In that moment of connection, Calvin made hopeful meaning of himself. If he had words, he might have said, “I can change my world to make it better.” He communicated with his mother in a way that also changed the meaning she made of his behavior. Her negative attribution based on her experience of violence shifted. Psychoanalyst Lou Sander referred to this kind of interaction as a “moment of meeting.” Parents and infants make meaning of themselves in the world through hundreds of thousands of moments. Unfortunately for this family, their circumstances did not allow for the calm space for listening offered that night in the hospital.Continue reading
Why is trust vulnerable in America today? Pete Buttigieg asks this question midway through his brilliant new book Trust: America’s Best Chance. In it he lays out a clear, concise, and compelling argument for the urgent need to rebuild trust in order for our country to heal and grow. Not only his extraordinary wisdom but also his unrelenting sense of hope make his voice one we must listen to at this time of unprecedented uncertainty. As a pediatrician and infant mental health specialist I read his book from the perspective of developmental science, with the knowledge that trust has its roots in our earliest relationships starting from birth. What relevance does this knowledge have, I wondered, to Buttigieg’s core thesis? Does it help us to understand why trust is vulnerable? And if so does that knowledge guide us into any specific form of action?Continue reading
Immigrant families currently face a disturbing variation of the horrific separation of parents and children imposed officially from April through June of 2018 but continuing through the fall of 2019 under the government’s “zero tolerance” policy. Now a federal judge has ruled that all migrant children must be released from detention centers because of coronavirus. But immigration officials are not expected to allow parents to leave with them. Anyone with a hand in such cruel and heartless policy should be required to view the classic still-face experiment. More powerfully than any words, it shows how a parent provides an infant’s ability to literally hold themselves together. Separations beyond their ability to tolerate them threaten their very sense of existence.Continue reading
My 96-year-old father escaped Nazi Germany at the age of 16, leaving his parents behind in a concentration camp. He has always been relentlessly hopeful, never describing his experience as trauma. But the few moments of deep pain he has let escape from a well-hidden place relate to the experience of rejection by his home country. I thought of this perspective when I listened to Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” performed by his descendants. One of them, a 15-year-old wise beyond their years, concludes with words of their own. “Somebody once said that “Pessimism is a tool of White Oppression.’ I think that’s true and I think in many ways we are still slaves to the notion that it will never get better. But I think there is hope and I think it’s important that we celebrate Black joy and Black life and we remember that change is possible, change is probable, and that there’s hope.”Continue reading
Young-Breuhl, an analyst, political theorist and biographer, calls attention to the way human rights of children are threatened. Childism is defined as “a prejudice against children on the ground of a belief that they are property and can (or even should) be controlled, enslaved, or removed to serve adult needs.”Continue reading
Stress and adversity are ubiquitous. Adversity becomes “trauma” when it is compounded by a sense that one’s mind is alone. When children grow up in an environment characterized by lack of curiosity about their experience, where they do not feel listened to by their primary caregivers, epistemic mistrust, or hypervigilence, along with a sense of social isolation, develops. An individual then faces what Fonagy terms an “epistemic dilemma, “ characterized by cycling between hypervigilence and excessive credulity
For a person facing this dilemma, a leader who speaks with absolute certainty, leaving no doubt that he or she is the one to whom we should listen, has power to protect against the emotionally intolerable experience of being alone. In this state, feelings can override facts. This developmental model helps to make sense of our current political situation. In a democracy, when a large population feels fundamentally disconnected and unheard, filled with mistrust yet also vulnerable to emotionally driven messages, it makes all of us vulnerable.