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Ehrenwald, J. (1971). Mother-Child Symbiosis: Cradle of Esp. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(3):455-466.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(3):455-466

Mother-Child Symbiosis: Cradle of Esp

Jan Ehrenwald, M.D.

The mother-child relationship has always been considered a source of profound emotional closeness and communicative intimacy between the two. Whether or not a telepathic element is involved in this state of affairs is still a matter of controversy. The problem is thrown into sharper perspective, however, when we turn our attention to the early symbiotic relationship between mother and child—where “it all started” in the first place.

Symbiosis has been defined as a physiologically reciprocal dependent relationship between two different organisms, beneficial for both. Although the emphasis on a biological difference between the two respective organisms does not strictly apply to human symbiosis, its basic features can readily be discerned in the early postpartum period. They are brought home to us through direct observations by child psychiatrists, and they can be further corroborated by psychoanalytic reconstruction in the treatment situation.

There is general consensus among observers that in the early postpartum phase the mother's and the neonate's ego boundaries have not as yet been delineated. Their respective egos are merged into one. The baby is a direct extension of his mother's body image. She “does the doing” for him. She feeds him when he is hungry. She gives him warmth when he is cold. She lifts his covers when he is warm. She diapers him when he is wet. She monitors his physical and social environment on his behalf. She is the omnipotent, omniscient, bountiful mother figure.

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