Baby Mind States--What Are They and How Can They Be Soothed?
It's ALL Attitude. Nothing Else Matters
The Healing Is YOUR Attitude
Dr. James Duffy
Baby mind states (a concept derived from the psychoanalytic
theory of Melanie Klein) are commonplace. They occur in
everyone now and then. In the most psychologically and
emotionally disturbed persons, they occur relatively more
Baby minds states are fraught with fear and anger or terror
and rage. They are difficult to soothe for the same reason
they are difficult to soothe in infants.
These mind states are difficult to soothe is because adult
caregivers of infants must guess to surmise the source of the
The modern mind (of the 2000s) lives in frequent baby mind
states--states wherein people feel fear and anger (or terror
and rage) and unable to communicate or resolve the origins of
Whoever understands the sources of distress may try to teach
it to others. But others who are in baby mind states feel, as
babies do, unable to comprehend the language of words. So this
is another reason baby mind states are difficult to soothe
--babies can't understand words telling them what is wrong and
what to do to feel better.
They cannot use words nor understand them to alleviate their
fear and anger or terror and rage.
So another language, other than the language of words, is
needed to help persons today who so often are in baby mind
Only the language of caring attention, like that of a mother's
loving smile and calming voice and, most of all, affectionate
attitude provides the kind of communication sufficient to
reach and soothe the baby mind state when it is in need of
consolation during subjective states of fear or terror and
anger or rage.
It is not understanding nor knowledge nor information nor
words of any kind that will heal the modern mind so often
afflicted with baby mind states.
Instead it is that ATTITUDE of caring attention and friendly
listening that heals. Attitude heals.
The idea that only a caring, attentive, warm attitude can heal
suffering when someone is in baby-mind-state distress is
consistent with the counsel of many other health and healing
Teenagers are infamously afflicted with frequent attacks
of baby mind states. Many who work with troubled teens
advise that the most influential communication method
with teenagers is simply this--the Calm Voice of Reason
(with emphasis on "calm," and not a fake calm but a
genuine peaceful, warm calm).
Dr. Peter Breggin, in his book "The Heart of Being
Helpful" and elsewhere, explains that the way to help
someone in an emotional emergency (a probable baby mind
state) is to be sure that the helper in no way feels as
if the situation is an emergency; thus, the helper must
not become upset or "have an emergency, too"
(paraphrased). We see again that a calm, patient, warm,
confident friendly voice can help someone in a baby mind
Dr. Joseph Weiss and associates developed a method of
therapy that is a subtype of their Control Mastery
therapy. The subtype is most helpful for the most
disturbed patients who are too emotionally troubled to
even be able to think or reason about their
difficulties. These are patients who I regard as being
in chronic baby mind states. Weiss and associates call
their special therapy Attitude Therapy, which is most
helpful for very disturbed patients who are extremely
difficult to talk to and have frequent attacks of
highly negative attitudes and emotions. Attitude
Therapy attempts no intervention for the patients except
providing them the presence of a therapist who only
listens carefully and speaks only with a friendly, warm,
and confident, encouraging voice offering just words of
hope and soothing for the patient who complains
persistently in states of anger and fear seemingly
endlessly. After many years of the therapist just
expressing a warm and--most of all--encouraging and
confident attitude, the patients get well.
Marian Diamond, a famous and prestigious neuroscientist
and expert on brain physiology and anatomy gave a talk
given a few decades ago and was asked during the
question-and-answer session what parents and teachers
can do to help children learn better in school. Diamond
basically answered that it is not likely to happen in
schools because they are overstimulating environments.
She explained that for the mind to be able to work
rationally and wisely, it needs more than anything else
a CALM environment. Without an environment of peace,
calm, and human warmth, the human brain goes into a mode
of very low-quality thinking. Very low-quality thinking
accompanied by lot of unsoothed fear and anger (or
terror and rage) is the sine qua non of a baby mind
In the healing Hawaiian tradition called Ho'oponopono,
in which group-and-family conflict and hostility has
been treated for centuries with a highly successful
method of resolving hatreds, they teach that more
important than understanding, more important than
information, and more important than the issue itself
that is the subject matter of the group conflict is
this---the most important thing is attitude. If the
participants help each other develop attitudes of
hopefulness, care, affection, and kindness, conflicts
are much easily resolved or simply melt away.
