One of the most fundamental and far-reaching discoveries ever made in human history was Freud’s finding that there exists an unconscious part of the mind and that the nucleus of this unconscious mind is developed in earliest infancy. Infantile feelings and fantasies leave, as it were, their imprints on the mind, imprints which do not fade away but get stored up, remain active, and exert a continuous and powerful influence on the emotional and intellectual life of the individual. The earliest feelings are experienced in connection with external and internal stimuli. The first gratification which the child derives from the external world is the satisfaction experienced in being fed. Analysis has shown that only one part of this satisfaction results from the alleviation of hunger and that another part, no less important, results from the pleasure which the baby experiences when his mouth is stimulated by sucking at his mother’s breast. This gratification is an essential part of the child’s sexuality, and is indeed its initial expression. Pleasure is experienced also when the warm stream of milk runs down the throat and fills the stomach.
The baby reacts to unpleasant stimuli, and to the frustration of his pleasure, with feelings of hatred and aggression. These feelings of hatred are directed towards the same object as are the pleasurable ones, namely, the breasts of the mother.
Analytic work has shown that babies of a few months of age certainly indulge in fantasy building. I believe that this is the most primitive mental activity and that fantasies are in the mind of the infant almost from birth. It would seem that every stimulus the child receives is immediately responded to by fantasies, the unpleasant stimuli, including mere frustration, by fantasies of an aggressive kind, the gratifying stimuli by those focusing on pleasure.
As I said before, the object of all these fantasies is, to begin with, the breast of the mother. It may seem curious that the tiny child’s interest should be limited to a part of a person rather than to the whole, but one must hear in mind first of all that the child has an extremely undeveloped capacity for perception, physical and mental, at this stage, and then we must remember the all-important fact that the tiny child is only concerned with his immediate gratification or the lack of it ; Freud called this the “pleasure-pain principle“. Thus the breast of the mother which gives gratification or denies it becomes, in the mind of the child, imbued with the characteristics of good and evil. Now, what one might call the “good“ breasts become the prototype of what is felt throughout life to be good and beneficent, while the “bad“ breasts stand for everything evil and persecuting. The reason for this can be explained by the fact that, when the child turns his hatred against the denying or “bad“ breast, he attributes to the breast itself all his own active hatred against it – a process which is termed projection.
But there is another process of great importance going on at the same time, namely, that of introjection. By this is meant the mental activity in the child, by which, in his fantasy, he takes into himself everything which he perceives in the outside world. We know that at this stage the child receives his main satisfaction through his mouth, which therefore becomes the main channel through which the child takes in not only his food, but also, in his fantasy, the world outside him. Not only the mouth, but to a certain degree the whole body with all its senses and functions, performs this “taking in“ process – for instance, the child breathes in, takes in through his eyes, his ears, through touch and so on. To begin with, the breast of the mother is the object of his constant desire, and therefore this is the first thing to be introjected. In fantasy the child sucks the breast into himself, chews it up and swallows it ; thus he feels that he has actually got it there, that he possesses the mother’s breast within himself, in both its good and in its bad aspects.
The child’s focusing on and attachment to a part of the person is characteristic of this early stage of development, and accounts in great measure for the fantastic and unrealistic nature of his relation to everything, for example, to parts of his own body, to people and to inanimate objects, all of which are at first of course only dimly perceived. The object world of the child in the first two or three months of its life could be described as consisting of gratifying or of hostile and persecuting parts or portions of the real world. At about this age he begins to see his mother and others about him as “whole people“, his realistic perception of her (and them) coming gradually as he connects her face looking down at him with the hands that caress him and with the breast that satisfies him, and the power to perceive “wholes“ (once the pleasure in “whole persons“ is assured and he has confidence in them) spreads to the external world beyond the mother.
At this time other changes too are taking place in the child. When the baby is a few weeks old, one can observe that he begins definitely to enjoy periods in his waking life ; judging by appearances, there are times when he feels quite happy. It seems that at about the age just mentioned localized overstrong stimuli diminish (in the beginning, for instance, defecation is often felt as unpleasant), and a much better co-ordination begins to be established in the exercise of the different bodily functions. This leads not only to a better physical but also to a better mental adaptation to external and internal stimuli. One can surmise that stimuli which at first were felt as painful, no longer are so and some of them have even become pleasant. The fact that lack of stimuli can now be felt as an enjoyment in itself, indicates that he is no longer so much swayed by painful feelings, caused by unpleasant stimuli, or so avid for pleasurable ones in connection with the immediate and full gratification given by feeding ; his better adaptation towards stimuli renders the necessity for immediate and strong gratification less urgent1.
