NEED STRUCTURE HANDOUT Ages 1 month to 1.5 years
Mutual connection for this stage: Can I have my needs met in a consistent, reliable, timely, and caring way, so I can be satisfied, relaxed, and feel connected?
Developmentally, need structure encompasses the time soon after birth to 1½ years of age. When human babies are born, they are completely dependent on their caretakers for food, comfort, contact, soothing – that is, all their needs, for both survival and thriving. A successful outcome developmentally occurs in a relationship with caretakers who are attuned enough to the baby’s needs that the infant begins to feel safe in their world, an important part of secure attachment.
The Mom and the baby actually figure this out together, through attunement and periods of trial and error. Initially, the baby communicates either comfort or discomfort, through sound, facial and body expressions. If things are going well, the baby’s relaxed body, contactful eyes, soft sounds; or active, energetic movement, bright eyes and excited sounds let Mom know to continue with what she is doing. If not, she and the baby have to work out what is needed to return to a more positive experience. Thus they learn together how to adjust to experiences of discomfort including needing food, needing soothing, needing to be alone, needing a change of diapers, needing to sleep, needing to have more or less stimulation.
The experience of being in relationship with someone who helps you figure these things out gives the child an internal sense that “I can communicate my discomfort to my caretakers and they will either know or help me figure out what I need, and help me regulate what I can not do for myself’’. The baby begins to sense in their body what “enough” feels like, and the relaxation that follows that sense. This developing sense of satisfaction signals that they can go on to another life experience. This is the beginning of a self-regulation process: discomfort, need, intervention, and finally relaxation. Through this repeated experience, of sensing their body and being in contact with a loving other, through both the good times and the stressful ones, the child ideally learns a basic trust in the world.
The most energized parts of the body at this time are the mouth and the eyes. The baby begins to focus better, and the infant can reach out with their eyes. The lips, mouth and tongue are extremely active in taste, sound and exploring everything they can put there. (Many people refer to this stage as the oral period.) At this stage a great way for an adult to make contact with an infant is by making mouth and tongue movements. Initially, the infant coos and babbles to communicate. Later, they make differentiated sounds and noises. Towards the end of this time period, the baby starts to use their first words, connecting words with objects, and to have concrete thoughts: “I want that”, or “again”.
The infant is also developing a sense of the boundaries of their own body. Doing movements like rolling over, pushing themself to a sitting position, or creeping and crawling, give the baby a feeling of skin contact with the floor. The skin is the physical boundary between inside and outside me. The baby is building an internal structure and sense of self
As an adult, a person that is resourced here will have a sense of what they need, and also how to satisfy that need by themselves: i.e., I’m hungry, I need to eat, or I’m full, I want to stop eating. The adult resourced need body will have soft, contactful, interested eyes. They will hold their head and spine in an erect way. Their lips will be full, and they will be comfortable reaching out for their needs as well as taking in. They will enter into intimate relationships with an expectation and belief that they can express their needs to those close to them, and often enough receive a caring response. They also will be happy to reciprocate with that person’s requests for help, and will have a sense that this will mutually deepen the closeness between them.
There are also two possible types of developmental disruptions during this time period. They can result in either the despairing or the mistrustful positions.
If the attunement between the parent and child is poor, if the infant is consistently either ignored or misread, if the Mom is depressed or otherwise unavailable, if the caretaker is upset by the baby’s distress, the child can to some extent give-up trying to get their needs met. This means the child has survived, but has not thrived. The baby collapses into a characterological position we call despairing. They do not expect contact, do not have a sense of what they need, and do not learn what satisfaction feels like.
As an adult, they still will not have a sense of what they need, and therefore may have little sense of their eating, sleeping, or contact needs and how to self regulate these primary rhythms. They also may not sense their likes and dislikes. They do not recognize what satisfaction feels like.
Their body reflects this collapse, with a spine that looks as if it has collapsed under the weight of their head. In fact, the infant’s head is proportionately much bigger than an adult’s, and it would take a lot of strength for the muscles of the spine as well as neck to hold up the head in an erect position. Because the infant did not get the contact and support they need to develop this posture, the collapse become unconscious and chronic. The adult’s upper chest will be concave around the breastbone, and look like a depressed area that needs filling. The facial expression will reflect the unmet need, with eyes that have a yearning quality, and lips that are soft and loose.
Behaviorally, the despairing adult may keep on talking conversationally (we call it babbling) as a way of trying to make and keep contact. They can experience themselves as not having energy, as resigned or depressed, as lost or outer directed. When they do receive something good they may not be able to really take it in. However, they also may be particularly good at sensing the needs of others, and may even use that as a way to find what they might need. As a result, they can be quite loving and caring. They can be attuned to others in a way they cannot be to themselves.
Refer to the Manual, pages 17, 18.
© Bodynamic Institute USA, 2013 Not for reproduction.