Separate 3 Times, Become YOU!

Uploaded 9/4/2022, approx. 12 minute read

The baby gazes into his mother's eyes and sees itself through the mother's gaze.

This loving exchange of visual cues gradually creates in the child what we call object constancy.

The child generates an internal representation of the mother, which remains with him forever ensconced and embedded in his mind as an internal object.

Henceforth, the child is able to interact with this internal object when mommy, the external object, is absent for some reason.

This bridge of existence, this object constancy, allows the child to feel safe, to venture outwards into the world, to explore reality away from mommy.

Mother becomes a safe base inside his head and outside. A loving, non-punitive, accepting mother, a mother who encourages the child to develop autonomy, independence and self-efficacy, is a good enough mother, and such a child is able to separate from her safely knowing that it will not be punished for this transgression of walking away from mother.

This child is able to separate and in due time, after a lot of friction with reality, after a lot of pain and many losses, the child emerges, becomes an individual, and this is the process known as separation, individuation.

Various scholars, starting with Margaret Mahler, through others, and up to Severino in the 1970s and 80s, many of them describe this process of separation and individuation as exclusively something that happens in childhood, an infantile process, and I beg to differ, as I usually do, because my name is Sam Vaknin and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and I'm also, to the chagrin of many, a professor of psychology.

Today we are going to discuss the three separation individuation processes throughout life and how each and every process of separation individuation creates a new self-state so that ultimately you emerge through these processes.

You become who you are.

Today's topic, three separations, one individual, is it truly so?

So we mentioned the infantile separation phase. It's described in literature. Every observer of child behavior, every mother, every kindergarten teacher, every child psychologist would tell you that separation and individuation is real.

Children do venture away from mother, hesitantly, fearfully, but also very grandiosely, and then they run back to mommy, hug her as a form of secure or safe base.

I propose that there are two additional processes of separation individuation in life.

The second one is during adolescence and the third one is when we go out into society, when we begin to interact with other people in meaningful ways, in romantic relationships, in the workplace, when we develop object relations to its fullest, we experience another process of separation individuation.

What I'm proposing is that separation individuation is a coping strategy, and like every other coping strategy in life, it is used repeatedly throughout the lifespan.

We tend to develop ego defenses, other psychological defense mechanisms, coping strategies.

Early on in life, attachment style, everything starts in the formative years, zero to six, when mother is a preeminent and predominant figure.

And so during these years, we also acquire the skill of separating, individuating, and becoming. And this skill never becomes obsolete. We keep using it throughout life.

When we reach puberty, which is the biological equivalent of adolescence, and then we become adolescents in the psychological sense, we wish to separate from parental figures. We wish to become individuals divided from other people.

The formation of identity, gender identity, the distinction, distinguishing yourself from other people, negative identity formation. They are all very critical in adolescence.

Adolescence spend an inordinate amount of time on branding themselves, rendering themselves differentiated or distinct or separate from others.

So the process of separation is very pronounced in adolescence.

And when it is unimpeded, it leads to the formation of a self state.

Similarly, when we go out to society, when we begin to interact with other people, when we begin to apprehend that other people are totally separate entities, that we can't control them, that they are unpredictable, that they encompass and embody and reify internal processes. And we have no access to these processes. We have very limited information about what's happening.

When we fully grasp that other people have their own wishes and hopes and dreams and fears and priorities and preferences, when in other words, we begin to regard other people as external objects, we develop object relations.

But in order to not be enmeshed, to not be engulfed, to not be consumed by other people, we set boundaries.

This process of boundary setting in social circles, in romantic and intimate relationships, in the workplace, this boundary setting is separation. We separate ourselves from other people, thereby creating a self state, becoming an individual.

So three separation individuation processes, as children between the ages of 18 months and 24 months, when we separate from the over towering, perfect godlike image of mother, the Imago and the real figure, the external object of mother, take on the world and become in a way, an individual that creates a self state.

Then in adolescence, we reject our parental figures, we become someone who is not a parental figure.

That's the second phase of separation.

This creates another self state.

When we take on society, when we integrate ourselves in relationships, interpersonal relationships with other people, that creates another phase of separation, boundary setting and individuation, and another self state.

So each separation individuation phase leads to the formation of a self state.

The three self states are the autonomous self state, which is created in the infantile separation individuation phase, the peer self state, which is created during adolescence, where the main group of reference, the main reference group is one's peers and the social self state, which is formed when object relations ripen.

And so these are the three self states, but the process of separation individuation, each one of the three is sometimes obstructed, sometimes impeded, sometimes the process of separation individuation is never completed properly.

In the infantile separation individuation phase, if one has a dead mother, if the child has a dead mother, separation individuation would be hindered and would never be completed.

Now to remind you, Andrei Green's coinage in 1978 doesn't refer to a physically dead mother, refers to an emotionally dead mother, a selfish mother, narcissistic mother, an absent mother, a mother who is unable to fulfill her roles as a good enough mother, roles which include liberating the child, frustrating the child in a benign way, allowing the child to fly away.

And so a dead mother is simply not there, or she leverages the child, she uses and abuses the child as an instrument, as a substitute for an intimate partner, an emotional incest, or a parentifies the child, forces the child to perform parental roles.