I have referred to the early fantasies and fears of persecution in connection with the hostile breasts, and I have explained how they are connected with the fantastic object-relationship of the tiny child. The child’s earliest experiences of painful external and internal stimuli provide a basis for fantasies about hostile external and internal objects, and they contribute largely to the building up of such fantasies2.
In the earliest stage of mental development every unpleasant stimulus is apparently related in the baby’s fantasy to the “hostile“ or denying breasts, every pleasant stimulus on the other hand to the “good“, gratifying breasts. It seems that here we have two circles, the one benevolent and the other vicious, both of which are based on the interplay of external or environmental and internal psychical factors ; thus any lessening of the amount or intensity of painful stimuli or any increase in the capacity to adjust to them should help to diminish the strength of fantasies of a frightening nature, and a decrease of frightening fantasies in its turn enables the child to take steps towards a better adaptation to reality, and this helps to diminish the frightening fantasies.
It is important for the proper development of the mind that the child should come under the influence of the benevolent circle I have just outlined ; when this happens he is greatly assisted in forming an image of his mother as a person ; this growing perception of the mother as a whole implies not only very important changes in his intellectual, but also in his emotional development.
I have already mentioned that fantasies and feelings of an aggressive and of a gratifying, erotic nature, which are to a large extent fused together (a fusion which is called sadism), play a dominant part in the child’s early life. They are first of all focused on the breasts of his mother, but gradually extend to her whole body. Greedy, erotic and destructive fantasies and feelings have for their object the inside of the mother’s body. In his imagination the child attacks it, robbing it of everything it contains and eating it up.
At first the destructive fantasies are more of a sucking nature. Something of this is shown in the powerful way with which some children will suck, even when milk is plentiful. The nearer the child comes to the time of cutting teeth, the more the fantasies take on the nature of biting, tearing, chewing up and thus destroying their object. Many mothers find that long before the child cuts his teeth these biting tendencies show themselves. Analytic experience has proved that these tendencies go along with fantasies of a definitely cannibalistic nature. The destructive quality of all these sadistic fantasies and feelings, as we find from the analysis of small children, is in full swing when the child begins to perceive his mother as a whole person.
At the same time he now experiences a change in his emotional attitude towards the mother. The child’s pleasurable attachment to the breast develops into feelings towards her as a person. Thus feelings both of a destructive and of a loving nature are experienced towards one and the same person and this gives rise to deep and disturbing conflicts in the child’s mind.
It is, in my view, very important for the child’s future that he should be able to progress from the early fears of persecution and a fantastic object-relationship to the relation to the mother as a whole person and a loving being. When, however, he succeeds in doing this, feelings of guilt arise in connection with the child’s own destructive impulses, which he now fears to be a danger to his loved object. The fact that at this stage of development the child is unable to control his sadism, as it wells up at any frustration, still further aggravates the conflict and his concern for the loved one. Again it is very important that the child should deal satisfactorily with these conflicting feelings – love, hatred and guilt – which are aroused in this new situation. If the conflicts prove unbearable the child cannot establish a happy relationship with his mother, and the way lies open for many failures in subsequent development. I wish especially to mention states of undue or abnormal depression which, in my view, have their deepest source in' the failure to deal satisfactorily with these early conflicts.
But let us now consider what happens when the feelings of guilt and fear of the death of his mother (which is dreaded as a result of his unconscious wishes for her death) are dealt with adequately. These feelings have, I think, far-reaching effects on the child’s future mental well-being, his capacity for love and his social development. From them springs the desire to restore, which expresses itself in numerous fantasies of saving her and making all kinds of reparation. These tendencies to make reparation I have found in the analysis of small children to be the driving forces in all constructive activities and interests, and for social development. We find them at work in the first play-activities and at the basis of the child’s satisfaction in his achievements, even those of the most simple kind for example, in putting one brick on top of another, or making a brick stand upright after it had been knocked down—all this is partly derived from the unconscious fantasy of making some kind of restoration to some person or several persons whom he has injured in fantasy. But more than this, even the much earlier achievements of the baby, such as playing with his fingers, finding something which had rolled aside, standing up and all sorts of voluntary movements – these too, I believe, are connected with fantasies in which the reparation element is already present.
