On the Bioenergetic Importance of Autonomy


Autonomy is fundamental for every being-in-growth. Without autonomy, there is fusion, symbiosis and dependence. While for certain organisms, such as the human newborn, symbiosis for a certain time is a biological necessity, this symbiosis is time-bound and should gradually give rise to autonomy.

While natural symbiosis is needed for the first eighteen months of the newborn, it should gradually come to an end after that period.

Unfortunately, modern culture is more or less completely dysfunctional regarding this primal movement from fusion to autonomy that should take place, dynamically, in the growth process of the human baby.

What happens is that the necessary biological symbiosis with the mother, eighteen months from birth, is neglected for various reasons; many babies suffer from a more or less stringent tactile deprivation that will leave scars for their whole lives. In order to compensate for the lack of care bestowed upon the infant, as a guilt-reaction and for various other reasons, the post-symbiosis condition is not better for the child: instead of growing into autonomy most children in our culture grow into codependence with their parents and caretakers; instead of building a gradually larger extent of autonomy, parents tend to gradually entangle their children in a tight net of stiffening dependencies.

A naturally raised child is typically more independent and more autonomous than a child who is rarely touched, or lacks affection and has become neurotic. The frequently observed clinging behavior of modern city children, their helpless, clumsy and irresponsible behavior, even as late as when approaching puberty, their immaturity in handling sharp or fragile objects such as knives or glasses show well the blockage of their emotional flow, and the codependent entanglement with their parents.

There is a natural striving for autonomy built into every growing life. A child of three years of age needs more autonomy than a child of fifteen months of age. For example, a toddler of eighteen months needs more autonomy than a baby of five months. Many parents ignore that babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers, already before reaching the age of primary school, need to develop autonomy.

Many adults believe that children grew through magic shifts, like the one from babyhood to childhood, from childhood to youth and from youth to adulthood. The first shift is believed to take place around seven years of age, the next one around twelve years of age and the final one around eighteen years of age.

Sorry, but this is really talking about myths. These shifts don’t exist in real life as all growth is gradual and smooth. This is why all education should be gradual and smooth. While it is a good thing to have certain initiation rites or ceremonies that mark important steps in the growth of children, these rites are what they are: mark stones that border an otherwise seamless road. I arrive at a mark stone, I see the mark stone, I touch the mark stone, I pass the mark stone, I remember the mark stone. My passing the mark stone is gradual, and smooth in time, and the mark stone itself is of lesser importance than my passing it.

What is important is that I constantly grow, that I remain moving. We learn the basic movement into autonomy during our first year of life, and not later on during adolescence or when we allegedly turn into that magic world of adulthood.

I do not belittle the important changes that take place in the life of adolescents, and their sometimes passionate focus upon getting more autonomy, nor do I belittle the marking shift from adolescence into final adulthood. But often we observe that especially those adolescents who have rather repressive and possessive parents get onto the obnoxious track and really push it through for every millimeter of increased autonomy. There is a logic in every behavior and adolescents who put high stress on autonomy have a reason to do so. The reason is rooted in much earlier years, in the years of babyhood.


©2015 Peter Fritz Walter. Some rights reserved.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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