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Mahon, E. (1981). The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant: By Margaret S. Mahler, Fred Pine, and Anni Bergman. New York: Basic Books, 1975, xii + 308 pp., $15.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 29:691-700.

(1981). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 29:691-700

The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant: By Margaret S. Mahler, Fred Pine, and Anni Bergman. New York: Basic Books, 1975, xii + 308 pp., $15.00.

Review by:
Eugene Mahon, M.D.

Mahler, Pine, and Bergman have selected a provocative and ambitious title for this volume, the first sentences of which define the immensity of the psychological territory they have chosen to investigate. "The biological birth of the human infant and the psychological birth of the individual are not coincident in time. The former is a dramatic, observable and well-circumscribed event; the latter a slowly unfolding process" (p. 3). The authors go on to sharpen their focus, "We refer to the psychological birth of the individual as the separation-individuation process: the establishment of a sense of separateness from, and relation to, a world of reality, particularly with regard to the experiences of one's own body and to the principal representative of the world as the infant experiences it, the primary love object. Like any intrapsychic process, this one reverberates throughout the life cycle. It is never finished; it remains always active; new phases of the life cycle see new derivatives of the earliest processes still at work. But the principal psychological achievements of this process take place in the period from about the fourth or fifth month to the thirtieth or thirty-sixth month, a period we refer to as the separation-individuation phase" (p. 3).

It is well known, as the authors assert, "that the immediate predecessor of the current work was the study of symbiotic psychosis of early childhood" (pp. 8–9). The study of pathology, as history has often demonstrated, can illuminate the processes of normality. Having learned about the distorted separation-individuation phases of psychotic children, Mahler turned her attention to the development of normal children. "We began to ask various questions.

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