Hello everyone. What a joy it is for me to be with you today, on February 15th, 2013 at our third tele-class of our Master Class.
I have decided to dedicate my lecture today to the fascinating subject of Rupture and Repair in relationships. I was inspired to talk about Rupture and Repair after spending an afternoon with my daughter-in-law Rachel. I call Rachel not my daughter-in-law. I call her my daughter-in-AWE. I am in AWE of this modern woman, the wife of our son and the mother of Noa and Leo.
She is also is a Human Rights lawyer working with refugees and a splendid friend. She elegantly, seamlessly and artfully wears many hats, more hats than I ever thought possible.
And so Rachel and I were shopping for the new little nest that Yumi and I will enter into very soon. And we were talking about how well it all worked to have three generations under one roof. Yumi and I, Yigal and Rachel and Noa and Leo all lived together for five months. I said to Rachel: “I have learned so much about you living with you since the month of October”. And she asked me: “So what did you learn?” And what I said spontaneously was: “I learned about Rupture and Repair”. I didn’t even know consciously that I had conceptualized what I saw. And I told Rachel: ” I have watched you and Yigal as a couple. And I have watched you and Yigal as parents. And I am very impressed with how you guys do rupture and repair”. And our talk that day inspired the lecture I prepared to give today.
Before I begin, I just want to tell you something very wonderful about myself. Since the beginning of January, this year, I am feeling two feelings that I have not felt for a whole entire year, since last January.
The two feelings I am feeling are:
- I feel care free, and I feel excited about the future.
- I feel care free because Yumi is truly on the mend. He is surrounded by a community: our sons, our daughter-in-laws, our grand children, and a top notch team of doctors who continue to give him integrated care.
And I feel excited about the future because of the bold decision Yumi and I took to relocate NOW! and to create a new nest in Washington D.C., to be near our children. So it is with these two primary and nourishing feelings that I am lecturing today’s tele-class.
I would like to start my lecture by telling you proudly what I have witnessed in the home of our children, Yigal, Rachel, Noa and Leo. I have been privy to the process of rupture and repair done well. From them, I have come to learn again how normal it is in relationships to be in the oscillating energy of connection, disconnection and re-connection. I have seen Yigal and Rachel suddenly, at the dinner table, say something hurtful to one another. I have been present to the polluted space. And then, I have marveled at their capacity to repair. A little while later, I notice a touch, a smile, a wink, a caress, a pat, a cuddle, a “Wow I’m sorry”, a generous gesture, a non verbal signal that says “I love you”.
I have also witnessed the dramatic meltdowns of both their children Noa and Leo. OY! And I have been privy to Yigal or Rachel, or both of them, being hijacked by the low-road, and “losing it”, and having their own meltdown. OY VEY! But what has been amazing to me is to see them as parents embark on the path to re-connection and repair. I have observed them re-center, and come back to the high-road, and enter authentically and creatively into an interactive repair process with each of their children. Daniel Siegel in his book “Parenting from the Inside Out” says: “It can be quite difficult for a parent to provide structure and boundaries for their child, while simultaneously offering collaborative communication and emotional alignment and connection.” Yigal and Rachel have shown me how conscious parenting builds that muscle.
From watching our children, I have learned something essential. What I have learned about in vivo is what Daniel Siegel calls our “seventh sense”. He calls this seventh sense “mindsight”. So let’s take a look at our senses.
Daniel Siegel describes how our five senses allow us to perceive the outside world, to see and hear and touch and smell and taste. He also tell us that what has been called our “sixth sense” allows us to perceive our internal bodily states – our quickly beating heart when we feel afraid or excited, the sensation of butterflies in our stomach, or pain that demands our attention. Daniel Siegel introduces to us to one more sense: our “seventh sense”. Our “seventh sense” is our ability to look within, and to perceive, explore and shape our own mind. This is the capacity that he calls “mindsight.”
Daniel Siegel describes “mindsight” as our brain’s capacity for both insight and empathy. He says that it is a kind of focussed attention that allows us to see the inner workings of our own mind. It allows us to examine closely, in detail and in depth, the processes by which we think, feel and behave. “It is like a very special lens that we are given as a gift just for being born a human being.” says Daniel Siegel. It gives us a uniquely human capacity, the capacity not only to perceive but also to shape the inner workings of our own minds.
I have come to realize that this lens is something that everyone can develop. And once we have it, we can dive deeply into what Daniel Siegel calls “the sea inside of us”. Daniel Siegel uses the metaphor of an “inner sea” to describe the many neighborhoods that make up our world. He describes the “inner sea” as a “wonderfully rich place, filled with thoughts and feelings, memories and dreams, beliefs and attitudes, sensations, hopes and wishes.” Of course he says: “The “inner sea” can also be a turbulent place, where we experience the dark side of all these feelings and thoughts – fears, sorrows, dreads, regrets, nightmares.” And then he adds: “Sometimes in times of vulnerability, this “inner sea” seems to crash in on us, threatening to drag us down below the dark depths, and it can make us feel as if we are drowning.”
