Part of successful child development is the capacity to be alone.
This state is created in the relationship between the mother/primary carer and infant. The infant is a lone in the presence of the mother. You might argue that being alone is being on your own. Yes it is – but this ability to be alone is first experienced with the mother. The mother is reliably present, even in the symbol of a cot/pram or the general atmosphere of the immediate environment where the infant feels safe to be alone in.
This environment appears very delicate as all environments are. It is exposed to change, and ultimately cannot be controlled. The environment between mother and baby is set up by the skills of the mother to create a safe and learning environment. Donald Winnicott well known psychoanalyst called this relationship ego-relatedness. That is a relationship between two people, one or both are alone, yet the presence of each other is very important.
The capacity to be alone is also defined by the Internal Objects relationships theory of Melanie Klein. That is the capacity to be alone has a platform of good internal objects inside the infant so that being with oneself is a safe comfortable experience. What are internal objects?
Well .. a kind, gentle mother would be an experience that would be taken in by the infant as a good object. That experience would give the infant confidence that has been internalised and used in the rest of the infant’s life. It is not difficult to imagine a mother/primary care giver who was distressed, angry, unavailable, depressed, anxious or using drink or drugs, giving more problematic internal objects that the infant would never feel secure with in their lives.
The Capacity to be Alone is grown in the presence of another usually the mother. But the ability to be alone literally rests on how comfortable and reassuring the original ego relatedness was!
This can be related to living in Western industrialised countries in 2014. We are marketed at with groups. Groups of friends going on holiday, Families at Christmas, the Idealised couple, not often about being alone. Yet as a culture as communities and relationships are broken up by the market economy we spend more time alone. The elderly are isolated, cities are lonely, GP surgeries full of people who are alienated and cut off from communities and support. The market economy defends us from being alone: something we dread so are willing to spend to avoid it. Yet it also harms us by tricking us into thinking that the Capacity to be Alone needs no attention. With less and less support for young families it seems that ego relatedness will become harder to achieve. So we have little capacity to be alone, are tricked not to work on it, and have a social environment where loneliness and alienation abound.
The upside is that there is much more awareness about our internal objects and inner worlds. There are many more professional opportunities like counselling and therapy, support groups etc to discover our own Capacities to be Alone than ever before. Perhaps like never before an openness of parents, families and friends, who can see the importance of early childhood experiences & talk about them.
Copyright Adrian Scott North London Counsellor Blog 2014
All rights reserved
Disclaimer: This weblog is the view of the writer and for general information only.
This article is designed to provoke argument and critique