The analysis of quite small children – in recent years children of even between one and two years have been analysed – show that babies of a few months connect their fæces and urine with fantasies in which these materials are regarded as presents. Not only are they presents, and as such are indications of love towards their mother or nurse, but they are also regarded as being able to effect a restoration. On the other hand, when the destructive feelings are dominant the baby will in his fantasy defalcate and urinate in anger and hatred, and use his excrements as hostile agents. Thus the excrements produced with friendly feelings are, in fantasy, used as a means of making good the injuries inflicted also by the agency of fæces and urine in moments of anger.
It is impossible within the scope of this paper to deal adequately with the connection between aggressive fantasies, fears, feelings of guilt and the wish to make reparation ; nevertheless, I have touched on this topic because I wanted to indicate that aggressive feelings, which lead to so much disturbance in the child’s mentality, are at the same time of the highest value for his development.
I have already mentioned that the child mentally takes into himself – introjects – the outside world as far as he can perceive it. First he introjects the good and bad breasts, but gradually it is the whole mother (again conceived as a good and bad mother) which he takes into himself. Along with this the father and the other people in the child’s surroundings are taken in as well, to begin with in a lesser degree but in the same manner as the relation to the mother ; these figures grow in importance and acquire independence in the child’s mind as time goes on. If the child succeeds in establishing within himself a kind and helpful mother, this internalized mother will prove a most beneficial influence throughout his whole life. Though this influence will normally change in character with the development of the mind, it is comparable with the vitally important place that the real mother has in the tiny child’s very existence. I do not mean that the “internalized“ good parents will consciously be felt as such (even in the small child the feeling of possessing them inside is deeply unconscious), they are not felt consciously to be there, but rather as something within the personality having the nature of kindness and wisdom ; this leads to confidence and trust in oneself and helps to combat and overcome the feelings of fear of having bad figures within one and of being governed by one’s own uncontrollable hatred ; and furthermore, this leads to trust in people in the outside world beyond the family circle.
As I have pointed out above, the child feels any frustration very acutely ; though some progress towards adaptation to reality is normally going on all the time, the child’s emotional life seems dominated by the cycle of gratification and frustration ; but the feelings of frustration are of a very complicated nature. Dr. Ernest Jones found that frustration is always felt as deprivation, if the child cannot obtain the desired thing, he feels that it is being withheld by the nasty mother, who has power over him.
Coming to our main problem, we find that the child feels, when the breast is wanted but is not there, as if it were lost for ever ; since the conception of the breast extends to that of the mother, the feelings of having lost the breast lead to the fear of having lost the loved mother entirely, and this means not only the real mother, but also the good mother within. In my experience this fear of the total loss of the good object (internalized and external) is interwoven with feelings of guilt at having destroyed her (eaten her up), and then the child feels that her loss is a punishment for his dreadful deed ; thus the most distressing and conflicting feelings become associated with frustration, and it is these which make the pain of what seems like a simple thwarting so poignant. The actual experience of weaning greatly reinforces these painful feelings or tends to substantiate these fears ; but in so far as the baby never has uninterrupted possession of the breast, and over and over again is in the state of lacking it, one could say that, in a sense, he is in a constant state of being weaned or at least in a state leading up to weaning. Nevertheless, the crucial point is reached at the actual weaning when the loss is complete and the breast or bottle is gone irrevocably.
