Observations of the rocking behavior of infants living under normal home conditions, as well as of hospitalized infants in varying degrees of psychological distress, permit a classification of infant-rocking into three types. Normative rocking appears spontaneously or with encouragement in social situations as part of normal infant development and is apparently related to feelings of direct pleasure or anticipation. Repetitious rocking, accompanied by facial expressions of mild apathy and withdrawal, seems to have no social function, is monotonous, appears to give reassurance, and often leads to sleep. Agitated rocking, also with no apparent social purpose, is usually rapid, fatiguing, and energetic, sometimes to the point of producing serious physical injury; it occurs in infants who seem unresponsive to external influence or respond with obvious signs of distress to any interference with the rocking. The latter two forms exhibit stereotypy and excessive detachment, indications of internal processes for which the rocking is not an intentional communication.
Descriptions of two normal, healthy infants, part of a research study of normal infant-mother interactions, are presented in detail to support the author's main hypotheses. 1. Repetitious and agitated self-rocking occurs in anxiety states among infants whose objectcathexis of the mother is intense and who have experienced special degrees of kinesthetic stimulation concurrent with a contrasting paucity of
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stimulation in the other modalities of mothering behavior. For both infants the maternal behavior, while conscientious and efficient, was unstimulating, inhibited, and meager in oral gratifications. Except for an unusual emphasis upon tactile and kinesthetic contact (brisk patting and swinging) the mothers showed limited capacity for emotional communication with the children and employed frequent actual and emotional withdrawal to enforce conscious and early demands for self-sufficiency. For both infants, frustrated in their need for a more comprehensive mothering response, self-rocking seemed to represent an effort at self-mothering. 2. The repetitious and agitated rocking movements represent autoplastic efforts to establish body contact with the mother. The children rocked at times of tension when the mother failed to provide the relief. It is proposed that the activity represents a bridging effort to make contact with the mother through a physical sensation of vitality and movement, connotative of the mother's motion toward the child and the comforting manipulations it heralds. The autoerotic gratification of rocking echoes fragments of many important contacts with the mother and represents an active effort to recapture these passive experiences. The more benign rocking that occurs chiefly in the absence of the mother is part of a continuum that includes persistent rocking unaffected by the presence of mother, often signifying the early entrenchment of severe anxiety and rigid, narcissistic defenses developed at the expense of adequate object relationships.
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(1962). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. VIII, 1960. Psychoanal. Q., 31:127-128