The co-dependent stage of development begins (for us) at conception and ends around 6 to 8 months. During this time, the child is completing the developmental process of bonding–first with the mother and father, then with siblings and other close family members. This critical stage creates the foundation for several things.
The first is the foundation for experiencing close relationships. This early period of development creates a template for all subsequent relationships, particularly the most intimate ones. Here children also learn about how the world will receive them–whether or not their needs will be met in a timely way, if they will be respected and honored and whether or not they are safe and the world is a “good” or “bad” place.
Creating a positive and healthy relational template during this stage involves the mother and father attuning with their infant. Attunement involves a face-to-face, body-to-body sensory experience that both parent and child experience as enlivening, engaging and is often described as being “in synch” or “on the same page.”
The research on attunement by Dr. Allan Schore,
Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the
University of California at Los Angeles provides a comprehensive lens for
viewing the complex nature of both human relationships and relational
His model of affect regulation emphasizes the biological
perspective of bonding and correlates early psychological experiences with
biological processes (Schore, 2001, pp. 201-269). His three books on
Regulation Theory (1999), (2003a) and (2003b) use the language of quantum
physics to describe the nuances of parent-child interactions that, over time,
facilitate children’s experiences of either mobilizing their energy for growing
or for protecting themselves.
Schore’s affect regulation theory defines bonding as
biological synchronicity between organisms. His model, which draws language
from quantum science to describe emotional interactions between infants and
parents, uses terms such as emotional synchronization, energetic attunement
and resonance to describe times when parents and infants are in synch with
each other. His theory also emphasizes how the exchange of positive emotions
between infants and their caregivers create a safe environment that stimulates
the development of the orbito-frontal portion of right prefrontal cortex of the
Positive, reciprocal parent-child experiences create adults
who have a secure, optimistic, cooperative internal working model of reality,
while traumatic experiences involving a loss of parent-child attunement can
create adults with anxious, negative, avoidant, ambivalent behavior, and a
nonreciprocal model of reality. Most people’s internal working model of reality
falls on a continuum somewhere between these two extremes. The character of a
person’s internal working model of reality is most visible in adult patterns of
There is much new research about the intricacies bonding
process that is useful in understanding what is right about dependent
behavior in adults and children. Allen Schore says that the central concept
involved in bonding is the mother’s ability to attune to her baby and create
experiences of emotional synchronization. He believes that the right brains of
parents and shift into a pattern of resonance during bonding experiences. This
phenomenon is commonly known as being on the same page or wave length.
Schore says that the self-organization of the developing
brain occurs in the context of a relationship with another self, another
brainthat of the mother. The synchronization between them, Schore says,
involves more than their behavior and thoughts; the synchronization is on a biological
leveltheir brains and nervous systems are linked together.
This attunement requires that mothers follow very subtle
cues from their children and helps them regulate not only their emotional
states but modulate the production of stress related adrenal hormones such as
cortisol. This biological and energetic attunement helps babies quiet
themselves after an upsetting emotional experience. This moment-by-moment
matching of emotion helps both mothers and babies increase their internal
experience of emotional connection.
Schore and others found that it is extremely important for
mothers to be able to recognize when the attunement process has broken down for
the infant. If there are interruptions in the bonding and attuning process that
are not noticed and repaired by the mother or adult care-giver, this can easily
cause a developmental trauma for the infant. The infant becomes emotionally
dysregulated and needs the attention and re-attunement with the mother to
regulate his or her emotions.
Without that help, the infant can spiral into an emotional
black hole. We often talk about the difference between a trauma and an
owie. It is just an owie if someone notices your emotional dysregulation
and is there to comfort you and re-attune with you. If no one notices your
plight and does not help you re-regulate you emotions in a timely manner, this
will likely cause a developmental trauma that erodes away your secure feelings
of bonding and primal trust.
You can more detailed information about this stage of development
and the subsequent affects of completing or not completing your essential
developmental processes of this stage in our book, Breaking Free
of the Co-Dependency Trap(2008a).