Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Margaret Mahler

What are the forerunners of the separation-individuation phase?

As Mahler observed relatively few babies before the age of four to five months, her theory of the first two stages was based less on actual observation than on prior psychoanalytic theory. Her ideas about these two stages are heavily indebted to assumptions about infancy drawn from work with emotionally disturbed children and adults. The first phase is called the normal autistic phase and takes place from birth to two months. At this period the child is thought to be uninterested in the outer world; the child is withdrawn, only attending to inner bodily experiences. In the symbiotic phase, the baby’s attention has moved out beyond the sensations of his or her own body to 6 include a newfound interest in the mother. This is a time of tactile exploration of the mother, of molding to her body when held, and of direct eye contact. However, Mahler believed that symbiotic children do not recognize the distinction between their mother and themselves. They do not differentiate their mother from themselves and so live with an illusion of blissful fusion.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Psychology Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App