The Biological Mother-Child Attachment Necessary Child Potential
Non-Existent In the Non-Biological Child+Substitute Caregiver
To a baby, stress is anything that pulls it out of attunement and into a negative emotional state. Events that cause such painful emotions as fear, anxiety, and sadness create stress. This includes everything from short, unwanted separations from the mother to the extreme of abuse. It is also important to note that stress to an infant is not limited to negatively charged events, but also includes anything new or different. New situations create stress for babies because they have no prior experience of them. Attunement of the mother-child pair in stressful situations creates the self-regulation that babies do not inherently possess. When babies are in balance, they are emotionally regulated, and rely on the relationship with their mother to keep disregulation at bay.10 For example, if a mother sets her baby down to answer the phone and the baby begins to cry, the baby requires the mother's return and re-attunement in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed by sadness. Without this assistance, the crying intensifies and leads to a chain of internal reactions that put the baby in a survival mode. In a survival mode, the baby operates at the most primary level, forced to dedicate all resources to the basic functions necessary for existence, thus forfeiting opportunity for potential growth.
This chain of events is a cycle of hyperarousal and dissociation that begins when the baby becomes distressed.15 The initial stage is one of hyperarousal - the "startle" reaction to a threat. This engages the sympathetic nervous system, which increases the heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Distress at this stage is usually expressed by crying, which will progress to screaming. The brain attempts to mediate this by increasing levels of major stress hormones, elevating the brain's levels of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine. This triggers a hypermetabolic state in the developing brain.16 Stress hormones are protective mechanisms intended to be used only for short periods of time, to assist the body in surviving a dangerous situation. Prolonged periods spent in this state are damaging. Additionally, prolonged exposure to stress induces increased levels of thyroid hormones and vasopressin.17 Vasopressin, a hypothalamic neuropeptide, is activated in response to an unsafe or challenging environment.7 It is also associated with nausea and vomiting, which may explain why many babies throw up after extended crying.
The second, later-forming reaction to stress is dissociation. At this point, the child disengages from the external world's stimuli and retreats to an internal world. This reaction involves numbing, avoidance, compliance, and lack of reaction.7 This second stage occurs in the face of a stressful situation in which the baby feels hopeless and helpless.17 The infant tries to repair the disequilibrium and misattunement but cannot, and so disengages, becomes inhibited, and strives to avoid attention, to become "unseen."17 This metabolic shutting-down is a passive state in response to an unbearable situation, and is the opposite of hyperarousal. In biological and evolutionary terms, it is the same process that allows us to retreat from overwhelming situations to heal wounds and fill depleted resources. However, as a response to dyadic misattunement, it is devastating, and the effects of even short periods of dissociation are profound.19 In this state, pain-numbing endogenous opiates and behavior-inhibiting stress hormones such as cortisol are elevated. Blood pressure decreases, as does the heart rate, despite the still-circulating adrenaline.7 This ultimate survival strategy allows the baby to maintain basic homeostasis.