Life after Death: The Replacement Child’s Search for Self

Kristina Schellinski
Geneva, Switzerland
Association of Graduate Analytical Psychologists


Many of us may dream about it – but few of us may experience it: life after death. Resurrection. The replacement child – born after another child has died – lives in such an extraordinary constellation. But, in my view, the life of a replacement child is not exactly paradise, especially since the one resurrected is not oneself but the dead other. I will share with you my experience in working with replacement children and speak about the analytical challenges and opportunities one faces when death stood at the cradle.

I am a replacement child. I was born six months after my two-yearold brother died of a misdiagnosed appendicitis. As it happens, many replacement children have found their way into my practice. When I researched this psychological constellation of a birth following the burial of another child for my thesis, I found much psychoanalytical research on this issue but very little has been written from a Jungian perspective. Yet, I believe that Jungian analysis and therapy are very well suited to help understand the psychology of the replacement child. Based on my experience and the cases I have seen in practice, I will illustrate this.

To introduce you to the topic I will share with you a few selected lines of a poem by the French nineteenth-century poet Victor Hugo (1802-85): “The One who returned.”

(His daughter Leopoldine had drowned with her husband in the Seine on 4 September 1843.)

Mourning mothers, your cries are heard up above.
God, who holds all lost birds in the palm of His hand, sometimes returns the same dove to the same nest.
oh mothers, the cradle is linked to the grave …
death entered like a thief and took him
a mother, a father, the grief,
the black coffin, the head struck against a wall
the dismal sobs from the pit of the stomach …
the mother, with her wounded heart,
remained three months immobile in the shadows …
quietly pleading: “give him back to me!”
The physician advised the father, “She needs a distraction
for her unhappy heart, the dead child needs a
brother” …
time passed … she felt the stirrings of motherhood
for the second time …
when suddenly, one day she turned pale
“No, no I do not want this! You would be jealous!”
Oh, my gentle slumbering child, who are frozen in the
you would say: “they are forgetting me; another has
taken my place,” no, no! …
The day came, she gave birth to another child,
and the father joyfully exclaimed: “It’s a boy!”
But the father alone was joyful …
whilst she was bitterly, despondently
dwelling more on the departed soul than on this new
son …
saying: “My angel lies alone in this grave!”
she heard, in an oh, so familiar voice,
the newborn speak, from the crook of her arm,
and very quietly whisper: “It is I. No one must know.”

(The full text is in: “Les Contemplations”, Librairie Générale Francaise, 1972, translated into English by my friend Julia Roessler as I have not found an official translation.)

This poem expresses the existential double bind a replacement child may feel but find hard to express: “It is I” – meaning the One who returned – but: “No one must know.” Even before it is born, the replacement child straddles the archetypal worlds of life, death and resurrection. Life starts after the death of another human being. Its soul bears the imprint of death from the very beginning of life. Yet, there may be a faint memory of originality lost which may act as a motor for development towards individuation later in life. The search for the meaning of his or her life is intrinsically linked to the search and emergence of the self. It is here, in a process leading to access the self that I see the special value of the Jungian approach in working with the replacement child.

Definition of the Replacement Child

The strictest definition of the replacement child is: a child conceived in order to replace a deceased child. I use a wider definition for the replacement child: it is any child who is born to replace a child who died, or who was born shortly after such a death, or who “replaced” a sibling who died later on during the years of growing up together and whose role may have been reassigned to the “replacement child.” As Henry Abramovitch, Professor at the University of Tel Aviv. has defined it: a replacement child is one born shortly after the death of another child and who in a real sense has come to take its place.

In practice, we may meet with parents after the loss of a child, with replacement children born after such a loss or with individuals whose parents were replacement children, so called second- or even third-generation replacement children. I also believe that you may find symptoms common to replacement children in those conceived and born after an intended or spontaneous abortion or stillbirth. However, there may be a difference in the manifestation of symptoms and in the treatment, in the case of a child consciously conceived to replace another one, or the case of a replacement child whose caretakers do not link the loss of one child with the birth of another but whose unconscious projections may nevertheless seep in.

May I add: the psychology of the replacement child is ageless. The “replacement children” I worked with were adults between twenty- two and seventy-one years old.


