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Robertiello, R.C. (1956). The Importance of Trauma During the First Year of Life. Psychoanal. Rev., 43(4):501-503.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Review, 43(4):501-503

The Importance of Trauma During the First Year of Life

Richard C. Robertiello, M.D.

So much of psychoanalytic interest has been concerned about trauma during the Oedipal phase that sometimes not enough emphasis is placed on the first year of a child's life. Using the analogy of a tree, if we place a cut in a tree while it is very young, there will be a deep wide gash in it when it reaches maturity. Similarly it would appear that the earlier in a child's life a trauma occurs the greater effect it will have on the development of the personality. Also naturally there will be a different quality to the symptoms in an adult when the trauma occurred at an earlier age. The adult who has been rejected during the first few months of life will be very concerned with oral matters and with acceptance or rejection and may react with great anger to any rejection. One of the more common defenses against this is withdrawal of feeling from others so as not to get enough involved to be able to be rejected. Another common way of handling the anger that comes up consequent to a rejection is to turn it against the self in the form of a depression or even suicide.

An interesting consideration in cases in which the trauma is early and severe is that it may have happened by coincidence and does not have to have been caused by a severe personality disorder in the mother. I have seen two cases, one previously reported (1) and one which I will summarize briefly below, in which the mother from all evidence was a kindly, warm, accepting figure. Nevertheless, a trauma in the first weeks of life gave the patient the pattern of tremendous sensitivity to rejection by women with great anger toward them which subsequently turned toward the self in the form of depression and suicidal trends.

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