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Recognition of the mother

Historically there has been a lack of understanding of the necessity for recognition. From a depth perspective, early infancy is mother and narcissism, “twin streams calling us back to infantile bliss.” As Benjamin (1988) puts it, implicit in the Oedipal model is “oneness = mother = narcissism” (p. 148). Narcissism at this stage is an emotional cathexis highly charged by its embeddedness in total dependence and fusion with the mother. The child is completely unaware of relying upon her for everything.

We now have a much greater depth of knowledge about the original psychic situation. The repressed mother of psychoanalysis’s beginnings has been remembered by Klein, Winnicott, Mahler, Fordham, Bowlby, Stern and others who have given us psychologically sensitive and rich accounts of the mother-infant relationship, as well as its unique and singular role in development. Expanding the clinical scope has made us much more cognizant of the pre-oedipal stages of development and the object relations issues of mother-infant attachment and early trauma, principals of containment and mirroring (Winnicott), attacks on linking and early separation psychoses (Bion), and the internal differentiation of self and object. Infant research on human psycho-social growth makes these concepts scientifically trackable: we can isolate and investigate each side of the mother-infant relationship - the infant’s experience of his mother, and the mother’s experience of her child.

These many contributions have transformed the way we see early life. By working backwards through direct observation of the baby and his mother, behaviors are subject to close examination at the time of their occurrence. As Eigen (1984) puts it, “There is a sense in which we can say that we have entered the Age of the Baby and that sectors of humanity are now as intent on decoding babyhood as they are the origins of the universe” (p. 93). The focus on infancy has prompted a shift from the intrapsychic and subjective to the subjective in conjunction with the intersubjective. Symbiosis and the infant being born into an undifferentiated unity has become self and other, independence and dependence simultaneously, a distinction which according to Stern (1985) and Winnicott (1971) exists in some respects from the beginning. Given these revelations, the issue of separation becomes not how an infant separates out of symbiotic oneness (the one-sided act of matricide), but how he can actively engage and make himself known to another subject in the relationship. An exclusive focus on physiological regulation has become an understanding of the infant’s mutual exchange of social behavior. Classic psychoanlaysis’ asocial, unresponsive infant has become the social infant seeking engagement with others. This shift has transformed Freud and Jung’s dismissal of the mother into a focus on her as the organizing principle of experience that rivals the Oedipus Complex. And with the inclusion of this emphasis on the pre-oedipal mother and intersubjective theory on the early growth of self in relation to other, the goal of the transition from dependence on the mother to independence from her in order to become a man changes from pure autonomy and the definition of self in terms of a movement away from dependency, to differentiating self in the world and external reality so that the individual and environment become interdependent (a psychological shift on which our human survival now seems to depend, but more on that in my Epilogue). Adaptation, in fact, is relative to dependence.

 
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