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Goldsmith, J. Cowen, H. (2011). The inheritance of loss. J. Child Psychother., 37(2):179-193.

(2011). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 37(2):179-193

The inheritance of loss

Jo Goldsmith and Helena Cowen

This article aims to demonstrate that it is not only the mind that needs to have the capacity to hold and transform, but also the body. Fordham's concept of the ‘primary self’ emphasises the unity between the body and emotional states in infancy. The self is expressed through actions that bring the infant into contact with the mother and the environment. Through these interactions, the baby can know, in a primitive way, about the capacities and qualities of the mother. If there is a traumatic dislocation between the mother and the baby, the impact on the baby will be expressed predominately through the infant's body. If this is unresolved, the body will continue to manifest this distress throughout development. This article will discuss how the devastating experience of the death of an infant or child affects the maternal attachment to surviving children. In a consideration of quite different developmental periods, namely early infancy and older adolescence, there will be an exploration of how unresolved disturbances are expressed through the body. This will be illustrated using two clinical cases: one from parent–infant work with a depressed mother and her four-week-old baby who screamed for hours at a time; and the other from work undertaken with an older adolescent girl struggling with sexual abuse and bulimia. In both clinical examples, there had been significant deaths of siblings prior to the birth of identified patients.

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