+SECURE AND INSECURE ATTACHMENT AND THE CHILDHOOD NARRATIVE

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This post follows +DISSOCIATION AND THE TRAUMA-SPECIALIZED BRAIN from November 11, 2009

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I woke today as if in a different world than usual.  The wind is tearing around my house as if it is demanding something from me and I don’t know what it wants.  The wind is angry.  It rips leaves off of trees and chases them madly around the yard.  With its roaring and whistling it has stolen all my peace away.  It is harder to remember who and when and where I am.

If only the wind would stop and the sun would come out so calm would again surround this body I am in.  Then I could be more certain that my past was in the past and I am in the here and now.  I can I not help feeling challenged and disturbed, made uneasy and agitated in this wind.

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I wanted to continue to write this morning about secure-autonomous attachment.  I read Dr. Daniel Siegel’s words again:

The abilities to reflect upon one’s own childhood history, to conceptualize the mental states of one’s parents, and to describe the impact of these experiences on personal development are the essential elements of coherent adult attachment narratives.  (Siegle/tdm/312)”

I do not understand these words.  I do not have the “abilities” Siegel is describing.  I cannot possibly begin to “conceptualize the mental states” of either one of my parents.  I cannot “describe the impact of these experiences” on my development without consulting complicated information from infant and child brain scientists’ research.

If having the ability to “reflect” on my childhood, to “conceptualize” the minds of my parents, to “describe” the impact my childhood experiences on how I developed “are the essential elements of coherent adult attachment narratives,” then I am forced to admit I am coming up empty and confused as if some drastic, terrible wind ripped any chance I might have to begin to think about myself in my life ‘coherently’ from the beginning of my life away as surely as this morning’s wind is forcing away any semblance of a calm and peaceful day.

I feel angry that I have been robbed.  There is no corner of my childhood I can return to without being engulfed in turbulence and trauma.  I am as incapable of ‘conceptualizing’ particularly the mind of my mother at age 58 as I was the day I was born.  That children and the adults they grow into are SUPPOSED to be able to conceptualize the minds of their parents seems beyond belief to me.  I cannot begin to make an attempt in that direction, any more than I can begin to conceptualize the mind of the wind.

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Can I begin to understand that my lack of ‘abilities’ to convey even to myself a coherent story of myself in this life from the time of my beginnings is NOT because I am personally deprived, but that this lack of abilities comes directly from the kinds of terrible experiences I had to survive in my parents’ home?  It doesn’t FEEL that way.  It feels that somehow there is something wrong with me that I do not possess these essential requirements Siegel lays out for being an ‘ordinary’ safe and securely attached individual.

Do I understand that I cannot control the wind?  Do I understand that the only way I can ensure that the force of the wind is not directly affecting me is by seeking shelter from it?  Was there any possible shelter I could have sought as an infant-child to escape the terrible storm of my childhood?  No, there wasn’t, except as I could isolate myself in my brain-mind because the only hope of remaining apart from the traumas that I endured ONLY existed within the walls of my own skin.

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The words, “There are many rooms in my Father’s mansion” come into my mind.  Because from birth I had no choice but to try to survive within my body as my only protection from insane abuse, it was within me that I had to create these ‘many rooms’ so that the overwhelming traumas I had to endure did not engulf me, swallow me up and destroy me.  My mother’s mind was a cauldron of malevolent chaos.  I am sorry, child development experts, but conceptualizing that kind of mind is not only humanly impossible, it is against all instinct for ongoing survival.

In order to ‘reflect’ on another person’s mind so that it might be ‘conceptualized’, one must be able to make some connection between one’s own mind and the other’s.  Do attachment researchers understand how humanly impossible it is to do this when a parent’s mind is ‘on the other side’ of being human?  My mother was the antithesis of being a mother.  I know I am not alone in my experience.  But I take issue with the suggestion that there’s something wrong with me that I lack the abilities necessary to accomplish the impossible!

The only people I can imagine that could possibly ‘conceptualize’ the mind of my mother would be other mothers who had minds nearly exactly like hers.  What a fantastic delight of an experience it would be to put my mother and the other two mothers I know of like her in an observation room and then ask them all the ‘right’ questions!  Now THERE would be an opportunity for learning!

