Mothers and children require a period of prolonged dependency upon the community due to the slow maturation of the infant (Bloom, 2013). The attachment bond served to keep them together to protect the offspring within a wider protective circle of social relationships. It is not just children that become distressed through separation – there is a strong connection between loss and depression in adulthood. Loss and separation are also linked with physical diseases, probably because of the dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system and impaired immune function that can accompany loss.
“Why do infants, indeed all people, so strongly seek states of connectedness, and why does the failure to achieve connectedness wreak such damage on their mental and physical health?” asks developmental psychologist Ed Tronick (2007, p.488). Connection is the formation of ‘dyadic states of consciousness’ which increase coherence and complexity. This is not an exceptional moment but a persistent experience in development. When there is a brief break in the interactive connection infants and children become angry, distressed, frustrated, withdrawn or apathetic. Connection, by contrast, elicits exuberant smiles and giggles. When connection is established with another person there is a sense of growth and exuberance. With disconnection there is an experience of shrinking and loss of continuity. Feeling disconnected is painful and at the extreme end there may be “terrifying feelings of annihilation” (Tronick, 2007, p. 476). Connection is the dyadic regulation of meaning to form a dyadic state of consciousness. When people fail to create dyadic states of consciousness in a chronic way there is a loss of coherence and complexity and a movement towards entropy. Disconnection is a failure of dyadic meaning-making.
Self-organising systems have limitations that characterise all open systems (Tronick, 2007). Humans overcome this by forming synergistic relationships with others, what Tronick calls a dyadic regulatory system. This system is also limited but can garner more resources than the self-organising process of an individual on its own, resulting in each individual system increasing its complexity. Predictable patterns of disruption followed by repair in relationships act as a neural exercise that improves child resilience (Porges, in Mitchell, Tucci and Tronick). These sequences enable self-regulation to emerge out of predictable co-regulation. The connection between mother and child is a ‘potent determinant’ of brain development as well as adaptation (Cozolino, 2014). Early social interactions build neural networks and establish biological set points that can endure for the lifespan.
Bloom, S. L. (2013). Creating sanctuary: Toward the evolution of sane societies. Routledge.
Tronick, E. (2007). The Neurobehavioral and social-emotional development of infants and children (Norton series on interpersonal neurobiology). W. W. Norton & Company.