Empathy is necessary for the proper and healthy development of the brain and psyche. When it’s lacking or inconsistent, we become unable to manage stress. When our stress-response system is overwhelmed, we call that trauma. Inconsistent or absent mirroring and empathy in childhood is traumatic. Our society provides far too few opportunities for face-to-face mutuality and empathy.
There is a common sense notion that until people have their survival needs met, they can’t really express and try to gratify other, so-called “higher order” needs. Common sense is wrong. Needs for meaning, relationships, recognition and agency are every bit as important as economic survival needs. No one need is “primary.”
When a child’s attachment to a caretaker is secure, such an attachment–based on the latter’s empathy, reliability, and emotional availability–provides a secure foundation for the development of the child’s autonomous capacity for loving relationships. When attachment is insecure, the child—and later adult—becomes clinging or avoidant. Parents need to be good enough, not perfect. Finally, our society has to better nurture and support these childhood attachment relationships.
Gaslighting is the process by which one person attempt to drive another person crazy by challenging their sense of reality and denying they are doing so. It’s a cousin to the concept of the “double-bind” and the “Catch 22.” When a parent does this to a child, the results can be catastrophic. It is also, however, seen in milder forms in couples in which one partner keeps secrets from the other but denies this reality.