Psychoanalytic research on the replacement child started with the Holocaust Studies in the United States and the tuberculosis studies of Maurice Porot in France. H. Streznzcka (1945) and E. Papanek (1946) worked with children who had been saved from the concentration camps. They found that people who survived after other members of their families had perished suffered from survivor’s guilt. Holocaust survivors and their children often had to fill the void of entire families replacing whole generations. Helen Epstein published a study of “Children of the Holocaust” (1979) telling the stories of sons and daughters of survivors. Jungian Analyst Joanne Wieland-Burston (Munich) has shared the reception of “Holocaust Research in the World of Psychology” at this conference.

In 1964, Albert Cain and Barbara Cain published their article, “On Replacing a Child” after they observed children suffering from neurosis or psychosis in psychiatric settings. These children were born into a family atmosphere of depression and sorrow, the dead child lived on in “hyper-idealization” and “his identity was imposed upon the substitute.” And: “the parents’ relationship with the new, substitute child (was) virtually smothered by the image of the lost child.” (Cain&Cain, p. 453) “These children’s identity problems (were such) they could barely breathe as individuals with their own characteristics and identity.” (p. 451)

In France, tuberculosis studies in the 1940s also found survivor’s guilt in those who survived the disease. Maurice Porot, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, who led the research then, published his book, “L’enfant de eplacement” in 1993. In addition, he found that the function of the replacement child in the family is to comfort the grief of the parents over the loss and its role is to replace the deceased; that leads to a start in life akin to non-identity. I am not. I am Other.

Andrea Sabbadini (United Kingdom, 1988) said the substitute child “is treated more as the embodiment of a memory than as a person in its own right,” leading to “dissociative ego forming processes.”

Cain & Cain as well as Porot addressed the issue of the parents’ “pseudo resolution” of mourning over a deceased child whereby the conception of a new child drawss attention away from the dead towards new life. It is also this incomplete mourning process which leads to a disturbance in the identity development of the replacement child, a “pseudo identity,” since the child carries unconsciously the unresolved parental grief.

Guilt from Three Sources

The development of guilt feelings may stem from the mother seeing the child as “responsible” for the death of the other child, despite the fact of not even having been born during the dead child’s lifetime. Cain & Cain found parents reasoning, “since the new child is alive instead of our dead child, he has taken his place. This child is not our dead child … it is his fault he is not. It isn’t fair that he should live and our other child die.” I would call this an introjected suprapersonal guilt stemming from a death before the birth of the replacement child.

“Guilt-laden inexpressible rage [is also] aroused in the substitute child by incessant comparison with his invincible dead rival.” (Iibid., p. 448) The replacement child is never “as good” as the idealized dead child might have turned out to be.

Guilt may also arise from the fact that the “I” is not truly “I,” that the replacement child is not free to live his or her own life, and may therefore feel a sense of guilt towards his or her own self realization.

The Risks of Identification and Identity

I will now talk about how identification and identity of “one” with “another” impact destructively on the replacement child. By clarifying these two terms I want to show how an identity based on replacing a deceased leads to the dilemma of non-identity. Following this are several cases to illustrate how the process of individuation offers hope for the replacement child to find his or her own life.

Identification is defined as “an unconscious projection of one’s personality onto that of another … able to provide either a reason for being or a way of being … in extreme form, identification takes the form of a pseudo identity, such as in: I am the one whom I replace. Identification with another person does by definition preclude individuation.”

Identity is “an unconscious tendency to behave as if two dissimilar entities were in fact identical … when a clear conscious differentiation between subject and object has not yet arisen.” (Andrew Samuels, 1986)

You may ask, how does that work?

Vamik Volkan and Geneviève Ast (1997) showed how so-called “deposit representations,” or what Daniel N. Stern (1995) called parental fantasies for the child, are deposited into the child’s developing self and object representations at a stage before the ego is formed due to the initially permeable boundaries between mother and child.

“Visitors from the unresolved past of the parents” enter as “Ghosts in the Nursery,” (Selma Fraiberg, 1975) and lead to an impaired infant-mother relationship with disorganized infant attachment and disturbances at separation stages. T. Berry Brazelton (USA) and Bertrand G. Cramer (CH) document how the imaginary interactions between parent and child may include the intrusive ghost of a person who has died. “Fantasies become real and it is often the role of the child to materialize these ghosts” which may lead to “introjection by identification with the deceased.” (p. 139)

In summary, the replacement child faces:

  1. unresolved parental mourning.
  2. unconscious survivor’s guilt.
  3. identity/identification with a deceased.

