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Moreover, we must attach some epigenetic importance to some of stimuli. If we do, in effect we recognize effect of early stimuli upon later life development.
At their beginning, neonates are only vaguely aware, in a binary sort of way.
l. "Comfortable/uncomfortable", "cold/warm", "wet/dry", "colour/absence of colour", "light/dark", "face/no face" and so on. There are grounds to believe that distinction between outer world and inner one is vague at best. Natal fixed action patterns (rooting, sucking, postural adjustment, looking, listening, grasping, and crying) invariably provoke caregiver to respond. The newborn, as we said earlier, is able to relate to physical patterns but his ability seems to extend to mental as well. He sees a pattern: fixed action followed by appearance of caregiver followed by a satisfying action on part of caregiver. This seems to him to be an inviolable causal chain (though precious few babies would put it in these words). Because he is unable to distinguish his inside from outside – newborn "believes" that his action evoked caregiver from inside (in which caregiver is contained). This is kernel of both magical thinking and Narcissism. The baby attributes to himself magical powers of omnipotence and of omnipresence (action-appearance). It also loves itself very much because it is able to thus satisfy himself and his needs. He loves himself because he has means to make himself happy. The tension-relieving and pleasurable world comes to life through baby and then he swallows it back through his mouth. This incorporation of world through sensory modalities is basis for "oral stage" in psychodynamic theories.
This self-containment and self-sufficiency, this lack of recognition of environment are why children until their third year of life are such a homogeneous group (allowing for some variance). Infants show a characteristic style of behaviour (one is almost tempted to say, a universal character) in as early as first few weeks of their lives. The first two years of life witness crystallization of consistent behavioural patterns, common to all children. It is true that even newborns have an innate temperament but not until an interaction with outside environment is established – do traits of individual diversity appear.
At birth, newborn shows no attachment but simple dependence. It is easy to prove: child indiscriminately reacts to human signals, scans for patterns and motions, enjoys soft, high pitched voices and cooing, soothing sounds. Attachment starts physiologically in fourth week. The child turns clearly towards his mother's voice, ignoring others. He begins to develop a social smile, which is easily distinguishable from his usual grimace. A virtuous circle is set in motion by child's smiles, gurgles and coos. These powerful signals release social behaviour, elicit attention, loving responses. This, in turn, drives child to increase dose of his signaling activity. These signals are, of course, reflexes (fixed action responses, exactly like palmar grasp). Actually, until 18th week of his life, child continues to react to strangers favourably. Only then does child begin to develop a budding social-behavioural system based on high correlation between presence of his caregiver and gratifying experiences. By third month there is a clear preference of mother and by sixth month, child wants to venture into world. At first, child grasps things (as long as he can see his hand). Then he sits up and watches things in motion (if not too fast or noisy). Then child clings to mother, climbs all over her and explores her body. There is still no object permanence and child gets perplexed and loses interest if a toy disappears under a blanket, for instance. The child still associates objects with satisfaction/non-satisfaction. His world is still very much binary.
As child grows, his attention narrows and is dedicated first to mother and to a few other human figures and, by age of 9 months, only to mother. The tendency to seek others virtually disappears (which is reminiscent of imprinting in animals). The infant tends to equate his movements and gestures with their results – that is, he is still in phase of magical thinking.
The separation from mother, formation of an individual, separation from world (the "spewing out" of outside world) – are all tremendously traumatic.
The infant is afraid to lose his mother physically (no "mother permanence") as well as emotionally (will she be angry at this new found autonomy?). He goes away a step or two and runs back to receive mother's reassurance that she still loves him and that she is still there. The tearing up of one's self into my SELF and OUTSIDE WORLD is an unimaginable feat. It is equivalent to discovering irrefutable proof that universe is an illusion created by brain or that our brain belongs to a universal pool and not to us, or that we are God (the child discovers that he is not God, it is a discovery of same magnitude). The child's mind is shredded to pieces: some pieces are still HE and others are NOT HE (=the outside world). This is an absolutely psychedelic experience (and root of all psychoses, probably).
If not managed properly, if disturbed in some way (mainly emotionally), if separation – individuation process goes awry, it could result in serious psychopathologies. There are grounds to believe that several personality disorders (Narcissistic and Borderline) can be traced to a disturbance in this process in early childhood.
Then, of course, there is on-going traumatic process that we call "life".
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and searcheurope.com.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com