George Valliant turned into kind of a positive psychology guru of sorts, using results of the study to espouse views about how to lead a happy and meaningful life. I’ll just have to live with that and maybe some of the liberties he took in interpreting his data.

But now the important thing is that his classic book, Wisdom of the Ego, is available free for download. Get it here

The website is perfectly safe. I’ve made one of my own books available there. After having made lots of money from publishing mainly psychoanalytically and psychodynamically oriented psychotherapy books, Jason Aronson, Publisher is on a mission to give a lot of books away free

As of October 1, 2018 readers just like you from 200 countries and territories around the world have saved $55,685,206.30 on 1,149,012 FREE downloads of classic psychotherapy books.

From the original blurb for the book:

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 defense 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. We witness the mature working of the mind’s defenses in the career of Anna Freud, their greatest elucidator. And we see the wisdom of the ego at work as Eugene O’Neill evolves from self-destructive youth to creator of great art.

In these compelling portraits of obscure and famous lives, Vaillant charts the evolution of the ego’s defenses, from the psychopathic to the sublime, and from the mundane to the most ingenious. An account of the boundless psychological resilience of adult development, The Wisdom of the Ego is a brilliant summation of the mind’s amazing power to fashion creative victories out of life’s would-be defeats (1041 pgs).

From a couple of reviews at the time:

“A richly textured, elegantly written, and humane book by the person who is becoming the Anna Freud of his day. Vaillant’s sympathetic treatment of the defenses is itself wise and creative.” —Robert Kegan, Harvard University and Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology

“Vaillant tells us that ego defenses are not pathological formations or symptoms of mental illness. They are ingenious self-deceptions that serve adaptation… He is to be commended for bringing certain unconscious processes into focus and for illuminating the various ways in which ego defenses contribute to a person’s adaptation to life.”—Louise J. Kaplan, The Boston Sunday Globe

You may also be interested in two of my controversial, but most heavily accessed blog posts:

Stop using the Adverse Childhood Experiences Checklist to make claims about trauma causing physical and mental health problems


In a classic study of early childhood abuse and neglect, effects on later mental health nearly disappeared when….



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