However, with “mindsight”, our seventh sense, our special lens, even when inner sea threatens with a tsunami, we have the capacity to reshape and redirect our inner experiences. With the development of this capacity, as we sharpen the workings of this lens, we have more freedom of choice in our everyday actions. With the conscious cultivation of “mindsight” we develop and grow our power to create our own future. We increasingly become the author of our own story. “Mindsight” is the basic skill that underlies everything we mean when we speak of having emotional and relational intelligence, and being on the path towards relational maturity.
But to keep expanding our “seventh sense”, we need certain experiences. And what I saw in our children, Yigal and Rachel was their constant commitment to create the very relational experiences with each other and with their children that develop “mindsight.” From watching them it became clearer to me that how we focus our attention actually shapes the structure of our brain.
Because of our brain’s neuro-plasticity, it never stops growing in response to experience. I personally witnessed how we are the “sculptors” of each other’s and our children’s brains.
And so let me talk more specifically about rupture and repair. I am going to introduce the subject of rupture and repair by defining relational neuro-biology. Then I will talk about the types of disconnections and rupture. I will make the distinction between “healthy shame” and “toxic shame.” I will describe the metaphor of the brain as an “emotional clutch” with an accelerator and brakes. And then I will talk about the process and stages of repair.
As I talk I encourage you to be aware of wearing at least three hats:
One: the hat of a couples therapist teaching the process of repair after ruptures
Two: the hat of a partner in a relationship, where there are ruptures to be repaired
Three: the hat of someone who has been a child in an environment where rupture either were or were not followed by the process of repair
As an introduction to the subject of rupture and repair I want to review the core idea of relational neuro-biology:
In Daniel Siegel’s words: “Our minds are fundamentally linked to one another’s through the sending and receiving of signals. Ruptured connection, especially of our nonverbal signals, separates our primary emotions from the other person, and we are cast adrift, and we can no longer sense our own mind within the mind of the other person. We no longer feel felt, but instead we feel misunderstood and alone. When this linkage with an important person in our lives is broken, our minds will quite likely experience a disruption in balanced and coherent functioning.”
This core idea of relational neuro-biology is based on the notion that we as human beings are not meant to live in isolation, but that we are dependent on one another for our emotional well-being. So ruptures without repair lead to a deepening sense of disconnection between a parent and a child.
Prolonged disconnection can create shame that is toxic for the child’s growing sense of self.
In his book – Parenting from the Inside Out – Daniel Siegel describes three types of disconnection and rupture:
- Oscillating disconnection and benign rupture
- Limit-setting rupture
- Toxic rupture
1. I will start with oscillating disconnection and benign rupture:
These are the normal disconnections that happen in the course of a regular day. But when there are also repeated experiences of connection, there is a sense of resonance. In this resonance we feel the positive presence of another within us, and we feel a sense that we are within the other. And therefore the ruptures are benign, especially if the parent realizes that repair has to be done in a timely and a caring manner.
2. Let’s now look at the second type of disconnection which is limit-setting ruptures and the origins of “healthy shame”:
These are the ruptures that come from having to say the essential “no’s” to a child. The “yes’s” that we hear, and the “no’s” that we hear, do something completely different to the brain.
Here a useful metaphor: it is the one of a car with a clutch, and an accelerator and brakes. It is as if the prefrontal region of our brain has a “clutch” mechanism. That clutch mechanism helps balance the accelerator and brake functions of our brain. Spoken in biological terms:
the prefrontal region controls the autonomic nervous system, both its autonomic sympathetic branches – the accelerating energy – and its autonomic parasympathetic branches – the decelerating energy. When the accelerator is activated, our heart speeds up, our lungs breathe more rapidly, and our gut starts to churn. When the brakes are applied, the opposite set of reactions occur, and our bodies become calmer. Keeping the accelerator and the brakes in balance is a key to healthy emotional regulation
Let’s do a little experiment to illustrate the accelerator/brakes dynamic:
- “Close your eyes. Sit quietly, breathe, and observe your internal sensations.
- Now say the word “no”, and repeat it clearly and slowly five times. Wait a few moments, and notice your reactions and sensations.
- Now say the word “yes”, and repeat it clearly and slowly five times. Wait a few moments and notice your reactions and sensations.
- Take some time to reflect on both”.
When we hear “yes” the accelerator is activated. People commonly experience an uplifting, exhilarating or peaceful sensation. And when we hear “no” it activates the brakes. People often experience the “no” as a feeling of heaviness, withdrawal, and a vague discomfort.
