The human being is a mammal, more specifically, a primate. This implies that connection, sociability and the other They acquire a key importance for the survival of the individual. We need that other to be able to stay alive. This is obvious when we focus on the newborn, but equally necessary for adults. Depending on how the adult figures bond with the child, we will develop a secure attachment in the child or the opposite: an insecure attachment. To make our children feel safe, important and loved, three pillars are essential: look, touch and tone of voice. These variables will determine whether the child has a healthy bond or not.
Touch is essential, not only to develop a secure attachment, but to calm those who are dysregulated. This was demonstrated by James A. Coan, Hillary S. Schaefer, and Richard J. Davidson, three American researchers and psychologists, in a 2013 study of adults called Mutuality and the social regulation of neural threat responding (Reciprocity and social regulation of the response to neural threats, in Spanish). I discovered the research in the book ways to love, by Amir Levine (2016). In the analysis, they asked for volunteers to participate in an investigation where electrodes were placed on the women’s hands that would apply slight shocks every so often. It was observed that the cerebral tonsils, the seat of unpleasant emotions and pain, hyperactivated each time they received this discharge. A stranger was then allowed to come into contact with the woman to hold her hand and reassure her of the unpleasant stimulus. It was observed that her cerebral tonsils decreased her activation by the presence of the stranger, which demonstrates the importance of the other when it comes to calming down, despite the fact that it was a stranger. When he left and they allowed the partners of the volunteer women to come into contact with them, they saw that their cerebral tonsils barely “turned on”. How important we are to reassure the other only with our presence and/or holding the hand of the person who is suffering.
The facial expression of the adult is essential to dampen or amplify the emotional state that the child is experiencing. We fathers and mothers have this exceptional capacity: we can calm down or add more fuel to the fire to the emotional volcano that our child is experiencing. For this it is essential to start from calm and that we be sensitive, empathetic and respectful of minors. Adults act as a mirror for our children. As the British psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott said, “if the mother’s face is unreceptive, then a mirror is something you can look at, but it is useless to look at yourself.” Exceptional phrase that reveals the importance of the adult in the development of variables such as self-esteem and emotional regulation of the little ones.
Vulnerability and fragility characterize the human being, especially in the first years of life. Hence, it is essential that mothers, fathers and teachers attend to the changing needs that children manifest. If the minor becomes dysregulated due to feeling afraid or being enraged by an incident that he considers unfair, it is important that the adult validate the emotion, make the child aware of what he feels and provide him with a narrative or explanation of what happened.
The other day a teacher asked me the difference between validating and overprotecting. When I validate and legitimate the fear, sadness or joy that my son feels, I am connecting with him. I know that he is afraid and I try to reassure him and protect him taking him into account. However, in overprotection (by the way, a form of abuse), the adult does not connect with the minor but with himself. He does not act in one way or another based on what the child needs, but on his own needs and fears.
adults must narcissize, in due measure, to our children. Serve them, look at them unconditionally and respect them in their way of feeling and thinking. We must cover the needs that they present, although being careful not to turn desires into needs. If the child grows and develops without us adults differentiating between need and whim, it is likely that we have narcissized in excess. So, we make the child the center of the universe, not only for us but for the whole world, which is not only not true, but also unhealthy. The child will grow up believing that his needs are more important than those of the rest. In these cases, he urges to set limits, learn to wait and develop empathy for this little one. The greater his ability to treat others respectfully, the healthier he will be developing. If the little one is not empathetic, then he will not be able to understand the other nor feel guilt or remorse. Empathy is the most powerful factor in protecting us from abuse, bullying, and cruelty. Giving an extreme example, the abuser does not empathize or connect with what the victim feels about him; rather he turns it into a thing. If he could connect with him or her, he probably wouldn’t.
The person with a narcissistic personality has a very low capacity for empathy, in addition to poor self-esteem. Unfortunately, they have not had attachment figures that have acted as faithful and undistorted mirrors of reality. The narcissist fills that void of love and trust by submitting, insulting and controlling others. The popular proverb is, again, very wise: “Tell me what you brag about and I’ll tell you what you lack.”
You can follow Mamas & Papas on Facebook, Twitter or sign up here to receive our biweekly newsletter.