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Mitchell, J. (2014). Siblings and the Psychosocial. Organ. Soc. Dyn., 14(1):1-12.

(2014). Organizational and Social Dynamics, 14(1):1-12


Siblings and the Psychosocial

Juliet Mitchell

Donald Winnicott (1971) claimed that the toddler suffers a “trauma of separation” when the mother has another baby. This trauma has another dimension: the trauma of the new sibling itself which has taken the toddler's position and its identity (Mitchell, 2003, 2006, 2012, 2013a, b, c). The toddler both adores and hates the baby. The mother prohibits the toddler's extreme reactions towards this baby (murder and incest). I call this prohibition “the law of the mother;” it pushes the pre-social infant into social childhood, pushes it out of the family and into the peer-group relations “beyond the family” (Robertson, 1991). Neither in their social effects nor in their psychic mechanisms are the family and the social group the same. The family certainly opens out into a wider social formation. But it is contended here that there is also a construction of the social group that is based not on an extension but on a repudiation of the nuclear family. The mother appears not to want the toddler as her baby anymore, so the toddler decides not to want her! Whether family-extension or repudiation of family is the dominant social mode will be historically and cross-culturally various. However, our Western ideologies insist the family is the only source. Instead of this, it is evident that when the toddler separates from the mother it is destined to form a lateral group of peers.

We are all embedded in both the family and the extra-family social group; they are muddled up in each and every one of us; but to understand either of them, they need to be disentangled.

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