Famous Replacement Children

Porot traced and analyzed the biographies of over fifty replacement children, from ancient to modern times, of famous people whose names we recognize and of people like you and me. I do not mean to say that you may not be famous! Rather I allude to what he sees as three ways out of the dilemma of the replacement child: madness, creativity or becoming a psychologist. Is there a replacement child among you today?

The first replacement child recorded in occidental history may be Seth. Seth (or Shet in Hebrew) replaced Abel who was slain by Cain. Eve refers to his birth with these words: “God has granted me other seed in place of Abel …”(Genesis 4.25) and God said to Cain: “The voice of your brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10)

I can name here but a few replacement children from ancient times to today: Solomon, Napoleon III, Ludwig van Beethoven, Vincent van Gogh, Anna O. (or Bertha Pappenheim, the famous case of Breuer and Freud), Salvador Dali, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sabina Spielrein, Françoise Dolto, Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom), James Barrie (who created Peter Pan), and Eugene O’Neill, who wrote: “A Long Day’s Journey into Night.”

Of special interest to us is that Carl Gustav Jung was born on July 26, 1875 after his mother Emilie mourned the deaths of three children: a daughter stillborn on July 19, 1870, a second daughter stillborn on April 3, 1872, and a son named Paul (like his father) born on August 18, 1873 but who died five days later. (Bair, p. 18)

The Case of Vincent Willem van Gogh II

Vincent van Gogh was a replacement child. His is a story of, in fact, three Vincents: Vincent Willem van Gogh II was born on 30 March 1853 om Groot-Zundert, Netherlands, registered as birth Nr. 29 at the registry. He was born on the same day as his brother Vincent Willem I who had died stillborn on 30 March 1852 and who had been given the same birth Nr. 29 in the registry, exactly one year earlier, with the same first names. In his childhood, Vincent passed daily by the cemetery bearing his name as well as the dates of birth and death of his baby brother, together with the biblical words, “Let the small children come onto me.” (Luke, 18, 16)

Van Gogh felt like an usurper among the living. “I will always be second,” he writes. His professional life was a search which led after many detours to his art.1 He first copied works of art at his uncle’s reproduction business, then started a theological career at Borinage, displaying such fanatical self sacrifice that he got fired. As of 1880, when he was twenty-seven years old, he pursued his artistic career first copying, then creating, his own works of art.

1 I wish to credit Neil German, Jungian analyst in Lausanne, for the succinct biographical information.

Van Gogh’s biographers, Nagera and Forrester, believed it was because van Gogh was replacing his dead brother which caused his suffering; he stayed first in the hospital of Arles, then the mental asylum of St. Rémy before he chose death at age thirty-seven.

The medical diagnoses at the time ranged from epilepsy (Dr. F. Rey and H. Gastaut), to schizophrenia (Karl Jaspers), and lately Geschwind Syndrome and syphilis.

Maurice Porot says about van Gogh: “He was not crazy.” The root problem was rather that “Vincent van Gogh was incapable of bearing the guilt and pangs of conscience from which he suffered all his life … he thought at best he was a replacement, at worst a murderer.”

Van Gogh often painted trees – cypresses, olive trees, pine trees, trees with ivy. I have chosen three images of what can be seen as a symbol of the tree-of-life which turns into a tree-of-death. (See References below for websites to view images.)

In 1883, van Gogh painted “A Windbeaten Tree,” growing only on the right side, the side of future development. In 1885 he painted “The Willow,” a symbol of miraculous births and immortality while at the same time evoking death and grief. In “The Sower” (1888) you may see how the tree trunk this time is all bent towards the left, oriented towards the past, the unconscious. One of the branches is clearly cut off, thus accounting for the growth of the tree towards one side. Both tree and sower are dark in the foreground; in the background a river leads towards a glowing, oversized sun. For van Gogh the sun was a creator, a symbol for resurrection and life, but as we can see, the river does not quite reach the sun.

The path of his life reached an end in 1890. “Crows over the Wheat Field” shows vast fields of wheat under troubled skies. It was one of van Gogh’s last paintings. You see the dark clouds and the black crows and the green path that abruptly ends pointing to his imminent suicide.

