Dr. Dan Siegel is my guest on today’s Big Talk episode of the Dear Gabby podcast — and we’re going deep in our talk about childhood wounds. It’s such an honor for me to share Dan’s wisdom and work with you, because he has had a HUGE impact on my life.
This revered psychiatrist has redefined the way I parent my son, and the way I care for myself.
After I delivered my son in 2018, there was a stack of parenting books on my bedside table, but I had some resistance to reading them right away.
Dealing with postpartum depression, running a business and being a new mom, I was just trying to make it through the days.
And then, the stay-at-home orders hit in 2020. Left at home with a two-year-old, no childcare, and some deep self-work under my belt, I went big.
I wanted to do this parenting thing RIGHT.
I was ready to crack into the books that were still sitting next to my bed.
The first parenting book I read was No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. This book blew my mind, rocked my world and—without a doubt—made me a better parent.
After that, I did a deep dive into Dr. Siegel’s work. I read every book he’d written. I listened to every relevant podcast I could find. His work was such a grounding resource for me as a parent …. and not only as a parent to Oliver.
In my newest book, Happy Days: The Guided Path from Trauma to Profound Freedom and Inner Peace, I wrote:
I had an amazing revelation as I explored Dr. Siegel’s parenting techniques. At first I thought I was reading these books only to strengthen my bond with Oliver, but I came to see how I could apply them to myself. I could become my own internal parent and heal my past attachment wounds by honoring my inner child parts and applying the same methods I would offer to my son. In order to establish a deeper connection with Ollie, I had to establish a deeper connection with myself. —Happy Days, chapter 9, page 176
On today’s Dear Gabby, Dr. Siegel breaks down his strongest parenting techniques so that you can apply them in your own life … whether you’re a parent or not.
How to Heal Childhood Wounds and Reparent Yourself
In this Big Talk, you’ll learn:
- A GEM of a parenting technique called “connect and redirect” (this makes my life so much easier as a parent—and you can apply it to any relationship)
- A simple technique for grounding and soothing yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed (I use this during frantic workdays and it helps me feel super chill—no matter what’s going on!)
- The fundamentals of attachment science (this is the KEY to understanding your behavior in relationships)
- What the four Ss are, and how you can use them to self-soothe at any moment
On the day I recorded this episode of the Dear Gabby podcast, I was in the middle of launching Happy Days. I’d appeared on four podcasts that day alone, and I was starting to feel overwhelmed.
Using techniques I’d learned from Dr. Siegel’s work, I was able to connect to my feelings of being overwhelmed and help them settle. I tuned in to my feelings and asked the overwhelmed parts of myself what they needed.
A Beautiful Thing
The most beautiful thing happened after that. I took a short rest on a heated mat. I spent some time playing with my kitten, and used a soothing heart-hold technique that I share in Happy Days.
After I’d taken the time to honor my needs, I was able to reconnect with my adult-resourced Self. I walked into my recording booth feeling calm, curious, connected and compassionate. In the end, I was able to show up for this Big Talk as my highest self!
I want to share the heart-hold technique with you here, so that you can use it any time to return to a state of calm. This is on page 171 of Happy Days:
Heart hold: Place your right hand on your belly and left hand on your heart. Breathe in deeply, and exhale completely. Notice peace and relief set in. I use this hold when I’m meditating or before I go to sleep at night. When I was suffering with postpartum anxiety, this hold was my savior to calm my anxiety and connect to my body.
I hope this episode of the Dear Gabby podcast serves you in all your relationships … especially the one you have with yourself.
And I hope you walk away with hope: it is possible to overcome your childhood wounds, and to thrive!
GET MORE GABBY
The following are helpful resources and books I mention in the episode:
My guest on today’s Dear Gabby is Dr. Dan Siegel! Dr Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute. He’s co-authored some of my favorite parenting books, including No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind and The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired. To learn more about Dr. Siegel’s work, visit his website.
Want more coaching from me? I created the Miracle Membership to help you design a spiritual practice you can stick to—so you can feel connected, supported and inspired every day. Each week I deliver brand new workshops, guided meditations, community connection and so much more. Now is the best time to join because the brand new Body Love Challenge kicks off on July 1, and it’s exclusively available to Miracle Members! Click here to join the membership and get 21 proven ways to feel peaceful, safe and free in your body.
Happy Days: The Guided Path from Trauma to Profound Freedom and Inner Peace is my story of reparenting myself. In the book, I explain how I learned to let Self lead my inner system.
If you feel you need additional support, please refer to this list of mental health resources. I’m proud of you for being here.
This podcast is intended to educate, inspire and support you on your personal journey toward inner peace. I am not a psychologist or a medical doctor and do not offer any professional health or medical advice. If you are suffering from any psychological or medical conditions, please seek help from a qualified health professional.
The following podcast is a Dear Media production.
GABBY: Hi there, Gabby here. This podcast is intended to educate, inspire and support you on your personal journey towards inner. I’m not a psychologist or a medical doctor ...
