Excerpt About Autonomy
The implication for our discussion is quite clear: As long as an ego structure is used for defense it acts as a barrier against the experience of the Personal Essence. This point brings us closer to understanding what might be the factor contributing to maturity. It has to do with the fact that when ego becomes more developed and rounded it becomes also less defensive. This process was seen by Hartmann, which led him to coin the concept of secondary autonomy. Blanck and Blanck describe the process as follows:
"As thought processes develop, involving delay of drive discharge, intelligence serves the ego by aiding the organization of percepts and memory traces, making meaningful action possible. This organization of the inner world—the world of internalizations—is the very process of structuralization. As this proceeds, certain forms of behavior change in function. A process which had originated as a defense—for example, the essential mechanism of reaction formation in toilet training—acquires adaptive autonomy when the purpose changes to maintenance of hygienic habits and orderliness. With change in function, the activity becomes pleasurable in its own right, whereas when it is still in its archaic defensive form it counteracts pleasure. The end result of change in function is attainment of secondary autonomy."
In fact, it is possible to see the process of psychotherapy as partially that of attaining secondary autonomy. Processes and structures that started as defense, which created emotional conflicts, can change functions toward adaptation, through the process of therapy. This contributes to ego strength and development, which leads to maturity. ......... Most people do not show signs of real maturity with the passage of time partly because the secondary autonomy does not develop well. Increasing rigidity and stereotyped behavior patterns indicate an entrenchment in the defensive position.