Every time I learn something new about empathy or attachment, I have to mourn that I didn’t know it before.
Since my whole focus is learning about empathy and attachment, there is a lot of mourning. Some of the books I have, I have to let myself read at a rate of one paragraph a month. More than that I cannot bear.
These books have to do with parenting – specifically, research into the patterns of eye gaze, words, touch that arise from disorganized attachment. When I discover the impact of my panicked, angry or disconnected words, actions and emotions on my family, the mourning can be intense and painful. It feels like it scorches my brain, or even worse, when it’s unendurable, that I fade out into invisibility.
Sometimes it seems like the minimum goal that I have, to do no harm, is unreachable. This comes with a huge protest – and an impossible-to-fill need to have somewhere that I could register my protest. “It isn’t fair,” I want to scream – it isn’t fair to me, to my kids, or to all of the mothers and fathers in my family line. It isn’t fair to humans. Why are we so fragile? Couldn’t creation have made us more resilient?
Not to mention that what I would actually like would be to contribute and for my love to be fully received and known as absolute, no matter what my awkward and history-bound physical presence does or doesn’t do.
The ache is to be heard, for the whispers and shouts of my soul (if you don’t enjoy this word, maybe you could substitute “essence”) to be heard through the static white noise of my humanness.
Both Nonviolent Communication and the learning about neuroscience and attachment hold this beautiful promise – that these bodies of knowledge can help us hear and be heard through the buzzes and clicks and squawks of interference. They do help – and with the clarity come the rage and the protest and the mourning.
It isn’t simple to heal. Even though it seems counterintuitive, it doesn’t deliver ease to move toward distinguishing the voice of the soul from the voices of interference. There is ease in taking offense, rather than listening deeply. Staying with our story of good and bad is effortless. There is a simplicity in staying with content, rather than moving toward meaning. Embracing complexity is neverending, wildly stunning, and insanely vulnerable. There are moments of raw storm, and moments of peace. There are moments when we are held like we have never been held before. And as our capacity gets bigger, so does our ability to see and to feel.
We are none of us minor players, we don’t have bit parts, or tiny hearts. We only believe that if we have never really been seen. Our hearts are enormous, our longings and our loves are gigantic, and our mournings would fill all the crevices of the moon with tears. As we receive empathy and warm, resonant support, we become bigger, more complex and more surprising – to ourselves and to others.
It’s a strange journey – I just want to say that in writing, right now with all of you.
Part of the journey is mourning, and it lets us bring repairs and acknowledgment to our children and to the people who depend on us within power structures, people who have fewer resources, or who are learning from us. Repairs are so important that they are the basic building block of secure attachment. It’s much, much more important to make repairs than it is to be right to begin with.
But for me, at any rate, it isn’t easy to make repairs. I need a lot of support to be able to speak openly with another person about words that I have said or actions I have taken that I regret. And then I need even more love from somewhere to be able to listen to the other person to hear how it was for them. My resistance collides in a juicy way with both the research showing how important repairs are, and one of the basic tenets of NVC – that we are all, me included, always trying to meet needs, and that if we move away from right/wrong thinking, we will come closer to one another. “Hah!” something inside me says, that might be true for others, but I would like to live in integrity with my longings for presence, responsiveness, care, consideration, and tenderness. It takes more humility than I have sometimes to let go of me being the strategy for enacting those values.
At the same time, repairs create so much freedom. And the repairs that are possible between parent and child are stunning. Our own parents, who often lived lives remarkably short on interpersonal support, were unlikely to be resourced enough to make them. If they had been able to make them, what would they sound like? Let’s explore.