Both a car and the human brain are built for using either the accelerator or the brakes, but not both together. And when we use both the accelerator and the brakes at the same time, it is as if the brain screeches to a halt, like a car. And the result is a short circuit. When the accelerator and the brakes are applied simultaneously, we can no longer drive the car of our emotions.
Purely in terms of brain functioning, an activated accelerator followed by the application of brakes leads to a specific nervous system response: a turning away of eye gaze, a feeling of heaviness in the chest, and a sinking feeling. This nervous system response is similar to the profile of shame.
The limit setting “no”-induced form of shame is what some researchers call a “healthy kind of shame”. It is different from “toxic shame”.
By being able to hear a “yes” as well as a “no”, children learn to regulate their behavior by developing an “emotional clutch”, which is located in the prefrontal cortex. It can turn the accelerator off when the brakes are applied, and it helps them be able to redirect their interests in more acceptable directions. Children who get to develop their emotional clutch learn that at times what they want to do is not permissible, and they need to redirect their energies.
Limit setting ruptures are essential because children who do not have these important limit setting experiences may have an underdevelopment of the “emotional clutch”. The “emotional clutch” is a building block of response flexibility. One of our roles as parents is to facilitate our children’s development of their ability to balance the accelerator and the brakes which enable them to delay gratification and modify their impulses. This means that our children learn to hear “no’s”, but also maintain their spirit and their belief in themselves. These are essential components of emotional and relational intelligence.
There are essential “no’s” that must be spoken. Experiencing these essential “no’s” gives us as children the opportunity to develop the capacity for self regulation, that permits us to put on the brakes, and redirect our energies.
The “emotional clutch” of children who have not been given the chance to develop this important aspect of self regulation often reveals an inability to flexibly adapt to the environment. “No” is followed by a torrent of indignation and tantruming as their prefrontal region cannot engage the clutch and create a flexible response.
3. And finally let me talk about toxic ruptures and the origins of “toxic shame”:
Sometimes when “no’s” are said, they do not come from a conscious and deliberate limit-setting place, but rather from exasperation, from exhaustion, from vulnerability, from a parent who has been hijacked by the low-road. When we scream and yell when a child complains after we have said “no”, we will generate the unfortunate response of a deepening sense of what is called “toxic shame”. As opposed to “healthy shame”, which helps the child become stronger by developing their “emotional clutch”, ruptures that involve intense emotional distress and a despairing disconnection between parent and child can be experienced as harmful to a child’s sense of self.
That is why they are called “toxic ruptures”.
“Toxic ruptures” are created when a parent loses control of his or her emotions, engages in screaming, name calling, or threatening behavior towards the child. These “toxic ruptures” are the most distressing form of disconnection for children because they are often accompanied by an intense feeling of overwhelming shame. Children may feel rejected and hopelessly alone during those moments of friction. And when shame occurs, there is a physiological reaction: children may have an ache in their stomach, heaviness in their chest, and an impulse to avoid eye contact. These are the physical manifestations of the emotion of shame. Children then may feel deflated and withdrawn, and begin to think of themselves as “bad” and defective.
So when we give a child time-out to calm down and consider why they freaked out completely during dinner, we must understand that the child is incapable of such reflection at the time. Accelerator and brakes were applied at the same time, and the car has come to a screeching halt. Now the child does not have the ability to think rationally or to recreate calm. The child’s brain has not yet reached a stage of development where the “emotional clutch” is flexibly at their disposal.
At first glance it may seem as if the child is cooling off and calming down. But in actual fact the child is resorting to strategies in order to tolerate being alone and grounded. The child is reacting to the danger of the situation by the four automatic survival reactions to danger:
- fight: the child becomes even more furious
- flight: the child escapes into some distracting activity or into their own inner world of fantasy
- freeze: the child feel paralyzed
- submit: the child gives up and complies
Sustained and frequent “toxic ruptures” may lead to significant negative effects on the child’ growing sense of self, because the child’s brain is developing at the speed of light. Even momentary stressful conditions during the brains’ growth spurts tend to shape the brain. And therefore it is important that these “toxic ruptures” be repaired in an empathic, effective and timely manner. The only way the child is able to move on, and leave the emotional chaos behind, is through empathic, attuned, caring interaction with another human being.
And so these are the three types of disconnections and rupture. As I studied them to prepare myself for this lecture, I realized that in the home of our children all three types of ruptures are present. I have watched oscillating disconnections and benign ruptures. I have watched limit-setting ruptures. And I have also watched “toxic ruptures”. What I now also realize is that Yigal and Rachel are totally committed to the process of repair.