The following podcast is a Dear Media production.
GABBY: Hi there, Gabby here. This podcast is intended to educate, inspire and support you on your personal journey towards inner. I’m not a psychologist or a medical doctor and do not offer any professional health or medical advice. If you are suffering from a psychological or medical condition, please seek help from a qualified health professional.
Hey there. Welcome to Dear Gabby. I’m your host Gabby Bernstein. And if you landed here, it is absolutely no accident. It means that you’re ready to feel good and manifest a life beyond your wildest dreams. Let’s get started.
Today’s episode is a Big Talk where I have a conversation with one of my heroes, someone who has taught me so much about how to parent with grace and safety and security and re-parent myself by bringing the methods that I’ve learned from him into my own spiritual and personal growth practice. This is my new friend and teacher who I’ve followed for many years through all of his books, Dr. Dan Siegel.
Dan is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. Dan has a massive bio. It will all be laid out in the show notes, but what I have found most important about his bio is that he is the five-time, New York Times bestselling author of the most beautiful books for understanding your children, their brain, and how to parent your children, the science and practice of presence.
One of my favorites is the Whole-Brain Child and No Drama Discipline is a must-read for every parent. These books are just extraordinary when you’re navigating the scary path of becoming a parent and the tricky path of really strengthening your ability to be a soothing and supportive presence in your child’s life.
This interview, while it does focus a bit on parenting. It really has a major focus on how we can re-parent ourselves. I’ve been following Dan’s work for years. I write about it in Happy Days in the whole chapter that I wrote called Re-parenting Yourself, and Dan has an acronym called PART–presence, attune, resonate, and trust.
We talk about this on the episode, we also connect on Dan’s Four S’s, which are all about soothing your child, but they also can be applied to you. There is a lot. in this episode. We even go deep into attachment styles and really talking about Internal Family Systems therapy. It’s jam-packed with lots of powerful messages.
This episode has so many amazing nuggets of wisdom, and I want you to listen all the way through. It was such an honor to have Dan on my Big Talk on Dear Gabby. This Big Talk is really meaningful to me when I bring my heroes on, I get to share them with you. So cool. Enjoy the show.
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GABBY: I just need to begin by saying thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are a huge voice in my head.
I have a three-year-old and you’re the best there is. In my opinion, I had this stack of self-help books and particularly parenting books next to my bed right after I delivered my son. For a long time, I was having a little bit of resistance. I was just sort of getting through the early days and I had postpartum depression.
It was a lot for me. When I got out of that period, I was ready to start to get in and start to really make sure I did this right. Make sure I showed up. And then in 2020, I really went big because here I was left at home with my kid, with my husband and my kid and no childcare and no school. And we were both working and running our business.
So, I started to go deep into all of your books, all of your work, all of your podcasts, listening to you everywhere I could find you. And the work became such a grounding resource for me as a parent, but then something magical happened. I started applying the methods on myself.
GABBY: And I had started writing this book called Happy Days, which is my journey from trauma to profound freedom and inner peace.
And I immediately in that 2020 period, because we were all kind of shaken up in our own ways. I said, oh, these methods can be for me. I’d love to chat with you about how these methods apply to our children and then continuously bring it back to ourselves, if you feel comfortable doing that.
DAN: Sure. Well, first of all, thank you for sharing the background and your story. And yeah, I’m happy to talk about those things. It’s an honor to be here with you.
GABBY: So, in early 2020, reading your books, you mentioned this dream of a message. It’s just gem of a message: connect and redirect. And it’s, you know, obviously applied to the child. The day that I started practicing this with my son was a miraculous day.
We created a bond between us that has just consistently developed over time. Because when I noticed my three-year-old, he’s the most wonderful guru. He has his meltdown. And instead of shaming him or shunning him or telling him to stop or shushing him or trying to give him something to get over it, I just connect with him.
I’m so proud of his big emotions. And then there gets to a point, you know, my, my husband came in the other day and he… My son really doesn’t like getting dressed. And so, Ollie’s naked and he’s flipping out and losing his mind and that goes on for whatever it needs to do. We just sit there, we let it happen and I’m present with him and I’m holding him physically.
We have that kind of connection at this point. And Zach comes in and he’s dressed. And Zach said, how did he get dressed? I said, we connected, connected.
DAN: Yeah, it’s so beautiful.
GABBY: It’s just so beautiful. And it makes life so much easier as a parent, but then also as an individual. So, parents out there, you’re gonna get a lot of gifts from this conversation, but I want this also to come back to how we re-parent ourselves.
GABBY: Starting with connect and redirect, you know?
DAN: Yeah. You know, Gabrielle it’s, it’s so beautiful to hear the story and your son is so fortunate to, to have you. And I, you shared with us a few moments ago when we were starting, having postpartum depression, which in many ways, is the opposite of connection.
You know, you internally in the depression, you feel so disconnected and then that you could work through that and then give your son this gift of your presence. Really. So that’s where it begins. As you know, I have this addiction to acronym. So…
GABBY: You really do.