The idealized-presence-through-absence of the dead brother made him fail in his own eyes. Vincent, the painter failed, where the other Vincent – dead – would have succeeded … He rivaled against a dead person against whom he could never win. His success, was – paradoxically – an attack on the dead brother’s “fantasized” record.

With his beloved brother Theo, who was four years younger, he had a nearly “osmotically fused friendship” (Porot); he could hardly bear it when Theo got married to Jo Bonger. When Theo wrote to him that his first son Vincent-Willem – by now that is Vincent Willem III – was born on 31 January 1890, “Who knows – maybe my son will become someone important?” our Vincent Willem II, the painter who became world-famous as the Van Gogh, experienced a psychotic episode. Six months later he shot himself in the chest on 27 July. He died two days later on 29 July, which recalls the number in the birth registry, Nr. 29.

The Replacement Child’s Search for the Emerging Self

After having focused on the forces of death, I will now address the forces of life, the emergence of self. According to Porot there are three ways out for a replacement child: madness, creativity or becoming a psychologist. I would like to add a fourth, which Jungian psychology contributes: the path of individuation, which can serve as antidote against the replacement child‘s identification with the dead. The stirrings of the self in the soul can help the replacement child become him- or herself.

If the suffering of the replacement child stems from the fact that its sense of “who I am” could not develop, then the discovery of one’s own center, of a creative pull towards the true self, unearthed from a heap of projective identifications and introjects, may be lived as a rebirth into one’s own life – reclaiming the originality once lost.

I believe that the soul of a replacement child reaches beyond the living, touches death and reaches beyond death and back to life. A student in a class I taught at Zürich phrased it well: “death was the hand that rocked the cradle.” But I believe the fairy who bestowed that fate also sent a. “SOS” message to the resurrection department ordering the search for self. The great archetypal forces which are normally in one’s life at opposite ends were initially joined. This leads to what Sabbadini calls “the uncanny,” the feeling of a “double” in the replacement child. Some of my cases described it as easily traveling between death and life, having a foot in both worlds, at home in neither one, immortal and dead at the same time.

The analytically central question is how to get from non-identity to identity, from “not to be” to “to be,” from fragmentation and dissociation towards wholeness. Here, I think a word from Jung may help: “Individuation denotes a process by which a person becomes in-dividual,” that is, a separate indivisible unity or “whole,” (Jung, CW 9, i, §490).

“The replacement child incarnates a memory more than an individual self,” says Sabbadini, but at the same time, “the self is immortal in order to defend the ego from the fear of death/annihilation.” The emergence of self may be experienced like a resurrection or rebirth, but this time not of the “dead other” but of one’s true self.

In a psychological sense, the hopes for redemption of the suffering of the replacement child lie in the emergence of the true self as soul recreates original life. The images of anima/animus as well as shadow can serve, as we know, as bridges to the self.

First Meet the Shadow and Kill the Dead

In order for the replacement child to find a chance to live his or her true life, the deceased child may have to die! “Il faut tuer le mort,” recommends A. Couvez; one must kill the dead. The replacement child must let go of the ghostly identity with the deceased child. It must “kill” that inner representation. But it is not so easy to extricate life from the grip of death. In analysis we may meet with images of murderous rage. Unconscious aggression may be turned against self or other and the archetype of destruction is bound to appear since it was experienced so early. If these forces are left unconscious they may be projected onto others and/or lead to potentially life-threatening or endangering situations, such as in the following cases.

In my descriptions I will let these individuals as often as I can speak for themselves, in their own voices and of the images of their dreams.

Case of Kara

A woman, seventy-one, who worked as a therapist with children and adults, had already had a Freudian, a Kleinian and a Jungian analysis when she comes to see me. None of these analyses have addressed her trauma of being a double replacement child, her life bracketed by two deaths. In the countertransference I feel that she wants to be listened to, heard, seen.

Her brother had died at eighteen months of age. “Stop crying and give me another baby,” the father had said to assuage the grief. Ten months later she was born and her mother told her that she had cried and cried for one month, but then stopped crying altogether and became the “best” child for her mother. “I was good because I wanted to be loved,” she says. Eighteen months after her birth, a sister was born but died soon after, due to a bad vaccination.

