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Mahler, M.S. McDevitt, J.B. (1982). Thoughts on the Emergence of the Sense of Self, with Particular Emphasis on the Body Self. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 30:827-848.
    

(1982). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 30:827-848

Thoughts on the Emergence of the Sense of Self, with Particular Emphasis on the Body Self

Margaret S. Mahler, M.D. and John B. McDevitt, M.D.

SUMMARY

In trying to trace the emergence of the sense of self during the first fifteen months of life—in particular the formation of the bodily self—we used, on the one hand, severe dissociations of the integral parts of the body self such as occurs in psychosis, in the Gilles de la Tourette syndrome, and in phantom-limb disturbances and, on the other hand, data from our normative study of the separation-individuation process as inferred from mother-infant interaction in general and the infant's behavior in front of the mirror in particular.

The infant's behavior in front of the mirror strongly suggests that feelings about himself only gradually become integrated with perceptual and cognitive awareness of himself. All the data, furthermore, indicate that it is not possible to study the development of the self separate from the development of the object.

All inferences contained in our paper about the emergence of the sense of self were made from the point of view of the central organizing, integrating, and synthesizing institution of the mind, that is, the ego. We agree with other authors that the developing self has both experiential and structural aspects.

We titled our paper "Thoughts on the Emergence of the Sense of Self" to indicate that this paper is meant to be an initial and quite tentative communication about the vast and elusive area of personality development concerning the emergence of our bodily self, and thus of the core of our personal identity.

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