Absent fathers and their impact on role confusion among adolescent males

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study is an exploration of theoretical propositions and their integration with a clinical illustration in order to facilitate an understanding of the universal role of the good-enough father in the psychic development of the child. The premise underlying this study rests on the theoretical object relations framework of Margaret Mahler (197 4), extended by Abelin (1971, 1975), and taken into the phase of adolescence by Blas (1967,1985,1991), which provides a solid, clinical basis for understanding the dynamics of the separation-individuation process. This theoretical basis is expanded by an understanding of analytical psychology, providing the Jungian perspective on individuation, which is encapsulated in the archetypal themes of union, separation, and the capacity to sustain the tension of opposites. As a synthesis of these conceptual frameworks, the writer adopts the propositions put forward by Seligman (1986) that the absent father causes the child to remain enmeshed with the mother. Without a father's emotional support, it becomes almost insurmountably difficult for a child to negotiate the unavoidable separation from the mother, a prerequisite for the confirmation of his identity and the establishment of an autonomous lifestyle. As a treatment modality, Seligman (1986) further proposes that the analyst be "used" by the client's unconscious psyche to build up a live paternal presence within, a symbolic reinstatement of the father image, necessary for the crucial completion of the separation-individuation process. With the re-emergence of the father image, thus enabling a reconciliation of the inner parents, the mother can gradually be relinquished. Those aspects of the client's personality which had been committed to a real or imaginary "oneness" with the mother, and were thus unavailable for the enrichment of his own life, are restored to him, making him more "alive". The illustrative case study demonstrates this therapeutic approach with an adolescent boy who experienced father absence and presented in clinical social work practice with the symptomology of role confusion I individuation avoidance.