This page is a continuation from
as it deals with information contained in the following writings:
Nancy Collins of the Department of Psychology, University of California, University of California in Santa Barbara is one such expert.
Her homepage can be found at: http://nancy.collins.socialpsychology.org/
I will be working in my writing today with information that can be located 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)
I can’t help but wonder, as I work my way through this Collins article, how those of us with such insecure attachment patterns from our own early childhoods of malevolent treatment manage to get our secure attachment needs for the care we need given to us as adults. According to these attachment experts, it is only when our own needs for receiving care ourselves are met that our attachment system can be turned off and deactivated so that we can offer secure-base and safe-haven caregiving not only to our own children, but also to our mates and other adults in our lives.
Where does self-caregiving fit into this picture? If we can’t, as adults, find ways to get our own needs met and satisfied, how do we manage, and manage as well as we do?
When I apply these ideas to my own parents I don’t see that my mother had any way of asking reasonably for her needs to be met. I don’t think reasonably had much of a clue what they were. How did she meet the needs of my father? Back in those ‘olden days’ nobody talked about any of this ‘stuff’. Yet people who grew up with their own attachment needs securely met as children probably automatically had the ability to naturally both have far better relationships with their children than my parents did, and far better relationships with their mates.
This Collins article next asks this question: “What Are the Key Features of, and Necessary Ingredients for, Effective Caregiving?” The skills the authors are describing here are exactly the same ones that are known to be most beneficial for an infant to grow the best emotional, social right brain from the beginning as a result of these same interactional patterns with its mother.
If these same abilities were not exercised in the mother-infant brain building interactions at the beginning of life, they will not be a part of the brain later on. The absence of these abilities will affect all social relationships a person has, including adult relationships and parent-child relationships. In other words, if we see ineffective and inadequate interactions between the parents themselves, we will be able to know that these same inadequate response patterns ALSO exist between parents and their children.
“Regardless of the specific form of support being offered, we suggest that effective caregiving is characterized by two key features: (1) sensitivity to the partner’s signals, and (2) interpersonal responsiveness. Sensitivity reflects the degree to which the caregiver’s behavior is in synchrony with, and appropriately contingent on, the partner’s needs…. A sensitive caregiver takes his or her cues from and allows his or her interventions to be paced by the care seeker, is attuned to the care seeker’s signals, interprets them correctly, and responds promptly and appropriately (providing the type and amount of support that is wanted and needed). Sensitive caregivers recognize the times when they should wait and not interfere or step in and provide guidance or assistance. An insensitive caregiver, on the other hand, may not notice the care seeker’s signals, may misinterpret or ignore them when they are noticed, may interfere with activities in an arbitrary way, and may respond late, inappropriately, or not at all to a need for support. Thus insensitive caregivers may be neglectful, overinvolved, intrusive, or otherwise out of synch with their partner’s needs.” (Collins et al, 2006, p 159)
If we read the above words and think mother-infant communication rather than think about adult to adult communication, we are still talking about exactly the same thing. Attachment research demonstrates that we need the same kind of quality interactions these authors are describing throughout our entire lifespan.
The HUGE difference I want to point out is that these same kinds of interactions when they occur between an infant and its early caregiver (mother) actually form the infant’s brain. Once an infant’s brain builds into itself either patterns of connection and therefore of emotional regulation — or the opposite which results in emotional dysregulation from a failure of the above described interactions — these patterns then form the basic structure and operation of the right emotional social brain and become hard wired into it.
When we learn what we are watching for, we can literally watch adult faces and body language, listen to tone of voice, etc. and we can see either the regulation or dysregulation that was built into their infant brains. The earliest face-to-face interactions between an infant and its mother create the emotional social right brain that infant will have and use for the rest of its life. We should, therefore, not be remotely surprised when that same brain cannot accomplish the miracles of synchronized, balanced communication these authors are describing — in relationships between adults or in relationships between adults and their children.
When particularly mothers of young infants cannot follow the ‘rules’ of excellent sensitivity and responsiveness when interacting with their infants, they are building a less than optimal brain within their child. People who suffered early traumas and who developed insecure attachment patterns will not be able to follow these ‘rules’ themselves — and do not even know it.
