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The Second Subphase: Practicing

The practicing subphase occurs from about six to ten months and up to eighteen months of age. It represents a shift to more autonomous functioning and is divided into two parts, early practicing and practicing proper (Mahler, Pine, and Bergman 1975). In the early practicing subphase, which overlaps differentiation, the infant is able to move away from the caretaker by crawling, climbing, and pulling itself up and holding on to a supporting object. During its explorations, the infant checks back to the caregiver to emotionally refuel, using the caretaker as a secure base—in other words, is reassured about the availability of the caretaker (Bowlby 1958). During practicing proper, the infant is upright and walking, seemingly impervious to bumps and falls. This period has been called the toddler's love affair with the world, in that a sense of omnipotence prevails with regard to newfound skills and functioning (Greenacre 1957). Games reflect a growing awareness of separateness and also the need to be reassured of the caregiver's availability for support, seen in games in which the infant runs away only to be quickly caught. Mahler (1972) noted that children at this age often show a preoccupation, an attempt to create a mental image of their caregivers when they are not available. The major shifts in cognition from sensorimotor to representational thought, and the beginnings of language and symbolic play, add to the child's increased autonomy in interacting with the outside world (Piaget [1936] 1992). The achievement of this period is a healthy sense of narcissism and a beginning sense of self-esteem, fueled by pleasure in one's own abilities and autonomous functioning.

Clinical issues arising from this level of development often reflect issues related to premature object loss. Instead of taking pleasure and delight in their newfoundskills, children worry over the loss of the primary object whose care they need. In narcissistic phenomena, there are disturbances in the ability to maintain self-esteem. Individuals often have an inordinate need for outside validation and admiration of their abilities to reassure themselves of their value. They often create an inflated sense of importance—of being "special"—and feel grandiose as a defense against not feeling valued. These feelings also defensively ward off the need for others, while simultaneously craving constant admiration and reassurance from them. Narcissistic individuals feel entitled, yet dependent on others, with whom they often demonstrate a lack of empathy and concern. Disappointment in others leads to rage.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsSeparation-Individuation - Precursors To Differentiation, The First Subphase: Differentiation, The Second Subphase: Practicing, Phase Three: Rapprochement