Darcia Narvaez, in Neurobiology and the development of human morality, writes that we can understand a baby’s gestures and movements as signals that indicate their level of homeostasis in each moment. These communications may signal discomfort when the infant’s internal balance is being challenged. When the early signals are not received and responded to the baby moves into a state of alarm, which is a plea for help in what might be understood as the resistance stage. This is the baby’s only resource as they require external help to return to a state of balance. It is in these early experiences that the infant learns to return to homeostasis and establishes ‘set points’ (e.g. for the stress response) through the external regulation of the caregiver.
When this external help does not come, or is inconsistent, the child goes into a higher level of mobilisation that is difficult to come back down from. If help still is not forthcoming the infant moves into exhaustion which is an inner despair, a withdrawal into a catatonic state. This is the oldest survival strategy of self-protection through passive avoidance.
The long-term effect on the child’s developing psychobiological systems depend on the timing, duration and intensity of this ‘under-care’. Parenting practices like ‘sleep-training’, which may seem helpful to parents, can have a really negative impact on the infant. Panic disorders in adults are rooted in these early experiences of separation anxiety in childhood. Grief lowers opiod activity, lessening positive affect, causing panic. Recurring patterns of distress like this can lead to insecure attachment. This can disrupt the development of emotion circuitry (underdevelopment, misdevelopment, or damage). The capacity for homeostasis throughout the life span can become compromised as a result.