This page is a continuation from *COLLINS ON RESPONDING TO NEED – Part Two
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)
Taken from this article, we read:
“The propensity [inclination] to care for the needs of others is regarded by attachment theory as another major component of human nature….Whereas the attachment system is a normative safety-regulating system that reduces the risk of the self coming to harm, the caregiving system is a safety-regulating system that reduces the risk of a close other coming to harm….From a normative perspective, the caregiving system alerts individuals to the needs of others and motivates them to provide protection, comfort, and assistance to (and promote the overall adaptive functioning of) those who are either chronically or situationally dependent on them….Thus the caregiving behavioral system will be activated most strongly when a close other is facing adversity or personal challenge. However, the caregiving and attachment behavioral systems (within an individual) will be antithetical [sharply contrasted in character or purpose] to each other, such that sensitive and responsive caregiving is likely to occur only when the caregiver’s own attachment needs have been satisfied and the attachment system is deactivated….That is, when a caregiver is feeling secure, he or she will be able to devote attention and resources to the needs of others; but when the caregiver’s own security is threatened and his or her own attachment system has been activated, caregiving behavior (the ability to respond to the attachment and exploratory needs of another) is likely to be impaired to some degree.” (Collins et al 2006, pp. 154-155) [Bowlby 1969/1982, 1988 is referenced within this text]
There is a LOT of information here. When it comes to considering how our parents might have been unable to take adquate care of us, these words become very important: “...the caregiving and attachment behavioral systems (within an individual) will be antithetical [sharply contrasted in character or purpose] to each other, such that sensitive and responsive caregiving is likely to occur only when the caregiver’s own attachment needs have been satisfied and the attachment system is deactivated….”
This is a description that seems to indicate that naturally, or ‘normatively’ there is a switch that appropriately turns these two systems, attachment and caregiving, on and off in relationship to one another within individuals. I believe that is especially possible with the insecure-disorganized attachment patterns that nothing works right. The attachment needs are never fully satisfied so that the attachment system can be deactivated while the caregiving system becomes activated.
I will also state here that those of us who suffered from the lack of secure attachment in our brain formative years, who never had a secure base or a safe haven in the world in the first place, are the ones who are ALWAYS most in need of experiencing this kind of secure attachment. We are also, at the same time, the LEAST LIKELY to ever experience a truly safe and secure attachment.
Our patterns of experience, as they became formed in our brains and in the operation of our attachment systems that originated during early trauma, do not match the patterns of more securely attached people. We therefore find ourselves participating in all kinds of troubled relationships (trauma dramas) as we try to attach to others who also formed insecure attachment patterns (of one kind or another, one degree or another) as a result of being raised with insecurely attached parents.
Our children always suffer except as we are able to partially meet their needs. Trauma has communicated information about its existence into the very fabric of our bodies, brains and minds and shows itself through our insecure attachment patterns. Because our attachment needs are rarely if ever satisfied, we can never fully give our attention to others so that we can truly care give to them.
I just recently realized that for the 35 years of my life I had children under the age of 18 under my care, it was not so much attachment to them that kept me from abusing them, and that allowed me to take as good care of them as I did. I think now it was because I could somehow numb myself to the absence of having my own attachment needs satisfied that I could care give to them at all.
I know from experience that those of us with severe early trauma histories, that suffered from inadequate caregiving and had no secure attachments, have a risk for disaster when our children leave home that far surpasses what we are told about ’empty nest syndrome’. In my case, once my youngest left home, my entire world and my being collapsed as if through implosion into a black hole.
I thought after awhile that it was because my attachment needs were being fulfilled through my mothering universe. I don’t think that’s what actually happened. I think I could focus so completely on care giving to my children that I was completely unaware of the terribly feelings related to my traumas and insecure attachment system needs — that I had effectively cut myself off from having to experience — because my attachment system WAS switched off, so that my caregiving system could be switched on.
I say this as a powerful word of caution to anyone who has their life centered on caregiving to children even though their own childhood was filled with malevolent deprivation, trauma and abuse. It may be that the more effort we put into taking care of our children means that there is a massive amount of personal information about our own insecure attachment systems that we are not paying attention to. We are, therefore, at grave risk of crashing like few others can once our children are gone from our home.
I can also say that finding this particular way to care for our children in spite of the damage that was done to us is a far cry better than the alternative might be — like in the case of the way my mother mothered. My children are far less damaged than they could have been if I hadn’t somehow been able to manage to turn my own attachment system’s needs off while I took care of my children.
(This deactivation of an insecure attachment system with its corresponding pain, and an activation — or switching on — of the caregiving system might also be related to people’s need to care for LOTS of animals, like with animal hoarding.)
The Collins article talks about how important the ability to care give also is in adult intimate relationships: “…healthy and secure intimate relationships are possible only when relationship partners are aware of their vital role as caregivers to one another.” (2006, p 155) I suspect that when insecure attachment patterns are present in a relationship, this caregiving between partners can become imblanced, as well. I would also suspect that in cases where one partner never caregives the other, their own attachment needs are never satisfied and their attachment system, then, never switches off.
If the opposite situation exists where one partner refuses to ever depend on the partner or accept care giving, it may be that the way they deactivate their insecure attachment system is to deny it the same way I did with my children so that chronic and inappropriate caregiving acts as a defense against ever feeling the needs of unmet attachment created by a very insecure attachment system within them.
All the links are contained together here: +CAREGIVING IN ADULT ATTACHMENT RELATIONSHIPS
Links in the series separately: