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Rupture and Repair

Rupture and Repair

August 1 2016

In last month’s blog there was a snippet right at the end about something called Rupture and Repair. This is such a fundamental part of being in relationship with another, even when one of you is a parent or a caregiver, that it deserves a deeper explanation...

Did you know that, in parent-child relationships, we are in tune with our children only 30% of the time? Being ‘in tune’ - or attunement - is that ‘in sync’ feeling you get when things are humming along beautifully in a relationship; when you feel known and understood at a deep, non-verbal level.

For children attunement is an important, relational way of coming to know themselves and the world they live in. When we attune to our children and really see them for who they are, we help them understand their inner experience - an essential building block for building a sense of self. A sense of their place in their world. A sense of me and ‘we’.

Dan Siegel, an eminent American child and adolescent psychiatrist (and author of the book reviewed last time) puts it succinctly, “Children need attunement to feel secure and to develop well, and throughout our lives we need attunement to feel close and connected."

So if attunement is at the heart of ‘feeling felt’ in relationships, what happens when we aren’t attuned? Welcome to the real and messy world of relational ups and downs!

If we are only truly in relational sync 30% of the time, this means there is a rather large chunk of time (namely 70%) that we are out of sync in our close relationships. During these times of moving towards or away from attunement, we are having meltdowns (the children or sometimes us!), ‘moments’ or messes - otherwise known as ruptures. And we are also (hopefully) making these ruptures, and our relationship, right again - the repair.

Turns out that this moving in and out of sync, or rupture and repair, teaches something incredibly key to our children. ‘Nneuroscientists hypothesise that repair is a key process in building the capacity for empathy: in learning that we can become disconnected but then reconnect, we learn about another’s experience and their pain. We also learn that pain and anger cannot end relationships.’[1]

It’s important to point out that the repair must actually take place in the relationship, not just in our heads by thinking how we would do it differently next time, or by beating ourselves up for not being perfect. Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect parent or caregiver. Even if you try your best (and you should when you’re caring for the next generation) you’ll still only hit that magic feeling of attunement around 30% of the time. This is the real and messy reality of all relationships.

So when things take a turn for the worse and your relationship with your child suffers a rupture (and often it’s the adult who gets it wrong!), tune into what it must have been like for this child in this moment. Say sorry that you got a little grumpy, give a cuddle when feelings have been hurt, share a special moment when the world feels like it’s ended. When all is said and done, it’s not really about who was right and who was wrong; it’s about helping children to feel felt and understood again, about calming their developing brains down, and about helping them develop a worthy sense of self.

To finish, here’s some wise words from Session Three of our 6-session flagship course, Growing In Connection: “Children don’t learn best from perfect adults. They learn best from adults who care for them deeply, who accept them even when things are difficult, who work hard to create genuine, consistent and joy-filled relationships with them. Rupture and repair is part of this. It’s knowing what you’re doing. It’s part of building relationships.”

[1] Growing In Connection, Session Three