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Mayes, L.C. (1994). Understanding Adaptive Processes in a Developmental Context: A Reappraisal of Hartmann's Problem of Adaptation. Psychoanal. St. Child, 49:12-35.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 49:12-35

Understanding Adaptive Processes in a Developmental Context: A Reappraisal of Hartmann's Problem of Adaptation

Linda C. Mayes, M.D.

Hartmann's theory of adaptation introduced the metapsychology of ego as an agent of adaptation to external reality as well as a defense against internal conflict. His notions of autonomous ego functions serving adaptation and of the child's biological preparedness for adaptation made a significant contribution to psychoanalytic developmental theory. However, the study of children developing in the midst of environmental discord and violence who enter such environments with or without an adequate endowment encourages a reappraisal of three issues in Hartmann's view of adaptation: (1) the developmental vicissitudes of adaptation, (2) the notion of an average expectable environment; and (3) the distinction between adaptation as state and as process. These issues are reviewed to outline factors that may preserve and foster adaptation for children in the face of adversity and chronic trauma. It is suggested that adaptation is better understood as the individual's reaching a relative state of autonomy vis-à-vis deviations from average expectable endowment, experience, or environment and as one that occurs not in spite of but in the context of adversity.

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