1. What is Separation-IndividuationTheory?MargaretMahler formulated the process of separation-individuation, largely on the basisof the interplay of object relations and ego development (Blum, 2004). Separation-individuationis an intrapsychic developmental process which means and reflects throughoutone’s life cycle (Kins, Beyers, and Soenens, 2012).
Basically, Mahler, Pine,& Bergman (1975) maintained that separation-individuation represents thefoundation of a sense of self which is separate from the other one, main loveobject (i.e., separation) and acquiring of unique individuality (i.e.,individuality). Mahler (1963) differed the child’s psychological birth from themoment of biological birth.
According to Mahler’s theory, the infant continuescarrying by mother in a sort of psychological womb after his leaving themother’s physical womb. The mother’s readiness and attuned treatment for theinfant’s needs lead the infant stays in the pre-birth illusion and graduallyturns the state of autism via symbiosis to separation and individuation. Mahlerattributes this process as an innate drive and continues throughout thelifespan (Mahler et al.
1975). Separation and individuation processes whichspans between 4 and 36 months of age are interdependent and complementary suchthat Separation is a personal process in which the babypasses from symbiosis to separation from theprimary object. Individuation is the achievement of a sense of independence and uniqueness (ascited in Eliezer, Yahav, and Or Hen, 2012).
Attachment theoryand separation-individuation theory are two overlapping theories such that bothare based on naturalistic observations of how the earliest relationship betweenbaby and mother develops however, attachment theory is based on the attachment at different developmental ages, how the child’s attachment system is influenced by the mother’sstate of mind, and the child’s which behaviors represents these attachmentorganization by reflecting the total experiences between the child and mother (Bergman,Blom, Polyak, and Mayers, 2015). In other words, althoughseparation-individuation focuses on the process, attachment theory focuses onthe outcome of that process and how this outcome impacts the child’sdevelopment and relationships during his life (Bergman, Blom, Polyak, andMayers, 2015). Separation-individuation theory also differs from attachmenttheory in terms of developing withinpsychoanalytic structural theory and its contributing toour understanding of preoedipal period (Blum, 2004). The conceptof separation-individuation, though currently marginalized by attachment andother object relations theories, remains an important contribution to our mapof the preoedipal period (Blum, 2004). 2.Phases of Separation-Individuation Process Mahler’s separation-individuation theory consists of four stagesfor the development of a child’s internalizedobject relations which continues during the firstthree years of life and these stages are normal autism, symbiosis,separation-individuation with four subphases as differentiation, practicing,rapprochement, and object constancy (Teitelbaum, 1981). According to theory,each of these subphases follows, bridges and also overlaps with the previoussucceeded phase (Blum, 2004).
Thefirst phase of normalautism, referring first two months of life, refers that the infant’sneed satisfaction belongs to its autistic and omnipotent orbit besidessustained attempts to tension reduction and achievement of homeostasis(Teitelbaum, 1981). Thesymbiotic phase is the second but the central for Mahler’s theory which lasts untilaround five month of age. “Thedeep human connections that originate here, unlike any later connections fettered by reason andobjectivity, may well be central to the deepest love, intimacy, andconnection in ways that are unbounded and inarticulable” (as citedin Pine, 2004 ). The child starts to experience the concept of self-with-otherin this phase. In this period the infantbehaves and functions as though s/he and her/his parent were an omnipotentsystem—a dual unity within one common boundary—a symbiotic membrane(Teitelbaum, 1981). The symbiotic phase includes asignificant interest in gratification (Teitelbaum, 1981). Accordingto theory there are four primary subphases in separation-individuation asdifferentiation, practicing, rapprochement and object constancy.
The first oneis differentiation subphase (4-5 to 10 months of age) in which “all normalinfants achieve their initial tentative steps of breaking away, in a bodilysense, from their hitherto completely passive lap babyhood-the stage of dualunity with the mother” (Mahler, 1974, p. 95). The infant starts todifferentiate the mother and the other one or thing which is similar with ordifferent from the mother such as how he or she or it looks, moves or feels(Mahler, 1974).
