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Kestenberg, J.S. (1967). The Role of Movement Patterns in Development—Iii. The Control of Shape. Psychoanal Q., 36:356-409.

(1967). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 36:356-409

The Role of Movement Patterns in Development—Iii. The Control of Shape

Judith S. Kestenberg, M.D.


The study of shapes of the body and their changes in rhythms of shape-flow contributes to our understanding of feeling tones that emerge from kinesthetic sensations in infancy. Growing and shrinking of body shape serve approach and withdrawal behavior. Regulation of shape-flow through physiological and psychological mechanisms contributes to the formation of images of self and object. In the state of primary narcissism the

prevailing tendency is toward shrinking of body shape or turning inward. As development progresses there is an increasing tendency toward growing of body shape and thus turning to the environment.

In the near body space in which mother and infant interact, the affective milieu is created by mutual attunement in rhythms of tension-flow and by reciprocal adjustment of rhythms of shape-flow. The infant turns to the source of satisfaction but his reaching for the need-satisfying object is not yet intentionally directed. As 'directional' and intentional movements become possible through maturation of apparatus and repeated experiences of distance from the mother, the child localizes the object in space; he recognizes its sameness in the 'near space', the 'reach space', and the 'general space' as well. When ambivalence to the object prevails, the child's ability to weigh, appraise, and discriminate can maintain object constancy despite contradictory qualities of the object and changing feeling tones. When locomotion allows the child to explore the general space, a newly acquired sense of continuity in time and space increases his self-confidence and establishes a continuity of relationship despite the mobility of self and object.

In the oral phase, communication between mother and child is initiated and terminated through transactions in the horizontal, the feeding plane which remains the preferred plane of communication throughout life. In the anal stage, the stability of images of self and object is enhanced by mastery of gravity and transactions in the vertical plane in which children and adults present their true intent. In the urethral phase, timely decisions are best made through progression or retreat in the sagittal plane which is the plane of choice for operational transactions.

In an early 'inner-genital' phase, pregenital trends become integrated with genital impulses and inner genital sensations are externalized. At that time fantasies about the 'inside' of the body are structured by play configurations that help to establish spatial relations. In the phallic phase the child intrudes

into space with his whole body; he identifies outside space with his love object.

In latency, the increasing harmony in the ego expresses itself in progressive integration of motions. 'Efforts' that reflect attitudes to space, gravity, and time, regulate the flow of tension; and shaping, in spatial directions and planes, regulates the flow of shape. The child coördinates these patterns of movement in the same measure as he solidifies conflict-free relations to objects through aim-inhibited drive discharge. In adolescence a chaotic disorganization of movement patterns is counteracted by maturation of apparatus that allow the expression of independent attitudes in postural movements.

In adulthood when genital dominance is reached, ego traits become permanent and relations to objects attain the highest degree of constancy. A harmonious integration of movement patterns in gestures and postures reflects the relatively conflict-free interaction between self and objects.

The repertoire of movement patterns can be represented in profiles that reveal the ratio between various motion factors used by an individual. Preferences for certain combinations and sequences of movement elements mark the individuality of drive constellations, of adaptation to the environment, and of adjustment to objects. Differences in styles of movement are determined by congenital preferences and kinesthetic identifications with love objects that evolve in progressive developmental stages.

Vignettes taken from movement profiles of three mothers and their children illustrate the way interaction through movement can reveal normal, deviant, and neurotic development.

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