Reverberations of the Long-Term Fate of Early Aggression in Mental Representations: Integrating Separation-Individuation and Attachment Theory

Reverberations of the Long-Term Fate of Early Aggression in Mental Representations:
Integrating Separation-Individuation and Attachment Theory

Presenter: Wendy Olesker, PhD
Discussant: Inga Blom, PhD, PMH-C

Tuesday, January 2, 2024 at 8 PM

Location: Register via the button below to receive the Zoom link

Margaret Mahler, a pioneering psychoanalyst, began her ground-breaking Separation-Individuation Study in the late 50s. She was one of the first to look naturalistically and theoretically at early development refracted through the lens of the mother-child dyad. Mahler designed this study as an indoor playground, with bifocal focus on both mother and child and their actual interaction patterns. Mahler had already been immersed in studying and treating what was then seen as psychosis in children. Her goal in the nursery was to study how the emerging sense of self and other came about in normal children. Over a number of years, 38 children from birth to age three and 29 mothers attended the nursery, and extensive follow-up data (including voluminous observational notes) on each member of the dyad, as well as the dyad itself, was collected. Retrospective analysis of the notes and early films of the pairs in the nursery, as well as longitudinal interviews and ongoing meetings with some of the original participants, has been going on for decades and continues into the present. Using this rich trove of clinical and psychoanalytic data, this presentation aims to fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of internalizing processes.

The role of aggression in facilitating or interfering with the evolution of coherence, integration, and complexity in mental representations will be illustrated through following the developmental trajectories of two of the original nursery subjects for over 60 years. In one, there was calcification and rigidity, while in the other, flexibility prevailed; complex factors leading to those outcomes will be examined. In addition, consideration of the value of various data collection methods will be discussed. Looking closely through the data reveals significant differences over time between surface presentation and underlying personality structure.

Wendy Olesker, PhD, is a Training and Supervising Analyst at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and on the Faculty at the NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. She is Senior Editor of The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. She is Director of the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. For the past ten years she has been Director of the Follow-up Study of the Margaret Mahler Foundation.

Inga Blom, PhD, PMH-C, is currently the Director of Reproductive Mental Health and Director of Externship Training at Lenox Hill Hospital/Northwell Health in New York City, a part-time Assistant Professor at The New School and in private practice. Fifteen years ago, she completed her dissertation at The New School for Social Research with Miriam Steele and Anni Bergman, entitled “A Longitudinal Study Evaluating Infant Observations and Representations of Relationships: Separation-Individuation Theory and Attachment Theory in a Combined Approach,” and she has been involved in follow-up research with the original separation-individual theory subjects ever since.

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