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Solnit, A.J. (1970). A Study of Object Loss in Infancy. Psychoanal. St. Child, 25:257-272.

(1970). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 25:257-272

A Study of Object Loss in Infancy

Albert J. Solnit, M.D.


The study of a group of infants recovering from diarrhea and of children recovering from institutional maternal deprivation enables us to elaborate the hypothesis that aggressive behavior may be adaptive, and to suggest that the absence of aggressive behavior may be an alarming evidence of maladaptation. Aggressive behavior in such instances may be viewed as the return of drive energies available for relating to love objects and life in the external world. However, such recovery often proceeds with the return of externally directed drive activity followed by ego development that enables the child to fuse and neutralize drive energies necessary for the recovery and progressive development.

In the first part of this study, maladaptation involved a debilitating physical illness magnified by the persistent loss of the constant love object, the auxiliary ego. With this loss the infant may be said to have a decreased capacity to form countercathexes necessary for curbing and channeling the instinctual drives and their derivatives. The regressed helpless state of these infants suggests that the relatively unmodified drives were discharged within the body with the aggressive components unbound and destructive.

In the study of older children recovering from the affect deprivation

that commonly is associated with institutionalization, the rate of recovery and characteristics of the ego and id functions during the recovery period may be uneven and poorly synchronized. This is often misperceived as undesirable provocative behavior which can result in a damaging rejection of the child just when he has expressed his trusting and restitutive responses to the adults who have provided him with the beginning basis for recovery.

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