I hate myself, but I also want you to be exactly like me!

    As infants, all humans are born with a built-in biological & psychological set of tendencies, which interacts with & responds to their specific environment in their own unique way - but not with a formed personality.  The child’s first connection is to the mother (usually) & at first is not aware of a difference between it & it’s caretaker. This symbiosis (one-ness) is normal & appropriate. It allows the child to feel safe & protected while it gradually becomes acquainted with oneself & the big world it has come in to. 

Regardless of the type of home environment, nature & nurture (how we’re treated) combine to form what we think of as our SELF.  If born into a reasonably healthy family, the child is allowed & encouraged to develop it’s own way of being, true to the pre-set template they came into the world with.
✶ This creates a sense of external & then internal safety & gives permission to be oneself, which gradually makes it possible to function in the world as an individual who is comfortable in one’s skin & with other people.
A. BROKEN Symbiosis - BUT, if the mother is not available or unable to connect with the infant (thru’ illness or death, spousal abuse, external trauma such as natural disasters/ war / an accident..., OR most commonly - a personality dysfunction like narcissism, depression,
anxiety...), so that the mother cannot nurture the infant from a deep
place of love, the symbiotic bond is never formed or it too soon
broken, before the child can tolerate it. 
✶ This creates intense & long-lasting anxiety, which can lead the child to spend the rest of their life trying to create that missing link with someone - anyone, so they can stop that terrible, relentless anxiety, SO
● they may find another wounded soul they can attach to & live together in isolation  - OR
● keep being attracted to emotionally unavailable people, reproducing the very abandonment they so fear (trying to symbiose with the ‘distant’ mother)

B. UNBROKEN Symbiosis - at the other extreme - if the mother did not have that bond provided in her infancy she’ll try to get it from her child - creating a captive which can never leave her! She’ll make every effort to negate the child’s individuality in favor of her own needs & wants, to make that little person her clone & will punish any disagreement.
If there is no one available or strong enough to interfere with this suffocating attachment (father, sibling or other...) the child never is allowed the freedom to develop it’s own identity but stays dependent on the mother  (& family) for it’s very existence.  
This creates a child who grows up to (some or all):
• never leave home     • not have any rights
• be depressed, isolated, suicidal   • have weak boundaries
• be unable to have healthy, autonomous relationships
• be terrified of abandonment in any form
• be unable to support oneself   • not trust one’s judgment
• not have one’s own opinions about things
• have only symbiotic relationships with domineering people - etc
If the child is able to get away - as an adult, they’ll be terrified of any close involvement with others - & the fear of being engulfed again is so unbearable that it is expressed as fear of commitment, even when in some form of relationship, with extreme emotional detachment, need for total control, endless sexual conquests, come here - go away interactions, irresponsibility...

➼ Both types, of course, are ripe for any form of addiction,  trying to fill  that big emotional hole inside - but it never works.

Need for ADULT Symbiosis (In us or our parents)
• earliest nurturing needs not met as an infant
• not having a strong healthy sense of one’s TRUE self (identity)
• not feeling safe on ones own          • deep fear of abandonment
• intense self-hate, shame, guilt       • not knowing  ‘who one really is’
• not having boundaries, to manage relationships
• not having appropriate role models for healthy ways to relate

Now, as adults, desperately trying to be symbiotically attached is fueled by NOT wanting to acknowledge that we had to ‘buy’ the family line about how worthless & unlovable we are.  We didn’t have a choice about that as kids - but we do now. 
   Denying that we were emotionally abandoned as kids is maintained in many ways - like trying to prove we’re nothing like them - while at the same time acting out the very family drama we’re trying to escape (called the ‘repetition compulsion’) by unconsciously choosing the same kind of people, place & things that are familiar from childhood, again & again!

➼ SYMBIOSIS is a narcissistic state, appropriate for an infant - but NOT appropriate for an adult.
EXPLS: Any time we like or hate something & assume others will too:
“You just have to see that movie / read this / go to that shoe store...”
‘Don’t take your bag / that coat / this paper... - you don’t need it!”
“We’re going to this restaurant/ Here, put this on / We’re moving to .... I know you’ll love it!”
“I don’t see why you’d want to go there / do that / be with them...”
“I just don’t understand her /him... I would never do / say that!” etc.

➼ Symbiotically attaching oneself to another person is:
taking someone emotionally captive (the saying is:
“Alcoholics - & other narcissists - don’t have
relationships, they take hostages”) instead of having
equal, healthy, inter-dependence with others
• actually USING others to take care of us instead of caring for ourselves, in order to cover up our self-hate & incomplete identity and to not have to do the deep emotional work that can heal our damage & free up the real us
• the need to insist everyone be a carbon copy of oneself (a mirror image) to validate one’s identity,  because we don’t have permission to be our true self, so - if everyone agrees with us then we’re OK (allowed to live).
Therefore, NO differences are tolerated, as that would feel like some or all of us was being destroyed.

Adult Symbiosis is an unsuccessful attempt at getting maternal nurturing & at gaining self-esteem.  It’s useless, because we know at some very deep level that we’re trying to force someone else to give us permission to be on the planet,  rather than being with us out of genuine affection & respect.

For the opposite of symbiosis, see post on “Autonomy & Attachment”

Author's Bio: 

is a psychotherapist in private practice for 24 yrs in New York City, specializing in ACoA RECOVERY (adult-children of alcoholics & other narcissists).
She has appeared on radio, television & at New Life Expo, created & presented ACoA / Al-Anon intensive weekend workshops & ran an ACoA therapy group for 6 years.
She was an instructor at the NY OPEN CENTER  for 9 yrs, presenting her 12-week interactive lecture course “KNOWLEDGE Is POWER: 
What makes an ACoA”

She works with individuals & couples/partners, in person and by phone & Skype. FREE Intro Session, to see if there is compatibility.
For Testimonials, go to ("About Me")