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Southwood, H.M. (1973). The Origin of Self-Awareness and Ego Behaviour. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 54:235-239.

(1973). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 54:235-239

The Origin of Self-Awareness and Ego Behaviour

H. M. Southwood


1. Attention is drawn to the activity of the mother in establishing eye-to-eye contact with her baby from the earliest days onwards, to her imitating the baby's facial expressions and sounds and to her encouraging the baby to imitate her own expressions and sounds.

2. It is pointed out that adults look each other in the eye to achieve maximum communication and also that it is likely that the feeling that we think 'in our heads' is a derivative of this early identification of our own face and eyes with mother's.

3. The baby is taught to talk as a consequence of mother first having established this communication with him.

4. Winnicott pointed out that the mother's face acted as a mirror for the baby and led to the baby's learning about the outside world. It is suggested that, more than this, mother's activity initiates the baby into our world of communication and language and so gives him an awareness of what he comes to regard as himself.

5. Therefore the concept of the origin of the ego may well be based upon accepting this early communication with the mother as causative of what we regard as ego behaviour, rather than merely facilitating its development.

6. Similarly, as Winnicott has suggested, one can understand the process of psychoanalysis as something akin to the mother–baby communication and with similar educative aims.

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