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.”
The Imposter Syndrome refers to a series of beliefs that seem to tell us that if we are successful, strong, confident, or ambitious—in other words, if we acquire and enjoy the good things in life—we will suffer the punishment of shame, guilt or an otherwise painful psychological consequence. People limit or put themselves down in order to mitigate such consequences. They may become perfectionists. They may be unable to properly take care of themselves and burn out. Self-awareness of such dynamics is the first step toward overcoming the imposter syndrome and allowing oneself to enjoy, rather than undo, one’s success.
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.