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Maternal Subjectivity: A Dissociated Self-State
Ellen L. K. Toronto
Routledge / Softcover / Oct 2023
9781032537948 (ISBN-10: 1032537949)
price: $46.50
192 pages
In Stock (Ships within one business day)

In this book, Ellen Toronto reveals the dissociation of maternal subjectivity from human experience and provides a psychoanalytic exploration of the (non-)history of motherhood to make possible an understanding and appreciation of maternal worlds.

The persistent patriarchal order acknowledges the mother’s existence largely as a ‘womb’, a bearer of children, and although her role is essential in the service of the species, we know very little of her story as a person. The absent presence of the mother as an individual subject and collective ignorance about her experiences has constituted an existential trauma, that is, a trauma of non-existence, and it is only by revealing this dissociation, Toronto argues, that we can begin to excavate the stories of individual mothers as they have borne and raised the world’s children, and at last realise that the burdens they carry belong to us all.

As a fulsome account of the maternal perspective, which draws from a variety of sources - including historical research, mythological stories and clinical case material – this book will be significant for students of psychoanalysis, feminism and history, as well as psychoanalysts in training and in practice who seek a richer understanding of maternal being.


‘Ellen Toronto’s book demonstrates the acute need for more writings that integrate and examine maternal subjectivity in the field of psychoanalysis. Toronto guides us through the universal issues of recognizing mothers as full subjects and the concrete and theoretical consequences of our failures to do so. Her original analysis of maternal subjectivity as a dissociated self-state that sustains patriarchal structures reveals the depths of the collective trauma that the erasure of mothers’ lives is. Through analytic explorations of myths and cultural history, Toronto unfolds the inherent paradox of the maternal subject and demonstrates the limitations of psychoanalysis and its language-dominant attempts to capture the subject who is impossible to capture, the mother. Although this book is an unapologetic assertion of the maternal perspective, it also offers hope for a future of dismantling the dissociative projections of patriarchy that will allow the mother an existence for herself, for the universal healing of our intersubjective capacities.’

Helena Vissing, somatic experiencing practitioner and certified perinatal mental health professional

‘Maternal Subjectivity: A Dissociated Self State alerts us to the reality that mothers have been treated as if they were birthing canals with little or no sexual pleasure during the process. In many parts of the world women are still considered their husbands’ property. Countless mothers have become depersonalized in many societies and, as a result, become dissociated. They may become so detached that they hurt their children and end up in jail. This volume highlights the need for societies to provide support for mothers before a crisis occurs.’

Daseta Gray, certified infant/toddler specialist; candidate at The Harlem Family Institute; Sabree Education Services

‘Maternal Subjectivity: A Dissociated Self State continues the much-needed discussion of "Mother" as a subjective presence, one whose existence has long been disregarded as anything other than a womb. Dr. Toronto has included historical, religious, and psychoanalytic perspectives to clarify this absence. She then uniquely makes the case for motherhood as characterized by existential trauma and subsequent dissociation. Maternal Subjectivity is a major and original contribution to the psychoanalytic literature; it is a fascinating must-read that integrates history with contemporary thinking and practice. When Dr. Toronto writes about motherhood, your understanding of the lived experience of mothers as more than a womb comes alive.’

Judith Logue, practicing psychotherapist, as well as supervising, training and teaching psychoanalyst and American Psychological Association life member

‘Interwoven beautifully with personal history and clinical material, Dr. Toronto explores the absence of the maternal subjective from ancient texts to modern day psychoanalytic theory. Her conclusion is striking: that maternal subjectivity is a dissociated self-state. That when we as a culture fail to acknowledge or accept a mother’s selfhood, it threatens a woman’s ability to "know" herself—the very essence of dissociation. Motherhood, as it currently stands in American society, is where we house or bury internal and relational conflict, our deepest needs and vulnerability, and how Toronto elegantly puts it, "what it means to be fully human." A most timely read for people reexamining the value of motherhood personally and in our society.’

Meredith Darcy, psychoanalyst, president Section III: Women, Gender and Psychoanalysis, Division (39) of Psychoanalysis of the American Psychological Association (APA)

Table of Contents:

Introduction 1. The Feminine Unconscious 2. The Application of Therapist's Maternal Capacity 3. Clytemnestra: A Mythical Madness 4. The Old Testament: Mother as Womb 5. Quilters: Remnants of Women's Lives 6. Old Testament Remnants in Psychoanalysis 7. Relational Theory and the "Absent Presence" 8. The Maternal Body in Psychoanalysis 9. A Theory of Matricide 10. The Case of Tina 11. If the Ego is a Body Ego... 12. Maternal Grief/Maternal Madness 13. Time Out of Mind: Dissociation in the Virtual World 14. Maternal Trauma 15. The Dissociated Maternal Self 16. An Eternal Enigma 17. Resolutions

About the Author:

Ellen Toronto is an author and psychoanalyst practicing in Spring, Texas. She has published extensively on gender issues and non-verbal communication. She is first editor of Into the Void: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on a Gender-Free Case and A Womb of Her Own. She and her husband have four sons and eleven grandchildren.

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