What is Attachment and why is it Hell when things go wrong?
If you had an ideal childhood where your consistent parents celebrated your uniqueness and each of your achievements as you moved through your developmental stages, then this blog does not apply to you.
“However, most of us had a childhood that was far from this ideal. Our young, vulnerable nervous systems were not protected and regulated by ideal parents. We often felt overwhelmed and alone, and to buffer ourselves from these recurring feelings of overwhelm, we developed survival patterns”, says Steven Kessler in The 5 Personality Patterns.
These survival patterns can stay with us our whole lives and we identify them as ‘us’. However they are a series of defensive postures that help us regulate energy and events from the outside world. The real ‘us’ of us — our essence — is lost, since it was not activated by attunement when were were young. The good news is we can recover our truest selves, but it takes work. We have to begin the process of attuning to ourselves, attending to those overwhelmed and lonely parts within.
If your parent or parents were there, but not consistently, you will believe that if you ramp up your nervous system and attention to others, maybe that will make them stay with you longer. You live a very vigilant, anxious life in a terrible quandary: your need for others is so large, but your capacity to take it in is so small (since it was not there sufficiently when you were young). To heal and find your way back to your real self you will need to practice receiving and containing. You have what you need now to fill up your system and regulate yourself but you will have to work at it. You also have to pay special attention to letting in the goodness that comes your way, letting it land in you. You will have to reverse your focus from outward to inward. You will feel whole and settled as if you have finally come home.
A testimony to this work –
“So first, I would say I am healing from my attachment wound. Part of this process is knowing my vulnerability to the story/feelings of being left, especially in my closest relationships. When I am getting pulled to the old pattern of relating, I know I need to slow down and hold myself with love and compassion so I don’t abandon me. This allows me to be intimate with myself and my real needs while creating opportunity for intimacy with the other. I risk asking for what I need. I am clear about what is a true request versus a whiny demand or manipulation. If I’m feeling whiny energy, this needs to be held and explored. And surprise to my younger self: My requests are usually met with a yes! And when they are not, it allows me to open to other paths to getting my desires met.” Anonymous
If your parents were not available especially emotionally, you will stop expecting anything from others. You will live life in your own bubble. You will overrate your opinions and views of the world and discredit others. You will not allow yourself to have any needs since they will not be met, but your quandary is that, to do this, you must make yourself numb. This numbness helps you regulate difficult, overwhelming experiences but you will also be numb to joy and much of the pleasure that life offers. To heal you will need to take the risk to slowly step our of your bubble and notice that there is nourishment for you there. You will have to slowly let your body feel again and risk having your needs. You will feel more of everything: love, joy, pain and your old drab life will take on unbelievable colors.
A testimony to this work –
“Understanding my attachment style has allowed me to accept actions and beliefs that I previously thought were an unchangeable part of ‘who I was’. Not accepting them kept these patterns of behavior in place and created a profound sense of isolation and personal failure. As I have grown to accept these patterns as legitimate outcomes of my childhood experiences, new possibilities are opening up to choose differently; choosing connection rather than isolation and hopelessness. I now have a loving partner who both understands me and yet is available for a deep intimacy that I have never previously known. An inner gate has opened and although my old responses and patterns occasionally show themselves, I recognize them for what they are: ghosts that no longer have power to bind me to past vows. I have a real choice now and I choose love more and more often. True and justified hope is now mine. ” Jack Bodger
If your parents, who you needed to love you, also hurt you — well then you are really in trouble. Your quandary is the belief that love = harm or hurt. This will make it very challenging for you to form healthy lasting relationships as an adult. You will be drawn to the love and repelled by the harm. You are like a magnet turning towards the attraction of love and then flipping over and repelling that connection out of fear. Unfortunately, some of us in this category experienced child abuse in the form of physical and emotional harm. Others of us experienced neglect which creates tremendous hurt in a young child.
This is what happened to one dear little one who was subjected to treatment by heartless immigration tactics, separated from his parents with no warning for 73 days. He experiences this as extreme neglect. His mother is there one moment and then gone the next. His master regulator of all those overwhelming and lonely feelings is suddenly gone. He becomes extremely dis-regulated, and this may last throughout his life. You see this dramatically in the news video of his reunion with his mother. He will repeat this in every relationship for the rest of his life. This clip, from the CBS New “60 Minutes” program, includes commentary from two psychiatrists.
To heal this pattern it will be necessary to begin to de-couple the hurt and harm from the love. The body needs to experience them as two separate streams of energy and not all muddled together. (You may also have to do the work of the previous two patterns because you have used all the patterns to cope with so much distress.)
A testimony to this work –
“What shifts when moving from a perspective of enduring or surviving life to a perspective of thriving and moving with life, being in mutuality with life? When in survival mode, the body feels tense and painful and is always on guard for danger. Emotionally, there is a feeling of needing to protect against hostile outside forces (which could be anything or anyone). Spiritually, there is a sense of hopelessness and despair that anything will ever change and that there is nowhere to turn for help.
When a sense of thriving is available, everything changes. The body sinks into a grounded calm, with soft belly and easy breath. Emotionally, there is a sense of curiosity about life, which spurs playfulness and vulnerability to anything or anyone that is currently present. Each moment feels like an opportunity to experience the precious gift of life, whatever it brings. Spiritually, there is a joy, an outward facing energy, an embracing energy that enfolds everything and everyone in my sphere.” Ann Rebera
All these patterns or adaptations influence how we see ourselves and the world. They become our reality — not actual life itself.
As you read the testimonies I hope you feel a profound sense that healing is possible for you. Each of these people are dismantling their patterns and it is working! This takes time. It is not a quick fix. But this can be our healing task in this life time. I hope our three year old friend Emmers finds the help he needs.