DAN: One is PART, P A R T, which is your presence there in the interaction when he didn’t wanna get dressed allows you to then take your presence, which is this open spacious place. And then the A of PART is you attune, which means literally you focus your attention on the inner experience that he’s having in that moment. So, what attunement is, is the focusing of attention, not just on behaviors, but seeing the mind, the subjective experience beneath the behavior.
So that’s a huge, I call it mindsight. It’s a huge mindsight moment right there.
GABBY: Oh yeah. Mm-hmm.
DAN: And then, the R of part is you resonate. So you don’t have to become him like a mirror. Oh, I’m just gonna reflect back what he’s doing. But I’m gonna resonate, like a guitar string. You’re changed because of the interaction, but you don’t become the other string.
DAN: You know? And so that’s the resonance. And the reason your husband could say, “What happened, how’d you do that?” It is the T. The T is Trust. So, presence, attunement, resonance and trust is like the key to connecting relationships. And what does it really mean at that moment for your son to have the experience? My mom is present, attuning, resonating with me, and I have this shift of me being reactive and, you know, pushing everybody away.
I’m not gonna get dressed. Now, I shift from reactivity of either fight, flight, freeze or faint. And now I am moving into a receptive state rather than reactive state, which is what trust is all about.
It’s just such a beautiful story. And you know, in many ways the word connect is both fabulous because it’s about you connecting with him. And it’s also a little limited, which is why in this new book I started using this word that I didn’t even know it was a word called intra-connected.
DAN: That there’s a wholeness of Gabrielle and her son.
DAN: There’s a wholeness to the relationship. That it isn’t so much that you’re connecting with him, it is this connection from within. So that’s why the word intra connected. Anyway, so, so there’s where he’s now a part of a larger whole. He belongs, he’s a we, or I like to say a we, you know. He’s both his inner me and a relational we, so he is a we.
And now what he does is he gets dressed because you’ve connected. Now, when you redirect him to get his clothes on, he’s not losing anything. He’s just gaining more.
GABBY: Yes. Beautiful. I wanna speak to the experience of extending compassion.
GABBY: And just really noticing in the moment. I, I can see what’s going on here. Yesterday, actually—meltdown, no clothes—and my husband’s all upset and he’s getting activated and I’m in my presence and my awareness and I was able to just look at my husband and say, “His brain’s not able to work this out yet. This is what he needs to do. This is where he’s at.”
And I could see an immediate switch go off in my husband’s energy field. And he went right into compassion, right into resonance.
GABBY: And then immediately got on his knees and we both held the boy and it was like, and I, I wanna turn this upside down right now. Because this is what I’ve done with your work, whether you like it or not. It’s in print now. In my book, Happy Days, which is really my journey of re-parenting myself and returning to self and letting self lead my internal system and recovering from trauma. I share a chapter in the book that opens with some Peppa Pig and enters in Dan Siegel.
OK. And I talk about that time when I have, from daily devouring your books and the four Ss. And then I talk about how I turn the four Ss on myself. Everything that you teach, everything you teach, I believe all of your acronyms and all of your wisdom, I believe can absolutely not only is life-changing for a parent and a child. But I believe can be turned inward, can be given it in the handbook to our self with a capital S our internal parent and say, “Please, help my parts with these principles.”
And so, I’ve had the beautiful experience in my own life of taking your four Ss and taking PART and connect and redirect and using it on my inner children.
DAN: Yeah, no, I, I think that’s a beautiful use of it. I know the first parenting book I wrote with Mary Hartsell, Parenting from the Inside Out. People would say that about it because you know, kind of exactly what you’re saying.
It kind of takes you on these steps to deeply understanding trauma, for example, and how to heal it. Based on kind of the science of attachment and people said, what you didn’t name the book quite right. You know, it should be more like living from the inside out or something. Cause it’s not just for parenting.
DAN: And on the one hand that was true on the other, it’s exactly like you’re saying. It’s yeah, I’m gonna parent my son, in your case, I’m gonna parent my child from the inside out, even from their inside out to really attune to their inner life. And it’s re-parenting yourself. So, Mary and I actually, she passed away recently, but when we, you know, when we were writing the book, we really wanted it to have those two meanings.
I was already using it in lectures I was giving. And when we decided to write a book together, she said, “Why don’t, you know, we can use that title you’ve had before because it has this quality, this inner healing element.” And so that’s exactly was the deepest hope for that, you know, in connect and redirect.
How do you find it helpful to connect internally before you redirect for that? The inner journey?
GABBY: Yeah. Thank you for asking that question. So I believe that with that commitment to connect and redirect for myself, I have a greater moment to moment awareness of my whole system and just like, I would want to be present and attuned to my own child, I can notice when, for instance, right now I’m in a book launch and so I can kind of get very busy and there can be stressors and there can be overwhelm.
