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Bonding 5: neuro-psychology
Posted on 7:07am Wednesday 25th Apr 2012
This series is reprinted with permission from my friend and fellow mental health nurse Felicity Stockwell. Her complete writings can be found on her website at http://www.felicitystockwell.com/
I’m grateful to Felicity for agreeing to let me publish her work here.
With the anatomy and physiology in place for monitoring physiological and safety needs at birth, the Bonding Process has to be activated by the mother as soon as the baby is born. This is best achieved by placing the baby ‘skin-to-skin’ on the mother’s chest as soon as the cord is separated. (See link to Skin to Skin Touch in side panel) The experience of the ‘instinctive’ maternal caring that ensures safety and nourishment of the infant, provides the stimuli that trigger the Bonding Process. The experiences of touch, especially the mouth while feeding, smell, sight, especially of the mother’s nipple and face, and sound of the mothers voice, with baby talk and singing, all become imprinted in the monitoring system of the midbrain, and stimulate the pleasure pathways and release endorphins. This causes the activation of the highly complex neuro-chemical process of bonding, that is latent at birth, and leads to the infant learning to need people.
It has long been noticed that the Bonding Process is most effectively carried out by the natural mother, but all humans have an adaptive behaviour when they interact with infants, getting close, engaging eye contact, smiling widely, burbling sweet nothings in a higher pitched voice (which the baby can best hear) and wanting to pick them up to cuddle them. If the mother is unable to nurture the baby then it is important that it should be just one person, or as few as possible who provide the initial care. This is because Bonding is a learning process for the baby which can only be achieved through recognising constant repetitions of identical inputs in the early stages. Close family members can take their turn from the beginning and can take over if need be, but if the infant needs institutional care with different carers, it becomes at risk of failing to Bond successfully. There is a built-in time span for initiating the Bonding Process, as there is for learning language and number manipulation, and it is extremely difficult to learn these things from new later in life.
Once the imprinting of Social Needs has taken place during the first months of the baby’s life, for the rest of their lives, humans monitor the extent to which they are liked by and acceptable to every other person with whom they interact. The sum total of all the feedback that people experience, gives each individual a sense of their identity and their standing in terms of esteem, self confidence and contentment, in the varied social situations of their lives.
The Bonding Process, together with the genetic temperament accounts for the ‘nature’ aspect of human behaviour, while the very variable socialising experience of being ‘nurtured’ accounts for personality.
In the beginning, human life on this planet was lived in self-sufficient nomadic tribes, which proved very successful through many millenia. As numbers increased the tribes proliferated and spread across the world, but the numbers in any one tribe remained constant, and constituted what is now termed a ‘small group’ A ‘small group’ is defined as one where all the members recognise and are known by all the others. There is no certainty as to how large a group can become before this becomes impossible, but is estimated as being about three hundred people.
All the members in a small group are of equal value but there will be individual differences in people’s abilities and talents as they cooperate in the ‘work’ of successful survival and the ‘leisure’ of the unifying cultural activities that lead to pleasure and contentment.
There are certain intrinsic dynamics that influence patterns of behaviour in Small Groups (and these are detailed in ‘the literature’). Briefly, two types of leader emerge, the first is the person who is most able to encourage cooperation in achieving tasks – called instrumental leaders now-a-days, and the person who contributes most to encouraging companionship and friendship emerges as a so called expressive leader. In the early tribal groups there was another type of leader and these were the older individuals who had become the holders of all the accumulated ‘wisdom’ of the tribe. Alongside the emergence of leaders, rules and roles will become recognised and communications organised.
It is the evolved neuro-chemistry of the brain that has determined the dynamics of Small Groups to ensure the well-being, safety and contentment of all the individuals, and it functions on ‘sufficiency’. That means that every individual is ‘good enough’ and needs only enough approval from others in order to find contentment. This continues to be true in modern communities and society but, because of the huge increase in the world’s population, it is in many situations, difficult to find stable, long-term Small Groups in which to work and socialise.
In the ’Overview’ it is shown that with increase of population, ‘Wants’ rather than ‘Needs’ become motivators for much behaviour and, because these can never suffice or be shared equally, psychologically destructive competition comes into play. Whenever ‘wants’ are major motivators in any community or society, there will be the Haves and Have Nots. Unless the Have Nots are living contented lives by having their Social Needs met elsewhere, they will be motivated to seek the ‘wants’ that seem to be making the Haves happy, and compete to get them and not mind who they deprive on the way. Also, those with influence can hold out rewards in terms of ‘wants’, which always generate more losers than winners, and can generate the negative behaviours of envy, anger and despair. (See the paper on Bonding and Psycho-Pathology)
Psychology looks at human life from the perspective of the individual in society, and it can describe, analyse, measure and explain the many aspects that make up human behaviour, and it is not the purpose here to take account of these particulars. What is important to understand is, that having had the Bonding Process initiated, every individual goes forth on lifes path with the social needs for approval and belonging which must be met to an adequate degree if they are to become mature and competent members of society.
In modern society it appears to be impossible to organise large communites that are egalitarian, self-sufficient and ensure contentment in the bearing and rearing of children and continuing the survival of the human race. The pages about psycho-pathology outline some of the problems that arise when Social Needs of individuals are not met adequately.