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Samuels, A. (1988). Quarrelling Over Baby. Brit. J. Psychother., 4(4):455.

(1988). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 4(4):455


Quarrelling Over Baby

Andrew Samuels

Phil Mollon may be interested to know that the issues he raises concerning the parent's functional role as part of the child's self (British Journal of Psychotherapy, 4: 2) have been exhaustively debated within analytical psychology (Samuels 1985, pp. 144-8; 154-161).

The debate has concerned the relative merits of a model of infancy derived from empirical observation of real mothers and babies and a model involving empathic extrapolations from adult analysis.

From the observational standpoint there is no such thing as ‘oneness’ between mother and baby. They start life as two separate beings and gradually find each other and enter into a relationship. From the empathic standpoint the infant (and a regressed adult), in their different phase-appropriate ways, are struggling towards the establishment of boundaries and the integration of painful awareness of separation.

Though separation is objectively the case, the illusion of omnipotence is normal and provides the base for ongoing ego-development. As Newton put it, ‘the reality of the infant's separateness does not tell us about his subjective experience’ (1981, p. 73).

My own feeling is that we can make creative use of this debate by regarding the competing theories of depth psychologists as reflecting a competitive and conflictual state of the human psyche itself. In other words, for each person, baby or adult, there is a struggle to be lived through between illusions of oneness and merger on the one hand, and the realities of separation - rapture and rupture - on the other.

The psyche sometimes chooses to speak through psychologists and this could be what has happened in this instance. However, if this is so, then it becomes absolutely vital not to diminish the sense of competition between different explanatory theories. For to do so would be to offend against the psyche itself. It follows that a pluralistic ideology is needed which will foster the incorrigible competitiveness of depth psychology, mining the tension-rich shit for the gold it contains.

Andrew Samuels


Newton, K. (1981). Comment on ‘The emergence of child analysis’ by M. Fordham, In Journal of Analytical Psychology, 20:2, pp. 183-193. [→]

Samuels, A. (1985) Jung and the Post-Jungians. London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

[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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