A dead mother impedes, obstructs and destroys the first phase of separation individuation, the infantile phase.

During adolescence, if the child or the adolescent has strict parents, disciplinarian, uncompromising, inflexible, sadistic, parents who are strict and who do not allow the adolescent to develop fully via interactions with peers and adventures in real world, parents who are overprotective, or on the other hand, utterly neglectful, parents who are incapable of loving, or attaching, or at least demonstrating love and attachment, these kinds of parents during adolescence interfere with the proper separation individuation of the adolescent and render the whole process disrupted.

This is the second impediment to the second phase of separation individuation.

Finally, when one is present, one exits the proverbial womb out into the world and begins to interact with other people in a significant and meaningful way.

For example, in intimate relationships or in the workplace, this process of separation individuation, where the individual places boundaries in order to protect himself or herself from incursion and intrusion by other people or from abuse.

In this phase, there is also a possible impediment. It's also possible to disrupt the third phase of separation individuation.

I'll give you an example.

The nanny state, over-winning, domineering, intrusive institutions, they don't allow the individual to set proper boundaries. They don't let the individual individualize. They crush and repress every dissidence, every disagreement, and every criticism. They push the individual to become a herd animal, to totally conform.

This can be done by states and institutions, but it can also be done by the church, by one's extended family, or even nuclear family, and of course, by one's intimate partner. Their impediments, their obstacles to the third phase of separation individuation, when the individual is not allowed to place boundaries and is not allowed to engage in authentic expression.

Let's summarize hitherto.

There are three phases of separation individuation.

In early childhood as an infant, the infantile phase, in adolescent phase, and later on when one develops full-fledged object relations with other people, the social phase.

Each of these three phases of separation individuation can and often are disrupted.

The infantile phase can be halted or reversed or obstructed by a dead mother. Strict parenting can hinder and impede the adolescent phase of separation individuation and inflexible rigid intransigent and punitive social structures.

Anything from an intimate partner to the state, institutions, extended family, they can and do interfere with the third phase of separation individuation.

I mentioned before that each stage of separation individuation leads to the formation of a self-state. The autonomous self-state in the infantile stage, the peer self-state in the adolescent stage, the social self-state in the social separation individuation phase.

Of course, if the separation individuation is obstructed, perturbed, rendered incomplete, we have two variants of each self-state, the healthy variant and the pathological, dysfunctional variant.

The healthy variant of the autonomous self-state, when the mother is good enough, loving, caring, accepting, but also allowing the child to separate and to become autonomous and independent, this kind of good enough mother generates an autonomous self-state which is healthy and functional.

It is essentially a narcissistic self-state, healthy narcissism, and involves infantile grandiosity.

On the other hand, if the mother is dead in the emotional sense or if she abuses the child in some way, even pedestalizing the child is a form of abuse, not recognizing the child's separateness. If the mother is this sort, the autonomous self-state would be pathological. It would be insecure. It would be fearful.

The autonomous self-state would become clinging and needy.

When we come to the peer self-state, which is the outcome of separation individuation in adolescence, again we have a healthy state, a pathological self-state.

The healthy variant of the peer self-state is defiant. It is a self-state which is rejecting of others, defining one's identity in contradistinction to others. It's not reactance in the pathological sense. It's simply telling others, this is me and I'm going to be faithful to who I am. That's a defiant pose.

The pathological version of the peer adolescent self-state is the conforming version. When the parents are strict, when they're harsh, when they don't allow the adolescent to separate and individuate, the peer self-state generated by the disrupted process of separation individuation will be conforming and submissive. It's a pathological state.

Similarly, the social self-state, if it is impeded or obstructed or hindered or disrupted by social structures that do not allow the individual to separate and individuate, the resulting social self-state will be avoided. That's the pathological version of the social self-state.

The healthy version of the social self-state is collaborative. Collaborative versus avoidant.

To summarize, each and every process of separation individuation can end up with a healthy outcome, with a healthy self-state, but if the process of separation and individuation is interfered with in a disruptive way, it can lead, it does lead to the formation of a pathological self-state.

The infantile separation individuation phase leads to the autonomous self-state. The healthy version is grandiose.

The pathological version is insecure or fearful.

The adolescent separation individuation phase leads to the formation of the peer self-state. The healthy version is defiant. The pathological version is conforming.

The social separation individuation phase leads to the formation of the social self-state. The healthy version is collaborative. The pathological version is avoidant.

Immediately all of you see, I hope, that disrupted processes of separation individuation create pathological self-states which are closely aligned with mental illness.

The pathological autonomous self-state, which is, as you recall, insecure or fearful, is closely identified with borderline, narcissistic, paranoid and covert pathologies. The pathological peer self-state, which as you recall is conforming, is closely associated with schizoid, avoidant, co-dependent or people-pleaser pathologies.

The pathological social self-state, which as you recall is avoidant, leads either to asocial tendencies or to ostentatiously exaggerated prosocial tendencies.

This is an encapsulation of my new work on separation individuation. Send me queries and so on and if they merit I will create another video in which I will try to respond to all your questions.

Now you can separate from me but don't dare to become individuals and don't dare to separate for long. This is Mami speaking.

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