They intuitively seem to understand the distinction between “healthy shame” and “toxic shame”. They show up to give their attuned presence to the child when there has been a low-road interaction. Their mindsight, their “seventh sense”, is well developed and continues to grow with each interaction. They have that special lens that helps them look inside of themselves and inside of their child. And that “dual focus” both on their own world and on the world of their child helps them navigate the slippery slope from the low-road back to high road.
Here are how Daniel Siegel describes the elements of the journey from the low-road back to the high road:
- It starts with a trigger: an internal or external event that initiate the beginning of the descent into the low-road
- Then a transition follows: it is the movement that goes from the integrated, higher mode of processing, where we are rational, mindful, flexible in our responses and have an integrated sense of self awareness, towards the depths of the low-road.
- Then comes the immersion in the low-road: we are in a state of intense emotion, impulsive reactivity, rigid and repetitive responses, and lacking in self-reflection because the involvement of the prefrontal cortex is shut off. We have literally “flipped our lid”
- And finally the recovery process: the process of reactivating the integrative processes of the high-road. Blood flow that was cut off between the older parts of the brain and the prefrontal cortex is now re-established, and we literally have our full integrated brain at our disposal again. But of course it is important to remember that during the recovery process, till blood flow is completely re-established between the old and the new brain, we have a high degree of vulnerability to be “sucked in”, and re-enter the low-road
I have watched Yigal and Rachel navigate these elements of the journey from low-road to high road beautifully. I have seen them go from trigger, to transition, to immersion, and then to recovery, again and again and again.
Nothing would have given me a chance to be a witness to these inspiring scenarios but living with them under one roof, for long enough to experience and recognize the patterns of rupture and repair.
And this is what I have come to re-learn again about repair by watching the daily lives of my children, Yigal and Rachel, as they do their partnering and their parenting :
First of all I want to enumerate the four stages of the process of repair.
And here they are;
- Dual focus
1. Let me start with “reflection”:
First of all a parent must reflect on the core idea that repair is an interactive experience and that only the human touch repairs. The brain is a social organ. It does not regulate from within. It regulates only through another’s brain. Limbic regulation only happens through limbic resonance. It is a thought to hold in the forefront of the journey as a parent.
2. Then comes “centering”:
The repair process involves the parent’s own centering process. The parent needs to take the time and space to re-enter to high-road before beginning the interactive repair process.
And so, even if our own experiences as a child included “toxic ruptures” that our parents were unable to repair, we can still change what might now be our natural impulse to “just forget” about the rupture. I am watching how the denial of “toxic ruptures” which did happen to Yigal in his own childhood, when Yumi and I were his rather unconscious parents, is now being healed in the re-connection with his own children.
The centering process is what can be called “present-timing” and “presencing”. It is breathing deeply, it is making a cup of tea, it is moving physically, it is changing position and giving new energy to the body, it is being grateful for this moment of life, for this beautiful child in our life, for our journey both the good and the difficult, for the miracle and the blessing of this very moment right here and now.
It is essential to wait until full high-road recovery has been established before physically touching the child. If we are not fully in the high-road, we are still vulnerable to low-road impulses that linger in our nervous system, and fury may be expressed through our hands, and turn into harmful actions more quickly than our mind can inhibit it.
3. Then comes “dual focus”:
“Dual focus” is bringing our conscious attention to the two worlds: our own and our child’s. Once back on the high road, it is time for reflecting on how to approach our child, respecting our own rhythm and the rhythm of our child. This “dual focus” on the two worlds is important so that we can stay on the high road and do not rapidly re-enter the low-road, even if our child initially resists our attempts to reconnect. Being able to focus both on our own experience and that of our child is a central feature of effective repair. With that “dual focus” in mind, we can now begin the process of interactive repair
4. Finally comes “bridging”:
Bridging is Crossing the bridge in our hearts, and actively listening, attentively, mindfully, and learning a little bit more about the child’s world, and their own unique style and rhythm for processing rupture and repair. It is like little Leo, who is six years old says to Rachel: “You have hurt Noa in her own way. And you have hurt me in my own way”. And Rachel listens to know what this special way of being hurt that he is describing is, so that she can align and connect with each of them in their own way.
As a concluding thought I would like to share with you what Daniel Goleman says about being a human being: “The capacity to know our own minds, as well as to sense the inner worlds of others, may be our singular human talent …. It is a talent that we develop with every single interaction, and it is the key to nurturing healthy minds and healthy hearts.”
I would like to end my lecture today with what I now call the Gerbil Story. I am telling it to you because it was a time when I was given the opportunity to observe the human talent of mindsight in the most touching way.
Story… One day at the hospital, Yumi and I were sitting at the dinner table. Across from us were sitting Sherry and Colleen…
And with this story I am completing today’s Tele-Class. I would love to hear from you what has touched you the most during our time together.