And so, I’m able to now notice. Okay, I’m present with that overwhelm. I’m gonna be aware of that overwhelm. I’m maybe going to connect to it by lying on my mat that has, you know, heating properties and just relaxing, or I’m gonna connect to it by just sitting still for a moment and holding my kitten.
I’m just gonna connect to it by taking a deep breath and finding those moments of tapping in and tuning into not only the physical connection to those feelings, but also to the needs of the part that’s up. So, noticing the part, noticing, oh, overwhelm is here with me right now. Extending compassion to that part and sending curiosity to that part.
What do you need from me right now? And once I notice that everything is kind of settling in my system and I start to feel a little bit more relaxed and I can physically sense my shoulders drop and my chest relax, I can then say, okay, now we can redirect. Now we can step into that interview with Dan and I literally did this right before our, I did connect and redirect right before we joined.
I’ve been in back to back podcast interviews for my book, had a few minutes before you sat on my PMF mat, had the kitten. Put my right hand on my heart, my left hand on my belly, did all the connection. Notice my system settle, and then I could redirect. Then I could show up for you with presence.
DAN: That’s so beautiful, Gabrielle, and I’ll, I wanna build on everything you beautifully just said with a word we haven’t used yet, which is such a useful word.
And it’s certainly guided me kind of exploring how to apply these things in therapy. Not only my own therapy as a client, as a patient, but as a therapist, but also in this graduate school textbook I wrote called The Developing Mind, which preceded any of these other books. Integration is the word.
You know, that there is this way we allow things to be different and unique and special which is called differentiated, so differentiated. And then we link them. We connect them; we join them together, and the word we’re we’ll use for that is just integration. It is a quite simple word, but has profound implications.
And it’s more like it’s more like a fruit salad. It’s not a smoothie where you’re sticking things in a blender and grinding them all up so that differentiated elements disappear in this homogenous, you know, smoothie you might drink. It’s more like a fruit salad where you can still see the differentiated aspects of the fruit and the nuts, and then you put them together and you get this emergence or, you know what Buckmeister Fuller used to call synergy that arises from the interaction of the elements.
Okay. So, integration is really cool. And let’s look at what you said. You said I’m gonna find out what part is out in front and has certain needs. So, a way of looking at what Gabrielle you did is you differentiated what’s happening.
So the connecting is in a way honoring differences saying, what’s actually happening now? You did this with your son too, you know? So, so you differentiate by saying what’s actually happening now. Not what I expect to happen, not what I need to happen, not what I think should happen. I’m just with what is happening.
So, that’s a differentiation. Then you go, well, I’m gonna do an interview with Dan or my son has gotta get dressed or whatever. So before I then link together and then redirect this stuff. It’s gotta start with the differentiation, then the linkage.
And when you talked about a hand on your chest and a hand on your heart, you know, that’s a technique I think that’s been used by lots of different people. I use it a lot and went to a research center and I did a research study on me.
DAN: Which was, you know, when I put my right hand on my chest and my left on the heart, I feel really uncomfortable. And when I put my left hand on my chest and my right hand on my abdomen, I feel incredibly calm.
So I went to this research center and it’s true with about 90% of people. One way feels really good. One way feels really not.
GABBY: It’s the opposite for me.
DAN: For you it’s the opposite. And about 75% of people, it’s your way. Right on top left on, on the, on the bottom. So, I’m at this research center and I got incredibly high levels of integration in my nervous system.
DAN: Which you could measure with this instrument when I had the left on top. And when I switched it to the right on top, I got very disintegrated.
DAN: You could actually show it on this thing. And then I went over to the research director and I said, I just wanna try something with you. He goes, what are you doing?
I said, don’t even worry about, but can I touch your body? He goes, okay. Okay. So, I put my right hand on his chest. He’s very disintegrated. I can see on the graph. And then I put my left hand on his chest. He has no idea what I’m doing. And he becomes totally integrated. Now, I don’t know why that is. Someone should get their doctoral degree in that.
But so, what I could say from that one little teeny study is it’s possible. We don’t know for sure, but that technique that you are suggesting, people try perhaps one hand on the chest, one hand on the abdomen. People can try it right now as we’re talking. And switch it out. For the majority of us, one way will feel much more comforting than the other.
For about 5%, you know, it doesn’t help. And for about 5%, both are the same. It’s calming for, you know, 5%. So, it means you are really working to get yourself integrated and integration looks like it’s the basis of wellbeing.
GABBY: You’re listening to Dear Gabby. So you’re obviously caring about your mental health and your wellbeing, but I always wanna ask people, how are you caring for yourself lately? It’s not what we did yesterday. It’s not what we did last month or last year or the retreat that we went or the yoga class we took.
What are we doing today? How are you caring for yourself in this moment? And whether it’s taking longer baths, listening to podcasts that make you feel good, meditating more—you want to create a ritual, a ritual for feeling good. It’s the adding up of the small actions towards feeling good that make you calm.
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GABBY: Would you consider integration just the same as co-regulating?
