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 trauma.
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 brain.
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 conflict.
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).