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Greenson, R.R. (1968). Dis-Identifying from Mother: Its Special Importance for the Boy. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 49:370-374.

(1968). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 49:370-374

Dis-Identifying from Mother: Its Special Importance for the Boy

Ralph R. Greenson

The early psychoanalytic literature stressed the special problems the little girl has to overcome in order to achieve a satisfactory sex life and the capacity to love. The female child must work through two important conflictual areas from which the male is spared. She must shift her major erogenous zone from the clitoris to the vagina and must renounce the mother as her primary love object and turn to the father and men (Freud, 1925), (1931), (1933), (1940). The purpose of this presentation is to focus attention on a special vicissitude in the normal psychological development of the boy which occurs in the pre-oedipal years. I am referring to the fact that the male child, in order to attain a healthy sense of maleness, must replace the primary object of his identification, the mother, and must identify instead with the father. I believe it is the difficulties inherent in this additional step of development, from which girls are exempt, which are responsible for certain special problems in the man's gender identity, his sense of belonging to the male sex.

The girl too must dis-identify from mother if she is to develop her own unique identity, but her identification with mother helps her establish her femininity. It is my contention that men are far more uncertain about their maleness than women are about their femaleness. I believe women's certainty about their gender identity and men's insecurity about theirs are rooted in early identification with the mother.

I am using the term "dis-identify" in order to sharpen my discussion about the complex and interrelated processes which occur in the child's struggle to free himself from the early symbiotic fusion with mother.

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