Focused Illusions

by Ruth Newton

Recently I saw the film Now You See Me 2 and found myself focused more on the power of illusion then the high intensity good guy/bad guy plot.1 In this movie, the characters are master Robin Hood magicians consciously trained to build illusions, so that at first it is quite difficult to assess who’s on what side (unless you saw Now You See Me 1, which I hadn’t). Between scenes, though, I found myself drifting into a rather sardonic fantasy about how we are all living in multiple illusions with fractal-like repetitions that interact with survival pressures, moving frenziedly toward that cataclysmic moment when the butterfly flaps its wings and the whole thing collapses…and I was only eating popcorn!

At the time, the movie prompted me to ask, “Can we know what is real? But who knew this question would alarmingly rise to consciousness in the minds of many as we daily see that a large swath of the population denies agreed upon facts. As one example, the December 9, 2016 Public Policy Polling2 release states that 67% of Trump supporters say unemployment increased during the Obama administration when the November 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an ongoing unemployment decline during the Obama administration to its current rate of 4.6%.3

How can this be understood? Even though the question is assuredly multi-layered and multi-faceted with no simply answer, I am struck with the reality that if one is lost, unknown, and suddenly found, the experience is so profound that it imprints us. In the face of survival, facts are utterly insignificant.

Now I acknowledge I may be stretching it…and stretching it a lot…but I experienced the power of this phenomenal imprinting in Japan. Hiking with four other people, I was not inclined to climb yet another hill, so our guide said that I could take the train to the next stop where the group would pick me up. He assured me the station had amenities, and that he would pick me up in an hour. Since we were in rural Japan, the conductor naturally only spoke Japanese so our guide asked him to stop at the next station where I would be getting off.

Well, the next station was a 4 x 5 foot lean-to shed-like structure and the amenities were clearly the outdoors. There was no one there. As I watched the train disappear in the distance, the silence was deafening, and I quickly repressed the thought, “Should I be concerned about this?”. I decided to assume all was normal and pulled out a science article to read, something that generally soothes me…but not this time. I walked around a bit to see if there were other souls around but found only three closed-up houses…there was no one. An hour later when our guide called out ‘Ruth,’ my body nearly collapsed from the resonance of being found. It permanently imprinted my body/mind/spirit, and I’ll never forget it.

What if someone has never had experienced, or only weakly had experienced, the feeling of being known by someone? What kind of mental strategies would that person need to develop in order to live? So much of our body’s instinctual guidance cannot be used in supporting health and well-being under the weight of left-brain strategies that do not couple with authentic feeling. How can one know how one feels if no one sees, hears, or feels their deeper self?

Biological instincts honed by millions of years of evolution fire in milliseconds unless corrupted by trauma or hypnotized by the mind. We also have something known as resonance associated with affect synchrony that can create a sense of being known and valued in a co-created, trusting relationship (see Newton, 2008, 2009, 20134,5; Schore, 19976, 20127, Schore & Newton, 20138, Stern, 19859). However, it is hard to feel one’s instincts, let alone evaluate what prompts them, within the clamor of an everyday life increasingly powered by mental concepts. How can we recognize and attune to the sonorous beeps of instinct when under the bludgeoning weight of a left-brain-ruled life that holds up neon actuarial data of how we should be?

Although the film eventually shows how the illusions are created using what we would all agree on as ‘reality,’ children are not capable of this type of evaluation and must rely on the care, judgment, concepts, and instincts of their parents. But while parents have passed on knowledge to their children from one generation to the next for millions of years, we are now living in an age in which children are exposed to much more than family values, culture, and lore passed on by parents. They are also exposed to an ever-enlarging parallel universe of unknown learning from electronic relationships at very early ages, which are often outside of their parents’ knowledge and control.

Sensitive-enough parenting is still occurring despite it all, but we do have busy parents and busy children with often not a lot of time to just play, relax, and enjoy each other’s company.

The Newton Center for Affect Regulation, affectionately known as NCAR, specializes in the neuroscience of attachment and its clinical application for all ages. We are fortunate to have grants funded by First 5 San Diego through Family Health Centers of San Diego and Healthy Development Services to provide dyadic interventions to infants/young toddlers and their parents to support secure attachment.

