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The development of concern and security

Parents sometimes wonder whether a child's concern for others will develop naturally in a loving home or whether it needs to be taught. For Louise at least, it seemed that a capacity for concern did not develop through identification. When concern does develop spontaneously, as it did for Janet, this must depend on something more than having a parent deeply concerned for the child. Winnicott suggested what this was. He believed that the capacity for concern developed initially within the two-person relationship. He described how guilt is first aroused as the child begins to recognise and accept his ambivalence. However, if the child has adequate opportunities for giving and for making reparation, this guilt becomes modified and can be expressed as concern; as long as the possibility for reparation remains available, the guilt is not felt (Winnicott, 1965, p. 77).

A baby like Louise who has been unable to integrate her aggression will obviously have trouble integrating her ambivalence and reaching the "phase of concern" (Winnicott, 1958, p. 264). This difficulty must have been increased in her case by having a mother who never made demands, whether, for example, to give affection or to tidy up toys. Consequently, Louise was deprived of many ordinary opportunities for reparation. I think that this was possibly the most serious way in which her development was "worse than castrated". Her resulting sense of guilt and badness must have contributed to the later breakdown of her relationship to her parents.

My retrospective assessment of Louise at eighteen months is of a baby with delayed and possibly derailed emotional development. Yet, according to attachment theory, a baby whose mother is maximally physically and emotionally available, especially at times of her infant's distress, should develop a secure attachment. This paradox might be resolved by using the research findings of Tronick et al. (1986). Tronick has found another variable besides parental availability which contributes to infant security at a year old: it is the capacity of the baby for interactive repair (Tronick cited by Lachmann and Beebe, 1989). This is the baby's capacity, within normal playful interaction with mother, to re-establish moments of harmony and synchrony following moments of disruption and dyssynchrony. The significance of the capacity for interactive repair in contributing to security is that it widens the relevance of infant experience to include the mastery of negative feelings which occur in ordinary dyssynchronous interactions with the mother. The overly attuned mother, with too much need to repair dyssynchrony herself, could partially stifle her infant's capacity for interactive repair and so compromise her infant's security. Certainly Louise's response to her mother's return at fifty weeks suggested an insecure attachment: she turned her head away rather than expressing her feelings directly.

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