In the rigorous empirical research on couples conflict
conduced by Dr. John Gottman and associates at the
University of Washington, a discovery of immense
importance was uncovered. Few people have yet even
learned about it, and fewer have tried to apply it
consistently in their lives. Gottman discovered that any
couples conflict is easily resolved if one condition is
met. That one condition is what he called a "soft
start-up." This means that if a couple has a conflict
they need to talk about, then the conflict will be easy
to resolve and the outcome will be satisfying to both
partners so long as the person who introduces the
subject matter of the conflict for discussion introduces
the topic warmly, with a soft voice, and a calm,
friendly attitude. Warm and friendly attitude is
everything. If a conflict begins in heat--in anger or in
fear--the subsequent conversation goes very badly
because the hot introduction to the topic activated the
baby mind states of both partners. Thinking and problem
solving is very low-quality when one is in a baby mind
the Buddhist tradition, anger is regarded as a mind
state that makes it very difficult for other people to
even attend to the angry person's words, much less
understand or care about them. Buddhists teach that
being angry is like being in a drunken mind wherein
thinking is not clear and other people stop taking the
angry person's words seriously. Research at the Harvard
Research lab on the influence of emotions on decision
making confirms with hard data this claim by Buddhists.
The Harvard psychological researchers showed that anger
causes people to make reckless decisions and to be
overly optimistic about one's competence to decide
wisely when angry and overly optimistic about probable
good outcomes for decisions made in the heat of anger.
The baby mind state does not have good judgment for
making decisions with likely successful outcomes. A calm
mind can think more rationally and much more wisely. A
baby mind state can barely think at all but instead
screams out or pleads for soothing.
Increasingly more psychologists are beginning to regard
chronic or frequent or intense anger as not really a
symptom of some other problem, but rather they see
chronic, frequent or intense anger as the problem
itself. Israel Kalman, for instance, notes that many
therapists themselves have major anger problems in their
own relationships and do not do well in helping their
angry clients. Kalman claims this is because they do no
understand that anger ITSELF IS THE PROBLEM. There is
not another problem to be solved so that the anger will
then go away. The anger itself needs soothed, and I
suggest it needs soothed because it is an expression of
a baby mind state.
Psychoanalysts have often spoken of the importance of
what they call the "holding environment" in which
psychoanalysis takes place. Often they call this
something analogous to a caring parent's "holding" the
screaming baby who needs to "feel held" when upset, such
as when a baby feels fear and anger (or terror and
rage). The holding environment, some say, is THE
essential part of a psychoanalysis. The patient needs to
feel there is a sanctuary where his/her troublesome
emotions and other reactions will be "held"--i.e., not
condemned but instead welcomed and accepted--so they
have time to be soothed and kindly attended to. It is
not important so important what the therapist and
patient talk about, in other words. Instead, what
matters is that the patient can feel the caring ATTITUDE
of the therapist. It's all attitude.
could cite many more items of information that are consistent
with the view that it is NOT understanding nor knowledge nor
information that matters in helping people live lives that are
less emotionally and psychologically troubled.
It is attitude that matters.
It is an attitude of soothing calm, caring attention, and warm
Delete understanding--no action there.
Delete information--no action there.
Delete knowledge (self-knowledge and any other kind of
knowledge)--no action there.
Understanding, information, knowledge--not much help here for
baby mind states.
Babies don't understand words, and they don't have words to
tell you what is bothering them. They don't have knowledge.
And they don't have information.
They are helped by the warm, accepting, holding, caring
mother or father who attends to all that the baby feels and
wants and needs. If such parents are mindful that they
themselves need to be a warm and caring holding presence for
the baby, that is what soothes a troubled baby mind state.
And that is also how it is for adults who are in baby mind
states. What they need is someone who will be a warm and
caring holding presence for them.
It's all attitude.
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