The psychological birth of the human infant – Margaret Mahler

According to Mahler, successful completion of developmental stages in the first few years of life results in separation and individuation. Separation refers to the internal process of mental separation from the mother, while individuation refers to an evolving self-concept. These develop largely depending on the mother’s attitude (sensitivity) towards the child.

1. Normal autistic stage: (0-2 months) At the very beginning of life, the baby primarily focuses on himself and is not interested in external stimuli. The mother is seen as an internal part of the infant, devoid of a separate existence. The primary goal at this point is to reach a state of equilibrium (Homeostasis) without the understanding that the fulfillment of needs can come from an external source. For the baby, the hallucinatory desire is enough. His “vague awareness” of the object initiates the symbiotic phase.

2.Normal symbiotic phase: (2-4 months) In this stage, the infant vaguely accepts the mother’s presence as the main source of need satisfaction, not as a unique entity. Meeting the infant’s physiological needs is intertwined with psychological desires and thus serves as the basis on which future relationships will be formed. Crucial to successful progression through the later stages is the mother’s ability and presence to successfully adapt to the infant’s needs. During this period, the mother becomes “Psychological Desire”. Failure to complete this stage successfully (extreme deviation) may cause the development of “Psychotic” features in the child.

3. Separation-Individuation phase: (5-30 months) In this final phase, an important transition takes place in the two overlapping realms. In separation, the infant begins to understand the boundaries of the self, and thus the mother is increasingly seen as an individual. Meanwhile, individuation marks the development of a sense of self. It consists of four sub-stages:

3a: Differentiation: (3-8 months) The baby’s primary focus begins to shift from inner focus to outer focus, although the primary reference point remains the mother. This internal process is expressed by important events in motor development, such as crawling, that allow for greater physical separation. The baby becomes more and more interested in discovering his mother (for example, how he looks or smells) rather than trying to integrate symbiotically with the mother. Social smile status is of great importance. Body image development is important.

3b: Exercise: (10-15 months) With increasing autonomous functions, especially “walking”, separation capacity continues to develop. Although the child can explore freely, he sees the mother as a whole with himself and therefore explores his environment at the optimum distance. (refueling base) The child’s experience of the world as he or she explores is influenced by the mother’s reactions and her readiness to appease her when the experiences may be frightening or painful. In this period, thanks to the “development of the ability to know and upright movement”, the child experiences the state of “Loving the World”. Here my narcissism is at its peak. Walking makes a large libidinal investment in autonomous ego function. During this period, the child seems indifferent to the mother and the pain of falling, getting up and hitting. During this period, the child satisfies the mother’s absence in the form of “darkening” (imagining the mother in the fantasy world and providing satisfaction).

3c: Reconvergence: (15-22 months) Omnipotence narcissism, which reaches its peak in the practice phase, begins to fade with the developing cognitive ego function. At this point, the child’s desire to be independent is overshadowed by the fear of abandonment. Therefore, the child tries to maintain closeness to the mother while engaged in exploration. This stage is essential for the development of a stable sense of self. This includes three sub-stages: • Beginning: The child turns to the mother to share her experiences and excitement. The “sensitivity-accessibility” of the mother is very important here. • Crisis: The child is aware of his limitations against the desire to be strong and self-sufficient. The child has difficulty choosing between physical and emotional closeness or independence from the mother. This stage is characterized by tantrums and helplessness, and therefore the mother’s need for emotional availability increases. In the absence of her mother, the image of the mother object is divided into “good and bad”. • Solution: The child reaches a healthy environment between the two extremes thanks to language, super-ego development, and the power of expressing through symbolic games. If the crisis is not resolved well, there will be an increase in over-hugging or avoidance behavior.

3d: Object constancy: (22-30 months) Successful completion of this stage marks the development of an internalized mental model of the mother that unconsciously accompanies and supports the child even when physically separated. In addition, a sense of individuality begins to develop. The degree of ambivalence in the internalized model implies the formation of a healthy self-concept and self-confidence. Consolidation of gender identity, development of verbal communication, fantasy and reality testing are provided. The purpose of this period; to achieve individuality and object permanence throughout life. The psychotic child could not successfully implement this period.

BASIC MORAL STATES: Girl child: Low mobility, anatomical defects (absence of penis) predispose a girl to be depressed. He expresses his displeasure at being cheated on, injured (castration) by the mother. It is demanding, double-oriented towards the mother.

In the 3rd year: The envy of the penis is suppressed and directed to the mother by changing its place. Girl: Lives her penis conflict in “Reintimacy” while Boy: Lives in the phallic stage. The male child experiences the penis envy of the female child as the fear of being swallowed by the mother.

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