I might quote from my experience a case in which the feelings connected with this loss were very clearly shown. Rita, aged two years and nine months when she came for analysis, was a very neurotic child with fears of all kinds, and most difficult to bring up ; her quite unchildlike depressions and feelings of guilt were very striking. She was very much tied to her mother, displaying at times an exaggerated love and at others antagonism. She was, at the time she came to me, still having one bottle at night-time and the mother told me that she had had to continue this, since she had found that the child showed too much distress when she attempted to stop giving it to her. Rita’s weaning had been very difficult. She had been breast fed for a few months, had then been given bottles which at first she did not want to accept, then she got used to them, and displayed again great difficulties when the bottles were replaced by ordinary food. When, during her analysis with me, she was weaned from this last bottle, she fell into a state of despair. She lost her appetite, refused food, clung more than ever to her mother, asking her constantly whether she loved her, if she had been naughty, and so on. It could not have been a question of food in itself, as the milk was only a part of her diet, and moreover the same amount of milk was given to her, but out of a glass. I had advised the mother to give Rita the milk herself, adding a biscuit or two, and sitting at her bedside or taking her on her lap. But the child did not want to have the milk. Her analysis revealed that her despair was due to her anxiety of her mother’s death or to the fear of her mother punishing her cruelly for her badness. What she felt as “badness“ actually was her unconscious wishes for her mother’s death both in the present and in the past. She was overwhelmed by anxiety of having destroyed, and especially of having eaten up her mother, and the loss of the bottle was felt as the confirmation that she had done so. Even looking at her mother did not disprove these fears until they were resolved by analysis. In this case the early fears of persecution had not been sufficiently overcome, and the personal relation to the mother had never been well established. This failure was on the one hand due to the child’s inability to deal with her overstrong conflicts, on the other hand – and this again becomes part of the internal conflict – to the actual conduct of her mother who was a highly neurotic person.
It is evident that a good human relationship between the child and his mother at the time when these basic conflicts set in and are largely worked through is of the highest value. We must remember that at the critical time of weaning the child, as it were, loses his “good“ object, that is, he loses what he loves most. Anything which makes the loss of an external good object less painful, and diminishes the fear of being punished, will help the child to preserve the belief in his good object within. At the same time it will prepare the way for the child to keep up, in spite of the frustration, a happy relation to his real mother and to establish pleasurable relations with people other than his parents. Then he will succeed in obtaining satisfactions, which will replace the all-important one which he is just about to lose.
Now, what can we do to help the child in this difficult task ? The preparations for this task start at birth. From the very beginning the mother must do everything she can to help the child to establish a happy relationship with her. So often we find that the mother does everything in her power for the child’s physical condition ; she concentrates on this as if the child were a material thing which needs constant upkeep, like a valuable machine rather than a human being. This is the attitude of many pediatricians who are mostly concerned with the physical development of the child, and are only interested in his emotional reactions in so far as they indicate something about his physical or intellectual state. Mothers often do not realize that a tiny baby is already a human being whose emotional development is of highest importance.
A good contact between mother and child may be jeopardized at the first or the first few feeds by the fact that the mother does not know how to induce the baby to take the nipple ; if, for example, instead of dealing patiently with the difficulties as they arise, the nipple is pushed rather roughly into the baby’s mouth, he may fail to develop a strong attachment to the nipple and to the breast, and become a difficult feeder. On the other hand, one can observe how babies who show this initial difficulty develop under patient assistance into quite as good feeders as those who have no initial difficulty at all3.
There are many other occasions than just at the breast when the baby will feel and unconsciously record his mother’s love, patience and understanding – or the contrary. As I have already pointed out, the earliest feelings are experienced in connection with internal and external stimuli – pleasant or unpleasant – and are associated with fantasies. The way in which the baby is handled even from the time of delivery from the womb is bound to leave impressions on his mind.
Though the infant in the earliest stage of his development cannot yet relate the pleasant feelings, which the care and patience of the mother rouse in him, to her as a “whole person“, it is of vital importance that these pleasurable feelings and the sense of trust should be experienced. Everything which makes the baby feel that it is surrounded with friendly objects, though these are, to begin with, conceived of, for the most part, as “good breasts“, prepares the ground for and contributes to the building up of a happy relation to the mother and later on to other people around him.
A balance must be kept between physical and psychical necessities. The regularity of feeding has proved to be of great value for the baby’s physical well-being, and this again influences the psychical development ; but there are many children who, in the early days at any rate, cannot easily sustain breaks of too long duration between the feeds ; in these cases it is better not to keep rigidly to rules, and to feed the baby every three hours or even under this, and, if necessary, to give a sip of dill-water or sugar water in between times.
