Separation & Individuation (Part 2)


TO BE MYSELF –
 I need to let go of them

PREVIOUS: S & I – Intro, Part 1

OVERVIEW of several Developmental Theories ~ Danielle Bourgeois, MD

ORIGINS of S & I Theory – developed by Margaret Mahler (1897 – 1985), as an aspect of Ego Psychology & based on Freud’s id-ego-superego model of the mind. It describes how people develop an identity – being pushed by their biological urges and pulled by socio-cultural forces. Repeated disruptions in this all-important process usually results in great difficulty creating & maintaining a reliable sense of Self in adulthood.

The S & I cycle is composed of several major & minor phases :
Normal Autistic: (first month) Mahler ended up abandoning this phase, based on later findings from her infant research, which led her to believe it doesn’t actually exist – but is still included in many books
Normal Symbiotic, (0-5 mths) when the child is fused with the mother, & together they are separate from the rest of the world. The infant is aware of its mother, but has no sense of individuality, and there is a barrier between the two of them and the rest of the world

S & I (6-24 mths), when the infant begins to stagesbreak out of the ‘autistic shell’ of self-absorption, into the world of human connections.
Separation is the start of breaking the fusion with mother, the  development of limits & the infant’s sense that there’s a difference between the mind of the mother & its own
Individuation is the development of the infant’s ego with a sense of identity and cognitive (thinking) abilities, leading eventually to the formation of it’s own unique character

This is divided into overlapping minor phases:
a. Hatching  / Differentiation (6-9 mths)  Using mother as base of operation – a point of reference or orientation – when the infant is increasingly alert to & interested in events, objects and people in the outside world, beginning to ‘hatch’ from the symbiotic bond with her
b. Practicing (9-16 mths)  Baby’s developing motor skills (crawling & then walking) allows it to explore its world & move a bit away, but is still fused – experiencing itself as one with its mother.
• Emotionally – the tone is one of pleasure, energy and narcissism (“Aren’t I great?”), as long as it can return to the stable caregiver for reassurance, encouragement and re-fueling

c. Rapprochement (15 – 24 mths)   (“to turn away & then come back”)
Now a toddler, the child begins to realize the limits of its sense of omnipotence & so wants to be toddler/bearclose to mother again, aware that physical mobility creates psychic separateness, which feels scary. Yet wanting some independence leads to ‘ambi-tendency’ – a conflict between the need for autonomy and need for support, which can manifest as pushing away while also whining and clinging. The child has to be helped to negotiate the conflict between autonomous functioning & its frustration caused by parents scaling back their earlier vigilance (which feels like A.)
IMP: Some ACoAs get stuck at this stage, afraid to stay & afraid to leave!

Emotionally, this frustration & ambivalence can lead to tantrums, sadness & anger, as in the “terrible twos”. The child may cling to transitional objects, like a special blanket or toy, and need to use early defense mechanisms, such as splitting important ‘objects’ in the world into good vs. bad, to deal with the demands of leaving babyhood.
Risk: that mother will be annoyed by this clinging & become impatient, overprotective or withdrawn, leaving the child feeling unsafe. Too much of any of these parental reactions leaves the child fearful of being abandoned – setting an emotional tone for the life (predisposition to constant anxiety from fear of loss).
ALSO: getting stuck emotionally in this childhood phase without a successful resolution shows up as “Push-Pull / Come here – Go away” adult relationships

Rapprochement is divided into its own sub-phases:
i. Beginning – Motivated by a desire to share discoveries with the mother
ii. Crisis – Torn between staying with the mother to feel emotionally close vs. being more independent as it begins to explore on its own
iii. Solution – Crisis is resolved based on the newly forming personality by
the child’s fledgling use of language, developing superego & to its interaction with the temperament of the ‘good-enough’ mother.rapprochement
iv. Open-ended – allows the child to keep growing towards ‘Object Constancy’: the very important ability to hold a consistent internal image of other people, based on trusting their proven dependability. The child can then hold on to its own identity as being separate from everyone else, while staying mental connected to others, whether with them or not, or no matter how it’s being treated! This minimizes the terrible feelings of anxiety, aloneness, abandonment, isolation, being ‘different’ & unloved.

NOTE: For ACoAs to be fully ‘integrated’ (healthy adults) we need to resolve this stage – to hold on to our identity while staying connected to others!

d. Consolidation Phase (by age 3)
The split maternal image of ‘good and bad mother’ is now consolidated into a stable internal image (but only with a healthy parent) which is comforting to the child in her absence, an outcome called “object constancy.”   From Article by  D.K.Lapsley & P. Stey

Adolescence – the second half of S & I
The time to shift from blindly following the internalized caretakers AND gradually form a sense of Self that is distinct & unique, slowly reducing the teen’s dependence on the Parental Introject for approval, self-esteem & rules. He/she has to learn to take over the tasks of self-regulation, self-definition & self-esteem.
Emotionally: mourning the loss of childhood dependence & safety, as the teen experiences that old ambivalence about having freedom & a return to earlier narcissism (“I’m all-powerful”) – to cope with the temporary lack of ego-strength & self-confidence.

NEXT: Lack of Individuation

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2 thoughts on “Separation & Individuation (Part 2)

  1. This was really good because it gave an overview of the whole process. I’m all about understanding the big picture first. It was also really hard to read because I know how messed up my earliest years of life were. I did not have a “good enough” mother. My mom has told me that during the “terrible twos” if my brother threw a tantrum, she would get down on the floor and throw a tantrum too. She did this to scare him to death so that he wouldn’t throw anymore tantrums. She had all kinds of cruel “tricks” like this to control my brother and me. It’s sad because we were just being natural and normal – but we were thwarted.

    I copied four of your paragraphs below. In reference to these paragraphs, do you think that someone who lacked a “good enough” mom in these crucial areas can overcome the situation in adulthood? How? Is it really possible?

    “The child has to be helped to negotiate the conflict between autonomous functioning & its frustration caused by parents scaling back their earlier vigilance (which feels like A.)”

    “Risk: that mother will be annoyed by this clinging & become impatient, overprotective or withdrawn, leaving the child feeling unsafe. Too much of any of these parental reactions leaves the child fearful of being abandoned – setting an emotional tone for the life (predisposition to constant anxiety from fear of loss).
    ALSO: getting stuck emotionally in this childhood phase without a successful resolution shows up as “Push-Pull / Come here – Go away” adult relationships.”

    “Crisis is resolved based on the newly forming personality by
    the child’s fledgling use of language, developing superego & to its interaction with the temperament of the ‘good-enough’ mother.”

    “Open-ended – allows the child to keep growing towards ‘Object Constancy’ : the very important ability to hold a consistent internal image of other people, based on trusting their proven dependability. The child can then hold on to its own identity as being separate from everyone else, while staying mental connected to others, whether with them or not, or no matter how it’s being treated! This minimizes the terrible feelings of anxiety, aloneness, abandonment, isolation, being ‘different’ & unloved.”

    • Yes, I know it’s possible – but each person goes thru this process in their own way & own time. It takes using every tool in the book, and consistency, which is what the WIC needs.

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