SYMBIOSIS & ACoAs (Part 1)

mother/infantAM I ME, AM I YOU & ARE YOU ME?
I hate myself, but I also want you to be exactly like me!

PREVIOUS: Autonomy & Attachment (#3b)

REVIEW: Ego States – CHILD


• As infants, all humans are born with a built-in biological & psychological set of tendencies, which interact with & responds to their specific environment in their own unique way – but without a formed personality

The child’s first connection is to the mother (usually), not aware of a difference between itself & its caretaker. This one-ness is normal & appropriate. It allows the child to feel safe & protected while gradually becoming acquainted with itself & the big world it has come in to

• Regardless of the type of family, nature & nurture (how we’re treated) combine to form what we think of as our SELF.  If born into a reasonably healthy one, the child is allowed & encouraged to develop the pre-set template they came into the world with

This creates a sense of external & then internal safety. Having permission to be oneself gradually makes it possible to function in the world as an individual who is comfortable in their skin & with other people

mother rejectingIN CHILDHOOD
a. BROKEN Symbiosis – BUT, if the mother is not available or unable to connect with the infant to nurture it from a deep place of love, the symbiotic bond is never formed or is too soon broken, before the child can tolerate it

This can be:
— because of’ illness or death, spousal abuse, external trauma such as an accident, natural disasters, war…..
OR most commonly
— personality defects like narcissism, anxiety, depression, rage at having to be a caretaker, not wanting to be tied down…..

This creates intense & long-lasting terror in the baby, with the message that there’s something fundamentally wrong with it. Such children spend the rest of their life trying to forge that missing link with someone – anyone – to stop that terrible, relentless anxiety, SO-
• they end up alone, never forming any intimate bond – OR
• find another wounded soul they can attach to & live together in isolation  – OR
• keep being attracted to emotionally unavailable people, reproducing the very abandonment they so fear (trying to symbiose with the ‘distant’ mother)

b. UNBROKEN Symbiosis : at the other extreme – the mother who didn’t get that bond in her own infancy, will try to get it now from her heli-momchild – creating a captive who can never leave them!
This mother will make every effort to negate the child’s individuality in favor of her own needs & wants, to make that little person her clone, & will punish any disagreement or separation.

If there’s no one else available or strong enough to interfere with this suffocating attachment (father, sibling or other…) the child never has the freedom to develop it’s own identity, but stays dependent on the mother (& family or substitutes) for it’s very existence throughout life.

This child grows up TO (some or all):
• never leave home     • not have any rights
• be depressed, isolated, suicidal
octopus mom• have weak boundaries
• be unable to have healthy, autonomous relationships
• be terrified of abandonment in any form
• be unable to support themself
• not trust their own judgment
• not have their own opinions about things
• have symbiotic relationships with domineering people….
If the child does get away, then as an A-CoA, they’ll be terrified of any close involvement with others. The fear of being engulfed again is so unbearable that it’s expressed as fear of commitment.
Even when they are in some form of relationship, it will be with extreme emotional detachment, a need for total control, endless sexual conquests, come here – go away interactions, irresponsibility…. or just walking away & never looking back!

➼ Both the strayers & the leavers are ripe for addictions, to fill that big emotional hole inside – but it never works
INFO: Symbiosis can be understood through the ego state model. In a symbiotic relationship, both people use only some of their ego states to relate to each other, which they combine, functioning as if they only had one identity between them. They get stuck in rigid roles, resulting in less flexibility.

NEXT: Symbiosis (#2)

BOUNDARIES – Healthy Source (Part 1)


I feel safe & loved

PREVIOUS: Bs Defined (#2)

See ACRONYM page for abbrev.

• Having boundaries (Bs) is the opposite of being enmeshed (symbiotic)**. Humans are not born with Bs, & have to develop them with the guidance of healthy nurturing, so the main caregiver (usually the mother) needs to be a secure base from which the infant can safely explore its environment.

A well-grounded mother experiences the child as separate from herself, although from her body, so even if she’s anxious or sick, is able to be nurturing because she finds the helplessness & needs of the baby irresistibly appealing. She is not overwhelmed or put off by them, like in alcoholic / dysfunctional homes

• With the proper care, gradually the all-consuming ME of the child will separate from the NON-ME (all others), & personal boundaries are formed.  Being given a solid foundation is crucial before the age of 9 or 10, as by then our defense mechanisms are SET, & a bad beginning will generate a harmful crop of ‘negative protections” that are hard to change

**Symbiosis: At birth: “….is experienced by both the mother & child as a temporary merging or sharing of their needs”, an important early phase of omnipotent fusion (very deep) between the two, In a safe environment, this merging is gradually given up by the child over a long process of S & I. 

This infant’s experience is: I cried, I got fed, aren’t I great! This sense of invincibility is alternately —
— ascribed by the baby to the grandiose Self –> “I’m all-powerful”
— & about the idealized mother/caretaker –> “She’s all-powerful”
As the child separates & internalizes the parent, IF it’s a loving, healthy experience, he or she can safely become their own person, with a sturdy sense of self-hood, along with a Positive Introject

•  When this satisfying connection is not available or not adequate for the child, it spills over into adulthood, so that in unhealthy relationships: “…. symbiosis is still going on, occurring when two or more individuals behave as though between them they only have one complete personality….”, rather than being 2 separate people.

Neither have a full complement of ego states, so that one person acts from their Adult & Parent while the other only from their Child part – forming one false ‘whole’ ‘between them.
This is why it’s so hard for co-dependents to leave what others may see as destructive attachments – they would be cutting off a ‘part of themselves‘ since they haven’t yet grown their own complete identity.

1. Normal Development
• Children are highly intuitive, intelligent & curious. But at first they experience little difference between Self & others, between inner & outer, fantasy & reality.  The work of Mahler, Kernberg, Hartmann, Spitz identified 3-4 important developmental stages – not in a straight line but more like a fluctuating helix:

i. Autistic or Undifferentiated = in the first month of life, during which the infant is in its own inner world, with a minimum awareness of ‘others’, focused on reducing physical (hunger, wet diaper…. & emotional tension (fear, uncertainty, loss….)

ii. Symbiotic = for the next 4 months, the infant becomes more aware of the mother / caretaker as the source of fullness & warmth, but not as a separate person

iii. Separation-Individuation (S & I)  = made up of a series of sub-phases, thru the 3rd or 4th early developmentyears of life, when the child begins to investigate the world beyond its own body through sight, locomotion, language…. & later, conflicts with mother about needing her vs. needing some independence, which requires much help in balancing

iv. Object Constancy, developed during the S & I period (if allowed!) around age 2 1/2 to 3, when the child is capable of experience both the good /providing & bad /withholding sides of the mother as one whole, as basically dependable & trustworthy, not perfect but not dangerous — assuming she’s mentally & emotionally sound! (MORE….)

NEXT: Bs – Healthy Source (Part 2)