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Excerpts about Symbiosis

Imbibing Mother's Personality

Thus during the time of symbiosis, much of the mother's personality is imbibed, so to speak. This point becomes painfully clear in the deeper stages of essential development, when the student begins to deal with the merged representations. He will realize that many of his traits, conflicts and emotional proclivities are not his own. He will see that he is living not only his own life, but also the life of his mother (and his father to some extent), and her mother before her, and so on. One will realize, with horror or perhaps with humor, that he has literally inherited the deeper layers of his personality. One lives, to a greater extent than one cares to face, the emotional lives people long forgotten.

Implications of the Loss of the Symbiotic Mother

The loss of the symbiotic mother, which is associated with Merging Essence, implies a lot more than one can see at the beginning, because of the properties of symbiosis and of the Merging Essence. The loss is experienced as equivalent to the loss of, or the loss of the possibility of, security, pleasure and company. The fear of loss of security becomes reflected in fears of loss of support, money, nourishment and so on. This accounts for many phobias, like fear of being in airplanes, of earthquakes and so on. The fear of loss of pleasure is generalized to all kinds of pleasure; eating, comfort and so on; but more particularly it manifests as fear of loss of sexual pleasure. This is enhanced by the fear of loss of company, which manifests mostly as fear of aloneness. In other words, the gratification of what can be seen as the three primary instincts—sexual, social and survival—becomes endangered.

Inner State of the Mother is Experienced by the Infant

During the symbiotic phase the infant is in complete contact with the mother’s consciousness. He feels her joy, her fear, her anger, her pain, her frustration, her weakness and so on but he is not aware that these are the mother’s feelings, for he has no sense of a separate self. So what he feels and what mother experiences make up the content of his merged relationship with her. This phenomenon has many disturbing implications. One is that the quality of the symbiosis is not dependent only on the child’s interaction with his mother, but also on the general inner state of the mother. Developmental psychology has considered the effect of the mother’s state on the infant only in so far as her state determines to a large extent her interactions, reactions, responses and attitude towards her child. We are seeing here that her influence is much greater than that. Her inner state, regardless of what it is, is experienced by the infant as part of the merged relationship, and internalized as part of the merged representation. This means that the totality of her emotional make up is internalized and identified with as the merged representation. We have seen this phenomenon on many occasions while observing a mother with her sleeping infant. The infant is asleep and peaceful. The mother becomes anxious, for some reason. The infant feels the anxiety, and wakes up fretting. The mother thinks something is happening to the infant, so she comforts him, by nursing him, for example. In this way she discharges her anxiety and calms down. Now the infant calms down and goes back to sleep. Everyone believes that the mother has regulated her infant, while the fact is that in this instance the infant helped her regulate herself.

Presence of Merging Essence During Symbiosis

However, our observation is that during symbiosis the Merging Essence is actually present in the infant's consciousness most of the time, not only after discharge of tension. This is particularly so when the relationship with the mother is basically positive and gratifying. The Merging Essence seems to be needed by the organism at that time for healthy maturation and growth. Its presence brings about the symbiotic connection to the mother needed for survival and psychological development.

The Child’s Loss of Symbiotic Unity, the Dual Unity with Mother

This is a subtle point but of fundamental importance in understanding the relation of the personality to essence. Whenever there is any loss of the symbiotic union, the dual unity with mother, the child experiences the loss of the merging essence. To repeat, this is because for him the merging love aspect of essence is he and his mother together. That is what he is aware of when there is merging love. He is not introspective, so he is not aware of the presence of this aspect of essence from an observer's point of view. He is enjoying the merging love but sees it as the undifferentiated union with mother. In his mind there develops, at the primitive level of his ego, the association of loving proximity with the mother to the merging love of essence. Whenever this proximity, this symbiotic unity, is not there, the merging love of essence disappears. This satisfying symbiotic unity can be lost for many reasons: rejection by the mother, distance from her, frustration by her, too much clinging from her side, physical or emotional abandonment, actual loss, to mention a few.

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