It is one of the main points of my writing that these kinds of dysregulated communication patterns between mothers and infants CAN begin to be corrected through education of the mother that means she must consciously learn to do what securely attached people with healthy brains do absolutely unconsciously — with skill, ease, and perfection. Because the brain formation we are talking about happens before the age of one year old, there is very little time to intervene once a child has been born. I believe we need to elevate the importance of these brain formation interactions so that they are introduced into our children’s education long before they are old enough to begin to have their own children.
The authors continue in their description of optimal (human) communication:
“The second key feature of effective caregiving is interpersonal responsiveness, which reflects not the type or amount of support that is provided but the manner in which it is provided. Specifically, responsive care is provided in a way that leads the recipient to feel understood, validated, and cared for [my comment: infants need exactly the same thing in order to build a self!]…. To accomplish this, caregivers must offer support in a way that expresses generous intentions, protects their partner’s esteem [read infant, also], and validates their partner’s feelings and needs, respects their partner’s point of view, and conveys love, acceptance, and understanding.” (Collins et al, 2006, p 159)
(You can refer to the actual full article for a description the authors offer on the ways that caregiving between adults can go awry. I am not including that information here, but it would also be useful to consider when interacting with children older than the age of one, as well.)
The authors make some excellent points under the categories they call skills and abilities, resources, and motivation. Because those of us who grew up in severely abusive homes never experienced any safe and secure attachment ourselves, much of this information (that can be taken for granted by securely attached people) is far, far from what we ever experienced when we grew up. It is for this reason that I am taking the time to include this information in these posts because I think it’s helpful for us to know — as people and especially as parents!
It is also helpful information for us to use as we weigh the quality of care we received, or didn’t receive from our own parents.
Skills and Abilities
“In order for caregivers to provide sensitive and responsive care, they must possess a variety of skills and abilities that enable them to accurately discern the needs of others and respond flexibly to a wide range of needs as they arise. For example, they must have the ability to empathize with and take the perspective of others and the ability to accurately decode verbal and nonverbal signals.” (Collins et al, 2006, p 160)
Stop a minute and read the above over again. This is a MAJOR developmental ability that forms or does not form correctly within the early forming right emotional social brain of an infant before the age of one year old.
Humans are uniquely able to decode both facial and sound-language (without words in the beginning) signals. We have finely neurons within our brains that are designed to ‘read’ these signals. If the incoming information is out of sync, out of tune, and does not ‘mesh’ with the infant’s inner reality, all manner of chaos is encoded into the brain’ structure and operation at the basis of these face and tone recognition brain areas.
Inadequate communication between mother and infant results from a mother’s own mis-formed brain regions and which will be directly built into her own infant’s brain. The mother thus downloads her own brain into the forming brain of her infant. Dr. Allan Schore clearly states that anything less than optimal interactions that result in insecure infant attachment patterns AT THE SAME TIME is creating an empathy disorder in the infant. We have to understand the full ramifications of poor mother-infant communications because they lie at the center of a malevolently formed brain.
When early communications with an infant are inadequate, these interactions are signaling to the infant that the world is NOT a safe place to be in. If the world WAS safe, safety and security would be directly communicated to an infant’s brain starting at birth through the good quality communication the infant has with its mother. The skills being described here by these authors are the ‘good quality’ skills mothers MUST use when interacting with their infants so that these same skills can be built into their infant’s brain.
“Effective emotion regulation skills are also necessary for responsive caregiving. Individuals who have difficulty regulating their own emotions [my note: because their early experiences with an early caregiver who themselves had a dysregulated emotional brain that somebody gave to them before they were a year old] (especially distress-related emotions) are likely to have difficulty responding to the needs of others, either because they tend to focus on their own distress or because they tend to direct their attention away from distress, which may lead them to distance themselves from the person in need.” (Collins et al, 2006, p. 160)
What the authors described in these words also describes how insecure attachment patterns originate in the first place — and these patterns actually physically exist in the brain. Please see for more on this the link I provided to **Attachment Styles from Collin’s Article.