I think the use of the comforter is helpful. It is true that it has a disadvantage – not of a hygienic nature, for that can be overcome – the psychological disadvantage is the disappointment for the baby, when in sucking he does not receive the desired milk, but at any rate he has the partial gratification in being able to suck. If he is not allowed the comforter he will probably all the more suck his fingers ; as the use of the comforter can be better regulated than the sucking of the fingers, the baby can better be weaned from the comforter. One might begin the weaning gradually, e.g., to give it only before the child settles down to sleep, or if he is not quite well, and so on.
As regards the question of weaning from thumb-sucking, Dr. Middlemore (Chapter IV) expresses the opinion that on the whole the child should not be weaned from sucking his thumb. There is something to be said in favour of this view. Frustrations which can be avoided should not be inflicted on the child. Furthermore, there is the fact to be considered that overstrong frustrations of the mouth may lead to an intensified need for compensatory genital pleasure, for example, compulsive masturbation, and that some of the intrinsic frustrations experienced at the mouth are carried over to the genital.
But there are, other aspects to be considered as well. In unbridled sucking of the thumb or the comforter there is a danger of overstrong mouth-fixation ; (I mean by this that the libido is hindered in its natural movement from the mouth to the genital), while mild frustration of the mouth would have the desirable effect of distributing the sensual urges.
Continual sucking may act inhibitively upon speech development. Furthermore, the sucking of the thumbs, if excessive, has this disadvantage : the child often hurts himself, and then he not only experiences physical pain, but the connection between the pleasure in sucking and the pain in his fingers is psychologically disadvantageous.
With regard to masturbation I should say definitely that it ought not to be interfered with, the child should be left to deal with this in his own way4. With regard to the thumb-sucking, I should say that it can in many cases be replaced without pressure partly and gradually with other oral gratifications, such as sweets, fruit and specially favoured foods. These one should provide for the child ad libitum, while at the same time, with the help of the comforter, one softens the process of weaning.
Another point I want to stress is the mistake of attempting too early to get the child used to habits of cleanliness in regard to his excretory functions. Some mothers are proud of having achieved this task very early, but they do not realize the bad psychological effects to which it may give rise. I don’t mean to say that there is any harm in holding the baby from time to time over a chamber and thus begin to accustom him gently to it. The point in question is that the mother ought not to be over-anxious, and ought not to try to prevent the child from ever dirtying or wetting himself. The baby senses this attitude towards his excrements and feels disturbed by it, for he takes a strong sexual pleasure in his excretory functions and he likes his excrements as a part and product of his own body. On the other hand, as I pointed out before, he feels that his fæces and urine are hostile agents when he defæcates and urinates with angry feelings. If the mother anxiously tries to prevent him from getting in contact with them altogether, the baby feels this behaviour as a confirmation that his excrements are evil and hostile agents of which the mother is afraid : her anxiety increases his. This attitude to his own excrements is psychologically detrimental, and plays a great part in many neuroses.
Of course I do not mean to say that the baby ought to be allowed to lie dirty indefinitely ; what to my mind should be avoided is making his cleanliness a matter of such importance, because then the child senses how anxious the mother is over it. The whole thing should be taken easily and signs of disgust or disapproval while cleaning the baby should be avoided. I think that a systematic training in cleanliness is better postponed until after weaning. This training is certainly a considerable strain both mentally and physically on the baby and one that ought not to be imposed on him while he is coping with the difficulties of weaning. Even later on this training should not be carried out with any strictness, as Dr. Isaacs will show in her chapter on “Habit“.
It is a great asset for the future relationship between mother and child if the mother not only feeds but nurses her baby as well. If circumstances prevent her from doing so she may still be able to establish a strong bond between herself and her baby, if she has insight into the baby’s mentality.
The baby can enjoy his mother’s presence in so many ways. He will often have a little play with her breast after feeding, he will take pleasure in her looking at him, smiling at him, playing with him and talking to him long before he understands the meaning of words. He will get to know and to like her voice, and her singing to him may remain a pleasurable and stimulating memory in his unconscious. Soothing him in this way, how often she can avert tension and avoid an unhappy state of mind, and thus put him to sleep instead of letting him fall asleep exhausted with crying !
A really happy relationship between mother and child can be established only when nursing and feeding the baby is not a matter of duty but a real pleasure to the mother. If she can enjoy it thoroughly, her pleasure will be unconsciously realized by the child, and this reciprocal happiness will lead to a full emotional understanding between mother and child.
