Attentiveness is an essential life force

From birth on humans need affirming, kind and responsive reactions from others to survive and thrive. Those who do not receive sufficient emotional and cognitive interactions with caring parents and others, fail to thrive and do not achieve the secure psychological base necessary for a functional and healthy life. Why would emotional attentiveness play such a significant role in healthy development?

John Bowlby, the British psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and psychologist, who was a pioneer in attachment theory and child development, identified what he called the “I-You” connections in childhood that he labeled as essential in providing the child with a “secure base” in which to feel loved, comforted and emotionally supported.

In his book, “Social Intelligence, The New Science of Human Relationships”, Daniel Goleman states, “Virtually from birth, babies are not mere passive lumps but active communicators seeking their own intensely urgent goals. Babies need be tiny masters at managing their caretakers through an elaborate, built-in system of eyes contacted and avoided, smiles, and cries; lacking that social intercom, babies can remain miserable or even die from neglect.”

Dr. Goleman adds, “The parent-child loop offers the passageway for parents to help their children in how to attend to another person, how to pace an interaction, how to engage in conversation, how to tune into another person’s feelings and how to manage one’s own feelings while engaging with someone else. These essential lessons lay the foundations for a competent social life.”

In adulthood, most individuals are very sensitive to being ignored, excluded from conversations, social events, or having their opinions discounted. Having the attention of others validates us and affirms not only our views, opinions and life-choices, but our thinking, preferences and worthiness.

In relationships, people gravitate to those who share their views, lifestyle and preferences because it validates their own choices and helps them feel bonded to their “clan members”. Those whose political, social or professional attitudes and values match ours feel safer to befriend. It spares emotionally charged debates of attempting to convince the “others” to change their opinion in order to feel greater kinship with them.

Psychologically, “birds of a feather” flock together, as well. Prior to the last election, people parted camps with those who stated their intent to vote for the “other” candidate. The comfort of matched social, political, emotional, professional or for some even religious beliefs propels many to choose to associate with those who are similarly-minded to them.

Perhaps what we all need are lessons about seeking and giving attention to others who do not share our views and learning how to agree or disagree while still maintaining a respectful attitude towards each other.

Be attentive and respectful of other-minded people:

  • Accept that human connectedness does not require full intellectual or emotional agreement.
  • Learn to be curious-not-furious about those whose opinions, lifestyle or choices greatly vary from yours.
  • Understand that above all, humans wish to be respected, listened to and affirmed for their essence.
  • Abstain from thinking that your beliefs are the Right and Only way to think, feel or act about any issue in life!

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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