Imagine Health Weekly Blog - Attunement (26/4/12)
By- April 26, 2012
Attunement in our relationships can be defined at the basic level as ‘being aware of, and responsive to, another’.
Attunement has primary significance in parent/carer - child relationships particularly during the first three years of life when babies and infants require another person to tune into their world so that they can then learn about the world and have their needs met. At this early stage of life, attunement can simply mean following a baby’s cues. Whilst attunement is vital to the establishment of stable, healthy attachments between an infant and caregiver, there is value in fostering and reflecting on our level of attunement in all of our relationships throughout our lives. This is particularly the case given neuroscientific evidence that relationships shape neural processes and how effectively we adapt to stress across the life span. If attunement can enhance our sense of being in relationships then amazingly it may have a positive effect on our neurochemistry (Siegal, 2012).
So what then is an ‘attuned presence’ and how can we develop this in our relationships at work and at home? Given that attunement has a lot to with non-verbal communication, we can use eye contact, gesture and physical touch to tune into another person’s state of mind for a few moments in the day. Language and tone of voice can also be combined with all or any of these elements.
It sounds like you feel/felt like….
So if I hear you right, you are saying….
Let me see if I understand you...
A lot of people feel like that sometimes….
It's okay. Things will work out….
Another important issue when considering attunement is the type of relationship we are in at any point. Our day to day relationships may include parent/ carer – child, teacher- student and therapist – client whereby the first person in each dyad holds the responsibility for being sensitive to signals. In relationships between parent and adult son or daughter, romantic relationships and relationships between friends/colleagues the responsibility to respond to each other sensitively lies equally with both parties (Siegal, 2012).
Whilst mindfulness practices now provide us with useful strategies to maintain our attention on the present moment, the fostering of attunement may enable to us to pay attention to each other in the present moment and enhance our sense of connectivity with others in a world where we can feel increasingly alienated and alone. Of course, different levels of attunement will be more or less appropriate in our varied relationships but the evidence from neuroscience indicates that bringing a certain level of attunement to all of our relationships has benefits for ourselves and the other person involved.
Daniel Siegal (2012) The Developing Mind, Second Edition: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are.