Regulation and power
Each child emerges from infancy with a sense of being able to selfregulate in respect of particular affects, intentions, and goals while needing help from caregivers in other motivational endeavors. And each childwill have an implicit recognition of whether the benefit of his regulation accrues to him, to the caregiver-regulator, or to both. The more he senses implicitly that it benefits both him and the caregiver, the more he can feel pride in his power to control his impulses and to please others. To decide to act or refrain from acting conveys a purposefulness that is power in a positive sense in comparison to the power of opposition - of thwarting the unwelcome imposition from others. Thus, the “no” in gesture and the “no” in words at the end of the first year (Spitz, 1957) - the “no” so necessary for regulation - may convey to the self (and to others) a sense of power: when I self-regulate and I don’t hit or bite, grab or drop, gobble down, or mess up, I can feel pride in my power and in my being judged to be a good boy, as reflected in mother’s and father’s faces. Alternatively, when I become oppositional and antagonistic or turn away and withdraw or explore and venture where I have been told not to, I feel a sense of power to negate and obstruct and an identity as uncontrolled and uncontrollable, obstinate and rebellious, and a sense of shame along with the power. Three factors contribute to an infant’s sense of adaptive power, both as applied to specific intentions and to an underlying feeing state of the sense of self. First is the parent’s recognition and affirmation of the infant’s self-activated initiatives. Second is the infant’s recognition of a sense of purpose both for when her initiative is supported and when it is diverted. Third is the sense for the infant of the caregiver as helper rather than hinderer.
The “yes” and “no” of regulation in infancy takes on a number of forms that distinguish the types of attachment. Secure attachment involves positive self and self-with-other regulation. The infant is confident of his safety and a flow of affection, whether being helped or playing alone in the presence of the other (Winnicott, 1958). Ambivalent attachment involves a regulated attentional focus in which the infant is preoccupied with whether she is being accepted or rejected. Based on the mother-child interplay, the infants alternatively reach for and push away when being held and play with a toy while keeping a watchful eye on their mother. Avoidant attachment involves the infant’s aversive oppositional regulatory stance. They turn fully away from the mother with complete attention to their toy. And the one-year-old who evidences a disorganized attachment demonstrates a severe problem in regulation both in relating and playing. Each form of attachment affects the underlying sense of power to be effective or ineffective in the world of human relatedness and mastery of the environment.
During infancy, body physiological regulation is a central focus for caregiver and child. Physiological regulation is based on the ability of both mother and infant to pick up and coordinate signals. For an infant, sensations tell him when he is hungry or full, needs to urinate and/or defecate, breathe more easily, drift off to sleep, relieve stomach gas, have a bumped or scratched knee soothed. The caregiver needs to recognize and respond to the infant’s communicative signal of the need or distress within a reasonable span of time. This leads to an integrated sequence of signals: sensation and external indicator, recognition (which cry means what?), and timely response. When as a result of the caregiver’s recognition and ministrations the child’s negative sensations abate, the infant builds an implicit sense of “my mother gets me, and we make an effective pair.” And at a sensorimotor level, I know my body: when I’m restless and want to move, when I’m tired and want to stop, what itches and needs to be scratched, when I feel good and when I don’t. The successful integration of physiological patterns and relational themes constitutes effective regulation. Success in regulation can originate either when an infant signals to his caregiver who then responds to him, or when a caregiver anticipates the infant’s need. With further development, regulation is increasingly the child’s own. The sense of context for regulation shifts between caregiver and infant and infant on her own, but a sense of the body, its comfort or distress, is a constant. Much emotion is generated in the doing of successful regulating: The baby experiences relief and appreciative love. The mother often experiences a struggle to recognize and puzzle out what and how she is being called on to activate or respond to, and how is her devotion to caregiving (her “primary maternal preoccupation”; Winnicott, 1956) to be balanced with her other interests and activities without resentment. Positive and negative emotions stirred in the early regulatory interactions remain throughout life and can emerge whenever there is a call for physiological self-regulation.
