Mother’s Disintegrative Responses in the Context of Infant Care: Clinical and Empirical Evidence of the Role of Empathy and Parity

Miriam Chasson, Hilit Erel-Brodsky, Orit Taubman Ben-Ari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The constant exposure of a mother to her infant’s primary experiences may be reflected in maternal disintegrative responses (intrusive thoughts and dissociative experiences in the context of infant care). In this study, we aimed to present a clinical case study demonstrating this process as revealed in therapeutic sessions with a new mother, followed by an empirical study examining the contribution to maternal disintegrative responses of background variables and maternal empathy-related components, that is, perspective-taking, empathic concern, fantasy, and personal distress. Israeli mothers (n = 415) whose child was up to 12 months old completed self-report measures tapping maternal disintegrative responses, sociodemographic characteristics, and empathy. We found that higher levels of the empathy components of fantasy and personal distress contributed to greater intrusive thoughts and dissociative experiences; higher empathic concern was positively associated with intrusive thoughts and negatively associated with dissociative experiences; parity moderated the association between empathy and maternal disintegrative responses, so that perspective-taking was associated with less intrusive thoughts among primiparous mothers, but not among multiparous mothers. In addition, the positive association between empathic personal distress and dissociative experiences was stronger among primiparous than multiparous mothers. The findings of the empirical study, together with insights from the clinical case study, expand the understanding of maternal disintegrative responses and highlight the characteristics that may contribute to it. The theoretical and therapeutic implications of the findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-87
Number of pages10
JournalPsychoanalytic Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 25 Dec 2023


  • dissociative experiences
  • empathy
  • intrusive thoughts
  • mothers
  • parity

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology


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