Thedifferentiation subphase is followed by the practicing subphase which is thesecond subphase of separation individuation process. The practicing period consistsof two parts as the early practicing phase which is the infant’s earlierability to move away from the mother by crawling or climbing; and thepracticing period proper which is free and upright locomotion. “At least three interrelated, yet discriminable developmentscontribute to and, in circular fashion, interact with the child’s first stepsinto awareness of separateness and into individuation. They are: the rapid bodydifferentiation from the mother; the establishment of a specific bond withher; and the growth and functioning of the autonomous egoapparatuses in close proximity to the mother” (Mahler, 1974, p.97). In the practicing subphase the infant findsthe opportunity of moving, exploring freedom and at some physical distanceexercising his autonomous functions, meanwhile, the mother continues beingready for the needed ‘home base’ and ’emotional refueling’ as Furer’s conceptualization(Mahler, 1974).
Thethird subphase is rapprochement including 15 to 24 months of age. The child’srefueling contact with parents replaces with a constant interaction betweenthem which represents a cognitive growth and inflated awareness of separateness(Teitelbaum, 1981). It is time for the toddler to realize that the world is nothis oyster and he must deal with it as a separate individual (Teitelbaum,1981). According to theory, the parent and child relationships in thesepracticing and rapprochement subphases has significant importance. Objectconstancy is the final process for separation-individuation which includes 24to 36 months of age. Thisphase refers to the child’s ability to value primary objects over and aboveher/his state of need. In other words as the child develops the capacity tolove its parent for her/her qualities apart from his/her nurturing function,then we speak of the child as being “on the way toward object constancy.”(Teitelbaum, 1981).
3.Father’s role in separation-individuation processResearch has shown that the father’s emergence as an objectdiffers from of the mother and the father object is closer to reality becauseof less exposing by projections, however the emergence of mother object insymbiotic phase is with the full of motion, hopes and frustrations and so on (ascited in Eliezer, Yahav, and Or Hen, 2012). Moreover, the identification withthe father creates a space for child to “move from a cognitively non-reflectivestage to symbolic representations of self and other(s)” and requires child’srealizing separate symbolic existence and separation from his mother (Eliezer,Yahav, and Or Hen, 2012, p.326).
The father’s role can be considered as adefense mechanism during frustration which is characteristic of rapprochementsubphase, the toddler’s facing with anxieties, and being reincorporation withhis mother (Eliezer, Yahav, and Or Hen, 2012).4. ModernPerspective to Separation-Individuation: First and Second Process ofSeparation-IndividuationMahler (1963) indicated that the child passes the symbioticrelation with his caregiver to reach an individuated toddler and he experiencesa “sense of identity” during this process for the first time.
By experiencingboth a need for achieved independence and a desire for reunion with the child’scaregiver an optimal balance between closeness to the mother and distance isaimed to reach (Mahler et al., 1975). According to modern perspective on separation-individuationadolescence is seen as “second individuation” process by moving out of thefamily home to own adult life of the adolescent (as cited in Kins, Beyers, andSoenens, 2012; Bart, 2003). Cognitively and physically developing adolescentexperiences feelings of confusion and ambivalence for this newly gainedindependence and desire to continue connection with his parents similar withchildhood, thus, these ambivalence can be dealt with reaching a mutualrelationship between the adolescent and parents based on equality rather than ahierarchical parent-child relationships (as cited in Kins, Beyers, and Soenens, 2012). In other words, themodern perspective of separation-individuation process assume that it is anlifelong process to find a balance between separation and connection, mergerand isolation, dependence and autonomy (Barth, 2003) and founding andindividuated self and continuing a sense of connectedness to the family (Kins,Beyers, and Soenens, 2012). The task regarding separation-individuation inadolescence is separating from an internalized caregiver rather than physicalparental reality (Rhodes and Kroger, 1992).5.
