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Mahler, M.S. Elkisch, P. (1953). Some Observations on Disturbances of the Ego in a Case of Infantile Psychosis. Psychoanal. St. Child, 8:252-261.

(1953). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 8:252-261

Some Observations on Disturbances of the Ego in a Case of Infantile Psychosis

Margaret S. Mahler, M.D. and Paula Elkisch, Ph.D.

Parents of psychotic children frequently stress the fabulous memory these youngsters have. Closer examination of this phenomenon in severely disturbed children reveals that this seemingly positive ability actually expresses grave pathology of the ego in the most crucial and important mechanism of defense: repression. The elements of this defect, in turn, can be traced to peculiarities in the fields of perception and affects; the interaction and connection of both being essential for personality development, and a sine qua non for the evolution of a structured ego.

Stanley, six years old, struck everybody who met him with his memory for small details of certain affect-laden conditions or situations of his past. Some extraneous or tangential quality of a detail of a subsequent experience would remind Stanley of the past situation and elicit in him a sweepingly diffuse total reaction. Through a seemingly slight similarity, he was reminded of the past and became completely overwhelmed by the affect which the past experience once had evoked.

Innumerable examples of this child's failure in selective forgetting came to the fore in the course of treatment. However, in this brief communication, we confine ourselves to the description of only a small segment of his behavior indicative of his ego's inability to recall selectively and to react specifically to certain perceptive and affective stimuli.

Ever since the time when Stanley had been read to, his mother used to read to him a book called, "When You Were A Baby," which made him cry uncontrollably. His reaction to this story has never changed; at the age of six he still cried bitterly while listening to the story, yet he often insisted upon hearing it.

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