Why eye contact, listening from the heart and kindness really matter
5th September 2017
One major theme is present in most developmental psychology and that is the human need for connection. We need all the basics - smiles, hugs, someone to hold our gaze and reflect our feelings We need to feel loved and listened to and this begins while we are in the womb or before depending on your beliefs. Richard Geist a 'self psychologist' brings empathic immersion and mutual contact together in what he calls 'connectedness' says that what some people missed in childhood was the dance of mutual emotional engagement between child and parent that creates a lively, whole and secure self. (DeYoung, 2015,p118).
Many of the attachment theorists speak about the concept of 'mirroring' and how a child looks for and needs the parent or caregiver to reflect something of their facial expressions, verbal sounds and early forms of communication. I've witnessed how new mothers who have a natural secure bond with their babies almost sing back to them and hold them close looking lovingly in their eyes. It's a beautiful and magical thing to witness. Sadly for many children this is what's missing.
Disconnection is at the root of all shame. So if you think about many of the problems in our society and trace them back such as addiction, behavioural issues, violence, crime etc what you find in the childhood stories of those people is often a profound sense of disconnection, trauma and shame. A very high percentage of those in prison suffered some form of emotional or sexual abuse as a child and if that was your beginning and you had nobody to talk to, then the only option was to bury it deeply inside. However all too often these things always end up surfacing as behavioural or mental health problems.
According to Dan Siegal, a psychologist who specializes in early parental bonding, every child yearns for and must have eye contact for healthy emotional development to occur. Siegal, who founded a new field of research known as interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB), has proved that the mother's gaze plays a critical role in how we develop empathy. "Repeated tens of thousands of times in the child's life, these small moments of mutual rapport serve to transmit the best part of our humanity - our capacity for love - from one generation to the next," Siegal has discovered. Without such mirrored transmission, children deprived of the mother's gaze are likely to feel disconnected from others later in life. Many of them will struggle to heal this disconnect in destructive ways ranging from dysfunctional love to substance abuse.
From a transpersonal perspective - the eyes are the windows of the soul. As a meditator I have a sense that there are many subtle exchanges of energy that occur through the eyes. We can radiate and share our joy and positive feelings through our eyes and equally with just one glance we can hurt someone through disconnection and avoidance. There's also a very complex process of projection that goes on whereby we see 'the other' through the lens of our own past experiences and transfer something of our previous experience onto the present. This can happen in both directions and most people are doing it all the time unconsciously. In therapy we make it conscious and work with it because most of what we 'see' and subsequently feel is often a reflection of our own issues.
When you hold a young child in your arms and they are of the age when they can see you, it's as if their eyes are taking in all the love into their hearts and if the psychologists are right this is actually programming them to develop a healthy sense of self and loving relationships in the future. If you are one of the lucky ones who naturally carries a lot of light in your heart and eyes then think about the many people you encounter day to day who never had that and maybe hold the intention to connect with everyone who crosses your path. If someone is really struggling inside then eye contact or touch may be too much for them. Connection can happen gradually and in small ways if we hold an intention and find ways to show love that are safe and non-threatening. I feel that our wounding can be healed through connection and increased self-awareness, you don't even need words just human kindness.
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