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First, E. (1986). Susan: A Young Child's Attempts to Deal with Disappointments. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, 9(3):157-176.

(1986). Bulletin of the Anna Freud Centre, 9(3):157-176

Susan: A Young Child's Attempts to Deal with Disappointments

Elsa First

1. Introduction

This is the account of 18 months of analysis of Susan B, who began treatment at the age of 3 years 9 months. The striking contrast between Susan and her older brother Timothy, two children of a depressed mother, had been of special interest to us since their entry into our Nursery School. Timothy appeared withdrawn, apathetic and helpless, unable to progress developmentally, while Susan was an active child who showed precocious ego development and over-independence.

In the diagnostic assessment based on the Nursery School observations, Miss Freud pointed out that Susan had reacted to inadequate mothering by mothering herself, without either seeking substitute mothering or seeking to mother other children, and it was felt that this might presage future dangers for her, possibly of a depressive nature.

Susan had indeed the look of a forlorn orphan as she toddled about the Nursery, determined and solitary, engrossing herself in playing at ‘baking’ with plasticine.

Mrs B, Susan's mother, had always been impressed with her daughter's ‘realism’ and ‘sensibleness’. However, Susan seemed to have achieved this at the price of a diminished capacity to experience affects, either pleasurable or painful. She was a sober, stoical, expressionless little creature.

Mrs B was hospitalized for a depressive breakdown when Susan was 1 year 8 months and Timothy was 3 years 4 months. Though she was able to return home within a fortnight, it was some time before she was able to care for the children; and prior to her hospitalization there had been a period in which she had remained in bed, taking alcohol and drugs of the pep-pill and sedative sort. The children were then looked after by the maternal grandmother and by an aunt of Mrs B called Lucy. The marriage relationship had already broken down and Mr B was talking of divorce.

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