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Short of having this kind of opportunity to explore my mother’s mind – which is, of course impossible because she is dead – I am fighting against having to take on the burden of believing I am at fault in any way for not being able to conceptualize her mind.  Ability is not the right word.  I was born with the ability to accomplish what Siegel is suggesting IF I had been provided with parents whose minds were ‘conceptualizeable’!  Nobody can conceptualize what is impossible to conceptualize!

The abilities to reflect upon one’s own childhood history” – I have the ability to state today that my mother was insane, that my father supported her madness, that my childhood was chaotic, malevolent, dangerous, traumatic, and only survivable because I had the ability to survive it!  That the thousands of abuse memories I might have are stored in their corresponding ‘many rooms’ in the ‘mansion’ of my body where I cannot get to them does not mean that I am in any way more ‘disabled’ than anyone else would be if they had endured the same experiences.

The mansion of my body DOES coherently remember everything that has ever happened to me.  However, it is also a physiological fact that if there were enough stress hormones present at the time the traumas occurred, they would have fried the brain cells designed to store the facts of my experience so that only the emotional memories remained — in my body.

Coherency, as the developmental brain specialists are using the word, applies to their version of remembering the FACTS that tell the linear (left brain) story in words (narrative) of a person’s childhood.  These researchers neglect to mention that an intact, living, breathing, moving, sustainable body is proof enough that coherency is a much larger concept than they seem willing to conceive of.

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If I am fighting for the right to stand on my square foot of ground upon this earth in dignity without being judged as being somehow deficient or insufficient or unable to tell a coherent life story, if I am making the statement that I was born with the ABILITY to do so, that I still have this ability, and that the problem is in NO WAY because of any fault of mine but rather lies in the fact that my childhood was simply NOT COHERENT – and that nobody could tell a true story of madness and MAKE it coherent – then where do I go for my proof?

I am going to the dictionary.  I want to learn about this word ‘abilities’ (root word being ‘able’) that Siegel has thrown out as his defining qualification for everything else he says about being the kind of parent who can provide safe and secure attachment to their offspring.

What did I find in my exploration about the word and its family of relatives?  When I try to find ‘coherency’ or understanding about words I always try to find how they are connected in the language of English at the time of their appearance into our language as far back as I can find them – which is always ‘before the 12th century’.

I find that ‘able’ is a young word in our language.  So are its relatives ‘habit’ and ‘give’.  I tracked the word back to its older ancestor words ‘have’, ‘heave’, ‘hold’, and ‘take’.  Interestingly, the word ‘heaven’ is connected through its origins to ‘heave’, and by association of opposites, I find ‘hell’ connected to the word ‘conceal’ and from there to ‘hide’.

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I would understand that a dive into the origin and meanings of words might not be something many readers have found to be useful in the past.  Yet we are talking about a BIG subject – our lives and our well-being as it began either in a childhood close to heaven, or in a childhood closer to hell.  If you keep an open mind and meander among the following words, you can see that in our language such subjects as entitlement appear.

Being ‘able’ involves having resources to accomplish a goal.  I was born with and have retained the ability to tell a coherent story about my childhood if I had been given a coherent childhood to tell about.  I have the skill, but I cannot accomplish an impossible task to make madness, chaos and insanity into anything else other than what it was:  incoherent.

I was ‘given’ that childhood’  It was a nasty ‘present’, and I would much rather have had a different one.  The experiences of terrible trauma that I went through were put into my possession and I work as hard as I can to make the best use possible that I can out of what was done to me-given to me.

I cannot make my childhood into anything other than what it was.  It is the childhood that I have.  It is a part of the whole of who I am.  Under the definition of ‘have’ we read:  “to experience especially by submitting to, undergoing, or suffering.”  I performed the best that I could both to endure it and to survive it.

What is the relationship between this subject and ‘heave’ as it relates to ‘heaven’?  ‘Heave’ being related to labor and struggle.  Yet in the origins of this word we can directly see the same origins connected to our word for ‘heaven’.  Both words contain an image of ‘’lifting and heaving something up into the air’.  We are talking old language thinking here.  We are talking about trying to conceive of a ‘place’ beyond comprehension.  Where else would we put our conception of heaven but ‘up there’?

