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Biven, B.M. (1982). The Role of Skin in Normal and Abnormal Development with a Note on the Poet Sylvia Plath. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 9:205-229.

(1982). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 9:205-229

The Role of Skin in Normal and Abnormal Development with a Note on the Poet Sylvia Plath

Barrie M. Biven


The present paper has attempted to address the role of skin in mental life with particular emphasis on early development. It is suggested that we do not yet possess sufficient knowledge of early development to allow an integration with the genetic point of view and a clear cut linkage between early skin sensations and later pathologic psychic processes, and symptomatology. There is considerable evidence to suggest that such phase developmental links exist but this is not proven to data. It is even more difficult to make connexions between skin experiences in early life and normal development. This paper makes some suggestions as to the probable state of affairs. The paper also illustrates how pervasive are thoughts about our skin in everyday life, literary works, art and in some extreme sado-masochistic societies.

It is suggested that skin plays an important part in the evolution of body boundary schemas and plays a primary role in the foundations of an ego structure.

Clinical vignettes and, in the particular, a short review of poems by Sylvia Plath, are used to highlight the role of skin in later life. This material is used to postulate developmental pathways from the early motherchild relationship to adulthood.

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