+’EARNED SECURE’ VS ‘BORROWED SECURE’ ATTACHMENT

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It strikes me upon completion of my previous post

+MY ESSENTIAL THOUGHTS ON HUMAN ATTACHMENT

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.

NOW WHAT?

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.

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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: 

http://nancy.collins.socialpsychology.org/

http://portal.idc.ac.il/en/Symposium/HerzliyaSymposium/Documents/collins.pdf

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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10 thoughts on “+’EARNED SECURE’ VS ‘BORROWED SECURE’ ATTACHMENT

  1. I only saw your second post on my WordPress account notification, but now that I have read your first post, I can go into a bit more detail to answer some of your questions. Thank you for your invitation. I might have you write a guest post for my blog, fitting in your ideas to what I have written. I have a lot more reading of your blog to do, myself, but have to gauge that with the repair that is going on in my own brain now.

    I used Muscle Reflex testing (MRT) to ask questions. I learned this (as Applied Kinesiology) from my naturopathic doctor as a way to find my allergies and get rid of them. I decided to really push the envelope to figure out how it works and to see what its limitations are. The limitations are only those of how our brain works. I am a trained neuroscientist but realize how little neuroscientists know about the brain. No one has really gotten down to the depth I had to, in order to understand how MRT works. I also kept learning to keep asking questions until the brainstem (which is what I hypothesize MRT is using) could understand. I had to hypothesize a layout to the brain (another book I am writing) to help my brain find where the damage was, and from this layout, learned a lot more about how the brain works.

    I was not aware that my mother treated me that differently. I was conscious of a few circumstances. Many were events that, as I grew up, I since concluded that they happen in every family. Sometimes you get treated differently. I had to learn over the past 5 years how the family treated me was different from other families. As I have said in the past, a fish doesn’t know it’s in water.

    The same was true for my physiology. I had to learn that most people do not suffer from the stinging in the nose as I did before having to sneeze really hard many times. I had to learn that the cause was from irritation of nerves by toxic chemicals. I had to learn that that horrible taste in my mouth WAS a chemical coming out of my lungs. I thought everyone had it. There’s more, but that will be in one of my books.

    Speaking of which, I don’t even have titles yet, and have a lot written but not organized yet. I have to get to that point. I learned that because of the shame of existing that I grew up with, it badly affected my self-esteem so that I had enormous difficulty allowing myself to submit a manuscript for publication, since that meant I would be subject to review by people who do not know me. I suffered from the small stage syndrome–I could not operate on a larger stage where most people did not know me. I only survived as long as I could because I gave talks at my professional societies. The first one was where there was a small group of very close fellow students and researchers where I learned about them, interacted with them long before my first talk.

    That last event illustrates another point, that those of us rejected by our mothers never get the baseline circuitry laid down for having social interactions. Thus we suffer from attachment syndrome. However, the brain is capable of work-arounds, and I could make them for single circumstances, unlike what the baseline circuitry does for most people–it applies to all social circumstances and gets them past “step 1”.

    I am cautious about the use of the term “mentally ill”. Unlike may in the psychological professions, I think it also applies to very minor things, like depression about losing a friend who just moved away. I think everyone suffers some mental illness throughout their lifetime. They figure out how to heal. Sometimes, it is serious enough to see a professional. This puts it on par with our physical health problems. People have suggested that my mother had post-partum depression, which is classified as a very serious illness. One can argue that, yes, she showed it in its extreme. However, I rank it with the case of when a mother just doesn’t want that child, and just “puts up with it”, doing only minor things that might reveal her attitude.

    As such, I am not in favor of punishing a mother who rejects her child, no matter what she has done, even killing it. Why? because our society doesn’t even recognize the circumstances when a mother would reject her child, doesn’t offer the support she desperately needs, nor even recognizes how critical her role is in the life of a child. If we ever give her the power she deserves, then we can hold her responsible for use of that power, and only then.

    My father was unique among the men in our neighborhood. Most people who lived there and attended his funeral a few years ago, said so. He wanted to do things with his kids. 60 years ago, men did not. However, my mother was so upset with him and his faith in the Catholic dictates about reproductive controls, that she drove him out of the family, even if they never divorced. She did not keep him informed about his kids. I was able to find memories of him discovering me twice in the bathroom, and mom breaking down in front of him over it. But she managed to hide most of her attempts from him. My biggest disappointment was that my father tended to believe what she told him and I had to always start over with my relationship with him every time I visited them, just as I had to with the rest of the family.

