Posts Tagged ‘mirroring’

Attachment in the lab, implications on the couch (and in the brain)

December 15, 2010

In bare bones and admittedly simplified terms, I wish to share some emerging understandings from the cutting edge of attachment research and interpersonal neurobiology.

I am quite fortunate to have UCLA in my hood, and have just returned from a weekend conference there where the world’s foremost experts in attachment research, Mary Hain and Erik Hesse, were down from Berkley and having a highly illuminating love-fest with their former student/spiritual son, and true brainiac, Dan Siegel.

While my inner nerd was thrilled to soak up the technical details of nuances in attachment and to refine my understanding of the hippocampus, insula and dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, I thought a cool challenge to myself might be to put it all in plain speak and see what it looks like—in the hopes that it might spread the word on what helps and what hurts, what heals and what direction a parent (and our wider culture) might head, with regard to security, insecurity and attachment.

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Mirror Mirror

December 8, 2010

Perhaps today is a good day to take seven minutes and forty-four seconds to watch a TED talk on mirror neurons by Vilayanur Ramachandran.

Whether you watch or not, Ramachandran might posit that you already know about it… at least at some unconscious level—because you gave that talk (at least the part of you that is Vilayanur Ramachandran).

While this sort of talk is all too familiar to aging new-agers and adherents of Eastern ideas, the fact that it is making its way into the corridors of Western science, by way of mirror neurons, strikes me as significant: what neuroscientists are discovering in the laboratory, the Buddha discovered under the Bodhi Tree:  there is no independent self, no distinction, ultimately, between your consciousness and my consciousness.

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Paying loving attention to attachment

June 2, 2010

Lindsey at A Design So Vast wrote a recent post, “There is something holy in authentic presence,” that got me thinking about attachment.

Lindsey’s post is about the intense power that authentic presence has on people, as evidenced by artist Marina Abramovic who has a piece going at Museum of Modern Art in New York right now.  The “art” or “performance” or whatever one might call an authentic human sitting and giving full attention to whoever cares to sit across from her at a table in a taped off square in a busy museum space.

Person after person eventually ends up in tears, profoundly moved by Marina’s authentic and unflinching presence to them.  The photos of these people’s faces are fantastic—with tears coming down their eyes, each one is so extraordinarily beautiful, and in a way rather different from features and symmetry and instead revealing the universal beauty of the soul when it has a chance to shine from within the body.

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Love that makes us crawl

April 8, 2010

A reader inquires, “When is enough ever enough?  My eight-year-old is driving me nuts with this stuff!  No matter how great the holiday/vacation/ meal/present (fill in the blank) there is ALWAYS something lacking in his eyes.  It was either not what he expected, not what he really wanted, or isn’t as much as someone else’s.

I’m just at a complete loss on how to help him feel satisfied with what he currently has rather than what might have been.  I know I’m not alone on this, and maybe this is normal developmental stuff for 8-year-old boys growing up in Hollywood, surrounded by images of gluttony and excess.  But I still struggle with how to help him enjoy the moment and appreciate what is right in front of him.

We read Thich Nhat Hanh (Pebble in Your Pocket) and other lovely books on this similar topic (Three Questions, Zen Shorts), and I’m hopeful these are getting in to the place in his heart where this hole is, but I’m lost for what to do real-time.  We do lots of talking about what is going on at the moment (and follow-up later), but it always leads back to he simply *wants*.  He wants more of everything.  Help!”

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Putting the self in self-esteem

March 11, 2010

While self-esteem is terribly important for healthy functioning, the very concept hinges on having a solid and cohesive sense of “self” in the first place.  Having written on narcissism in this blog, I have worked to differentiate self-absorption and arrogance from cluelessness.  After all, how can one feel good about a self that one does not actually possess?

A recent article in The Atlantic by Don Peck, “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America,” references and quotes psychologist Jean Twenge (author of Generation Me) who suggests, that self-esteem in children started really going up around 1980, and, according to at least one survey, by 1999 91 percent of teens described themselves as responsible, 74 percent as physically attractive, and 79 percent as very intelligent.  Twenge chalks this trend up to “broad changes in parenting styles and teaching methods, in response to the growing belief that children should always feel good about themselves, no matter what.  As the years have passed, efforts to boost self-esteem—and to decouple it from performance—have become widespread.”

