“I felt like a bad monster was rising up in me”: Empirical and clinical evidence of maternal disintegrative responses in the context of infant care

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Abstract

In this paper, we sought to give voice to the unspoken issue of mothers’ disintegrative responses—that is, intrusive thoughts and dissociative experiences—in the context of infant care. Three methodologies were employed: (a) in-depth interviews were conducted with 23 Israeli women up to 3 months postpartum; (b) 126 Israeli women up to 12 months after childbirth responded to an open-ended questionnaire; and (c) a clinical case study was performed. Mothers referred to intrusive thoughts as “attacks,” and related primarily to three themes: fear of losing their grip, aggressive fantasies, and guilt and shame. Dissociative experiences were described as vague and elusive, with three major themes emerging: detachment, disorientation, and helplessness. We argue that the findings correspond with psychosocial approaches whereby disintegrative responses may be an indication of maternal ambivalence and a reflection of “contagious arousal” in which the mother identifies with the experience of the infant. The findings offer a new direction to clinicians working with mothers by suggesting that the mother's openness to these responses may be an opportunity for her to acknowledge subjective and repressed parts of herself and undergo a process of reintegration out of disintegration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-131
Number of pages20
JournalFeminism and Psychology
Volume34
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.

Keywords

  • clinical case
  • dissociative experiences
  • intrusive thoughts
  • mothers
  • qualitative

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