Reapproaching Mahler: New Perspectives On Normal Autism, Symbiosis, Splitting and Libidinal Object Constancy From Cognitive Developmental Theory

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Abstract

Margaret Mahler's seminal work on the psychological birth of the infant has generated more critical discussion than most other psychoanalytic theories of early development. But while the empirically, theoretically, and methodologically based criticisms of Mahler's theory are generally justified, her critics fail at times to consider some of the intriguing and creative insights that her theoretical formulations tried to capture. This paper attempts to reformulate these insights using the new conceptual tools that current cognitive developmental theory provides. Mahler's stage of normal autism is reconsidered in the light of contingency detection theory as an initial phase of primary preoccupation with self-generated perfectly response-contingent stimulation. Her concept of normal symbiosis is recast with the help of attachment theory's views on homeostatic regulation and the social biofeedback model of affect-reflective mirroring interactions with parents. Finally, her ideas about the development of splitting and libidinal object constancy are reconsidered according to recent theories of early representational development and mentalization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1197-1228
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of the American Psychoanalytic Association
Volume48
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology

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