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Christie, G. Correia, A. (1987). Maternal Ambivalence in a Group Analytic Setting. Brit. J. Psychother., 3(3):205-215.

(1987). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 3(3):205-215

Maternal Ambivalence in a Group Analytic Setting

George Christie and Anna Correia

‘The crisis of parenthood is a crisis of ambivalence’ Peter Blos


Some mothers cling to their children but find it hard to laugh and play with them. They seem unable to allow their children to grow and separate off as individuals because they have been unable to individuate properly themselves. Their psychopathology can range from the open cruelty of the abusing mother, through various character-patternings of defence against warded-off sadism, as in obsessional and masochistic mothers, to a total repression of genuine ambivalent feelings in some women. These latter appear to have something in common with those infertile women who are defending against their ambivalent feelings with an idealisation of pregnancy and a frenetic need to conceive at all costs.

Repression of deep ambivalent feelings, and the development of various defences against the sadistic component of these feelings, prevent these mothers from relating deeply and genuinely with their children. Their options as parents are limited because of the development of constricted neurotic facades. Cruel or retaliatory impulses may however break through these defences from time to time.

All parents of course harbour both loving and destructive impulses towards their children. De Mause's History of Childhood (1974) reveals something of the universality and timelessness of this fact, e.g. the surprisingly high and ubiquitous incidence of infanticide until relatively recently. And its disappearance may be only apparent.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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