Helping Babies Heal through Compassion and Accurate Empathy
Gabor Maté stated that "All of Western medicine is built on getting rid of pain, which is not the same as healing. Healing is actually the capacity to hold pain".
This statement highlights a crucial distinction often overlooked in modern healthcare. While alleviating pain is undoubtedly essential, true healing encompasses a deeper process of transformation, requiring an ability to confront and embrace emotional discomfort. This concept is particularly significant in the context of infant care, where pain, in its various forms, and a duality between life and death, since conception, is an inevitable part of the developmental journey.
In line with Maté's perspective, helping babies heal from pain goes beyond identifying a symptom and medicating or soothing their discomfort, or making it go away. It calls for a holistic approach that acknowledges and nurtures the emotional experience underlying that symptom, or behaviour. This involves creating an environment of empathy and understanding, where babies feel safe to express their emotions without feeling unseen, or that there is something wrong with them that needs fixing, and the need to suppress their feelings.
Accurate Empathy: The Gateway
Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is the gateway towards healing. For babies, empathy manifests as a sensitive attunement to their caregivers' emotional cues. When caregivers respond to their babies' cries and expressions with empathy, they validate their experiences, fostering a sense of security and trust. This emotional connection lays the foundation for feelings of wantedness and belonging, enabling babies to navigate the challenges of life with greater confidence.
Empathy is crucial to baby’s development and healing journey, but accurate empathy has the potential to change their lives forever. When you know with accuracy what the baby’s prenatal or birth experience was that resulted in the expression of specific symptoms or behaviours, then you can meet them with exactitude in those experiences, their brains are rewired, because these neural networks that were built based on these experiences weaken and they tend to disappear, relieving the emotions attached to it.
Compassion: The Holding Space
When babies experience emotions (I love the term energy in motion, by Dr Joe Dispenza), caregivers' responses play a critical role in shaping their emotional experience. Instead of rushing to eliminate the source of discomfort, approaching pain with compassion allows caregivers to deeply connect with their suffering by providing a sense of containment, by validating the baby’s emotion, and allow them to feel it with the baby, until the energy attached to that experience can transform and move out of their bodies. Only through a compassionate presence will babies feel safe to navigate big emotions without shutting them down. This approach fosters healthy relationships, teaching babies that their emotions are valid and that they are supported in their vulnerability.
Healing through Connection
Just as physical pain requires attention and care, emotional pain also demands expression and acknowledgment. Creating a safe and supportive environment where babies, even before birth, feel safe expressing their emotions is essential for their emotional well-being. This may involve providing opportunities for non-verbal expression, intentional observation, mental as well as verbal validation, or energetic touch, acknowledging their feelings without judgment, from the moment they are developing in the womb.
The capacity to hold pain, as Maté suggests, is not about suppressing or enduring pain but about accepting and metabolizing it through accurate empathy and connection. By approaching babies' pain with compassion, rooted in connection and a deeper understanding of what it means to be human, caregivers set the stage for a lifetime of emotional resilience and well-being, for both babies and parents.
Hi, I'm Alex!
I'm a Perinatal Somatic Coach and a Doula, whose great passion is the power of compassion and emotional holding. My dream is to ensure that parents and babies don't go through difficult birth experiences without being given the chance to heal right from the start.
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