My client became a mother of three boys and one girl. During World War II she once ran outside instead of to the shelters; she wanted to see the bombs rain from the sky. “I wanted to taste death,” she said. During the 1967 Six Day War, she was again sent to the protecting bunkers and the horrifying thought crossed her mind: “I must kill my daughter.” I could interpret this as “killing the dead” – but via a projection of her dead baby sister onto her daughter; yet, the true “killing the dead” must be achieved symbolically, in killing the inner representation of the dead other babies she is indeed not.

I believe this case illustrates well the need to render unconscious murderous rage conscious, to identify the traces of the destructive in the shadow of the replacement child which I could imagine stem from a mother imago which “giveth” and “taketh” life, from having been exposed so early to the archetype of death.

Anima or Animus as “Other” – “Outer Other” or “Inner Other?”

The child who replaces a child of the other gender faces a special challenge to reach an inner representation of animus and anima. It must search for a living image of “other” in his or her own soul and realize that the equivalent of “sister” or “brother” also represent the “feminine” or “masculine” sides within him- or herself.

Born after another has died is as if the first representation of “other” is a priori one of “missing other.” Where there was a presence there is now a gaping absence. The “other,” as in sibling at the same generational level, has gone beyond reach, into the unconscious and is not available as a projection plate. “Other,” as in mother, is – at least – emotionally absent due to grief, depression and the memory of the idealized dead child. We can imagine the difficulties of the replacement child in finding an appropriate projection carrier for the incipient relational capacity to “other” as a possible carrier of self energies, because the possibilities for a first experience of “inner other,” and developing a sense of self via projecting these images onto mother or sibling, were not accessible.

The replacement child may feel extreme loneliness. Or the replacement child may, through compensation, project the desired wholeness – together with the unconscious ambivalent feelings towards this “other” – onto “an outer other,” a partner representing father/mother or sister/brother. The replacement child may seek to replace the missing sibling. The projected “outer other” may be sought because access to the “inner other” – animus or anima – is doubly difficult in the replacement child. But only finding access to one’s true “inner other” allows relationship to “outer other” in a deep and meaningful way.

In order to access the image of inner animus or anima the replacement child must become conscious of these projections and attempts at compensations – of seeking “other” on the outside rather than the inside.

During her two years of analysis the following client divorced her replacement-brother-turned-husband-and-mother.

Case of Nicola

She looks ten years younger than the tirty-six she is. She is tall, very slim and looks a bit boyish. When she met the man whom she would marry, she felt drawn to him, bound to him. “He was my soul mate,” she says. He was to look after her, protect her, mother her. After seven years of marriage, when a doctor tells her that her serious thyroid dysfunction may have psychological causes, she decides to leave him. But for two years she dithers: “I would die if I stayed with him – but I lose myself if I leave him. It is as if he were my younger brother whom I always missed. I could give up my life for his. I could kill myself for him.”

In these words, we can feel the full force of projection of her anima, animus and self energies onto her husband. I believe the search for the inner feminine may have been directed at the masculine due to the unconscious identification with the dead baby brother and her experience of mother.

What had happened? Her sister, five years older, was one of two- egged twins; the twin brother died at birth. The next born was Nicola, my client, followed by another sister one year later. She always felt like she did not count, yet realizes that she enacted her own invisibility with her new boyfriend, whom she told: “don’t take any notice of what I am saying.” Without healthy ego boundaries she showed traits of a dependent personality as well as fragmentation. During the painful period of separation, she lived between her ex-husband’s flat, her sister’s home and a new boyfriend’s apartment, her belongings scattered between all three.

Dreams help her extricate herself. She dreams she must save a girl, about two to three years old. She returns to save another one who is one to two years old, smashing a window. She climbs up and over a hill and screams “freedom.”

In one dream, she goes through hospital wards and finds: “One child stares at me, five-six years old, the kid is not well.” A woman is there with a baby and looks jealously at me. “Don‘t look at my baby,” she says. That frightens her. In the last room, a small alcove, there is a child hanging from the ceiling on a rubber rope in a plastic bag. In the big blue eyes is written: “I am dying.” When depressed, she had often longed to not be, “I thought it would be peaceful to be dead.” She often looks into my eyes as if by looking at me she could find her life, her self theere – in my reflection.

