SYMBIOSIS OR THE “WE” STAGE
by Anne Dranitsaris, Ph.D.
Following birth, infants are physically and psychologically dependent on their mother (or primary caretaker) to survive. Because the neural pathways in the cortex are not yet formed, the mother performs many functions for the child, including anticipating hunger, sleep, physical comfort and psychological distress. The infant is only concerned with feeling safe, satiated and comfortable. They know what to do to get these needs met and continue to do this until they figure out, over time and using their own curiosity, how to do it differently. They are focused solely on their own needs as their survival depends on it. Despite how parents like to think about what is going on between them and their infant, they are only objects there to gratify the needs of the child.
During the We Stage, the child doesn’t distinguish between themselves and their mother. They are as fused as they were when the infant was in the mother’s body. To the child, there is no separation or no “I’s,” only “We.” Psychological safety and stability is built through the perception that the child is in control of the mother’s behavior when it comes to need satisfaction. For the child to successfully navigate through the We stage, in preparation for individuation, the infant must have limited experiences of anxiety and frustration.
There is no “other” or “you” that exists for the infant during the We Phase. This is because the neural development required for associations about “I” and “You” beyond a primitive level has not yet occurred. The brain is laying down and pruning neural pathways at such a rate that memories are not stored during these years. Mother provides the function of the ego that later develops in the cortex of the brain for self-regulation and self-soothing. At the end of the We Stage, the child begins to develop their own ego which later helps with their own emotional regulation and ability to tolerate frustration.