Why can’t I play the piano?

Dr. Ken Larsen

The simplest answer to this question is “I never learned how.” 

Our mental health and happiness depend to a great degree on our learned ability

  • to establish and maintain loving relationships
  • to regulate our emotional states.

There are many lonely people who have difficulty connecting to others in relationships.  I’ve come to believe that this may be because they never learned how.

There are many anxious, depressed people who seem unable to manage the difficult emotions that arise in ordinary life.  In many cases this is because they didn’t learn how.


Attachment Theory, the study of early childhood formation, explains that children need a relationship with a caregiver, usually the mother, that is responsive to their needs and that is supportive in getting those needs met.  If this is working right, the child will grow with a basic trust in people and a certain level of security in our challenging world.  They will have learned what they need to know to form relationships and to deal with difficult emotional states.

If the early attachment patterns are difficult, non-responsive or erratic, the child will often grow up not having learned the skills needed to connect intimately or to manage emotional challenges.

For me, learning about the impact of early attachment patterns helped me understand my own behavior much better.  I gained insight into some of the challenges I face as an adult with relationships and emotional regulation.

Dr. Glasser tells us that our past has a strong influence on who we are today.  He also tells us there is nothing we can do about the past.  All we have is the ever moving “now” and the choices we can make to get what we want.

If we are troubled by our past what can we do in the “now” to get a better handle on life?

In a certain way, it’s kinda like recognizing that if I want to play the piano, I need to learn how.

There is no “one size fits all” formula to find mental health and happiness.

One insight that has come from studying adults with childhood attachment issues is the importance of simply making sense of their experience and how it is affecting their life.  It has been seen that if a person can formulate a coherent narrative of early life experiences that makes sense without assigning blame, progress can be made.  The person sees that new skills can be learned to overcome the maladaptive patterns from early childhood.

I’m sure you recognize that this is a vastly simplified overview of some dynamics of human development.  Fortunately there are many excellent sources of information for further study available in print and on YouTube.  One book that is particularly insightful and helpful is Dr. Dan Siegel’s “Parenting from the Inside Out.”

Now that we know why we can’t play the piano, let’s start learning what we need to know and do to get what we want in mental health and happiness.




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