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Mahler, M.S. (1972). On the First Three Subphases of the Separation-Individuation Process. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 53:333-338.

(1972). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 53:333-338

On the First Three Subphases of the Separation-Individuation Process

Margaret S. Mahler

I have based this presentation upon two thoughts of Freud—two pillars of psychoanalytic metapsychology. The first is that, at the time of his biological birth, the human being is brought into the world in an immature state. (This is due to the fact that the over-development of his CNS requires a large cranial cage.) Hence he is at first absolutely, and remains later on—even 'unto the grave'—relatively dependent on a mother.

The second Freudian tenet, which is probably a result of the first, is his emphasis that object relationship—i.e. one person's endowing another with object libido—is the most reliable single factor by which we are able to determine the level of mental health on the one hand and, on the other, the extent of the therapeutic potential.

Object relationship develops on the basis of, and pari passu with, differentiation from the normal mother–infant dual unity, which Therese Benedek (1949) and I, independently of each other, have designated as the normal phase of human symbiosis(Mahler & Gosliner, 1955).

'Growing up' entails a gradual growing away from the normal state of human symbiosis, of 'one-ness' with the mother. This process is much slower in the emotional and psychic area than in the physical one. The transition from lap-babyhood to toddler-hood goes through gradual steps of a separation-individuation process, greatly facilitated on the one hand by the autonomous development of the ego and, on the other hand, by identificatory mechanisms of different sorts.

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