This has made kids more “confident” and “individualistic,” Twenge suggests, yet “self-esteem without basis encourages laziness rather than hard work.”   Twenge asserts that, “the ability to persevere and keep going” proves “a much better predictor of life outcomes than self-esteem.”

It’s not that I completely disagree with Twenge’s view, just that a re-think on the semantics of self and self-esteem could help us better parent our kids.  In other words, I don’t really believe that thinking we’re smart and pretty constitutes good self-esteem; thinking we’re dumb and ugly may well be a sign of low-self-esteem, but the development of a real self takes a bit more than being told we’re wonderful.

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Narcissism Misunderstood

February 28, 2010

A recent New York Times Op Ed piece by Roger Cohen, “The Narcissus Society,” makes some good points about health care and the importance of working together as a society.

In lamenting how community has eroded, Cohen says, “In its place have come a frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the à-la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy grow in the lonely chamber of self-absorption and projection.”

As one of the “gazillion bloggers” I could imagine that the way things are changing might be experienced as a threat to the old order, especially if one had carved a niche within it, say as a provider of content in mainstream media that sees it’s viewers declining; however, I’m not sure that blogging and reading other blogs is necessarily more alienating that the non-connecting of the past—watching the nightly news and imagining that one was experiencing a sense of community… sponsored by Coca-Cola or Depends.

At least with an à-la-carte menu of potential connection we have many more people potentially experiencing and building community in a way that mass media may have killed more than facilitated.

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Farting on the couch

January 31, 2010

I once worked with a boy who had a habit, despite lactose intolerance, of being sure to drink a big glass of milk before our sessions.  He would sit on my sorry plaid couch in a decrepit, sometimes leaky, trailer on the edge of the property that held assorted special needs schools and administrative buildings huddling around a cracked blacktop and fart enormously.

This boy had been severely abandoned and had been in the system for six of his fourteen years, bleaks times in which he’d seen a lot of damaging things.  He was quite smart and also quite funny.  He was also more used to the sad reality of his circumstances than I was used to them on his behalf, and he would often challenge me to maintain my empathy—drawing me in with heartbreaking stories of sorrow, and then sending me reeling with his secret weapon.

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aggression within overprotection

January 19, 2010

I have an image of myself as a three-year-old: it’s summer and we’re at “Sleepy Hollow,” a vaguely depressing summer vacation place of cottages and “the dome”—where more socially adjusted kids happily participated in activities; I’m ready for my morning swim, wearing a life-preserver, water-wings and non-slip shoes of some dimly remembered rubber; I’m being placed in the kiddie pool where the water is barely past my knees; I don’t think I’m wearing a diving mask, but I feel like I see my mom’s over-concerned face, radiating the message, “This is very, very dangerous and you might drown at any second.”

I’m not sure what my first word was, but I feel like it might have been, “Careful!” since that’s the word I remember my parents blurting out most frequently toward me.  And still I was accident prone and despite many swimming lessons, still nearly drowned at summer camp when I was nine.

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Invisible Children

December 9, 2009

A mom recently told me about a fundraiser that her daughter and several friends participated in to support “Invisible Children” in Uganda.  The kids slept without blankets or sleeping bags in a church, a small taste of discomfort to deepen their empathy for what fellow kids faced in far-off lands where being abducted is a daily concern, and huddling together to stay warm at night a necessary survival strategy.

This is a very worthy cause (if this stirs your interest, visit:, but it also got me thinking about a friend who went to India and spontaneously tagged along with an Italian doctor into the slums of Calcutta, helping mothers and children in dire poverty.  This friend also visited Mother Theresa’s facility and bore witness to the dying… and then he ended up gravely ill in a hospital, further witnessing dying children in the arms of malnourished mothers.

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December 2, 2009

Gregory Uba works with a non-profit agency in LA, Connections for Children, serving parents across a wide range of needs from parenting classes to referrals and financial assistance for child care services. 

While my particular brand of parenting support trends toward the mindful, spiritual and even esoteric, the approach I favor still boils down to thinking deeply in the service of working practically and pragmatically.  Folks like Greg keep me honest and grounded in challenging me to think about how the most at-risk parents could make use of ideas such as floated in this blog—as these parent often may be tasked with the care of some of the most at-risk of our collective children.  On the other hand, all kids struggle, and all parents struggle too, so whatever really helps any of us is likely to be of some value to all of us parents.

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