But there is another side to the picture. The mother must realize that the baby is not actually her possession, and that, though he is so small and utterly dependent on her help, he is a separate entity and ought to be treated as an individual human being ; she must not tie him too much to herself, but assist him to grow up to independence. The earlier she can take up this attitude the better ; she will thus not only help the child, but preserve herself from future disappointment.
The child’s development ought not to be unduly interfered with. It is one thing to watch with enjoyment and understanding his mental and physical growth, and another thing to try to accelerate it. The baby ought to be left to grow quietly in his own way. As Ella Sharpe has mentioned in the preceding chapter, the desire to impose a rate of growth upon the child, to make it fit into a prearranged plan, is detrimental to the child and to his relationship to the mother. Her desire to speed on progress is often due to anxiety, which is one of the main sources of disturbance in the mother-child relationship.
There is another matter in which the mother’s attitude is of highest importance, and that is in regard to the sexual development of the child, that is, his experiences of bodily sexual sensations and the accompanying desires and feelings. It is not yet generally realized that the infant from birth onwards has strong sexual feelings, which, to begin with, manifest themselves through the pleasure experienced in his mouth activities and excretory functions, but which very soon get connected with the genitals as well (masturbation) ; nor is it generally and sufficiently realized that these sexual feelings are essential for the proper development of the child, and that his personality and character, as well as a satisfactory adult sexuality, depend on his sexuality being established in childhood.
I have already pointed out that one should not interfere with the child’s masturbation, nor exert pressure in weaning him from thumb-sucking, and that one should be understanding about the pleasure he takes in his excretory functions and his excreta. But that alone is not sufficient. The mother must have a really friendly attitude towards these manifestations of his sexuality. So often she is apt to show disgust, harshness or scorn which is both humiliating and detrimental to the child. Since all his erotic trends are directed first and foremost towards his mother and father, their reactions will influence his whole development in these matters. On the other hand, there is also the question of too great indulgence to be considered. Though the child’s sexuality is not to be interfered with, the mother might have to restrain him – of course in a friendly way – if he should attempt to take too much liberty with her person. Neither must the mother allow herself to become involved in his sexuality. A really friendly acceptance of sexuality in her child constitutes the limit of her role. Her own erotic needs must be well controlled where he is concerned. She must not become passionately excited by any of her activities in tending the child. When washing, drying or powdering him restraint is necessary, particularly in connection with the genital regions. The mother’s lack of self-control may easily be felt by the child as a seduction, and this would set up undue complications in his development. Yet the child should by no means be deprived of love. The mother certainly can and ought to kiss and caress him and take him on her lap, all of which he needs and is only to his good.
This leads me to another important point. It is essential that the baby should not sleep in his parents’ bedroom and be present during sexual intercourse. People often think that this is not harmful for the baby, because, for one thing, they do not realize that his sexual feelings, his aggression and fears get too much stirred through such an experience, and they further ignore the fact that the baby takes in unconsciously what he seems unable to grasp intellectually. Often, when the parents think the baby is asleep, he is awake or half awake, and even when he seems to be asleep he is able to sense what is going on around him. Though everything is perceived only in a dim way, a vivid, but distorted memory remains active in his unconscious mind, and has harmful effects on his development. Especially bad is the effect when this experience coincides with others which also put a strain on the child, for example, an illness, an operation or – to come back to the topic of my chapter – the weaning.
I should like to say now a few words about the actual process of the weaning from the breast. It seems to me of great importance to do this slowly and gently. If the baby is to be completely weaned, let us say, at eight or nine months – which seems the right age – at about five or six months, for one breast-feeding a day a bottle should be substituted, and every subsequent month another bottle should take the place of a breast-feeding. At the same time other suitable food should be introduced, and when the child has got used to this, one can begin to wean him from the bottle, which then will be replaced partly by other food and partly by milk drunk out of a glass. The weaning will be greatly facilitated if patience and gentleness are exercised in accustoming the child to new food. The child ought not to be made to eat more than he wants, or to eat food he dislikes – on the contrary, he should be provided with the food he likes in plenty – nor should table manners play any part at this period.
