Normality and pathology in separation anxiety in infancy and early childhood

Existence pains of the individual since infancy have been discussed by many psychoanalytic theorists in terms of ‘separation anxiety’. According to Mahler, the sudden emergence of motor functions in toddlers is accompanied by a delay in emotional readiness to function separately from the mother, and an organic panic ensues1. Klein also states that separation desires arise in the child whose ego function matures. Desire for separation brings with it feelings of guilt, the child’s dependence on the primary caregiver creates anxiety and turns into feelings of aggression towards the caregiver, the child feels that he is hurting the caregiver with his own aggression, and the fear of losing the loving mother arises. According to him, this fear was transformed in the process; In the early stages, while the attack of the mother, which becomes violent in the absence of the loving mother, is feared, the loss of the true-loving mother in the later period is feared2. Winnicott has defined the ‘paradox of being alone’ in which the baby can be alone only in the presence of the mother. However, when the internal objects gain continuity, the symbol can emerge when the child and the mother are separated, that is, the transitional objects. Thanks to the transitional object, the child can deny the separation ‘for a while’. If this ideal period is exceeded, there must be a pathology, a rupture in the infant’s continuity, and primitive defense mechanisms are organized against the danger of returning to acute confusion, which occurs with the repetition of ‘unthinkable anxiety’ or the dissolution of ego structure3. This ideal period is not exceeded as much as possible, and the longer the object relations become permanent when the child reaches the oedipal stage, the longer they can be separated without injury4.


one Mahler, S., Pine, F., & Bergman, A. (2003). Psychological birth of the human baby (Trans. Ali Nahit Babaoğlu). Metis Listening to the Other. Istanbul.

2 Klein, M. (2002). Love, guilt and reparation: and other works 1921-1945 (Vol. 1). Simon and Schuster.

3 Winnicott, D.W. (1958). The capacity to be alone. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 39, 416-420.

4 Freud, A. (2000). Normality and pathology in childhood. Edition. AN Babaoğlu (trans.), Istanbul: Metis Publications (original edition 1965).

Aybuke Tugce MUSTAN

Dr Ersin Arslan Training and Research Hospital – Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Diseases

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