Margaret Mayer’s work bases on observation of how children and their mothers behave (as cited in Goldstein, 1995, p.117). According to Mahler, psychological birth of human beings relates to the development of object relations. She asserts that the process of Separation-Individuation comprises of separation and individuation.
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During separation, the baby acquires love, and during the individuation stage, the baby shows and develops his uniqueness. The mother supports the process of separation and individuation through encouragement. Mahler (as cited in Goldstein, 1995, p.117) describes the process of Separation-Individuation as comprising of six stages that aid separation-individuation.
I agree with Mahler’s argument that the child’s preoccupations during the autistic stage are physiological needs and that the child is not aware of what happens in the surrounding (as cited in Goldstein, 1995, p.118). However, I disagree that the child does not respond to stimuli. Children start responding to stimuli as early as when they are a day old. Mahler should have argued that the ability to respond to stimuli is relatively less at this stage as compared to later stages.
The Symbiotic stage is the second stage in the process of Separation-Individuation. I think what Mahler proposes in this phase is true (as cited in Goldstein, 1995, p.118). I agree that, at this stage, the child’s image of self and the object is one.
This is a period between one and four months, and so, the child cannot differentiate between self and object. It is also true that the child desires all good things and expels all bad ones. My observation also agrees with Mahler on the assertion that the child smiles at everyone during the early stages of this period but later, only smiles to the mother (as cited in Goldstein, 1995, p.118).
It is also true that, during this stage, the infant depends on the mother’s ego. The mother links the baby to the world, and what the child perceives from her makes up what the child thinks about self. This is because the child is still too young to have an own view of the world.
Mahler proposes the differentiation sub-phase as the next stage in the Separation-Individuation process. According to her (as cited in Goldstein, 1995, p.118), this phase occurs at approximately five months. She argues that the child is more alert and has direction in everything. I do not agree with her assertion that the child has direction in everything. My observation shows that, at the age of five months, the child reacts to things depending on how they occur.
I, however, agree that, at six months the infant explores and experiments with everything, and can distinguish personal view of things from that of the mother (Goldstein, 1995, p.120). The child substitutes the mother with other objects depending on the relationship between the child and those objects. I have observed that children tend to concentrate on toys and other things and not the mother.
As proposed by Mahler, the practicing Sub phase continues with the process of separating self from other objects (as cited in Goldstein, 1995, p.121). The infant attempts to be free from the mother. This is the stage when the child tests individual abilities and freedom. Later in this stage, the child manages to move independently and admires the surrounding. The child enjoys the environment and forgets the difficulties encountered in trying to act independently (Goldstein, 1995, p.122).
Mahler’s propositions are believable because children between 8 and 15 months are normally learning to walk, and pay less attention to the mother. They touch everything in their environment and spend most of their time with their toys. They dismantle and disorganize things in their environment in the process of experimenting. They do not give up trying to walk even when they fall and hurt themselves in the process.
Mahler proposes the Rapprochement Sub-phase as a stage in individuation and development of cognitive and motor functions. In this phase, the child fears separation from the mother and wants the mother to be always available (as cited in Goldstein, 1995, p.123). The infant develops attachment to other people after realizing that the mother is not always available (Goldstein, 1995, p.124).
The child learns verbal communication and stops depending on preverbal empathy. This is when the child realizes that the mother has her own life. At this point, the child notices that the mother can also hate apart from loving (Goldstein, 1995, p.124).
I agree with Mahler that children aged 1 to 2 years want the mother to be always near them, but cannot have them. They then develop an attachment to other caregivers because the mother is not available all the time. It is also true that, at this age, children understand their mothers well because they are old enough, and the mother can punish them when they go wrong.
The last stage that Mahler proposes is the Object Constancy Stage (between 2 and 3 years) (as cited in Goldstein, 1995, p.125). These propositions are correct because children are old enough to know how an object looks like even when it is absent. These children are also old enough to know their gender identities and individualities.
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Goldstein, E (1995). Ego Psychology and social work practice (2nd ed). New York: The Free Press.