She dreams she has a baby daughter, the birth was not painful, she went to work the next day. Again she dreams she has a baby girl, this time she washes her, changes her, but the baby girl still belonged to someone else.

When she dreams of being infected with the HIV virus, she grows aware of the penetrating, potentially contaminating masculine in her. In this phase she dreams of women giving her love and wonders whether she is lesbian, but recognizes she seeks mothering. Having had her hair cut short earlier she wears braids now.

“What do I want?” are now her questions. “Who am I, really?” She imagines a new first name for herself. She enrolls in art classes she had wanted to pursue when twenty. She is still critical of her creative beginnings, fear mixes in. “I am afraid that what I want does not exist.” Yet, she is decided: “I will start seeing me in me.” Slowly, step by step, or rather inch by inch, her dreams and her art classes seem to lead towards a feeling who she might be, to discover the freedom to be herself.

Towards Wholeness via Union of Feminine/Masculine

If we find the replacement child living a brother/sister relationship, this can be seen as an intermediate stage of the individuation process. The union of feminine and masculine opposites may initially bear the features of an unconscious incestuous projection of animus or anima. “Incest symbolizes the union with one’s own essence, the individuation or coming into one’s own, which is of vital importance, and exerts therefore a fascinating influence onto the individual.” (CW 16, §419)

In the replacement child, this “other” is absent due to the death of a sibling and the emotional absence of grieving parent(s), and we can imagine the difficulties in finding an appropriate projection carrier for the incipient relational capacity to “other” and accessing the inner representation of the “inner other,” the original anima or animus of the replacement child It may be – at least for some time – unable to reach the “other” missing half in him- or herself, because the “other” as a possible carrier of self energies, as an object for projection, has sunk into the unconscious. The replacement child may seek a replacement bearer of these object qualities, of anima or animus, seeking a materialized “outer other” as a substitute for the missing “inner other” so difficult to access.

The need to search for a living image of anima or animus, the missing feminine or masculine within oneself rather than projecting it onto an outer other, is of vital importance for the replacement child. The replacement child can neither incarnate the image of a previously deceased child nor project his own missing feminine/masculine onto an “outer other” without running the risk of “feeling dead” or “killing one’s self.”

For a true experience of resurrection or rebirth of a replacement child into his or her own life, these projections must be “killed” and that missing brother or sister must be found inside. Out of a trauma- induced need and due to unsatisfactory compensation on the outer level, the replacement child must look for the missing “other” on an inner level. The psychological task is to withdraw the projections, to integrate them as inner images and to resurrect the inner masculine or inner feminine.

In this process, the replacement child ceases to be a replacement child and becomes an individual experiencing coniunctio within and therefore open to relationship with “other” also on coniunctio terms. Instead of projection there is recognition of self and “other,” instead of “dominance there is companionship between equals” (Kast, 1986). Then one can ask the “other” the famous question, “what is the self engineering for you?” (Ulanov, 1996). I believe the replacement child coming into his or her own life can make a contribution towards this new type of partnership.

From Unconscious Survivor’s Guilt to Conscious Compassion

Striving for one’s true identity, for wholeness the replacement child is called to discover the closest of unions – with his or her self. But as I said in the introduction: sibling loss is an organizer of unconscious guilt. “Why do I live and not the other child?” or even, “I live because the other has died – the other has been sacrificed for me.” Suffering from unconscious survivor’s guilt may stand in the way of finding a sense of self.

It is my hypothesis that the recognition of “who one is” releases one from unconsciously carried guilt feelings from three sources: suprapersonal guilt stemming from death which preceded life, introjected guilt due to parental depression and rage over rivaling with an idealized dead sibling, and guilt felt from not being at one with one’s self, from living an unconscious life in a state of self-alienation. Feeling guilty is a major factor separating us from an experience of self.

Releasing these unconscious feelings of guilt by making them conscious opens, in my view, the way to discovering one’s own identity as opposed to the identity with a deceased. Unconsciously carried guilt feelings can be transformed through consciousness into compassion, the gateway for union with oneself and with others. It is my hope that any replacement child may experience that compassion and give expression to it because compassion with one’s own suffering is a condition sine qua non for the ultimately redeeming compassion with the suffering of others. Compassion is a basis for consciousness and consciousness leads to compassion.