DAN: Well, it’s very interesting. So, co-regulation is a great term from the science of, you know, emotion patterns, including emotion regulation, where on the one hand, a child needs what’s called dyadic—dyadic is a therapy—regulation to calm himself or herself or themself, you know?
And so in that sense, it’s a dyadic regulation. I, as your son would need you to help me regulate.
DAN: So, I’m not so much regulating you. The pair is helping me as a young nervous system being to regulate myself. And that becomes more autonomous regulation. So, co-regulation might be, at least my use of that term would be more like with your husband.
DAN: Like you’re both mature adults. You influence each other in a way where you’re both depending on each other, but it’s more symmetric. So, I would call that co-regulation. For a child, we would want the parent not to be regulated by a three-year-old.
GABBY: Really important point. Thank you.
DAN: You know what I mean?
DAN: It’s kind of like the use of attachment as a term versus bonding and I know this may sound like a sticky, like semantic issue.
GABBY: No, it’s important.
DAN: But as an attachment researcher, I really want people to use the term. A child is attached to us, which is great. You know, they’re gonna use the relationship to dyadically regulate their emotional states, learn to more autonomously regulate from an internal way from that dyadic regulation. And that’s great. So a child’s attached to us, hopefully they’ll develop towards secure attachment. Beautiful. We are bonded to our child. We don’t want to use the phrase I’m attached to my son or daughter because what that means is I’m needing my child to regulate me.
GABBY: Beautiful. Yeah. Great.
DAN: So, you don’t want, you don’t want your child to be parentified that way.
GABBY: That’s right.
DAN: Now, on the other hand, for our partner, we are in an attachment relationship with them for sure. And we co-regulate each other, yes. So, I would apply that in the romantic relationship or a really close friend would be your attachment figure. Or a mentor, but that might not be… as with a mentor, might not be as symmetric. But with a friend, with a romantic partner. Yeah. We have adult attachment relationships, but with a child we’re bonded to the child. And that’s, I think that reminds us…
GABBY: That’s a really important point. Yeah. It’s really important. And thank you because in my own interviews lately and stuff, I’ve been saying it like, oh, I’m co-regulating with my son. But not thinking of it, not understanding this. I am there to help regulate him. My presence regulates him.
DAN: Exactly. So, I would call that dyadic regulation. Now, there may be other writers who call that co-regulation and just want to be clear, you know, the parent is regulating the child, but co for me sort of implies a more symmetric thing.
GABB: Yeah. It’s also a really important point to make, which is that we don’t want to parentify our children. And for the listener right now, I’d love to get into some of the attachment science and some of the ways that we may have been parentified or that we may have been catapulted into anxious attachment or avoidant attachment and how that might be affecting us now, because for this audience, I mean, all the awareness they can get is so beneficial.
And I actually reference you and attachment science in this book just very slightly just to give the reader a greater, just a greater, another form of compassion towards himself, right? Oh, okay. That’s why I act like that. That’s why I lose my mind in relationships or whatever. And, and then most importantly, to not reflect that same attachment style onto our children.
So, you know, just top level, you can maybe touch on, on what people can start to recognize in themselves. Yeah. So. Just full disclosure because I’m trained as attachment researcher. You know, I may have a bias that I think attachment is like the coolest thing, which I do think so I think so too, other ways you’re in good company things you’re in good company.
I really think it’s very, I think it’s so important and it’s such great awareness for individuals. So, jump in. Yeah.
DAN: Yeah. And so just, we should also recognize that there are many cultural ways in which, you know, a child’s relationship to a parent is shaped. So, the thing I’m proud of is in attachment research, we do go to many different cultures and find the universal, um, not just in the west, not just in the United States or whatever. So, but that’s an important thing always to be questioning is, you know, what’s the cultural setting that’s going on. So, I’m a developmental attachment trained person.
So, what it is basically is patterns of communicating in the first years of life can be studied and are studied. And then they determine the way a child at one year of age will interact with a parent in a separation paradigm, which then involves a reunion. And so then we see certain patterns of attachment. Basically, it’s the way the baby has learned to deal with this particular parent in their relationship.
So, we never say that the attachment category is the child’s. We say it’s the relationship’s. So, this is a really important first point.
DAN: The second point is that, you know, that pattern with your primary caregiver tends to stay unless there are relationship changes and then influences the way the child is in school and in camp and stuff like that.
The third point is that the best predictor of the pattern of attachment that the child will have to you turns out to be not so much what happened to you. But how you’ve made sense of what happened to you. Which is incredibly liberating because people hear about attachment and they go, why should I bother to learn about that? Because whatever happened to me, I can’t change that, which of course is true. So why do I wanna know about it? Cuz what happened to me was horrible.
Well, the reason you wanna know about it is because while you can’t change what happened to you, you can change how you make sense of number one, what happened to you. Number two, how you adapted to what happened to you and number three, how those things have affected your development as an adult.
And that’s how you liberate yourself by the making sense process. So when I heard about that in 1985, it blew my mind wide open and I said, oh my gosh, I need to learn what that’s all about.
