Crying it out (CIO) has become a popular tool among Western parents seeking to get their babies to sleep through the night. It ranges from controlled crying – leaving a baby to cry for a few minutes at a time before comforting him – to extinction – leaving a baby to cry until he stops, which can take hours.
CIO is naturally a very controversial topic, and the parental blogosphere is awash in opinions and scientific research on the matter. Having co-written a book on natural baby care, I can report that almost any mainstream practice has research to back it up and research to discount it. And we can find wonderful critiques of those scientific studies and their flaws.
Most parents choose the path that feels right to them, and then find the research to back up their choice. Personally, I’m comfortable with my practice of comforting my babies every time they cry.
As my intuitive life coaching practice has evolved, I’ve incorporated into it complimentary practices, including energy healing and shamanism. And my accompanying research led me to an interesting discovery.
Shamanic journeying is a practice by which a healer, or shaman, accesses an altered state of consciousness in order to retrieve lost parts of the soul. These lost parts have fled the body – or more aptly, the unified psyche – due to emotionally or physically traumatic events, leading to a psychological condition known as disassociation.
According to the American Psychiatrical Association (APA), “Dissociation has been defined in several different ways:
- a disruption of and/or discontinuity in the normal integration of consciousness, memory, identity, emotion, perception, body representation, motor control, and behavior
- a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity or perception of the environment. The disruption may be sudden or gradual, transient or chronic.
- an unconscious defense mechanism involving the segregation of any group of mental or behavioral processes from the rest of the person’s psychic activity; may entail the separation of an idea from its accompanying emotional tone, as seen in dissociative and conversion disorders.
Dissociation is often considered to exist on a spectrum or continuum, ranging from normal (normative dissociation) to pathological dissociation.”
Soul loss or disassociation may sound obscure, but it’s a self-protection tool that we all use at some point. When in trauma, we have the capacity to separate from the source of pain, lifting into another mental plane. We can do this whether the trauma is severe, like loss of a limb, or moderate, like an embarrassment. The defining factor in a dissociative event that leads to soul loss is that the part of us that left our body finds the experience so painful that it chooses to flee for good. The resultant experience of a person who experienced soul loss can range from mild – a lack of energy, or a sense of not being fully engaged in one’s life, to severe – depression or suicidal tendencies. It can often be recognized by a vacant look in one’s eyes.
In most cases soul loss can be reversed, but in Western cultures it usually goes undiagnosed, and shamanic techniques are not yet mainstream enough that the average sufferer would know how to find a remedy. Psychologists have many tools to treat disassociation over time, but it’s my understanding that these methods aren’t as effective as shamanic journeying, which can cure soul loss in one session.
Let’s circle back to our original topic – crying it out. Infants are hard wired to cry out in order to have their needs met, and their little bodies get increasingly stressed when those needs are ignored. Babies who are left to cry experience the distress of 1. having a need that isn’t being met, 2. being unable to meet that need themselves, and 3. being alone in the world with those problems. Adults have the capacity to view his tears in a larger context, but to babies that is the big picture.
Is crying-it-out a significant enough trauma to cause soul loss? That depends upon the circumstances and the baby. The baby’s temperament shapes his perspective regarding his situation. Soul loss is self-protective mechanism that kicks in when trauma is experienced, and a subjectively traumatic CIO circumstance could therefore cause soul loss.
My own life coach once referred to my nighttime parenting methods as “stepping in the line of fire to protect the baby.” Sure, I’m tired. But I also have enough experience to know that this will end, which my baby doesn’t. The tears may stop, but the impacts of his hurt would live on, whether in the form of soul loss or a lesser wounding of the spirit.
When soul loss and psychological wounding are at risk, it’s worth seriously considering alternative sleep practices. Co-sleeping and night nursing are our tools to meet nighttime needs. Those long nights with waking babies are certainly trying, yet the adage “the days are long but the years are short” holds true. The more love we provide during a child’s formative years, the better we equip them to handle life’s inevitable challenges from a place of strength.
Miriam J. Katz is co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year, where you can find a guide to safe co-sleeping and other fun tools. Miriam is a career and life coach whose passion is to help women realize their life purpose. She lives in Boston with her husband and two children.