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Cornwell, J. (1983). Crisis and Survival in Infancy. J. Child Psychother., 9(1):25-31.

(1983). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 9(1):25-31

Crisis and Survival in Infancy

Joan Cornwell

Mrs. Bick described a primitive state of mind in which there is no sense of an internal space, so the holding together of the parts of the personality occurs externally by means of a fragile psychic skin, equated with the physical skin. The baby in this state of mind, feels himself to be in constant danger of spilling out through a breach in his skin. Such a spilling out is experienced as a liquefaction and loss of the self, a pouring out into space, into nothingness. This state of mind, which in the young baby is present prior to the use of projective and introjective mechanisms, is reverted to, at a later age, under conditions of stress. It is almost invariably experienced to a greater or lesser degree in a mother following the birth of her first baby.

The birth precipitates in the mother a sudden and massive loss of identity. She is no longer the woman she was before the birth. She does not know who she is, having not yet acquired her new identity as mother. Her bewilderment and aching sense of loss are joined to a realisation of her total responsibility for this live helpless baby, despite feeling utterly incompetent for the task. She herself feels like a new born baby, suddenly vulnerable, exposed, unheld.

The father too, experiences this same loss of adult identity. He may feel like a lost little boy, faced with a situation beyond his competence. His wife also may be lost to him, as her attention seems entirely taken up with the new baby, or her own distress. In like fashion, the identity of the first born child is shattered by the arrival of the next baby.

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