So far I have said nothing about upbringing where the baby is not breast fed. I hope I have made clear the great psychological importance of the mother feeding her child ; let us now consider the eventuality of the mother’s being unable to do this.
The bottle is a substitute for the mother’s breast, for it allows the baby to have the pleasure of sucking and thus to establish to a certain degree the breast-mother relationship in connection with the bottle given by the mother or nurse.
Experience shows that often children who have not been breast fed develop quite well5. Still, in analysis one will away discover in such people a deep longing for the breast which has never been fulfilled, and though the breast-mother relationship has been established to a certain degree, it makes all the difference to the psychic development that the earliest and fundamental gratification has been obtained from a substitute, instead of from the real thing which was desired. One may say that although children can develop well without being breast fed, the development would have been different and better in one way or another had they had a successful breast-feeding. On the other hand, I infer from my experience that children whose development goes wrong, even though they have been breast fed, would have been more ill without it.
To summarize : successful breast-feeding is always an important asset for development ; some children, though they have missed this fundamentally favourable influence, develop very well without it.
In this chapter I have discussed the methods which might help to make the sucking period and the weaning successful ; I am now in the rather difficult position of having to tell you that what may seem to be a success is not necessarily a complete one. Although some children appear to have gone through the weaning quite well and even for some time progress satisfactorily, deep down they have been unable to deal with the difficulties arising out of this situation ; only an outward adaptation has taken place. This outward adaptation results from the child’s urge to please those around him, upon whom he is so dependent, and from his desire to be on good terms with them. This drive in the child manifests itself to a certain degree even as early as in the weaning period ; I believe that babies have altogether much more intellectual capacity than is assumed. There is another important reason for this mainly outward adaptation, namely, that it serves as an escape from the deep inner conflicts which the child is unable to deal with. In other cases, there are more obvious signs of the failure of true adaptation ; for instance, in many character defects, such as jealousy, greed and resentfulness. In this connection I would mention Dr. Karl Abraham’s work on the relation between early difficulties and the formation of character.
We all know people who go about in life with constant grievances. For instance, they resent even the bad weather as a thing especially inflicted upon them by a hostile fate. Again, there are others who turn away from every gratification if it does not come immediately when it is wanted ; in the words of the popular song of a few years ago, “I want what I want when I want it, or I don’t want it at all.”
I have endeavoured to show you that frustration is so difficult for the infant to bear because of the deep inner conflicts which are connected with it. A really successful weaning implies that the baby has not only got used to new food, but that it has actually made the first and fundamental steps towards dealing with its inner conflicts and fears, and that it is thus finding adjustment to frustration in its true sense.
If this adjustment has been made, then weaning in the obsolete sense of the word can here be applied. I understand that in old English the word weaning was used not only in the sense of “weaning from“ but also of “weaning to”. Applying these two senses of the word, we may say that when real adaptation to frustration has taken place, the individual is weaned not only from his mother’s breasts, but towards substitutes – towards all those sources of gratification and satisfaction which are needed for building up a full, rich and happy life.
Note : A postscript to this paper, written in January 1952, appears on page 233.
1 In this connection I am reminded of a comment made recently by Dr. Edward Glover ; he pointed out that the abrupt change between very painful and very pleasurable sensations might be felt as painful in itself.
2 Dr. Susan Isaacs emphasized the importance of this point in a paper to the British Psycho-Analytical Society (January, 1934).
3 I have to thank Dr. D. Winnicott for many illuminating details on this subject.
4 If the masturbation is done obtrusively or excessively – and the same applies to prolonged and excessively hard thumb-sucking – one may find that something is wrong with the child’s relation to his environment. For instance, he may feel afraid of his nurse without this ever coming to the knowledge of his parents. He may feel unhappy at school because he feels backward or because he is on bad terms with a certain teacher or afraid of another child. In analyses one discovers that such things can account for an increased strain on the child’s mind which finds relief in increased and compulsive sensual gratification. Naturally, the removal of external factors will not always alleviate the strain, but with such children a reprimand for the excessive masturbation can only add to the underlying difficulties. When these are so great, they can be removed only by a psychological treatment.
5 More than this, even children who have gone through very difficult experiences in this early period, such as illnesses, sudden weaning or an operation, often develop quite satisfactorily, though such experiences are always in one way or another a handicap and should, of course, if possible be avoided.