Howdoes pathology arise and develop regarding separation-individuation process? Research on separation-individuation process has shown that it isa critical process for maintaining a healthy psychosocial functioningindicating a healthy balance between distance and closeness in relationships with significant others forbetter adjustment (as cited in Kins, Beyers, and Soenens, 2012). Research havealso found that when people experience inadequate development ofseparation-individuation tasks, his vulnerability to psychopathology increases (Blos, 1979; Mahler et al., 1975; Pine, 1979).Pine(1979) claimed that there are two pathologic dimensions of separation-individuationprocess as lower-order and higher-order disturbances which are depends on theself-other differentiation level. Pathology regarding lower-order disturbancecomes from an inability of differentiating the self from others and lack ofclear boundaries of self-other differentiation.
Rebellion is one of themanifestation of this dimension in which the child wants to be different andfears of taking any features of parents because of a sense of loss. However, inhigher-level disturbances pathology comes from this already experienceddifferentiation process. The disturbances in higher level are characterized bya fear regarding the loss of differentiated other as example lack of toleranceof aloneness and object constancy deficits (as cited in 10. Makale).
Anothersigns of pathology of this level are “difficulty to hold a constant innerrepresentation of the other, resulting in a defense mechanism of splittinginternal representations of the self and others into strict categories of goodand bad” (Kins, Beyers, and Soenens, 2012, p. 648). Disturbances in separation-individuation process have been foundrelated with “insecure attachment, maladjustment tocollege, symptomatology (e.g., depression, anxiety, somatization, andobsessive-compulsion) and personality disorders, in particularly borderlinepersonality disorder (as cited in Kins, Beyers, andSoenens, 2012, p. 648).
In addition, dependency-oriented psychological controlhave been found related with development of pathology ofseparation-individuation process (Kins, Beyers, and Soenens, 2012). Borderline psychopathology which can be described as an early developmentaldistortions in separation-individuation process involves the deficit of “differentiationand integration of self- and object representations” (as cited in Diamond,Kaslow, Coonerty, and Blatt, 1990, p. 363). “The object relations features ofborderline pathology (e.g., transient loss of boundarybetween self and other; inability to integrate rageful and affectionate feelings; and instability of internalrepresentations with consequent inordinate dependenceon external objects) can be attributed to fixation at or pathological regression to rapprochement modes of functioning.
“and unresolved conflicts in rapprochement (Diamond, Kaslow, Coonerty, andBlatt, 1990, p.365). Mahler (1972) has explainedrapprochement crisis as the child’s gradually realizing that his parents as hislove objects having their own interests are separate and they must stop hisdelusional grandiosity.
Although the sufficient resolution of this crisis leadsto realization of object constancy, the unsuccessful resolution leads either to”theestablishment of a nidus of intrapsychic conflict predisposing toneurosis, or to faulty or incomplete structural development predisposing tonarcissistic or borderline disorders” (Mahler, 1972, p. 494, 504). Similarly, Coonerty (1986) have found that the narcissismand rapprochement subphases as the highest have been responsible for theborderline diagnosis among all the separation-individuation subphases. Settlage(1977) suggested that if the child’s senses of control and omnipotence deflatesuddenly which evoke the grandiosity of the self and the omnipotent parent’sidealization, the narcissistic defenses can surface. Another aspect to pathology inseparation-individuation process is whether obtaining an optimal balancebetween a distance and closeness in close relationships such that pathologycomes from either achieving independence or staying with connected to otherpeople which consist of two dimensions of pathology as dysfunctionalindependent orientation and dysfunctional dependent orientation (as cited in Kins,Beyers, and Soenens, 2012). Moreover, low separation-individuation pathology, low depressive symptompatologyand low separation anxiety have found in the profile with low dysfunctionalindependence and dependence (Kins, Beyers, and Soenens, 2012).Research has also found that eating disorders in late adolescencehas been related with separation-individuation difficulties in childhood suchas problems related with autonomous self, intrusive and overprotective maternalrelationships, lack of independent behavior, emotional coldness, rejection and’a false self’ as a defensive formation as various signs of developmentalfailures in separation-individuation process (as cited in Rhodes and Kroger,1992).
