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Lieberman, A.F. (1999). Negative Maternal Attributions: Effects on Toddlers' Sense of Self. Psychoanal. Inq., 19(5):737-756.

(1999). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 19(5):737-756

Negative Maternal Attributions: Effects on Toddlers' Sense of Self

Alicia F. Lieberman, Ph.D.

BABIES HAVE IMMENSE MEANING for their parents. They are the object of wishes and dreams: through the baby, parents hope to perpetuate the best of themselves and to fulfill what has remained unrealized in their own lives. Babies can also be the recipients of what is most painfully secret in the parents' psyches. When this happens, babies become the carriers of the parents' unconscious fears, impulses, and other repressed or disowned parts of themselves.

This paper focuses on a particular aspect of this phenomenon: how mothers make negative attributions on their young children and how those negative attributions are internalized by the child and become an integral part of the child's sense of self. This intimate process of communication between mother and infant represents a particularly rich area for dialogue between attachment theory and psychoanalysis. This paper has three major goals in striving toward an integration of these two theoretical approaches. One goal is to highlight the contributions of attachment theory to clinical practice through an increasing recognition of the pivotal importance of real-life events, including actual interactions with the mother, in molding the child's inner world and sense of self. A second goal is to underline the clinical relevance of the protective function served by the attachment bond.

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