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Children are supposed to have good childhoods.  Good childhoods provide no challenge to telling a coherent story about them.  The reality is that some of us have the opposite kinds of childhoods, and it is through no fault of ours that we cannot make them into coherent childhood stories.  On our end, where hell was the norm, ‘concealing’ and ‘hiding’ from our conscious mind experiences that would have overwhelmed our self to death was our only alternative.  Dissociation allowed us to do this.

We cannot possibly tell a coherent childhood story in words about what is hidden and invisible, which is where most of our childhood realities are stored.  We have to believe ourselves!  We have to trust what we do know about our childhoods, even if we simply reduce what we know to our sense of ourselves when we were little.  We know.  Nothing was ever hidden FROM our body.  What we cannot access directly is hidden WITHIN our body.  There is no other possible place for it to be.  I AM my life story.

That means to me that being here alive today IS my coherent story.  My body IS my coherent story – all of it, every single last minute detail of it.  Seigel and other developmental experts are suggesting that it is in the telling of a coherent VERBAL narrative that all hope of having future and ongoing safe and secure attachment lies, including those with our children and mates.  I have to think bigger, because I know better.

I am not my mother.  My mind is ordered in a very particular trauma-survival-based way, but it is NOT in chaos, even if I cannot detect in words what I most know about having been raised through 18 years of terrible abuse.  ‘Coherent’ is a young 1555 word in our language.  Where did it come from?  What meaning is it connected to?  What are its ancestors?

It is related to the idea of sticking things together.  ‘Stick’ has been in our language from before the 12th century:  “to put or set in a specified place or position.”  I am here to tell all the attachment experts that I am stuck together just fine!  Everything I have been through is stuck somewhere inside of me, as well.  That I don’t have words to neatly spin a tidy heavenly story from my childhood in hell does mean I COULD NOT if I had an entirely different story to tell.

To me, what Siegel is really saying is that most patterns of ongoing intergenerational transmission of safe and secure attachments happen among adults who can put their childhood narrative into words.  OK.  I get it.  I can tell my childhood narrative with a three word statement about my childhood.  “It was hell.”  If I tell someone that and they do not understand what I am saying, there are not enough words in the universe to explain to them what my childhood was like.

Meanwhile, the wind has stopped blowing.  All is calm outside my house now.  I like that.  Peace and quiet now mean the world to me.  The version of hell I endured was a very wild and noisy place!  Those of you who have been there, too, know exactly what I am talking about, and I don’t have to spin a coherent narrative to tell you what I mean!  How cool is that?

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HERE ARE THE WORDS RELATED TO THIS POST’S  SEARCH:

able

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin habilis apt, from habēre to have — more at habit

Date: 14th century

1 a : having sufficient power, skill, or resources to accomplish an object b : susceptible to action or treatment
2 : marked by intelligence, knowledge, skill, or competence

habit

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin habitus condition, character, from habēre to have, hold — more at give

Date: 13th century
3 : manner of conducting oneself : bearing
5 : the prevailing disposition or character of a person’s thoughts and feelings : mental makeup
6 : a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior
8 : characteristic mode of growth or occurrence

give

Etymology: Middle English, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Swedish giva to give; akin to Old English giefan, gifan to give, and perhaps to Latin habēre to have, hold

Date: 13th century

1 : to make a present of
2 a : to grant or bestow by formal action b : to accord or yield to another

3 a : to put into the possession of another for his or her use

have

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English habban; akin to Old High German habēn to have, and perhaps to hevan to lift — more at heave

Date: before 12th century

transitive verb 1 a : to hold or maintain as a possession, privilege, or entitlement  b : to hold in one’s use, service, regard, or at one’s disposal  c : to hold, include, or contain as a part or whole

3 : to stand in a certain relationship to

4 a : to acquire or get possession of
5 a : to be marked or characterized by (a quality, attribute, or faculty)

6 a : to experience especially by submitting to, undergoing, or suffering b : to make the effort to perform (an action) or engage in (an activity)

heave

Etymology: Middle English heven, from Old English hebban; akin to Old High German hevan to lift, Latin capere to take

Date: before 12th century

intransitive verb 1 : labor, struggle

heaven

Etymology: Middle English heven, from Old English heofon; akin to Old High German himil heaven

