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Mahler, M.S. (1974). On the First Three Subphases of the Separation-Individuation Process. Psychoanal. Contemp. Sci., 3(1):295-306.

(1974). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Science, 3(1):295-306

5 Child Development

On the First Three Subphases of the Separation-Individuation Process

Margaret S. Mahler, M.D., SC.D., (MED.)

I Have Based This presentation upon two thoughts of Freud, two pillars of psychoanalytic metapsychology. The first is that, at the time of his biological birth, the human being comes into the world in an immature state. (This is due to the fact that the overdevelopment of his C.N.S. requires a large cranial cage.) Hence, he is at first absolutely-and remains later on, even “unto the grave,” relatively-dependent on a mother.

The second Freudian tenet, which is probably a result of the first, is that object relationship, i.e., one person's endowing another with object libido, is the most reliable single factor by which we are able to determine the level of mental health on the one hand and, on the other, the extent of the therapeutic potential.

Object relationship develops on the basis of, and pari passu with, differentiation from the normal mother-infant dual unity, which Therese Benedek (1949) and I, independently of each other, have designated as the normal phase of human symbiosis.

“Growing up” is a gradual growing away from the normal state of human symbiosis, of “oneness” with the mother. This process is much slower in the emotional and psychic area than it is in the physical.

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