Development and Psychopathology

Developmental themes in women's emotional experiences of motherhood

a1 Teachers College, Columbia University
a2 Yale University School of Medicine
a3 Yale Child Study Center


In this study, women's levels of ego development and their psychological difficulties were examined in relation to feelings in the maternal role. The sample consisted of 91 mothers from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Ego development was assessed by the Washington University Sentence Completion Test, and psychological difficulties were operationalized by self-reported global symptomatology, maternal substance abuse, and expressed anger. Outcome variables included feelings of satisfaction, distress, and support in the maternal role, as well as the degree to which negative and positive emotions were integrated in response to hypothetical vignettes of challenging everyday child-rearing experiences. Hypotheses were that women at high levels of ego development would show greater deterioration in the presence versus absence of self-reported adjustment problems than would those at lower levels. A series of interaction effects each indicated trends consistent with the hypotheses. These results add to accumulating evidence that tendencies toward self-examination, characteristic of high developmental levels, do not inevitably serve protective functions but may be linked with heightened reactivity to negative intrapsychic forces.

c1 Suniya S. Luthar, Teachers College, Box 133, Columbia University, 525 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027-6696.