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Burlingham, D. (1967). Empathy Between Infant and Mother. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 15:764-780.

(1967). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 15:764-780

Empathy Between Infant and Mother

Dorothy Burlingham

IN A PREVIOUS PAPER of mine, "Child Analysis and the Mother" I have attempted to describe the strength of maternal influence on the child, and to demonstrate how far the child's problems are distorted and obscured by the impact of the mother's conscious and unconscious affective reactions. Since then, this empathy between mother and child has continued to engage my interest and the present paper is devoted to the same problem.

To begin with, I wish to emphasize that what concerns me here is not the development of the infant's observational abilities as such. The latter is a wider subject and one which has been dealt with intensively and extensively by academic psychologists. But while they deal primarily with the development of the intellect and only secondarily with the affective side of life, I reverse the order, refer in the first place to the affects, and secondarily to the intellectual side merely for the purposes of illustration.

The infant is, above all, a receiver of stimuli; from a certain age onward, he begins to assimilate what he receives; i.e., he begins to observe, an activity which is, of course, not restricted to vision but spreads equally over the whole of the sense apparatus. Some of his observations come to the notice of the parents, who react to them either with encouragement or the reverse; most of them remain unnoticed and, as such, the child's own private affair.


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