It strikes me upon completion of my previous post
that I make a very clear distinction in my thoughts between what attachment is in its essence and the ways that attachment operates for human beings.
As I mentioned in an email to my dialog partner on attachment issues as they need to be presented in the series of books we are preparing for publication, I probably have one of the most unusual backgrounds regarding early attachment that any human being can have. In consequence I do not take anything for granted that more ordinarily raised people probably can.
I was born to a Borderline Personality Disorder mother who suffered a psychotic break concerning me either during her delivery of breech-me or immediately after at the same time I took my first breath. My mother, who believed in the psychotic half of her disturbed mind that I was not human, that I was the devil’s child sent to kill her while I was being born, did not hesitate to take care of my physical needs. But there was NEVER any ‘love’, affection or appropriate mothering response given to me by her on any other level.
Yet I survived.
As I mentioned to Sandy I see myself primarily as an experiment. Beginning in 2004 I began my own search to understand myself in the world which led nearly instantly to my study of human attachment relationships at their beginning as they exist between a mother and her infant. Because my own experience with my mother was so extreme, I was left holding in my thoughtful hands only one thing I could go by: Attachment itself exists as a process that fulfills biophysical needs.
OK. So far so good. I am alive.
From its base point I soon understood that with the exception of very brief contacts Mother allowed between baby me and my father and grandmother, there was only one other possible source from which I could draw everything I needed to become a relatively healthy human being. My brother, John, who had been born 13 1/2 months before me, loved me instantly with a full spectrum of affection. He gave me what I needed.
From my attachment-related studies I have come to understand that ‘attachment’ as we fondly consider it is only one half of a story. The other half of the story is ‘caregiving’. It is only through the combination of ‘attachment’ and ‘caregiving’ as they operate in balance with one another that ‘relationship’ begins to come into existence.
From this second step in my understanding I understand that the way an attachment relationship works is this:
ATTACHMENT needs govern attachment itself. When we need anything such as a human might need, we seek to attach to/with someone who can meet this need. Once the need is met our attachment system turns itself off.
CAREGIVING is possible when someone else’s attachment needs have been met — and ONLY then. An activated attachment system negates the ability to caregive.
The problem is that insecurely attached people cannot – or have the greatest difficulty – ever having their attachment system turned off.
An insecurely attached person has a perpetually activated attachment NEED system which prohibits them from truly caregiving anyone. Insecurely attached mothers — as a rule — cannot adequately caregive their infants.
Without going into the wide array of patterns that these two integrally connected systems — attachment and caregiving — display in action with one another, I will simply describe their interaction this way: There is a toggle switch between them. When one is on the other is off. One half cannot be both on and off at the same time, no matter how much we might like to believe that they can be. (People with insecure attachment disorders rarely if ever experience times when their attachment system is fully off.)
I guess I might say there can be a ‘leaky’ system in which one is off and LEAKING, while the other is on and also LEAKING. Fortunately this quasi-pattern of attachment can allow severely traumatized and essentially unsafely and insecurely attached people to manage some awkward version of a semi-relationship. But such interactions cannot be healthy ones.
I am peripherally aware that attachment experts have named a category of ‘secure attachment’ that they call ‘earned secure attachment’. I have not spent time investigating how this ‘leaky’ interaction pattern might operate because I know that the extreme circumstances of my infancy and childhood did not prepare me to participate in this kind of arrangement.
So I have quite simply named my own version of safe and secure attachment that allowed me to raise my three children well as ‘borrowed attachment’.
Perhaps it was exactly and specifically the psychotically split world I was raised in by my mother that allowed me to ‘borrow’ safe and secure attachment with my children. All infants and children are born with the innate ability to safely and securely attach to their mother, then to other people, then to their own self and then to the world. I simply had the ability (most fortunately) NOT to interfere with what my children knew how to do when they were born.
Obviously their need to attach meant that I was the one that they needed to attach to (along with other important people in their lives). I did not stand in the way of their attachment, and by so doing I did not respond to them with my own attachment system being ON. My attachment needs had nothing to do with raising my children. It was their attachment needs that orchestrated the patterns of our relationship.
In this way (as I see it) I was able to do the best caregiving of my children that I possibly could. I in no way see this as an ‘earned secure attachment’. I did not EARN anything in relationship to my children’s needs. In fact, I can’t even really conceive of what is meant by that term. My children knew perfectly well how to ‘do’ attachment. If anything, I borrowed from them the ability to do along with them what infants and children are best prepared to do: Attach.
My little brother did not respond to me from the time I was born to get his attachment needs met. His attachment system was turned off which enabled him to give his care to me. He responded to me purely because he loved me. Because THIS was my earliest attachment relationship I was able to do exactly the same thing for my own children that my brother had done for me. My children were just as able to freely accept love as I had been when I was born.
SEE for background:
Nancy Collins of the Department of Psychology, University of California, University of California in Santa Barbara – Her homepage can be found at:
Collins, N. L., Ford, M. B., Guichard, A. C., & Feeney, B. C. (2006). Responding to need in intimate relationships: Normative processes and individual differences. In M. Mikulincer & G. Goodman (Eds.), Dynamics of romantic love: Attachment, caregiving, and sex. New York: Guilford. (pages 149-189)
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