The Pleasure Principle
Public Speaking and The Gaze of Attunement:
Mother Mirroring and The Father Gaze
By Lee Glickstein
I've been reading scientific studies about the mother/infant gaze and understand ever more clearly how Relational Presence practice dissolves the self-consciousness that arises from our earliest disconnects.
Mother Mirroring and Attunement
Around age 4 months we began fixating on the eyes of our mother (or other primary caregiver), and over the next several months of mutual gazing interactions we took on the nature of her attunement as our own. This early training strongly influenced our strengths and limitations in being present and sharing emotional space with others for decades to come.
"[Attunement] is a finely calibrated process requiring that the parent remain herself in a relatively non-stressed, non-anxious, non-depressed state of mind. Its clearest expression is the rapturous mutual gaze infant and mother direct at each other....." (Gabor Maté, M.D., "Scattered.")
As the infant leads and the mother follows, they move together into relaxed, happy, pleasurable spaces where the infant can interrupt eye contact and then resume it without repercussion. That is, if mom is relatively healthy and undistracted.
The vibration of healthy attunement is exactly the same among mothers and infants in all societies since time immemorial, and a child with such foundation naturally grows up at ease among others and fluid in emotional and creative expression.
But in this stressed-out world many of us grew up learning attunement from distracted, anxious, and/or depressed moms. Aside from compromising our capacity for healthy attachment (the larger process of which attunement is the foundational component) this early training left us attunement-impaired in our own unique way, and thus prone to self-consciousness and performance anxiety. After all, when we tend to be ill at ease in the eyes of one other, the eyes of a group of others on us can be torture.
The Father Gaze and Public Speaking
While Mother Mirroring ideally conveys to the infant: "You are love, you are safe, we are one," the Father Gaze (which I have been working on with Ray Arata) ideally kicks in when the toddler tries to accomplish something in the world of objects. That gaze conveys "You are remarkable. You can do it. I believe in you."
My first public speaking experiences were as a toddler of limited vocabulary expressing myself at the dinner table. Night after night, these early attempts to verbalize elicited daggers of contempt from my dad. I read in his eyes that I was a distraction of little value. This perspective dominated my self-image for decades, and internalizing his harsh gaze led to decades of stage fright. (My dad grew up during the Great Depression and heroically eked out a living under conditions more severe than I would ever face. But a toddler has no historical perspective.)
What comes through the father figure's gaze to the preverbal child profoundly influences his or her self-image, relationships, and sense of value in the world. Until brought to awareness, it directly impacts public speaking and leadership capacity.
Relational Presence Practice to the Rescue!
How exciting it is to find that the healthy gaze of attunement we were meant to embody as infants and toddlers is exactly the gaze of Relational Presence that I have been teaching all these years. By healing Mother Mirroring and Father Gaze wounds, this practice serves as both the antidote to public speaking anxiety and the foundation for authentic powerful expression.
As we strengthen our capacity for Relational Presence and make it the foundation of all our interactions, we discover just how much others crave the gaze of attunement. When we luxuriously provide it, how pleasurable and trustworthy we are to listen to, speak with, learn from, and work with.
© Copyright 2011, Lee Glickstein. All rights reserved.