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Mahler, M.S. (1981). Aggression in the Service of Separation-Individuation—Case Study of a Mother-Daughter Relationship. Psychoanal Q., 50:625-638.

(1981). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 50:625-638

Aggression in the Service of Separation-Individuation—Case Study of a Mother-Daughter Relationship

Margaret S. Mahler, M.D.

Recent work has contributed to a better understanding of the use of aggression in personality development, without, however, dispelling the pejorative connotation which the term aggression has acquired in the course of the decades since Freud's double drive theory came into existence.

In recent years, the difficulties of resolving mother-daughter conflicts in the preoedipal, oedipal, and postoedipal realm have occupied a rather large segment of psychoanalytic literature.

The following account of such a mother-daughter relationship, derived from longitudinal observation and supported by reconstruction with psychoanalytically oriented interviews, yielded interesting data on how aggression was used in the service of disengagement and distancing for successful separation-individuation at first, and how it was utilized for the maintenance of individual identity later on.

In the beginning of life, libido and aggression, indistinguishable from each other, are part of the undifferentiated matrix. Later, they form a kind of chemical alloy from which the isolation, the teasing out, of the aggressive elements is most often impossible. Aggression always contains an admixture of libido, and libidinal phases always contain an admixture of aggression.

Even if we avoid the issue of whether aggression is or is not a primary instinctual drive, the question of the source of aggression still comes up.


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