Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Margaret Mahler

What is the rapprochement subphase?

This period ranges from about eighteen months until about two years. Although Mahler locates this period prior to age two, parents might recognize this period as the Terrible Twos. In Mahler’s view, the child has recovered from the elation of the practicing period to recognize the terrible dilemma of independence. Just as they can separate from their mothers, their mothers can separate from them. Mother is not an extension of the child’s will, but a separate person who is not under the omnipotent control of the child. It is as if children realize that they are only three feet high—very small people in a very large world.

The child is caught in a conflict between the fierce desire for greater independence and the inevitable distress of recognizing the limits of one’s control over the world. This same conflict is encountered again in adolescence and the resulting behaviors are fairly similar. Mahler describes great ambivalence in children in the rapprochement stage. A child will be very clingy toward the mother and then suddenly push her away. This is also the time of temper tantrums and of insistent self-assertion. The child discovers the word “No!” Certainly we have all heard toddlers of this age, shouting “No! No! No!” to any request or demand.


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