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Phase Four: Consolidation Of Individuality, Or On The Road To Object Constancy

This period spans the ages of twenty-four to thirty-six months and involves all aspects of previous stages, in particular the trust and confidence of the symbiotic phase (Mahler 1972). There are advances in cognition with representational thought and the use of language. Children have an inner picture of the caretaker and their relationship with the caretaker, which has formed has formed as a result of the soothing, gratifying, and organizing functions that the caretaker provides (Tolpin 1971). Internalization is the process of recovering what has been lost in the actual relationship with the mother, so that the toddlers carry around an internal picture of a gratifying mother that is now part of their internal structure (Mahler, Pine, and Bergman 1975). The developmental achievement is an individual identity with stable internal representations of self and others. This achievement is a prerequisite for the capacity to form one-to-one relationships where separation is not abandonment and closeness does not represent engulfment.

The clinical issues seen in this stage of developmental have to do with ambivalence toward caretakers and their functions, and with how needs have been met or not met. At times there can be depression associated with threatened object loss and the sense that important needs may never be met (Horner 1984).

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