Separation and the Dis-owned Self
Stefan J. Malecek, Ph. D.
Every creature, including animals, has a built-in critical period, during which certain activities must either be accomplished, or they will never be. Kittens are born blind. If they do not open their eyes within the first nine days, they will be blind for life.
I am proposing that there is a critical period for integrating positive emotional attachment for children. It is well known that learning to self-soothe is one of the most important tasks of early infancy (during the first six months of life). For example, little children will often reach out spontaneously to another child in distress, rubbing the other on the arm. That child is soothing the other’s distress, having learned how to do that from having experienced being soothed (generally from the mother). It may seem “natural” and in-bred, but I do not believe it is. It is a learned behavior, passed on by one who has experienced it.
By copying adults during the crucial first year of growth, one-year-olds learn a vast array of skills, imitation is vital to the development of abilities ranging from language to social skills. While gender identity doesn't usually start to emerge until about age three, mimicry begins at birth. Many newborns copy facial movements such as sticking out their tongue. A one-year-old begins to practice “imitation with intent, "displaying his or her understanding that these actions have a significance. This not only encourages a child’s self-expression, but keeps open the door for further growth, positive self esteem and building a pathway through which the child will continue to progress as he or she gets older.
Conversely, without this very earliest encouragement, there is a strong possibility that the child may internalize a sense of emptiness and regret, especially if the child has received a diet of disrespect, anger, even active abuse—driving the child to fill in the developmental gaps with these negative artifacts upon which to build a developmental stairway. This may create what is called “affect hunger,” a craving or desire for emotional fulfillment (ultimately self-for-self, reflected through the eyes and words of meaningful others). that may ultimately result in any of a number of self-destructive behaviors that are aimed at dampening, even deadening, the terrible, insatiable appetite for emotional comfort and satiation.
Precisely because the need is so primitive and hence basic; and the fact that it was never met in an appropriate way, a child may internalize (or introject) an analog depiction of the antagonist within his or her self who reinforces all that is negative in the perpetrator’s opinions and reproduces them as his or her own—believing them to be their own! The child does not yet have the ability to discriminate between these projected materials and his or her own—and adopts them. Thereafter the child acts as if whatever crimes and continuing punishments (meted against themselves) are justified and appropriate.
I do not have a precise handle on how shame and all of its derivations entered into the constellation of consciousness, but I believe it is intimately related to the initial sense of separation each of us experiences when we realize (shockingly!) we are no longer part of a loving, benevolent whole in which we are universally loved and valued, but are instead condemned to suffer through all of the trials and tribulations of separate identity—until such a time as we, each of us, comes to see, to feel, to be, a living part the grand totality that each of us represents within the context of the eternal Universal Whole from which we all come and are never separated, ever.