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Mahler, M.S. (1972). Rapprochement Subphase of the Separation-Individuation Process. Psychoanal Q., 41:487-506.

(1972). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 41:487-506

Rapprochement Subphase of the Separation-Individuation Process

Margaret S. Mahler, M.D.


In our observation of two toddlers, we saw why the rapprochement crisis occurs and why in some instances it becomes and may remain an unresolved intrapsychic conflict. It may set an unfavorable fixation point interfering with later Oedipal development, or at best add to the difficulty of the resolution of the Oedipus complex.

The developmental task at the very height of the separation-individuation struggle in the rapprochement subphase is a tremendous one. Oral, anal, and early genital pressures and conflicts meet and accumulate at this important landmark in personality development. There is a need to renounce symbiotic omnipotence, and there is also heightened awareness of the body image and pressure in the body, especially at the points of zonal libidinization.

Three great anxieties of childhood meet at this developmental stage. 1. While the fear of object loss and abandonment is partly relieved, it is also greatly complicated by the internalization of parental demands that indicate beginning superego development. In consequence, we observe an intensified vulnerability on the part of the rapprochement toddler. 2. Fear in terms of loss of the love of the object results in an extra-sensitive reaction to approval and disapproval by the parent. 3. There is greater awareness of bodily feelings and pressures, in Greenacre's sense. This is augmented by awareness of bowel and urinary sensations during the toilet training process, even in quite normal development. There

is often displayed, and in some instances quite dramatically, a reaction to the discovery of the anatomical sex difference with prematurely precipitated castration anxiety.

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