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Mahler, M.S. (1967). On Human Symbiosis and the Vicissitudes of Individuation. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 15:740-763.

(1967). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 15:740-763

On Human Symbiosis and the Vicissitudes of Individuation

Margaret S. Mahler, M.D.


I have brought these clinical sketches of Jay and Charles, because I felt that these patients illustrated—through their developmental failure—the significance of normal symbiosis, and the crucial necessity of gradual individuation—particularly in the vulnerable second and third years of life.

In Jay's case we observed this developmental failure in statu nascendi. His traumatization occurred in the second year, and, as a result, both his reality constancy (13) and his object constancy suffered.

In Charles's case, we could fairly accurately reconstruct—through analytic material—the severe traumata, at vulnerable, nodal points of his separation-individuation process, particularly toward the end of it, when libidinal object constancy becomes established.

The fact that this traumatization occurred later than Jay's—in Charles's third year—is perhaps the reason why Charles's reality constancy remained fairly intact.

Both cases had to fall back to the primary mode—the "mirroring" kind of maintenance of identity—because of the failure of true identificatory and internalization processes.

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