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Shambaugh, B. (1961). A Study of Loss Reactions in a Seven-Year-Old. Psychoanal. St. Child, 16:510-522.

(1961). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 16:510-522

A Study of Loss Reactions in a Seven-Year-Old

Benjamin Shambaugh, M.D.

The reactions of a child to an event of such great importance as the loss of a parent, if studied psychologically, can be seen to include responses which in an adult might seem alarming or could suggest severe pre-existing pathology. Yet, considering the relative weakness of a child's ego in comparison to that of an adult, and the child's great and real dependence on the object who is lost, one should not be surprised at the severe and prolonged reaction to such a trauma. One should anticipate, even in a normal child, that every defense is mobilized to ward off its impact, and that every new object relationship as it develops will be influenced by the fact that an earlier one was lost. The severity and extent of the normal child's reactions to loss can probably be accurately assessed only through depth-psychologic investigation, just as the importance of an early loss for an adult can be gauged only in his analysis. This is true because of the child's ability to mask, through massive but not necessarily pathologic denial, from adults the vicissitudes of his inner life. For in the child I shall discuss, and doubtless in many other instances, the major changes which were taking place were not at all apparent to the casual observer or even to his family. His family were able to note only that his behavior had become "more difficult," and that he was more of a "pest" than before.

The child, whose treatment will, I think, demonstrate the major impact of a loss, was a seven-and-a-half-year-old boy whose mother died during the time I was studying him.

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