CHILD ABUSE: IN-DEPTH PSYCHOBIOGRAPHICAL CASE STUDIES OF ABUSIVE MOTHERS
HECKER, FRANCES ESTHER
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The life histories, subjective experiences and character structures of three abusive mothers were investigated using an in-depth psychobiographical case study method. Each mother was administered in-depth interviews and projective tests (projective drawings, Early Memories Test, Sentence Completion Test, Rorschach, and an Abuse Potential Pictures Test). Observations were also done of the mothers and their children where possible. The case material was organized according to the formulations provided by psychoanalytic phenomenology (Stolorow & Atwood, 1979). The main focus of the case study analysis was the uncovering of the developmental origins and functional significance of the various thematic configurations which pattern the mothers' representational worlds. Most importantly, the multiple origins and functions of child abuse were explored.;Although each mother displayed unique characterological themes and patterns, all the mothers experienced themselves as needy and deprived children, had deep feelings of inadequacy, and had tremendous difficulty in maintaining a positively toned self-representation. To varying degrees, their self-structures were fragile and precarious, and they struggled with fears of fragmentation and loss of self-cohesion.;A characteristics theme that repeatedly emerged in the experience of the mothers was an intense narcissistic vulnerability and an imperative need to compensate for narcissistic injuries and losses by whatever means possible, including violence. This was associated with early experiences of severe maternal deprivation, hurt, and rejection, as well as early exposure to violent and traumatic situations. The mothers' tremendous need for a sustaining self-object who could provide self-confirmatory experiences was centered on their relationships with their children. It was found that abuse tended to occur as an expression of primitive narcissistic rage when the children failed to act as the required archaic self-objects. Abuse was also found to serve adaptive, restitutive, self-punishing, and self-preserving functions.;It was concluded that the mothers' utilization of the child as an archaic self-object provides only a fragile and temporary solution to their deeply felt needs for narcissistic sustenance. Thus, the mothers will continue to abuse their children repeatedly unless there is some therapeutic intervention.