    From what you wrote, I suspect that your brain is trying to heal some damaged fiber tracts as well and that is why you get blocked from doing some things. MRT will tell you what is happening, as long as you ask the right questions. If you follow your stream-of-consciousness images, even when they come in a flash, with questions using MRT, you will find that they are either literal–actually happened, or symbolic–stand for something going on inside your body or brain. I learned about this by examining my dreams, which I think are purely ways the brain uses to bring unconscious processes to the consciousness, in order to use that part of the brain’s ability to run associations more efficiently. In other words, dreams help the brain repair itself. The same is true for those flashes of images, no matter how brief.

    While I was learning to use MRT this and other ways, I did suffer a lot of trauma, as the memories flooded back. Often I would start to cry before I even knew what had happened, because the brain was zipping to the emotions before it did to visual, sound, or smell memories. I learned how to disconnect the emotions from the events, but the brain took quite a while before it learned enough to be able to do the whole process unconsciously, so that I did not have the really bad emotions while the repair was taking place.

    I look back on my life and realize that my own brain would not have been capable of finding out what happened before the age of 50. It just did not have the perspective. And I could not do it before the age of 56 because I did not have the skills (MRT, visualization, and mindfulness), and certainly not before I had the training in neuroscience, embryology, physiology, anatomy and histology.

    Thank you for your blog. It has been very helpful for me.

    • Hello again! I am currently going through the loss of my dearest friend in my life — it’s complicated in so many ways – but I am feeling quite diminished in my ability to think clearly. I say this because I can’t repond with the justice your comment deserves, and I apologize.

      Hearing from you in these days of my difficulty helps me believe in myself. Thank you!

      • I too have been deeply affected by your writings and am really glad to have contacted you. In many ways, you help me realize I am not alone, even though I know deep down there are thousands of kids born each year to mothers who will never accept them. Some will go through the terror that you and I went through, some will just be alone, confused, and in trouble most of their lives. Some will have the luck of meeting someone who may not understand but will help them survive.

        For the past day I have had a hard time not thinking about you and what you have said. We both will help each other. However, we both will help a lot of people who have never known why their lives turned out as they have and desperately want answers.

        However, I must warn you that getting to the point where others are in self-esteem is a long, hard road. I am not there yet, and it still hinders me from achieving what I need to do. I think you have made a tremendous effort toward that goal and applaud you for it.

        • I know I will never get “to the point where others are in self-esteem,” and my solution has been to keep on going the best I can in spite of what sometimes appears to be insurmountable obstacles. I am at such a point at this moment regarding publication of ‘my story’. I do not have the resources I need to get this job done.

          Self-esteem seems a moot point when required resources are absent. I have 8 books in line for proofing and formatting for Kindle upload. My only hope has been that my daughter would be able to squeeze in some time over the holidays to do what I cannot do. She does not have that time – What are my/our options?

          • I suggest you contact someone in the English or Psych Dept at the nearest college/university about a volunteer intern who might help you out. Someone in child development or some other area of expertise depending upon what your books are about. They may come to help on a weekend and help you wrap it up quickly, just to get the experience. You will need some estimate of time it might take. Write a letter because if you call you might be referred to the wrong person. A letter is something everyone can read who might have a person in mind for the job.

  2. I think I have found a kindred spirit. I will most certainly cite your blog in my writings. I do not wish the trauma you just described on anyone. I felt chills as I read. Thank goodness my mother stopped doing that kind of thing by the time I was 9.

  3. Your thoughts on attachment are extremely interesting to me. I was not wanted by my mother who never formed that all-important mother-infant bond with me. It not only affected me, but it also affected her. She never made a place for me in her brain, constantly forgetting about me, and thus caused enormous trauma for me. I could never say, “I love you”, back to my mother when she said it to me. I did not know why until very recently, after much treatment, when I discovered what was wrong in my brain when compared with others who had a mother who had wanted them during the critical first 3 years of life.

    So, in a sense, I strongly suspect that to form the best possible relationship between mother and child is for both to have attachment needs met by each other. I have good reasons for reaching this conclusion.

    My mother not only rejected me, she only robotically took care of my physical needs, and sometimes forgot to feed me or change my diapers. Furthermore, she tried to kill me. Many times. In fact, she put me into the bathroom alone to be exposed to some really toxic chemicals (left behind by a chemist in our WWII housing), usually about 5 times a day (or more often) over the first 2.5 yr of my life. She hoped I would get very sick and die, leaving her unsuspected in the process. However, even a newborn can smell intent. So I knew she was trying to kill me. I was dependent on her but “scared to death” of her.