6.What are the treatment implications of separation-individuation process? Psychoanalytic orientedpsychotherapy mainly targets the change regarding the developmentaltransformations aiming increase of the object-representation capacities. Inaddition, the therapeutic progress aims to expand the individual’s self-otherdifferentiation capacity and also intersubjective relatedness; on the otherhand, shift from pathological or deficit self-other boundaries which have beencharacterized in early developmental stages (Diamond et al., 1990). Through the therapy the individual tries to obtain a growth inwhich he achieves and increases self-understanding, self-worth and sense ofautonomy while coping with many life challenges (Webb, 1983). Thus the therapyresembles with separation-individuation process in childhood because thetherapeutic growth can “at times, seem intimidation, with the result that aperiod of risking is followed by retreat, and moves toward increased autonomyare followed by return to the safety of dependence” (Webb, 1983, p. 128).
Encouraging the client for reaching maximum growth and also supplying andpreparing a safe harbor for difficult conditions such as going gets rough arethe main and delicate roles of a therapists (Webb, 1983). Edward (1976) argued that the therapeutic implications forencouraging separation-individuation are the therapeutic relationships betweenthe therapist and client and interventions which are mainly obtained frompsychoanalysis but shaped by the patients’s case, for example, finding what thepatient has missed and provision as a main task for patients with less intactego. The challenge starts at that point because deciding what the missing isand provision of it are highly complex and critic (Edward, 1976). The therapistcannot specifically determine and work on phase-specific missed developmentalpoints but can deal and work with what the differences between normal andtroubled growth processes, whether in childhood or adulthood (Edward, 1976).The therapist uses his presence, availability, knowledge and interest in thetherapy and his working with the patient replicates the mother-childrelationships at some extent by experiencing attenuated symbiotic relationships(as cited in Edward, 1976). Moreover, the therapist’s and the mother’s encouraging roles aresimilar such that the therapist also encourages the patient to work, to thinkand to provide understanding fort the material he shares and the patient issupplied a time like symbiotic stage (Edward, 1976).
Apart from those,transference and verbal interaction as therapeutic implications provide a basefor understanding the client’s object relationships and its level, thus, thetherapist perceives more clearly the client’s needs (Edward, 1976). 7.Therapist’s vacation and its relationship with separation-individuation process The therapist’s vacation whichrepresents intrusive case of therapist’s reality to the process of treatmentand is attributed either unfavorable or suitable time according to client is animportant concept related with separation-individuation process (Webb, 1983). Adisciplined examination of the vacation-separations issues according toclinical perspective is necessary for both the therapist’s and client’s comfort(Webb, 1983). There are mainly three theoretical concepts related with thisissue which are Bowlby’s concept of attachment andloss, Mahler’s theory ofseparation-individuation and Mann’s notion ofthe subjective meaning of time (Webb, 1983). RegardingMahler’s theory James Mann (1973) indicated that one experiences limitless lossand anxiety which are related with separation-individuation crisis and thetherapist’s vacation can be seen as that kind of experience.
When the therapistvacation conflicts with the time of the clients who make progress inindividuation and autonomy progresses, the vacation can be seen as both achallenge and opportunity for the clients who are able to use this break as away of testing their growing independence feelings; however, the therapist’svacation can be assessed as a loss and threat for those who are not ready forsuch autonomous functioning period and unfortunately responsible forprecipitating regression (Webb, 1983). Furthermore, positive treatment achievementssuch as a constructive experience of separation can be obtained when thetherapist prepares the process carefully and thoughtfully according to eachclient’s different needs, and determines the critical timing in terms of lengthand meaning for the client’s process (Webb, 1983).