Parents provide mobiles, rattles, toys, and stuffed animals to respond to and activate their infants’ interest, curiosity, and seeking. Nature offers changing light and shadow, sounds like rain and thunder. Pets move about and lick. For the infant, the interest stirred by these attractors contributes to the enlivening of the sense of self and presents a challenge to the motherchild interaction. Does the caregiver recognize and support and/or sensitively modify the child’s spontaneous flow of interest and the seeking that goes with it? Recognition alone conveys a form of sharing. Recognition and facilitating or modifying adds a coloration to sharing: the sense of the caregiver as a helper. Not recognizing when the child needs assistance to support her interest, or ignoring the child’s intentions, or overriding it with the parents own, triggers a sense of the other as hinderer. Three-month-old infants make a definitive distinction between a helper and a hinderer and the emotion stirred by each (Hamlin et al., 2007, 2010).
Significant principles of regulation are required for a child to learn to play safely and enjoyably, and to develop the skills needed to master the challenges of her environment: don’t run out into the street, glass will shatter, walls are not to draw on, shoe laces must be tied, toys must be shared when friends come over. When the infant’s emerging interests and intentions to seek and explore and test limits are recognized, guided, and helped, and a positive affect aroused, the skills that form and the regulations that guide their usage will be comfortably internalized. With respect to the core sense of self, the regulating of seeking builds a fundamental sense of power: “I can do.” When an infant’s emerging seeking, interests and intentions are repeatedly ignored and abandoned, or opposed and overridden, efforts to regulate will be responded to with rejection, obstinacy, and rebellion.
When adaptive, the underlying affective sense of positive, trusting, affectionate relatedness and of power as a doer doing, whether formulated at a given moment or not, will often be apparent to others. The readiness of a smile, the easy openness to the overtures of others, the gestural communication of “let’s be an ‘us’ as well as a ‘you’ and ‘me’ ” easily influence an accessible other toward friendliness and friendship. Power feels and looks different. Power is conveyed by the forcefulness of presence. John enters the circle and immediately the others make way for him. Kate joins a planning group and her friends say “Glad you’re here. We are stuck, and we know you can help.” While the underlying sense of caring trends toward friendship, trust, and intimacy, the underlying sense of power trends toward being reliable, having good judgment, and evincing a capacity for leadership.
The regulation of the sensual-sexual motivational system is focused mainly on the older child’s seeking for sexual arousal. During infancy, finger sucking, body rubbing, and genital fondling may be restricted based on cultural mores. Shaming is the parent’s main weapon against culturally sanctioned self-arousal - less so if an activity like finger sucking is viewed as helpful self-soothing. Shaming, along with guilt, may be used to prohibit any behavior viewed as bad. For the Oedipal-aged child, fear of retaliation from a parental rival (castration anxiety) along with shame and humiliation are the central barriers to sexual excitement (Lichtenberg, 2008).
The developmental pathway for seeking a healthy body, physiological regulation, a pleasing appearance, and good body–mind ...
Neonates have a largely unrestricted pathway from body sensations of all types to psychic affective arousal. For an older infant or child, the immediacy of the mental experience of body sensation gradually becomes more regulated so that body sensations are less commonly dominant factors in ordinary consciousness. Neonates begin life with a cheek reflex to turn their head to find and begin to suck on a nipple to reduce hunger sensation and experience fullness and relief. From the coordination between a body sensation that signals a physiological need and the caregiver’s response (the motivational system for the regulation of physiological requirements), infants get the cues they need to signal others and themselves about hunger, thirst, a stuffed-up nose, sleep, urination, defecation, needing exercise or rest, having discomfort or pain, as well as a general sense of bodily well-being or a dystonic state. Since messages in the form of sensation are continuously flowing between body and mind, each infant, child, and adult must learn which signal to attend and act on, and which to ignore or suppress without negative consequences - the foundation of physiological regulation and physical well-being.
Building on their exquisite sensitivity to temporal features in the environment, regularity, duration, and rhythm, infants develop a sense of familiarity with the repetition of events - such as the rhythm of feeding, being put to sleep, being put on a potty. These experiences are then categorized, remembered with an affective tonality, and become a powerful source of guidance and orientation.