“Effective caregiving requires adequate cognitive, emotional, and material resources….adequate time and a relaxed atmosphere are necessary….For example, if individuals are stressed, overwhelmed with work or personal responsibilities [my note: or mental or physical illness], and experiencing time constraints, it is likely that their caregiving behavior will suffer because they will be self-focused [my note: preoccupied, even preoccupied with past unresolved traumas] and may temporarily [my note: or permanently] lack the energy and cognitive resources necessary to discern and attend to the needs of others. In addition, if self-regulatory resources are depleted, caregivers may be less able to inhibit unhelpful support behaviors (e.g. criticism) and may lack the patience needed to be cooperative and nonintrusive in their caregiving efforts. It is important to note that this lack of resources can be either chronic (e.g. chronic self-focus or chronic stress, which deplete mental and self-regulatory resources) or situational (e.g., situation-specific self-focus or anxiety).” (Collins et al, 2006, pp 160-161)
(One of the most important facts that I learned early in my own research about insecure attachment disorders and how emotional dysregulation is built into an infant’s brain through malevolent interactions with caregivers, was the fact that one of the consequences of having an emotionally dysregulated brain is that we chronically feel distress in situations where others would feel stressed. In situations where others would experience distress, we feel extreme anxiety very near to a state of panic. This is also related to the fact that we do not have calm at our center point, either.)
“First, because caregiving often involves a good deal of responsibility, as well as a substantial amount of resources (and sometimes personal sacrifice), caregivers must be motivated to accept that responsibility and expend the time and effort required to provide effective support. Thus individuals may differ in the degree to which they experience a sense of felt responsibility for the welfare of others…. If caregivers are not sufficiently motivated, they may either provide low levels of care or ineffective forms of care that are out of synch with their partner’s needs.”
“Second, even if individuals are equally motivated to care for another in terms of overall felt responsibility, they may differ in the degree to which that motivation is generated by altruistic concerns (the desire to relieve the other’s suffering and promote his or her welfare) or egoistic conerns (the desire to gain explicit benefits for the self or to avoid sanctions). Caregivers who are motivated by relatively altruistic concerns will be more likely to provide sensitive and responsive care because their caregiving efforts will be guided by their partner’s needs rather than by their own needs. As a result, they should be more attuned to their partner’s signals, more willing to expend the effort needed to respond appropriately to these signals, and more likely to provide support in a manner that expresses their benevolent motives. In contrast, caregivers who are motivated by egoistic conerns will be less effective caregivers because they will be focused on their own needs rather than on the needs of their partners. For example, a caregiver who is motivated to provide care in order to reduce his or her own distress or out of a sense of obligation is likely to be controlling rather than cooperative and may provide support in a manner that expresses annoyance or a sense of burden. A caregiver who is motivated to provide care in order to be loved or to satisfy his or her own needs for intimacy is likely to become overinvolved or intrusive in his or her caregiving efforts and may express dissatisfaction if his or her partner fails to show adequate gratitude or appreciation.” (Collins et al, 2006, pp 161-162
The authors also state “secure individuals are better caregivers than insecure individuals” and “attachment security enhances one’s ability to be truly responsive to the needs of others and to serve as an effective safe haven and secure base for relationship partners.” (Collins et al, 2006, p 162)
“…[A]lthough caregiving behavior, like attachment behavior, is to some degree preprogrammed (meaning that it is ready to develop along certain lines when certain conditions elicit it), Bowlby (1969/1982, 1988) emphasized that all the detail is learned. These details of caregiving are undoubtedly learned from many different sources, but it is likely that individuals learn a great deal about caregiving from the significant people in their lives who have been responsible for their care…. Thus, although the caregiving system is theoretically distinct from the attachment system, the two systems are thought [to] be linked both developmentally and behaviorally….the caregiving behavior of insecure individuals is likely to be ineffective because the caregiver’s own attachment needs will impede his or her ability to do what is in the best interest of the partner.” (Collins et al, 2006, pp 162-164)
All the links are contained together here: +CAREGIVING IN ADULT ATTACHMENT RELATIONSHIPS
Links in the series separately: