Attunement: a note for parenting

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I'm reading Gabor Maté's In the realm of the hungry ghost, and I'm completely taken by the business of attunement, so I'm going to briefly discuss what it means for parenting. Dr. Maté wrote that a baby needs nutrition, physical security, and consistent emotional attunement (I summarize) for healthy survival and nourishment. Attunement, in particular, is about the ability of parents to communicate feelings in a way that allows the baby to feel accepted, understood, and mirrored. Sometimes, parents can not help how they feel (stress due to loss of work, divorce, mental illness, or war, etc.), and despite their best effort, they pass their unfinished emotional business to their children, often by just being human and reacting to their own struggles. This is because infants, even from the time they are in the womb, develop as guided by their environment (epigenetics). Even if the baby does not have the verbal processing / memory in the womb and right after birth, her biopsychological development is still affected by the caregiver's mood, which is affected in turn by the greater social environment at large, including the caregiver's partner and immediate situation (e.g. social status).

Due to no fault of any single person most of the time, a caregiver under duress may not be able to provide the baby with consistent emotional attunement (to be differentiated from love or physical attention). And a baby lacking in this department may grow up feeling unseen, unwanted or lacking in self-esteem, even if she can feel loved. And she will do many things to correct the course, including addiction. If your origin was under duress, you may want to ask yourself, how have you tried to remedy what wasn't there? And if you're a parent under duress, how will you try to tune into your child now?

On a personal note, I felt like this today:
The girl probably needs to get out more. And, friends.

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15 Response to Attunement: a note for parenting

May 6, 2011 at 12:48 PM

Oh, I think she has all the "friends" that bad taste, anorexia, and an equivocal lack of underwear can bring.

Sheesh. The Vanessa-Maes of the world have so much screwed up about them, there's no cataloging.

I appreciate your academic interest in these questions, but don't you think it's a kind of Spinozistic quest for a Master Theory Of Everything to try and peer into the equivocal traumas of parent-child interaction in order to explain the problems of the adults today?

I mean, beneath the scientific veneer of this discourse there's a troubling mixture of Rankian New Age-ery and a hubristic attempt to quantify the unquantifiable. Esp. when the adult feelings being 'diagnosed' are themselves so equivocal, perhaps ephemeral too. We're all uhappy about something, c'est la vie.

That's not to say parents wouldn't be well advised to clear their heads of the dismal news of the day before playing with their children. A benign and common-sense prescription.

But if you want to strive for concrete improvements, best to focus on lead and mercury.

--And for godssakes Aurelle, whatever you do please don't make the faux pas of primly trying to lecture parents on what they should do!! You'd better crease that untroubled hip brow of yours before you've gained entry into *that* debate!!

Sheesh. Hipsters and their academic readings!

May 6, 2011 at 12:49 PM

--Oh yes, that *is* the Rondo alla Turka of the Mozart Sonata No. 11 she's butchering. Bitch!!

May 9, 2011 at 2:29 AM

I think she's wearing short shorts, and I wouldn't call that anorexia. There are skinny people in the world too! Go figure?

This is not just a matter of academics: I see both children and parents. I don't know how much you can be "c'est la vie" about it from where you are, but I have work to do, and my work means I have to find points for intervention. And how.

And I do parenting as part of work. I don't tell parents what to do; I inform them, based on my learning and specialized training. You made a tad too much assumption about me, methinks.

May 9, 2011 at 2:36 AM

. . . Oh, perhaps, perhaps not?

No, I just gleaned you were doing some counseling, and I'm sure you're very keen for it, but--well, that's a topsy-turvy field. I wish you luck; but, more than anything, I wish you (as I wish everyone) to keep their BS detector in polished shape.

I had earlier looked up this book you linked to. Is he one of your mentors?

Some of the reviews do make the book sound a trifle . . . crank-like. I may have to peruse it at leisure.

Maybe 'anorexia' sounds pejorative, but you can't be too careful. Let's say she is naturally skinny: she is milking it then, isn't she?

May 9, 2011 at 2:51 AM

But seriously: assuming you're not a mother already (?) I just mean to caution, as a friend, not to let these parents think that *you* think your academic credentials, and all your serious, thoughtful meditations on the problems of the field-- which, I'm sure, you've given a great deal of weighty and concerted thought to-- but Lord knows you don't want to wear that on your sleeve too heavily.

I'll lean on my own (ill-starred) fallow times in Education, and my dabblings in substitute-teaching, to say: it can all speedily make an emotional wreck of you to begin with (doubtless, you already know this the hard, as well as the easy, way).

But the better you camoflage all traces of youthful idealism and any hint of theory, the better you'll be received. And god knows your 'clients' (is that an approved usage? they say that in social services here) will think their thoughts about you, regardless. You should always have one lobe of your mind dedicated to gaming out whether you're getting through, and what terms you have to couch yourself in, what role you have to play, to find out what you need and convey the course you want approved.

Just-- don't be afraid to bring a little Machiavelli to your game. Be gentle as the dove, if you please-- but cunning as a serpent.

Also: never leave a Coach bag unatttended with your clients. I repeat that from bitter experience.

May 9, 2011 at 2:58 AM

I'm aware of over-diagnosing people, and of self-help authors constantly pronouncing THE answer for the world's struggle.

The problem is that it's easy to dole out prescriptions for how to live life, while it's much harder to say "here are what we know so far, but you have to do your own work to figure out where you are." I'm weary of prescriptions, but I'm not going to dismiss things based on my own distaste for prescriptions. As a scientist at heart, I process these things according to what I know about human beings and our development so far. I can only judge base on what I know, right? Even imperfect research has something to offer.

And Dr. Mate cited research I know. He just put them together like a maestro. A gifted synthesizer, if you will. Now, I'm not going to say this book is the most accurate and amazing thing ever, and that he's got THE answer. It's very sensational at times, but it's a fascinating, insightful read. I'm only half way through it, so I don't know what I think about it overall until I'm done with it. I just noted the part I found particularly illuminating, based on research I'm familiar with.

Knowing your circumstances, labels, or what have you, does not mean you have to go down the beaten path. Knowing it allows you to possibly make a conscious choice about what to do, that's all.

May 9, 2011 at 3:05 AM

"As a scientist at heart"--

LOL I love it when you get all "Apollonian"!

It's sortof the spiritual equivalent of the Naughty Librarian. It's always Swedish house music with you, and David Lynch nightmares and frazzled, artfully misspelled twentynothingbopper whimsy and nonsense; and then out of the blue you'll stick your granny glasses on and talk all psychiatric to the masses.

It's like Lydia Bennett, then Mary Bennett.

One of these days I'm going to autodidactically read all your books and then try to academically outflank you just to hastle you. Watch your back!!

May 9, 2011 at 3:06 AM

Funny enough, I find that a lot of parents who'd come to me WANT to be told what to do. They're much more ready for that than what I tend to do - help them process what they're going through, emotionally, and "see" relationships with their children.

I don't have as much experience yet, and I know that I rely more on what I know from research and my own personal dealing with people than anything else. But this post is also pointing to something else: what my clients need most is probably my emotional attunement to them. And that's useful for anybody coming to therapy, regardless of issue, I would think.

May 9, 2011 at 3:22 AM

"a scientist at heart" = I'm trained as a scientist, a person who follows scientific method and considers options based on eliminating alternative explanations.

I also read Kuhn and can dismantle the absolutism of some science fanatics, who are really not true scientists but general logicists lacking imagination and nuances.

Science is still the most fitting way for me to explore the world that I know.

May 9, 2011 at 3:36 AM

Not to be smarmy, but I think the Dionysian side is your 'true nature.' I mean that in the broadly Nietzschean sense, of course; I'm not suggesting you'll wind up writhing in an Amsterdam window or something. Much more likely for me.

There's just this irrepressibly pert tone in your writing whenever you speak in scientific categories. It's like you're channeling Cary Grant in "Bringing Up Baby." There's the suspicion of an inadvertency of some sort.

