What is nurturance?
Providing security is just the first albeit essential step. Using that as a base upon which the developmental dance of attunement can be enacted is the next step. But this is actually not enough, if the result is a limited empathy, an individual who may be functional but still identified with narrow tribal or sectarian concerns. A further step is needed, to do with enlarging the scope of mindful empathy. Let me try to unpack this for you.
Let us begin in the uterus, at 5 months to be precise. This is the time when the right amygdala, an almond shaped nucleus which determines experiential salience, first comes on line. Domestic violence lights it up, as do any other stresses on the mother (and the mother’s amygdala). In mother and baby, fear triggers a fight or flight response. If it is overwhelming, a frozen hopelessness ensues. But anything less extreme will also activate safety and comfort seeking clinging behaviour via the right amygdala’s connections with other regions in the right prefrontal lobe. The social engagement systems get activated. Caring responses will then pacify amygdalar overactivity, and, over months and years of such experiences, memories/internal representations of comforting are laid down neurologically, so that it becomes possible for the growing being to pacify itself and build resilience. What I’ve described is an (over)simplified version of the laying down of basic attachment states and behaviours to do with psychological resilience . This is the vital secure foundation for the next steps, developing a sense of myself, developing a sense of other beings. These require the beautiful dance of inter-relational attunement that we see between mums and babies, when a secure base is in place. For the next few years, this neurodevelopmental dance goes on between infant and carer, and between right amygdala and its to and fro connections with the rest of the (mainly) right brain, especially the middle anterior bits that have to do with emotional modulation and relational processes (to internal experience, experience of others, experience of the world). Alan Schore, probably the world’s leading contemporary infant developmental researcher, puts it graphically; the mother’s right anterior lobe programmes get downloaded into the baby’s right anterior lobe, for good or ill.