    The mother’s behavior is picked up by all siblings, who treated me very cruelly most of my life, but mainly only when there was distance between me and an individual (e.g. by phone) or when the whole family was together, and especially when my parents were not around. My only memory of this later was that I was enormously unhappy during the first 10 years of life. Until I found a way to recover those memories, as mentioned in my blog http://MarthaLHyde.wordpress.com.

    Because she did not want me, her behavior was passed on to the other kids. My closest older sister was always thrown in with me to play with each other, whether she wanted to or not. She developed some affection for me, and was the only one to stand up to mom when mom attacked me, but only did this twice. However, she often turned her back on me. She was not the equivalent of your older brother for me.

    When I was 12, my mother tried to make up for her behavior by getting to know me. She had to, after she and the rest of the family (remember all take their cues from the mother) left me alone in my room to go watch a move, eat out at a restaurant, and then go to the grocery store to buy food, because we were completely out of food on that day. No one told me what the family was doing. They were gone for 8 hours, not returning until 10 pm. I was starving.

    My mother probably deduced that her constant forgetting about me was due to the fact that she did not know me, because, after that, we had regular conversations. Needless to say, I was very suspicious of her behavior, but we became good friends. I say “friends” because the opportunity for her to make a space in her brain for me as a member of the family was past. She still never told the rest of the family anything about our conversations, so they still treated me as an intruder.

    This is the first time I have posted anything publicly so explicitly describing what happened. It has taken me 5 years of very intensive treatment of both psychological and physical trauma (removing those toxins) to get to this point. I am also writing several books on this, one is a memoir, but more importantly another is a how-to book on the use of mind-body medical techniques to heal from severe emotional trauma. My progress is often impeded by treatment when I am not allowed to even think about it because the brain is using those pathways to find toxins, heal the brain/body, or lay down new circuits that should have been done when I was a baby.

    Thank you for writing about your experience. All of us who were rejected by a mother need to have the story told. So many people were were not rejected make the wrong assumptions about us, that we have capabilities that are so easy to do for them.

    • Good morning, and thank you so much for your writing here. Words of course fail me in my response to your experience — I am feeling quite muddled these days for reasons that don’t matter here….

      I am wondering how you understand why your mother responded to you so differently (it seems) from the way she responded to your siblings. In my case the ‘reason’ seems clear. Had the circumstances of my actualy birthing been different I believe (can never know) that her treatment of me would have been different.

      It would be my guess that your mother was mentally ill. There is (in my thinking) no possible way for a human being to respond to offspring the way your mother did to you except that mental illness be present. (Was your father a part of your early life?)

      I am looking forward to the day I feel I have my own story in place so that I can then read — anything!! In many ways I feel blocked in by what I see as my task to learn as much as I can about the patterns of what happened to me.

      I am not free to move outside of my own work yet — but I absolutely appreciate the work you are doing — along the lines it seems of the work I am doing. What kept people like you and me alive? How did we endure and survive and come out of our hell as a person?

      For today – I head out to dig in my garden. I much need to NOT think and NOT feel at this time. In my humble work in the dirt I let time go by while inner adjusting happens — Your healing work sounds fascinating!

      Again, thank you for writing – and I hope to hear from you again. Please post perhaps on the ‘about’ page from the top of the blog both a description of your blog with address — and info on anything you publish!!!!! all the best, Linda – alchemynow

    • One thing more — on siblings.

      I haven’t written ‘my crime report story’ of my teen years — my focus right now is on my life primarily before age 10 1/2 — but when I get to my teens – there is one very difficult ‘story’ I need to tell, but would be extremely painful to my sibs

      It does include the implications you wrote about — I have not examined the patterns in the family (yet) that ‘let’ this happen

      we were out on our mountain homestead digging up our large garden – all four of us — ages 15, me 15 (I believe), two sisters ages 13 and 11

      all of us digging around the edges – I spaded up a clump of grass and was shaking roots out when I found a beautiful baby pine tree there. I carefully released it, stood up holding it in my hand and called to my sibs, “Look what I dug up.”

      What happened next is so bizarre to me — one of my sibs shouted, “Linda said shut up! I’m going to tell mom!” And they did. Ended up with me spending 4 days locked in a shed.

      The patterns of sibling traumas as witnesses to my abuse are too complex and difficult for me to look at yet — and at age 61 it awes me how much information is actually contained within histories such as yours and mine are.

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