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Radó, S. (1928). An Anxious Mother: A Contribution to the Analysis of the Ego. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 9:219-226.

(1928). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 9:219-226

An Anxious Mother: A Contribution to the Analysis of the Ego

Sándor Radó

The scene was the beach of a small and quiet seaside resort. One day there appeared close to where I was lying a young woman with a little boy of perhaps five years old. They were strangers, and I never came to know them personally, but for several weeks I was an involuntary eye-witness and auditor of their behaviour. The little boy behaved just like the other children who thronged the beach. He played in the sand, ran about, fetched water in little buckets from the sea to his sand-castles, and so forth. The mother lay in a deck-chair; now and then she read a book or a newspaper and, for the rest, she passed the time with needlework. She was generally sunk in her phantasies, and only occasionally chatted a little with the other women. But, whatever she was doing, she glanced up anxiously every few minutes, sought her boy with a look of concern, and if she could not immediately detect his whereabouts, began to call in a despairing manner, 'Ma-a-a-ssimo, Ma-a-a-ssimo'. If the child had strayed just a few paces away from her, or if he was anywhere near the water's edge (he never went further, for he was plainly timid about the sea), she flew after him, seized his arm and dragged him back again to her. If he quarrelled with the other boys, or tried to resist his mother, she generally scolded him and gave him a sound slap, only to overwhelm him with violent hugs and kisses if he began to cry. So it went on, all day long: with the punctuality of clock-work the perpetual cry of 'Ma-a-a-ssimo, Ma-a-a-ssimo' made itself heard.

In such a situation a psycho-analyst really cannot prevent himself from thinking a little about such a mother. One seemed to read her dissatisfaction in her face; her emotional interests were obviously concentrated on her boy. There could be no doubt about the meaning of her exaggerated tenderness. She loved and hated the child at one and the same time, but she had repressed her hate out of her consciousness by an extreme over-accentuation of her devoted tenderness, and so put an end to the inner discord. Here we have a simple instance of the mechanism of 'repression by means of reaction-formation'. Again, the extension of this process (so familiar to the analyst), the return of the repressed', was perfectly plain in this woman.

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