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(1959). American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. XXVI, 1956: Asthma in Mother and Child as a Special Type of Intercommunication. John C. Collidge. Discussion by Melitta Sperling. Pp. 165-178.. Psychoanal Q., 28:115-116.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. XXVI, 1956: Asthma in Mother and Child as a Special Type of Intercommunication. John C. Collidge. Discussion by Melitta Sperling. Pp. 165-178.

(1959). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 28:115-116

American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. XXVI, 1956: Asthma in Mother and Child as a Special Type of Intercommunication. John C. Collidge. Discussion by Melitta Sperling. Pp. 165-178.

Three asthmatic mothers whose children were asthmatic had never felt 'complete'; as adult life, requiring separation and responsibility, was reached, the deeper longing to cling to their mothers became increasingly strong. Only with pregnancy did the asthma lessen or disappear and each mother became aware of a sense of vitality and completeness. Each felt possessive toward the unborn baby for whom she could breathe, whom she could protect and care for without her own mother's interference. She identified herself passively with the foetus, her regressive longing was fulfilled. After the child's birth the wish to be 'unseparate' caused strain. The mother expected the child to have asthma because then identification would again be complete.

Early in life the child fell into resonance with the mother's needs, developed clinging possessiveness, and learned that feelings of sameness could be realized by disturbances in respiration. For the mother, relief from her own fears of incapacity and death from asthma and from her unconscious fear of abandonment was obtained by identification with the aggressor (protector) and by protecting her child from the same anticipated fate. At times of stress the child responded with asthmatic attacks and the mother promptly attempted to rescue the child from its distress. By unconsciously provoking such an attack in her child, the mother herself was spared an attack.

The child partly desired to maintain infantile symbiotic union with mother, but as it grew older craved to grow up independently. It feared abandonment, retribution, and death because of its resentment toward the mother for being kept dependent yet not having its impossible wishes fulfilled. This conflict could be most safely expressed by asthma. During treatment the child became aware that emancipation could be obtained, that the asthma was not necessary for comfort and libidinal gratification.

Other children whose mothers did not have asthma also showed inability to deal with feelings of sibling rivalry, clinging to and controlling of the mother, inability to express hostility, and the use of asthma at night to interfere with the parents' married life. Asthma and tension became less when the child was separated from mother. But these children 'treasured' their asthma less, and identified themselves less with mother. They showed more controlling hostile behavior and secondary gain, but there was less primary libidinal investment of the asthma by mother and child.

Dr. Melitta Sperling, discussing Dr. Coolidge's paper, emphasized the importance of his demonstration that this kind of conflict between mother and child may run through two or three generations. The child's conflict (wanting to cling and wanting to separate) is not specific for asthma. The quality of object relationship

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is, Sperling finds, a factor in the production of the child's psychosomatic illness. The mother rewards the child's dependency and the child's psychosomatic illness provides the mother with an opportunity to act out more deeply repressed unconscious impulses. The mother's repressed pregenital drives find gratification. It is important to help the mother find more appropriate outlets for her unconscious needs, or she will shift this relationship to another person.

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Article Citation

(1959). American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. XXVI, 1956. Psychoanal. Q., 28:115-116

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