The following case shows how the seeds of death can contaminate the soul of a replacement child and how compassion can lead to new psychological growth.

Case of Miriam

Miriam, a second generation replacement child, is a woman in her forties; she comes to see me in my first year in practice. Her question in the first hour and for many hours to come is, “Who am I?” She says she has a problem of “identification, of non-identification really.” The word “roots” brings tears to her eyes. Why? Her father is eight-five, he was a Jew in Poland and escaped on the way to the concentration camps. With two of his brothers he was sheltered and hidden by Catholic Poles throughout the Second World War. Five other siblings, his parents, his wife and child, a girl three-to-four years old, were murdered in the camps. The father emigrated to Latin America and married a woman from Romania.

At age thirty-two my client married a Catholic Polish man who was fifteen years older – out of gratitude for the memory of the savior of her father, as she realized now. She says it is by sheer coincidence that she is alive. A girlfriend of her mother insisted that her mother get pregnant. As a child she was often sick, had eczema, eye diseases, she remembers constant visits to the doctor. Her mother told her how much she suffered during the pregnancy since she had a stomach ulcer and was not allowed to take medication against the pain.

When my client was five years old, the mother asked her: “do you want a little sister or brother?” Since my client said “no” there was no brother or sister. The mother aborted this second pregnancy also because she did not want to re-experience the pain.

Before my client is born, nine members of the immediate family have perished in the Holocaust, including the first wife and daughter of her father, and after her is a sibling who was not to be.

The first mandalas of my client contain amorphous cells or lines that cross and lead nowhere or a faceless mouth that screams. She works very seriously with her dreams and drawings but it is her writings that lead her out of the primal waters and into her own. She sees how she served most of her life “another.” My client dreams for years of a mermaid slowly coming up from the depths of the ocean. Her deeply depressive father had wanted her for years to write his story, her parents had asked her to conceive a child so the family would live on, her father had offered to donate his seed when it turned out her husband could not engender a child, her husband had expected her to inspire his creative work and run his accounts. She dreamt several times “the maid is leaving” and she did leave.

“I used to seek out men who were artists until I found my own way to become creative.” She has started to write and publish her own story; “that is when I can touch the self,” she says, “I am in a process of self-construction.” This is the most important task to her. She lives on her own but often feels torn between two potentially interesting men, and it is as if this ambivalent attitude kept her from losing herself to either one, as a sort of life insurance to not let her project her sense of emerging wholeness onto a lover and have it swallowed up again.

One story marks the turn of connecting herself with her self, transcending unconscious guilt by awakening her compassion. Walking through the streets of Jerusalem she eats dates, tastes them, feels them; they remind her of seeds, and she vows to preserve all the pits piled in a glass jar. In the prize-winning story she writes: “They lay one upon the other as naked, undernourished bodies, huddled together unable to protect themselves from certain death. A growing mound of tiny bodies shrunk by time gradually fills the empty space of eternity; reminding me to always remember my ancestors’ souls buried in a pit. Dateless pits, containing my flesh, containing my bones.”

She has renounced having a child herself. She says: “It would hurt too much.”

In Conclusion: There is Life after Death for the Replacement Child

In working with replacement children I found that as much as the forces of death may be present, so is the pull of self towards the source of life that prods the individual to live his or her own life and not the resurrected life of another.

In summary:

  1. The replacement child suffers from a disturbed personal identity development due to identification with a deceased.
  2. The replacement child suffers from survivor’s guilt as a result of unresolved parental mourning, never being as good as the idealized dead child and not being at one with one’s self as s/he incarnates the memory of another.
  3. Individuation can help the replacement child resurrect his or her own true self. To rebuild one’s own true identity, the replacement child will face the shadow of the dead “other” which must be killed symbolically, and is called to withdraw the projections of the missing other from replacement bearers of the dead sibling in order to achieve a union of feminine/masculine images within.
  4. Helping the replacement child to grow conscious of and accept and live his or her personal life can open the path towards compassion with oneself and others.

I wish to share with you one last dream image of the emergence of self and take us back to the Case of Kara, the double replacement child whose life was bracketed by the death of a brother eighteen months before and of a sister eighteen months after her birth.

