Reflections of a Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist after a forty year career as a clinician working with individuals suffering with mental health problems

What is it like to be a baby and infant? They are so helpless, so completely dependent on others for survival with little understanding of the world they have been born into. Surely it is a situation which easily provokes anxiety.

Babies get to know their mother in the safety of the womb. When a baby is born into a strange new world their mother is a familiar figure, recognisable to them by her voice, her way of being. Nature ensures a deep loving bond between mother and baby. From the blissful safety of their mothers’ arms a baby can feel secure, the loving connection assures the baby that the world is benign.

This powerful experience, like all our important childhood experiences, becomes part of our internal world and accompanies us into adult life. If we were lucky enough to start out having sufficient experience of feeling secure and loved, this forms an emotional base which serves us well in adulthood.

Babies and infants feel anxious if they are separated from their mother. Adults who leave their home country to go to a new country can find it disturbing; it’s called culture shock. For a helpless baby the absence of the person who is their whole world must be an even more destabilising experience.

If babies and infants have too long and too frequent experiences of being separated from mother this anxiety is internalised to become a permanent part of their emotional life.  When the baby is an adult that anxiety can manifest itself as an irrational debilitating emotion, all the more disturbing because it has no obvious cause. Instead of having a secure emotional base which gets them through the inevitable vicissitudes of life they have an insecure emotional base which makes them less emotionally resilient and can cause serious mental health problems.