We are all born with an inbuilt need to connect with other humans.
Unlike many of our animal kingdom cousins, humans are born – and remain for a very long time – intensely dependent on the adults in their world to care for them and look after them.
Because of this, we crave the continuous knowledge that we are safe.
The baby who cries when you put him or her down does so because to be put down means you might get left behind when the hunter-gatherer tribe moves on to the next set of fruit trees.
The baby who only sleeps when it’s close enough to it’s mother’s breast that it can smell the milk does so because to be separated from it’s food supply means certain death.
And the baby who kicks and flails whenever it’s having its diaper changed does so because the nervous system is so underdeveloped that it becomes completely overwhelmed by the enormous amount of sensory stimuli assaulting it’s brain all at once.
Before we can learn anything else, we have to guarantee that we will survive – that we will be safe.
But more than that, one of the things that sets us apart as humans is that we are conscious social creatures. We have the capacity to think about a ‘me’ and a ‘you’ and to understand ourselves in light of that social relationship.
To do this, we need to understand all of the emotional, physical and relational inputs that come at us every day. And because we come into the world so very underdeveloped, the task of learning about those inputs is hardwired to come to us through our relationships.
So not only do baby’s need to be reassured constantly that they’re safe, but they also need to learn that they are known.
A crying baby doesn’t know that the horrible feeling coming from the middle of it’s body is called hunger. It also doesn’t know that this feeling can be fixed, or why this feeling makes it so scared. But over time, as this horrible feeling shows up again and again only to be replaced with the good feeling of milk and comfort and happiness, the baby learns that they are known.
As they grow up, they skin their knee and it feels like the end of the world again – until someone comes along and picks them up and holds them and says, “I know, sweetie – that hurts doesn’t it! You poor thing. Let me kiss it better.”
As our pain is seen and acknowledged, we become known.
But there’s one more thing we need. Humans thrive on this idea that they are unique. That they have something to offer the world. That they are needed. That they are precious.
And so when that baby rolls over for the first time, what do they do? They look to see whether you noticed. When they start to make sounds and you copy them, they beam with delight and try again. Our uniqueness and our value is developed every time someone responds to us and values our contributions to our world – however small they are.
When we find out that we have something to offer, we learn that we are precious.