I was really interested in the brain and attachment, which the attachment researchers for the most part were not. So I was like a, you know, uh, maybe a little bit of irritant to them, but ultimately, you know, we all got along to figure out how is this individual called the baby adapting to in one case secure attachment, which is about 65% of the population.
And what’s called insecure. But I don’t like that term. So, I use the word non-secure avoidant detachment about 20% of the population where it’s emotional distance. And about 10 to 15% are non-secure ambivalent attachment where there’s intrusiveness and inconsistency. And then later there, they would develop a fourth category, which overlaps with the other three, actually.
Um, but in the research, it’s, it, it has a big effect and that’s called disorganized attachment. When we’re, we have experiences being terrified of our caregiver. And that can be anywhere from, depending on the study, five to even 30% of the non-clinical population. So. That’s an overarching thing of the four categories of attachment in our field of developmental attachment.
DAN: And then what we do is we follow these babies into their, you know, primary school years, their adolescence, their young adulthood, their maturity. And can say that if you had security, if you had non-secure avoidant, non-secure ambivalent or non-secure disorganized. We can predict certain general patterns over hundreds and hundreds of people.
And in the AAI, the adult attachment interview, we now have over 20,000 subjects that have been studied, and we can predict that the way you’ve made sense of your life as a parent is the best predictor of what your child will have as an attachment to you.
GABBY: The way that you have made sense of yourself as a parent from your attachment experience as a child, right?
GABBY: Is a predictor of how your child will attach to you.
DAN: The best predictor. I mean, you’re talking 85% predictability, huge percentage.
GABBY: What about those of us, myself who definitely had non-secure attachment in different forms, probably more than one and has done a boatload of beautiful personal growth and awareness and spiritual practice. And is now very consciously using methods like yours and tuning and leading from self. Please tell me that I won’t be bringing up my child the same way.
DAN: So, Gabrielle that you are the poster child of what we mean by making sense. So, you know, I remember this moment of, um, we were having a dinner at the research training program in Virginia.
To my left was Mary Main, the first who created the adult attachment interview. So, my right was Mary Ainsworth, the co-creator of John Bowlby of the entire field of attachment research. And it was a very noisy restaurant and I was between the two Mary’s. So, for three hours, the two of them turned to me and the three of us had this deep, incredibly powerful, inspiring conversation.
I was just new to the whole field. And so, what Mary Ainsworth had discovered which many people have found since, was that you can literally, in this research instrument, you can show someone had reports of the most horrible kind of child that you can imagine, but they’ve made sense of it. And like you’re saying, the making sense process, and then we followed their children and they’re securely attached.
DAN: So when I heard this from the Marys and…
GABBY: Hm, the Marys
DAN: …the two Marys, Mary Main and Mary Ainsworth, you know, I, as a therapist, I was saying, you know something? Everyone needs to hear about this because people are so scared, understandably, to go back and reflect on what happened to them. Cause it was so painful back then.
Why would they do it? This is why to do it. The research instrument, the adult attachment interview is the only instrument, according to the Bessel Van der Kolk—we were teaching together recently—that assesses the difference between just are you, were you traumatized or not versus have you resolved it?
The AAI, the adult attachment interview can assess this person has made sense of their trauma, the developmental trauma of abuse or neglect. And now they’ve come through with what’s called a coherent narrative, which is the making sense process. Essentially, they’ve integrated their brain.
DAN: So, they can have integrated relationships. They can have that PART—presence, attune, resonance and trust. And now what happens is even though that was your childhood history, you’ve taken the time and had the courage to make sense of what happened. You free yourself up from what the studies also show sadly, is that if someone did have a terrible experience in early childhood and doesn’t take the time to make sense of it, unfortunately, the research shows they’re likely to pass it on you know, transgenerational trauma.
So, there is this call to action from this empirical research, finding that making sense of your life makes sense to do.
GABBY: Thank you. Yes, I’ve made sense. And I can see it.
DAN: You’ve integrated.
GABBY: I’ve integrated and I can see it. And that’s, I just wanna really shout from the rooftops why I’m so proud of the listener for being here and listening, because that means that they’re in the pursuit of making sense.
GABBY: And that it’s is a journey of making sense, but it is possible.
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GABBY: One of the things I wanted to come back to was how we can, in the pursuit of making sense for ourselves and for our children and for all of our relationships and connections, what can we do to create a secure environment for ourselves along the way?
Because it takes time and it takes courage to go to the places that scare you, to face the exiled parts. I wrote a whole book about it here and along the way, I wanna really provide some opportunities for folks to self-soothe. And so, what I did in the book was I took the four Ss and I turned them onto myself.
So I’d love to just touch on the four Ss. It’s one of my favorite of your acronyms. There’s so many, but this is one of my top faves. And just to, in your words, I would be fascinated to hear how one might present those four Ss to themselves.
DAN: Yeah. Well, thank you. You know, Gabrielle, the four Ss come from, well, a lot of this stuff, you know, I’m trained as a scientist.