She dreams: “I am on a path which takes me from the sea of my childhood – the sun behind me – to the mountains. A deep well opens very close to me. In the half shadow I discern – no, guess – that only dust remains of what was once a little girl. Then, down there at the bottom of that well I discover a face, a smile, a child’s hair ribbon and a small white baptismal dress which starts slowly floating up the well.”

She exclaims: “But that is – resurrection!”


  1. Abramovitch, Henry, Brother’s Keepers: what the Bible tells us about brothers and brotherhood, sisters and sisterhood (in print)
  2. Anisfeld, Leon & Richards, Arnold D., “The Replacement Child, Variations on a Theme in History and Psychoanalysis,” in The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, Vol. 55, Yale, 2000.
  3. Apprey, Maurice, “When One Dies Another One Lives,” Journal of the Melanie Klein Society, Vol. 5, 1987.
  4. Bank S., & Kahn M., The Sibling Bond, New York Basic Books, 1982.
  5. Berman, Leon, “Sibling Loss as an Organizer of Unconscious Guilt,” Psychoanal. Quarterly, 1978.
  6. Bair, Deirdre, Jung: A Biography, Little, Brown, 2004.
  7. Brazelton Berry, T., Cramer Bertrand G., The Earliest Relationship, Addison-Wesley, 1990.
  8. Cain, A.C., & Cain, B.S., (1964) “On Replacing a Child,” in Journal of American Academy of Child Psychiatry 3:443-56).
  9. Cardinal, Marie, Les Mots pour le dire, Grasset & Fasquelle, 1975. (Roman Autobiographique)
  10. Couvez A., Tuer le mort, Mém. Psychiatrie, Fac. Méd. Lille, 1979.
  11. Doyle Roddy, A Star Called Henry, Vintage, 2000. (autobiographical novel)
  12. Fraiberg, Selma, Clinical Studies in Infant Mental Health, The First Year of Life, New York,
  13. Basic Books, 1980; also: Ghosts in the Nursery, 1975.
  14. Forrester, V., Van Gogh ou l’enterrement dans les blés, Le Seuil, 1983.
  15. Hanus, M., «Objet de remplacement, Enfant de remplacement,» Rev. fr. de psychanal. pp. 1133-1147, 1982.
  16. Jung, Carl Gustav, Collected Works, Walter Verlag, 6. Auflage, 1988, Vols. 6, 9 i, 16.
  17. Kast, Verena, The Nature of Loving, Brother Husband and Sister Wife, Chiron, 1986.
  18. Nagera, H., Vincent Van Gogh – A Psychological Study, George, Hallen & Unwin, London 1967.
  19. Porot, Maurice, L’enfant de remplacement, Editions Frison-Roche, 1993/96
  20. Poznanski, E. O., (1972), The “replacement child”: A saga of unresolved parental grief. Journal of Behav. Pediatrics, 81, 6, pp. 1190-1193.
  21. Pollock, G.H., (1972), “Bertha Pappenheim’s pathological mourning: Possible effects of childhood sibling loss,” in: The Mourning-Liberation Process, Vol 2. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1989, pp. 431-447, addendum pp. 449-456.
  22. Sabbadini, A, “The replacement child. The instance of being someone else.” Br. Psychoanalytical Society Bulletin, 1986, 2/Psychiatrie de l’enfant, 1989, no2, 32, pp. 519-541.
  23. Samuels, Andrew, Bani Shorter, Fred Plaut, A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, 1986.
  24. Schellinski, Kristina, “‘O Brother, ’ A woman’s search for the missing masculine: A Jungian Perspective on the challenges and opportunities faced by a replacement child,” Diploma Thesis, C.G. Jung Institute, Zürich, 2002. (Contact: kschellinski@
  25. Stern, Daniel N., The motherhood constellation: a unified view of parent-infant psychotherapy, Basic Books, 1995.
  26. Vamik, Volkan & Ast, G. Siblings in the Unconscious and Psychopathology. Madison, CT.: International Universities Press, 1997.
  27. Van Gogh, Vincent, Images of his work, see: p_0010.htm
  28. Wieland-Burston, Joanne, “La Chambre Interdite,” in Cahiers Jungiens de Psychoanalyse 100, Spring 2001, p. 35-47.
  29. Ulanov, Belford Ann, On Coniunctio and Marriage in: Psyche and Family, Applications to Family Therapy, ed. Laura Dodson & Terrill L. Gibson, Chiron, 1996.