Excerpt About Symbiosis

Inner State of the Mother is Experienced by the Infant
During the symbiotic phase the infant is in complete contact with the mother’s consciousness. He feels her joy, her fear, her anger, her pain, her frustration, her weakness and so on but he is not aware that these are the mother’s feelings, for he has no sense of a separate self. So what he feels and what mother experiences make up the content of his merged relationship with her. This phenomenon has many disturbing implications. One is that the quality of the symbiosis is not dependent only on the child’s interaction with his mother, but also on the general inner state of the mother. developmental psychology has considered the effect of the mother’s state on the infant only in so far as her state determines to a large extent her interactions, reactions, responses and attitude towards her child. We are seeing here that her influence is much greater than that. Her inner state, regardless of what it is, is experienced by the infant as part of the merged relationship, and internalized as part of the merged representation. This means that the totality of her emotional make up is internalized and identified with as the merged representation. We have seen this phenomenon on many occasions while observing a mother with her sleeping infant. The infant is asleep and peaceful. The mother becomes anxious, for some reason. The infant feels the anxiety, and wakes up fretting. The mother thinks something is happening to the infant, so she comforts him, by nursing him, for example. In this way she discharges her anxiety and calms down. Now the infant calms down and goes back to sleep. Everyone believes that the mother has regulated her infant, while the fact is that in this instance the infant helped her regulate herself.

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