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Theorising the Maternal

Healthy Maternal Ambivalence


Joan Raphael-Leff

About Joan
Professor Joan Raphael-Leff, PhD. is a psychoanalyst (Fellow, British Society) and an academic. Over the past 35 years, she has specialised in clinical practice and academic work on reproductive issues, with more than 100 single-author publications and nine books. She is leader of the University College London's academic faculty for psychoanalytic research at the Anna Freud Centre, where she also heads a training for professionals working with teenage parents, and previously was head of UCL's MSc in psychoanalytic developmental psychology. Between 1997 and 2004, Raphael-Leff was professor of psychoanalysis at the centre for psychoanalytic studies at the University of Essex, UK and in 1998 she was founding International Chair of COWAP (the International Psychoanalytic Association's Committee on Women & Psychoanalysis). She acts as consultant to perinatal and women's projects in many high and low income countries, including South Africa, where she is visiting professor at Stellenbosch University.
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This paper critically reviews the psychoanalytic omission in theorizing maternal subjectivity and the subsequent idealisation of the early mother-baby bond that excludes negative maternal feelings. It suggests that painful maternal experiences of resentment, persecution and hatred remain under-explored. Perhaps, even more alarming, this exclusion compels mothers to hide conflictual and shameful feelings from professionals – and from themselves. The paper suggests that healthy maternal ambivalence is an inevitable feature of mothering. Drawing on psychoanalytic theoretical accounts and on empirical study it offers a model of different manifestations of maternal ambivalence. Facilitator, Regulator, Reciprocator and Conflicted maternal orientations manifest antenatally, preceding knowledge of the child’s actual characteristics. The various permutations of ambivalence in parenting are a function of the mother's inner world and the child's affective communications.
How to Cite: Raphael-Leff, J., 2010. Healthy Maternal Ambivalence. Studies in the Maternal, 2(1), pp.1–15. DOI:
Published on 01 Jan 2010.
Peer Reviewed


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