We see first-hand the impact on infant development when parents are stressed, without resources, and/or have no emotional support. Parents are often not aware that their infant is living and developing within the parent’s implicit nonverbal world that I call the bodyworld. As clinicians attune to infant/parent dyadic relationship, we help stressed parents understand and speak the ancient language all infants speak: the language of eye contact, affective faces, voice prosody, gesture, touch, and smell. Good-enough caring and attuned relational interactions between infants and parents means the infant will begin to feel known by the parent, a critical component of security and a focus of our work.

Given that the forces of evolution are quite serious about etching into flesh survival patterns for living in the environment a human being is born into through the primary attachment relationship itself, is it really a political question whether to provide funding and support for families during this period of life?

Infancy is a primary entrainment period for biology4 that needs protection. It is time for society to step up and support family units developing primary parent/infant bonds during the first two years of life so that all children, the future’s parents, feel known and guided. There is enough neuroscientific data on board now to prompt us to ask, “What kind of political illusion are we in that continues to hide, de-prioritize, and obfuscate the reality that the U.S. ranks 26th out of 29 developed countries on overall child well-being?” 10,11

Frankly, I really don’t need to know how this illusion was created; I just need it to change.


Ruth P . Newton, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of NCAR and a licensed clinical psychologist specialized in the use of attachment and affect regulation theories in interventions from birth through adulthood. Dr. Newton trains and supervises master’s and doctoral level interns in attachment, affect regulation, and developmental theories and interventions at St. Vincent de Paul Village’s Therapeutic Childcare program. She has been an active member of the Allan Schore Los Angeles Study Group for Interpersonal Neurobiology since 2004. Dr. Newton is the author of The Attachment Connection: Parenting a Secure and Confident Child Using the Science of Attachment Theory and the originator of Integrative Regulation Therapy (iRT), a neurobiological evidence-informed limbic system scaffolding used for observation, assessment, and interventions for all ages. Dr. Newton is the founder and director of the Newton Center for Affect Regulation (NCAR) and has developed an iRT training program for clinicians entitled Scaffolding the Brain. Dr. Newton is endorsed by the California Center for Infant-Family and Early Childhood Mental Health as an Infant-Family and Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist and Reflective Practice Facilitator III/Mentor.




1 Now You See Me 2 directed by Jon M. Chu, produced by Bobby Cohen, Alex Kurtzman, & Roberto Orci.

2 Public Policy Polling. (December 9, 2016). www.publicpolicypolling.com. 

3 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (November, 2016).


4 Newton, R. P. (2009, 2013). Scaffolding the brain: a neurobiological approach to assessment and intervention: Integrative Regulation Therapy (iRT). Unpublished manuscript.

5 Newton, R. P. (2008). The Attachment Connection: Parenting a Secure & Confident Child Using            the Science of Attachment Theory. Oakland: New Harbinger.

6 Schore, A. N. (1997). Early organization of the nonlinear right brain and development of a      predisposition to psychiatric disorders. Development and Psychopathology, 9, 595-631.

7 Schore, A. N. (2012). The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy. New York: Norton.

8 Schore, A. N., & Newton, R. P. (2013). Using modern attachment theory to guide clinical            assessments of early attachment relationships. In J. E. Bettmann & D. D. Friedman        (Eds.), Attachment-based Clinical Social Work with Children and Adolescents, pp. 61-98.             New York: Springer.

9 Stern, D. (1985). The Interpersonal World of the Infant: A view from Psychoanalysis and          Developmental Psychology. New York: Basic Books.

10 UNICEF Office of Research (2013). Child Well-being in Rich Countries: a comparative

overview. Innocenti Report Card 11, UNICEF Office of Research, Florence, Italy.

11 Newton, R. P., Flowers, K., Hartwell, S., & Hervatin-Hergesheimer (2015). The NCAR Work        Group on the Neuroscience of Attachment: The Family Leave Act. San Diego, CA:       Newton Center for Affect Regulation; www.newtoncenter.net/advocacy

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