Book review: Mindsight, by Dan Siegel, MD

Posted by on Mar 29, 2016 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Book review: Mindsight, by Dan Siegel, MD

Book Review: Mindsight, Dan Siegel, M.D.

Where does the ability to sense our own inner world come from? Dan Siegel explains this in his book Mindsight. He says that the quality of early relationships “lights up” our sense of self, and creates an ability to perceive it. The first step is the contact between two people, and the second step is the inner perception. He names the ability to perceive ourselves “Mindsight”.

Let’s take a moment to take that in. Our contact with early caregivers becomes internalized as a sense, a faculty comparable to vision or hearing, except that instead of sensing light or sound, mindsight is the sense of our experience.

You might say to yourself, I know what he’s talking about – that’s thinking! But that would be a misreading of his meaning. When he coined the term mindsight, he was pointing us toward something both familiar and new. Mindsight includes thinking and much more. To Siegel, the mind is embodied, and relational and dynamic. We do not perceive ourselves in a vacuum, but rather through a web of feelings, bodily processes and mutually derived meanings. Or as he jokes, “there is no immaculate perception”. It’s not like a computer or … what might be called “mind” but in truth is much more than mental.

So, why do we care? Why does that matter? For many reasons:

  • The most important relationship you have is the relationship with yourself. Mindsight is the ability to perceive it.
  • It tells us how early relationships affect us in the present.
  • Mindsight is developed, and refined over the course of life. Some people get a great start with it, others less so, but no matter where you are now, it is a skill that you can develop to promote well being.
  • Using tools of mindfulness in the present time can help. We don’t have to live with whatever circumstances we were born into.
  • The connection with self is a kind of knowing. Not so much the accumulation of facts as how you put things together, how you synthesize the totality of facts, prior experience, and intuition.
  • Much of our internal processing is automatic and unperceived.   Yet it controls the way we see things, the meaning we make of our lives. If it’s working, that’s great, but if it’s not, then this is one way to initiate change. Mindsight turns our attention towards inner processing and thereby begins to give us the power to remodel the meaning we make of our experience.

Siegel unravels the mysteries of implicit and explicit memory in a particularly illuminating way. It’s a truism to say that therapy looks to the past to explain the present. Both kinds of memory color current experience, causing us to see things in a certain way. But the distinctive difference about implicit memory is that we do not experience it as something we recall, merely as the way things are. The work of therapy often involves making implicit memory conscious.

“When we are on autopilot, our awareness “believes” what it perceives. There is no mindsight…”(p.202).

It’s a great book, and if you’d like to work on some of the things he writes about, please give me a call or text at 510 863 4795.