Lacan‘s reinterpretation of Freud, with the central focus on language, brought about a post-structuralist turn to psychoanalytic theory. In his paper titled Mirror Stage (1949), Lacan expounds the concept of the mirror stage that occurs between 6-18 months of a child’s development, when the child begins to draw rudimentary distinction between the self and the other, as it encounters its image in the mirror. Before this,.the child is from birth in the Real stage, driven by needs and lived in unity with the mother. With the Mirror Stage, the child attains the first realization of its bodily autonomy. Thus begins the lifelong process of identifying the self in terms of the other- man/woman, West/East, and so on.
The image reflected according to Lacan is the “Ideal I” – the stable and autonomous version which the child does not experience in itself and hence yearns to be the other. This quest, Lacan says, will never be fulfilled and may lead to anxiety, neurosis, and psychosis. The child also realizes that, prior to this stage, its body was in “bits and pieces” and realizes the danger of returning to that stage. The mirror stage also marks the beginning of a gradual transition from the Imaginary/pre-linguistic stage (where the child does not recognize the demarcation between itself and the objects in the world) and the symbolic stage of language acquisition, In the imaginary stage, the Self is a unified, coherent whole, not fragmented or mediated by differences; however, on the realization of the imminent presence of the Other, the Self is divided, and this marks the breakdown of the comforting imaginary condition, and it thrusts the child into the Symbolic order- the world of predefined social roles and gender differences, the world of subjects and objects, the world of language.