Date: before 12th century

1 : the expanse of space that seems to be over the earth like a dome : firmament —usually used in plural
2 a often capitalized : the dwelling place of the Deity and the blessed dead b : a spiritual state of everlasting communion with God
3 capitalized : god 1
4 : a place or condition of utmost happiness

hold

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English healdan; akin to Old High German haltan to hold, and perhaps to Latin celer rapid, Greek klonos agitation

Date: before 12th century

transitive verb 1 a : to have possession or ownership of or have at one’s disposal  b : to have as a privilege or position of responsibility  c : to have as a mark of distinction
4 a : to have or maintain in the grasp
6 a : to enclose and keep in a container or within bounds : contain

take

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English tacan, from Old Norse taka; akin to Middle Dutch taken to take

Date: before 12th century

transitive verb 1 : to get into one’s hands or into one’s possession, power, or control

4 a : to receive into one’s body (as by swallowing, drinking, or inhaling)

hell

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old English helan to conceal, Old High German helan, Latin celare, Greek kalyptein

Date: before 12th century

conceal

Etymology: Middle English concelen, from Anglo-French conceler, from Latin concelare, from com- + celare to hide — more at hell

Date: 14th century

1 : to prevent disclosure or recognition of <conceal the truth>
2 : to place out of sigh

hide

Etymology: Middle English hiden, from Old English hȳdan; akin to Greek keuthein to conceal

Date: before 12th century

transitive verb 1 a : to put out of sight : secrete b : to conceal for shelter or protection : shield
2 : to keep secret
3 : to screen from or as if from view : obscure
4 : to turn (the eyes or face) away in shame or angerintransitive verb 1 : to remain out of sight —often used with out
2 : to seek protection or evade responsibility

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2 thoughts on “+SECURE AND INSECURE ATTACHMENT AND THE CHILDHOOD NARRATIVE

  1. It’s so very nice to see my feelings put into words by someone else. It is so very hard for others to comprehend my childhood – when I say that my mother hated me people want to tell me that “no, no, I’m *sure* she loved you,” – it’s so frustrating trying to explain that truly, *believe me*, she definitely hated me. And the fantasy of being able to conceptualize my mother’s mental state??? Ha, ha! Um, hello? she was insane. I have mental health issues (surprise!) but I’m not, thank God, insane in the ways she was. So I’m supposed to be able to understand my mother’s mental state? Not!! I tried for years to figure out my mom or my dad’s motivation for the abuse I suffered and finally realized the only way I could ever understand it from the inside out was to be like them and, in that case, I’m just as glad I *don’t* understand why they were the way they were. I’ve spent my life trying to be as unlike my parents as possible.

    I’m glad your weather calmed for you – I hear you on the high winds/storm weather. I used to enjoy storms when I was young, but the older I get the more the turmoil upsets me. I’m a whole lot less mentally flexible than I used to be. Things I used to be able to handle or take in stride are so much harder now. I wonder how much of that is my brain getting older (I’m 55) and how much is the result of my depression (I used to swing between hypo-manic and depressed when I was young but now I suffer chronic and full-time depression – on anti-depressants, no less)?

    Anyhow, you’ve given me a lot to think about this weekend. (I don’t have access to the net at home.) I think I’ll try writing down some of the stuff I remember from my childhood (*not* coherently!) and try thinking about it in the new ways I’m learning here. I hope you have a good weekend!

    • I so enjoy your writing! Being in the world of the ‘extra-ordinary’, I understand exactly what you are saying. It feels wonderful!

      I got to laugh out loud at how ludicrous it is to try to understand an insane parent! Thank GOD we cannot ‘conceptualize’ their mind! It would have been worth ten billion dollars to put your mother, mine and my other friend named Dorothy’s mother in the same room and ask them THE QUESTIONS!

      btw, my friend says her name, Dorothy, means ‘gift of God’. I just found out the older meaning of my name, Linda, is ‘beautiful serpent’!

      Depression — that’s a whole other topic — all tied into the action of our immune system and out body’s set point for homeostatic equilibrium never having been set at calm with swings toward happy with only TINY swings toward sad while our body-brain was forming.

      There’s lots to read on my site — and I hope you can poke around in there and find some info that makes good solid sense — I would be so glad if that be true! Thank you very much for visiting my blog, and for your comments! Your brain will LOVE the new ways of thinking — I think! Me in my body in my life is finally beginning to make sense to me!

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