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Mahler, M.S. (1963). Thoughts about Development and Individuation. Psychoanal. St. Child, 18:307-324.

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(1963). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 18:307-324

Thoughts about Development and Individuation

Margaret S. Mahler, M.D.

At an advanced stage in their lifework, some psychoanalysts seek to come closer to the actual fountainhead of their reconstructive efforts. Some, like myself, seek verbal and preverbal observational data—statu nascendi—such as will confirm, refute, modify, or elaborate psychoanalytic hypotheses. Through a study of normal infants and their mothers, I have been trying, not only to complement my psychoanalytic work with neurotic adults and children, but also to gain additional perspective and to validate previous studies in the area of infantile psychosis.

I have maintained a rather personal interest in one specific aspect of the rich heritage that Freud bestowed upon us, namely, his emphasis on the fact that a lifelong, albeit diminishing, emotional dependence on the mother is a universal truth of human existence. The biological unpreparedness of the human infant to maintain his life separately conditions that species-specific prolonged phase which has been designated "the mother-infant symbiosis." I believe it is from the symbiotic phase of the mother-infant dual unity that those experiential precursors of individual beginnings are derived which, together with inborn constitutional factors, determine every human individual's unique somatic and psychological make-up.


The Abraham A. Brill Memorial Lecture, given to the New York Psychoanalytic Society on November 27, 1962.

This paper is partly based on a research project which was originally sponsored by the Field Foundation, and is presently sponsored by the National Association for Mental Health, Inc.; the Psychoanalytic Research and Development Fund, Inc.; and the Taconic Foundation.

Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

From the Masters Children's Center, 75 Horatio Street, New York 14; with the collaboration of Manuel Furer, M.D., and Mrs. Anni Bergman; with the assistance of Mrs. Edith Atkin, Ann Haeberle, Ph.D., Mrs. Emmagene Kamaiko, David L. Mayer, M.D., Fred Pine, Ph.D., and Herman Roiphe, M.D.

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