Psychological Development Across the Lifespan - Margaret Mahler

3 important questions on Psychological Development Across the Lifespan - Margaret Mahler

Who was Margaret Mahler?

Margaret Mahler (1897-1985) was a Hungarian-born psychoanalyst who immigrated to the United States in 1938. In 1975, she published a book with Anni Bergman and Fred Pine called the Psychological Birth of the Human Infant. This book was very influential in psychoanalytic circles because of its use of the direct observation of children.

In other words, Mahler applied the scientific method to clinical theory, some thing few psychoanalytic theorists had bothered to do previously. Mahler was roughly contemporary with John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, the founders of attachment theory, who were also pioneers in this domain.

What is the egg metaphor?

Mahler liked to use the image of the egg to describe the child's development during these first two stages. In the normal autistic phase, children live as if inside their own egg. The eggshell is a barrier between the baby and the outside world. In the symbiotic phase, the egg extends to include the mother as well as the baby. The child's entire world includes only the mother and the self.

What did Mahler mean by hatching?

Drawing from the egg metaphor, Mahler used the term hatching, to describe the baby's emergence out of what Mahler believed to be the self-absorption of earliest infancy.

Around five months, the child starts to show increased awareness and interest in the surrounding world. It is as if the child is hatching out of the shell, finally entering the world psychologically as well as physically.

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