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 often.
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 baby's distress.
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 their distress.
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 states.
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 advisers.
1. 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).
2. 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 state.
3. 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.
4. 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 state.
5. 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.
6. 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 state.
7. In 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
I 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 acceptance.
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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