Hartmann was born to a family known for producing writers and academics. His own father was a professor of history, and his mother was a pianist and sculptor.
After completing secondary school he entered the University of Vienna where he became a doctor psychologist. His interest was in Freudian theories.
The death of Karl Abraham prevented Hartmann from following the didactic treatment he had envisioned following with him. He then undertook the first analysis with Sandor Rado. In 1927 he published Les fondements de la psychanalyse, which he followed with a number of studies on psychoses, neuroses, twins, etc. He also participated in the creation of a manual of medical psychology.
Sigmund Freud offered him free analysis if he stayed in Vienna just as he was offered a position at the John Hopkins Institute. He chose to enter into analysis with Freud and was noted as a shining star amongst analysts of his generation.
In 1937, at the Viennese Psychological Society, he presented a study on the psychology of Me, a topic on which he would later expand on when writing his work translated into French under the title of La psychologie du Moi et le problème de l'adaptation. ("The Psychology of Me and the problem of its adaptation"). It was this work that marked the development of the theoretical movement known as Ego-psychology.
In 1938 he left Austria with his family to escape the Nazis. Passing through Paris and then Switzerland, he arrived in New York in 1941 where he quickly became one of the foremost thinkers of the New York Psychoanalytic Society. He was joined by Ernst Kris and Rudolph Loewenstein with whom he wrote many articles.
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