BOUNDARIES – Healthy Source (Part 1)

mother & infant 

I feel safe & loved

PREVIOUS: Bs Defined (#2)

See ACRONYM page for abbev,


• Having boundaries (Bs) is the opposite of being enmeshed (symbiotic)*. Humans are not born with Bs, & have to develop them with the guidance of healthy nurturing, so the main caregiver (mother) needs to be a secure base from which the infant can safely explore its environment. The well-grounded mother experiences the child as separate from herself, although from her body, so even if she’s anxious or sick, is able to be nurturing because she finds the helplessness & needs of the baby irresistibly appealing. She is not overwhelmed or put off by them, like in alcoholic / dysfunctional homes

• With the proper care, gradually the all-consuming ME of the child will separate from the NON-ME (all others), & personal boundaries are formed.  Being given a solid foundation is crucial before the age of 9 or 10, as by then our defense mechanisms are SET & a bad beginning will generate a harmful crop of defenses that are hard to change

*Symbiosis: At birth: “….is experienced by both the mother and the child as a temporary merging or sharing of their needs”, an important early phase of omnipotentrainbow fusion between the two which is gradually given up by the child over a long process of S & I.  The infant’s experience is: I cried, I got fed, aren’t I great! This invincibility is alternately ascribed by the baby to the grandiose self (“I am all-powerful) & to the idealized mother/caretaker (“She is all-powerful”).  As the child separates and internalizes the parent, IF it’s a positive experience, he or she can safely become their own person, with a sturdy sense of self-hood, along with a Positive Introject

•  When this satisfying connection is not available or adequate for the child, it spills over into adulthood, so that in unhealthy relationships: “…. symbiosis occurs when two or more individuals behave as though between them they only have one complete personality….”, rather than being 2 separate people. Neither have a full complement of ego states, such as one person functioning from their Adult & Parent while the other only from their Child part – forming one unit between them.  This is why it’s so hard for codependents to leave what others may see as destructive attachments – they would be cutting off a ‘part of themselves‘ since they have not grown their own complete identity

1. Normal Development
• Children are highly intuitive, intelligent & curious. But in the first few months they experience little difference between self & others, between inner & outer, fantasy & reality.  The work of Mahler, Kernberg, Hartmann, Spitz identified 3-4 important developmental stages – not occurring in a straight line but more like a fluctuating helix:

i. Autistic or Undifferentiated, in the first month of life, during which the infant is in its own inner world, with a minimum awareness of ‘others’ & a focus on reducing physical & emotional tension

ii. Symbiotic, for the next 4 months, the infant becomes more aware of the mother/caretaker as the source of fullness & warmth, but not as a separate person

iii. Separation-Individuation (S & I), made up of a series of sub-phases, thru the 3rd or 4th early developmentyear of life, when the child begins to investigate the world beyond its own body thru sight, locomotion, language…. & later, conflicts with mother about needing her vs. needing some independence, which requires much help in balancing

iv. Object Constancy, developed during the S & I period, around age 2 1/2 to 3, when the child is able to experience both the ‘good’ & ‘bad’ (providing & withholding) sides of the mother as one whole, as basically dependable & trustworthy, not perfect but not dangerous — assuming she’s mentally & emotionally sound! (MORE….)

NEXT: Bs – Healthy Source (Part 2)


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