Btw, Kuhn is helpful, but I harbor the sneaking suspicion he either didn't go nearly far enough or else was just popularizing something that was (or should have been) 'in the air'. Sometimes there are thinkers of 2nd rate stature who can sense a kind of argument or theory that's missing-- that *should be* part of the mental equipment of the day-- and that's their stroke of 'genius', to intuit this absence. But they lack the genius to provide the argument or theory that is really needed.

In any event, don't stop at Kuhn. Read Whitehead someday.

May 9, 2011 at 3:53 AM

I did, as part of my philosophy of science learning. I'm sure it's in my brain somewhere, but Kuhn was the one whose ideas stuck the most from what I was taught.

I'm not sure I got what you mean, but I do write very differently when I speak of scientific things, compared to film or music writing or other musings that are based on my emotional self. I go into my academic writing mode, which has an air of certainty and authoritative. I don't know if that's what you're picking up or something else?

You tend to assume a lot about me based on my whimsical side though (I am multiple people in one?). For example: hipster! I don't know what that's all about.

May 9, 2011 at 4:17 AM

Ah, but remember you tossed a 'hipster' at me once upon a time too? --Anyway, it's such a generic term, it's meaningless-- right?

I mean just because you listen to arcane 'scene' music and art house cinema, there's no possibility you could be some sort of a h-- . . . . Plus, I mean the label kinda bugs you, so that *proves* it's unjustified, no?!

See, this is where your bloggy persona gets comedically intriguing. And then throw a little academic discourse onto the mix and-- pow!

--You do mean your "philosophy of science" *course*, am I right? lol I mean, you didn't minor in Philosophy of Science, did you? In any event, Whitehead is a capital-G Genius, a god in the history of mathematics, logic, and philosophy, and at least put together an alternate Theory of Relativity in his spare time, so it's safe to say he's more worth reading in depth than Kuhn (who's basically a one-book deal anyway).

Aurelle, I'm teasing you, but if I weren't here to do it, somebody else would. And probably someone in your real life actually *will* at some point, on some score I like to fret you over, so consider me part of your self-defense training.

And grab a cookie! for I think I must sleep now . . . But feel free to hector me in my absence.

May 15, 2011 at 7:03 PM

You actually threw it at me first! For no reason! I keep scores.

Haha you got me. In my defense, I specialized in Psychology and majored in Human Biology - there was hardly any time for minoring! However, I did get my fair share of the "Humanities" (the humanity!) that I would've called it minoring if I could. And most of my humanity courses have been literature and philosophy (is there any other kind? haha) - science and religion, yeah. I know enough! Hmph.

The hipster thing is absurd as I am not much of one or look like one. Most of the times, it's amusing to be pinned down as such. Other times, it makes for a poor put-down!

Plus, I don't mind hipsters at all. They're cute!

May 15, 2011 at 8:01 PM

Well, this is a new dawn, Aurelle!

I'm sure your transcripts are gratifying, but I've been mulling how to browbeat you into not leaning on them overmuch. Remember, even doctors are not *scientists*!; and you are, ahem, not a "doctor" yet, anyway.

If you'd said so a year ago, I'd agree with you on the hipster thing, but as my little cybercrush I emailed you about shows, the idea of "dressing" like a hipster is actually pretty flexible. I think it's more a matter of attitudes and tastes, and on those scores . . . .

I've well-noted this apparent shift in priorities into more 'mature' concerns on your part, but I think I can assure you with some wisdom that this itself will pass.

I mean, the last time I had a real job interview, I still had my septum pierced. Ah, the good times that are ahead of you! . . . . Just think: by the time you decide to go to grad school, you can dye your hair pink and then explain to people how you're not part of that new minority party with the coed PMs but with the Liberals instead-- and OH the arguments you'll get into in coffeehouses and then all the hot totty throwing itself at you! I should write a book!! Shit, I should even finish grad school!!

btw: I had a dream about Robyn a few days ago. I blame this on you.

May 18, 2011 at 4:00 AM

We all return to dust one day, Jason.


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