I work as a therapist, I’m a dad and I’m also an educator. So, you know, stuff from the science kind of filters through me. And so, when I’m hanging out with my attachment research colleagues. There’s a lot of statistics, a lot of, you know, looking at the ways we’re studying things and all that stuff. And that’s really important.
DAN: And then there’s how do you take the rigorous science from hard work from these researchers, these academics, but then say how do we face towards the public? Like the parenting public. And say what’s useful about that? So. I’m in this bridging kind of position.
GABBY: you are, you’re such a translator. Let me, before you go on, I wanna say you are a translator and you have done a beautiful job of taking these clinical ideas and research and just demystifying. Your acronyms really help. So carry on.
DAN: Well, thank you. Thank you. And the Ss, as you know, it’s a mnemonic that helps you remember basically to develop security, which we’ll say is our fourth S.
You need three fundamental relational experiences. And when there are ruptures to any of those experiences, cuz there’s no such thing as perfect parenting. There’s just being present as a parent. When there are ruptures, you repair them…
GABBY: And the repair works.
DAN: The repair absolutely works. So, we wanna honor Ed Tronick’s beautiful studies that really show there, there can happen all sorts of ruptures.
So, we need to make sure that when we dive into this and I’ll go through the S’s in a moment. When you’re hearing these Ss, please, as a parent, if you’re listening or just any human being to be really kind to yourself and compassionate and realize that no one is perfect and gets this right. But at least this gives us a direction.
GABBY: Yes, exactly.
DAN: So the first S is safety and this has two kind of aspects to it. One is, you know, we keep our child safe, you know, from harm. Hurting physically, hurting themselves or, you know, emotionally getting upset. But the other aspect of it too, is we are not the source of terror, right? By either indirectly, like we’re yelling at the TV set at the cuz we hate what’s going on in politics and we’re screaming so loud, we scare our child. That’s terrifying.
DAN: You wouldn’t call it abuse, but it is terrifying.
DAN: Or we’re fighting with our spouse in, in, in domestic ways that are terrifying, or we come home drunk.
DAN: Now those are all ways you might call indirect. But then of course there’s direct ways where, you know, physically, sexually, verbally, emotionally, we’re abusing our child. So, this way of being terrified is not just abuse. It’s all these other things too. So, we want to keep our child safe. And again, like any of these, if there’s a rupture, we wanna make a repair as readily as possible.
GABBY: What is a repair? Just for the listener? What does a repair look like?
DAN: It means, and I do this in all my books. It means, I think I had this. Yeah. In a book I wrote called Mindsight, there’s a chapter called, Crepes of Wrath, where we go to a crepe store and my son won’t share it with his little sister. And so, I flip my lid. I lose it.
You know, I start screaming at him, yelling at him. He became a musician, you know, and, but at that time he was just learning guitar. And I’m saying, I’m gonna take his guitar away for five years or whatever I said. I was outta my mind and you know, it was scary.
DAN: And, and so repair was basically with Caroline, my wife’s their mom’s help. You know, we sat down as a family. And I said, I need to apologize. What was that like for you when I was taking your guitar away and yelling, screaming, and they were talking about how scary it was, and then our son, you know, started imitating me, which he’s a really good actor. So he was like, imitating me very well, which was both amusing and painful.
So, I had to get in that place of presence. And then talk about it. I said, I’m really sorry. You know, what I did was not right taking your guitar away for five years makes no sense and I had flipped my lid. They, in our family, people know the hand model of the brain. So, you know, I flipped my lid and my, you know, lower areas were taking over and I’m really sorry.
And let’s, you know, and I’m really sorry that what I did was scary to you and your sister. And so, we talked about it.
DAN: You know, and what it means is you as a parent are ready to own what you did. And be very present for the rupture that happened.
GABBY: I also love that in the repair, your child can see that you’re human. They can see that you can make a mistake and then you can show up for it. And it’s never too early to make repairs. I made repairs with my two-year-old now a three-year-old. Just exactly how you did it with your children. Exactly the steps.
GABBY: Yes. Beautiful.
DAN: That’s how, you know, that’s how you repair and it’s not easy and we can get rebuffed. So you need to be ready. When they say, I don’t wanna talk about it or you’re a bozo or it’s like, when I had my kids review, I think it was that chapter. Yeah. They were getting old enough, you know? And so, they read it and they said, well, yeah, it’s accurate, but what’s wrong with you that you wanna share with the world what a jerk you can be?
GABBY: No, what’s right with you?
DAN: Well, they didn’t realize that as kids, but yeah.
GABBY: And you know, it’s funny. I wanna also acknowledge for the listener that they can make a repair with their partner, the romantic partner, with a friend, with a coworker that you’re gonna mess up. You’re gonna overreact. I wanna, when we get through the Ss, I wanna just talk briefly about flipping your lid, because I think that’s gonna be beneficial to the parents and the humans, and just that repair is just divine. I make repairs all the time. I love it. And it lets you be human. Lets you come back to center.
