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Phase Three: Rapprochement

The period of rapprochement spans the ages of approximately fifteen to twenty-four months and is characterized behaviorally by an active approach back to the caregiver. Children begin to realize the limits of their omnipotence and have a new awareness of their separateness and the separateness of the caregiver. Increases in cognition and motor development lead to ambitendency—shadowing and darting away from the caretaker. These behaviors reflect the child's simultaneous need for autonomy and need for support. An increase in aggression is seen in behaviors such as pushing away while whining and clinging. These behaviors represent the struggle to reconcile the good and bad aspects of the self and the other, with the need of the other. Toilet training often begins at this stage, leading to further struggles with autonomy and control. The verbal no, the developmental milestone of this phase, acts as a metaphor for the issues of autonomy that characterize this stage (Erikson 1950).

Clinically, the rapprochement period is often cited in conjunction with borderline phenomena, which are characterized by unstable inner states, unstable relationships, and a fragile sense of self. In borderline phenomena there are feelings of loss of support and approval of the other, as well as aggression and anger which arise out of intense feelings of vulnerability and dependency. The major defenses employed in borderline phenomena are those of splitting and projection. Splitting keeps the "good" and loved aspects of the other separate from the "bad" and hated aspects of the other. Projection is used to rid oneself of felt unwanted "bad" aspects of the self by attributing those unwanted parts to another. Internally, because of the lack of integration of the good and bad internal representations of the self and other, individuals with this defensive structure are subject to fluctuating internal states, feelings of disorganization, and low self-esteem.

Additional topics

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