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Shields, R.W. (1964). The Too-Good Mother. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 45:85-88.

(1964). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 45:85-88

The Too-Good Mother

Robert W. Shields

Much stress has been laid by psycho-analysts on adverse environmental factors in early infancy and in childhood, and our attention has frequently been drawn to personality disorders resultant upon rejection, maternal separation, depression in the mother and other types of traumata.

Winnicott (1950p. 217) has postulated that without the 'good enough' environment the human infant cannot become individually differentiated, and does not 'come up as a subject for discussion in terms of normal psychology'. In his paper on 'Primary Maternal Preoccupation' (1956) he further elaborated that 'normal illness' of the mother which enables her to adapt delicately and sensitively to the infant's needs at the very beginning of life. Of some mothers, he says, 'They are not able to become preoccupied with their own infant to the exclusion of other interests, in the way that is normal and temporary.'

What has been examined rather less often is the intra-psychic predicament of the child who becomes the victim of a form of primary maternal preoccupation which is not temporary and which continues virtually unabated over a long period of years.

The sensitive mother provides a secure emotional climate within which the child can develop at his own pace to the point at which his ego can take over, piecemeal, certain functions and attitudes for himself which, till now, the mother has had to exercise or adopt on his behalf. This function of the mother involves her, through concern and management, in an active role exercising a dynamic function which is her own, but which has interpentrating effects on the child's developmental processes.

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