DAN: Absolutely. So, the second S is about being seen. And you know, this is inspired by a patient of mine who once said when she got better in therapy, that the key to her getting better was that she had the experience of feeling felt. And I always wanna quote her because it’s the greatest phrase. I can see her, I know her name and, but I’m obviously, I’m not allowed to say her name.
But I give her credit for that because it’s such an elegant way of talking about being seen. That another person knows you and sees you, your inner mental life. And so you feel felt by that. So, so seen is the second S and we do this all the time. When we’re attuning, we’re present, in tune, we resonate.
The child has the feeling of feeling felt. And it’s a beautiful way of just describing what’s essential. Now, you know, the first one of being not being safe is often violated without repair in disorganized attachment. When we’re not seen, that’s often the case in avoidant attachment. So, you see these patterns, you know, and that’s really, you know, that’s a huge issue when you’re not seen You basically learn to go it alone and you don’t feel like you need other people and you develop this kind of more autonomous called avoidant detachment and that’s seen.
And then the third S is soothed S O O T H E D, which is the idea of dyadic regulation. That is, I turn to my mom or my dad. And in that interaction, I am going to feel better. So that’s what we mean by soothed. It’s very specific. And with ambivalent attachment, that often doesn’t happen because our parent is so filled with their own emotional life. They’re either inconsistent or intrusive in our emotions.
So you can kind of see the Ss kind of fit into these three non-secure patterns. You know, and so when you do have these three S’s and then when they’re ruptures to any of them, it’s repaired. Then you develop the fourth S which is secure attachment, which is essentially an internal sense of wholeness.
W H O L E wholeness, where you just feel like, you know, I can be in mutually rewarding relationships with others. I can, you know, feel that if I’m in need of connection, I can reach out. It’s not a guarantee of anything, but it’s the best we as parents can do to provide security, to give our kids an inner sense of resilience and belief in themselves as people.
GABBY: Yeah. And as adults, securely attached folks often come out confident and resilient.
DAN: And if you haven’t had those, you can get the confidence and resilience through making sense.
GABBY: That’s right.
DAN: And this is, this is the, you know, I mean, the thing I am so proud about our work as a humanity is that there is a field called attachment research, developmental attachment research that shows these attachment patterns, the way you have adapted what happened, whether it’s disorganized or avoidant or ambivalent, the non-secure forms.
You can move towards security. They’re not fixed. These are not genetically determined things. You can’t change your genes, which is stated by some other interpretations of the attachment research. It’s just not true. These are things that are changeable. And the work of making sense is this work of integrating your life.
GABBY: I am the poster child of making sense because I can see, you know, if I go through like an attachment style process or answer some questions, I can see all the old ways I would’ve been. Now I can see all the new secure ways I would be. I, I am. And so it is all hopeful. Let’s close on hope. It’s really…
DAN: It’s very hopeful.
GABBY: There is hope. There is hope. Yeah.
DAN: And it’s a science-based validation of, I think what people who’ve been courageous, like you have learned through the really hard work of going back to some very painful moments of looking at experiences that led to fragmentation where the feeling of absolute terror and a sense that there is no sanctuary of safety, uh, was the reality that we live as children, but then we adapt as best we can.
We come out through adolescence and then adulthood. And we really need to honor that journey of that’s the making sense journey that, that you’re really demonstrating. And I think for everyone to know, when you even look at whether it’s attachment research, it shows this, but even the brain research on what’s called neuroplasticity, that the brain continues to grow and change throughout the lifespan.
The process of making sense can take the basically blocked integration of the brain from adverse experiences and integrate the brain and studies show that an integrated brain is the best correlate of wellbeing that there is in terms of brain studies.
GABBY: Oh, really?
DAN: So, yeah. Yeah. So, so the making sense process literally is integrative.
When you work on your mindfulness and presence, that integrates things, making sense integrates things. And that’s the exciting thing that it all kind of fits together. When we look at integration as the basis of health and what we’ve tried to, you know, say in, in our Mindsight Institute, our basic motto is, you know, integration made visible is kindness and compassion and that’s a way we can live not only internally kind and compassion inner, inner way, but kind and compassion in our families, kind and compassionate in the family of all humanity.
And kindness and compassion to our place in all of nature. These are all the families, the circles of families that we live within beginning with our skin and case body and extending out to the whole planet.
GABBY: Dan, I adore you. You are just a wonderful person. You’re a wonderful human. Thank you for walking your talk.
DAN: Well, thank you.
GABBY: I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing so well and you’re so happy and so hopeful, and we need you to stay there to keep integrating.
DAN: Well together, we can, you know.
GABBY: That’s right. I think we’re at this great turning point that Joanna Macy beautifully guides us toward.
DAN: And I think together with the stuff you’re doing with what we all do. We can support each other and have fun along the way. Laugh, love and learn from one another.
GABBY: Thank you so much, my friend. I really appreciate you.
DAN: Thank you.
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