Understanding the Baby Brain – Symbiosis and Eternity

This gripping video reveals the power and importance of connection – it dramatically illustrates how vital emotional connection is to the infant. Watch the time delay from the still face till the infant notices . . .


As  you enter the world of an infant it is crucial to understand how vulnerable and dependent babies are.   If they are alone they can die, if they are cold they can die, they are hungry they can die – life does not happen for babies outside of vital emotional connection. In this period beginning from conception till about the age of 2 their life is inextricably linked to their connection to their caregivers.  In one appalling social experiment, designed to work out how children acquired  language, babies were raised in the semi-darkness and their physical needs were met, but they were not touched or spoken to – every baby died within their first year.  British hospitals ran their version of this experiment on a large scale in the 1920’s,30’s, 40’s and 50’s.  Due a fear of germs babies were barely touched and parents could only visit once a month and just view their children through the glass.  Infant mortality for under 2’s was over 70% in these hospitals.

An important feature of this brain protects the infant from overwhelming helplessness and terror – it’s called symbiosis.  What this means is the infant literally does not know that they are separate from their closest caregivers.  This means the infant sees themselves as part of Mum and Dad, and therefore their powers  belong to the child and help them feel safer.  For Baby if Mum is happy – I am happy, if I am sad mum is sad, if she is not I feel confused.  Symbiosis creates a radical openness to the worldview of the parents and the environment – it’s how we absorb language, movement, culture in those first few years of life.  So when Mum holds me and smiles down saying, “You are so beautiful,” I absorb this as immutable truth.  If Mum is in pain I feel this in my body.  Symbiosis allows us to piggyback on the more developed brain of our parent.  This process is what makes therapy work – when clients come in lost in their pain and anxiety (captured by their baby brain) our task is to hold my peace and breathe and their body gradually starts to catch our presence and serenity.Couples in conflict or the honeymoon stage of love are typically hooked in symbiosis – their pain or passion is catching and mutually reinforcing.  Couples in symbiosis literally cannot see themselves outside the pleasure or pain.

The second significant feature of the baby brain is the eternal timeframe.  The dominant electrical rhythm in babies brain is the 1-4 hz delta wave – adults produce this wave when we sleep and just before we drop off.  Babies have no sequential sense of time – as any parent being woken in the night becomes aware.  If life is good – then it is all good, if it is bad I am in hell eternally and I literally cannot see a place outside the pain.  In these first two years of life (based on their accumulated eternal experiences) the baby captures an generalised way of relating e.g. the world is a safe basically good place filled with people who love and like me, or the world is a scary inconsistent place and I always need to be on my guard.  We call these generalised assumptions an attachment style.  These attachment assumptions operate subconsciously influencing how we walk, talk, learn and relate – they can be changed but it takes time and work.  Relationships are the most powerful tool to reinforce or change an attachment style (more about this in another post).

mother  feeding her baby in nature green meadow with yellow flow

So the question is how do we get to experience the pleasurable side of the happy baby brain.  The answer is simple – warmth and connection. The most powerful practical way to engage the baby brain is gaze.  Think about breastfeeding for a moment from a baby’s perspective – securely held, a warm sweet taste in the mouth and often the loving gaze of Mum who gets a moment to be fully present (because you can’t do much else when you are feeding a baby).  For Mum connecting to the baby produces a reciprocal oxytocin response – this is the pleasure cycle – in the next post I will talk about the pain cycle.  The way we most often capture this as adults is with great sex -touching, licking, kissing, sighing, squealing, laughing, playing, sleeping, holding, clinging, the lost sense of time – literally the experience of being naked and unashamed.  As Mum feeds her body starts producing oxytocin (the cuddle hormone – guys this is the one that makes you want to cuddle and go to sleep right after sex) and the result is most often warm and loving gaze.  This is profoundly soothing and connecting.

Attractive man and woman

A clothes on version is to gaze silently at someone you love and think about what you love about them, their body, their character, their loving actions.  When they say, “What?”  Just smile and tell them one of the happy memories you were enjoying.  Notice what it feels like in your body.  This exercise can be very helpful to heal people who have been wounded by unloving and critical gaze.  If this includes you – by giving loving gaze your symbiotic baby brain receives the love you give as if it happened to you.  This is why service and charity and positivity feel so good when willingly given, because our baby brain receives the love given to others as if we had experienced it ourselves.

Happy Gazing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *