Because I am nearly an expert on the ‘dark side’ of attachment, I have to rely on outside expert sources of information in order to begin to understand what the ‘light side’ of attachment might be all about.
This writing is important to me because through it I am coming to understand how we pass the unresolved traumas of our own lives on down to our children through our attachment patterns, even when we do not pass on the abuse and maltreatment that happened to us.
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)
How we respond to every need in our lifetime was determined as a result of the early attachment experiences we had with our caregivers from the time of our birth. As I have described before, these patterns of attachment affected how our brains developed before the age of 2 (and in other ways as we grew older especially through the age of 7). Benevolent experiences build an optimally functioning brain designed by and for a benevolent world. Malevolent experiences build a brain designed by and for a hostile, dangerous, threatening, malevolent world.
There is no way to escape the fact that the nature of our earliest attachments create the body, brain, and mind through which we will process and respond to all future incoming information. It is to the degree that we can increase our conscious control over our early-formed brain and body’s automatic patterns that the hope of changing ill being to well being lies.
Locating helpful information through external sources is a process we begin at birth. If we experienced severe early traumas in a malevolent world, we did not get the benevolent information we needed to even build a benevolent brain in the first place. We can, however, locate helpful information through external sources at any point in our later development so that we can learn how to begin to use it to change ourselves and the course of our lives in more benevolent directions.
In order to be able to make these changes, we must first of all know that we have a need and what that need is so that we can begin the process of finding ways to get the need met. Those of us with traumatic early attachment experiences will not have brains that have safety and security built into them. We will not be able to even understand internally what safety and security. We have been left with no other choice but to find the information we need through outside sources.
If a person is raised in a loving, safe and secure attachment environment from birth (and before) they know on their insides what the rest of us need to try to learn much later in our lives from the outside. Collin and her colleagues write about some of the information we need to know. Although they describe aspects of adult romantic partner interactions, the patterns themselves originate from our earliest attachment experiences.
“…providing responsive support and care to one another in times of need may play an especially important role in promoting relationship security and enhancing the health and emotional well-being of both members of a couple….many intimate relationships fail to provide partners with the deep sense of emotional security that is necessary for optimal functioning.” (Collins et al, 2006, p 149)
Although we might not usually envision a mother-infant relationship in terms of them being a couple, they are one. Starting with our very first infant experiences with our mother our brains and bodies begin building an inner reality that directly reflects the nature and quality of those early interactions. The difference between a mother-infant dyad and a couple dyad is that while a mother’s interactions with an infant are in fact changing her brain (researchers know this happens), the infant should not be the one to meet a mother’s needs for emotional security.
Patterns of care seeking from birth are related to what I describe in terms of ruptures in need of repair. I have also described how these patterns are chemically connected even before birth to our internal opioid system — empty opioid receptors correspond to feeling bad, full ones to feeling good. Adequate care given to us from birth means that these patterns of rupture and repair operate effectively and we then develop a safe and secure attachment to the world. When the care given to us is inadequate (in oh so many ways) we develop an insecure attachment to an unsafe world.
If our early needs were not met, we end up without much of a clue about what good care giving means in response to care seeking, and all kinds of disruptions in the patterns of how we respond to the world are the result. These disrupted patterns exist in our body and in our brain because they were built into us as I’ve said before.
It has taken me a long time to track attachment theory information as it connects together our ability to be in any kind of relationship to any person with our ability to healthily parent our own children. It is a difficult fact for me to consider that just as my insecure attachments have shown themselves in my adult ‘romantic’ relationships, these same patterns operated as I tried to parent my children.
Attachment theory considers three interrelated aspects of human nature as they operate from the moment of our birth to the moment of our death. These three systems are described as our attachment, exploration and caregiving patterns. They are all connected to how our body, including our brain, developed through our own experiences with these systems as they operated within our early caregivers. We had no choice but to be intimately connected as a part of their systems as we built our own corresponding systems within ourselves.
“Attachment theory regards the propensity to form strong emotional bonds with particular individuals as a basic component of human nature — present in infants and continuing through adulthood….the quality of the relationship that develops between a parent and child is expected to be largely determined by the parent’s emotional availability and responsiveness to the child’s needs….The child’s ability to rely on his or her attachment figure as a safe haven of comfort and support when distressed and a secure base for exploration when not distressed is considered to be a key component of secure attachment bonds and a key predictor of healthy emotional development.” (Collins et al, 2006, p 151)
We have to remember that the operational patterns of our emotional right limbic brain builds either regulation or dysregulation into itself during its major growth and development stage during an infant’s first year of life. Brain region development and the operational patterns within brain circuits and pathways of the right brain are created during these early months and determine whether a brain is built in, by and for either a benevolent or a malevolent world.
We also must realize that the expression of our genetic material is affected through these secure or insecure attachment experiences. Nature allows us to adapt and adjust to survival in either a ‘good’ world or a ‘bad’ one. We cannot expect a child that grows up in a ‘bad’ world to have anything like the same inner body as a result that it would have had if it had been raised in a ‘good’ world.
We are not talking magic here. We are talking about very real physiological changes that an infant and young child will have to make during its early development so that it can survive in a hostile, dangerous, toxic, inadequate, malevolent world. The condition of the wider world is directly communicated to an infant on every level of its being by the treatment it receives from its early caregivers.
These caregivers have systems, in turn, that were built in, by and for their own early environmental conditions. If they had benevolent-world development, they will pass that information on through their attachment interactions with their offspring. If they had malevolent-world developmental experiences, they will pass that information on to their offspring. When it comes to keeping a species alive in the worst of conditions, nature is clever, determined and effective. Our early attachment systems are complex and very effective ways for information about the condition of the environment to be passed down to future generations.
If we wish to change these patterns (though we cannot change the underlying structure of our early forming brain), we will have to consciously change the way our attachment systems operate. This process is what we are hoping for when we work toward preventing early trauma and abuse from happening to infants and children. We want to give these little ones information about a benevolent rather than a malevolent one so that they can form a body and brain-mind that is geared for life in a good world rather than for life in a bad one.
It all boils down to a communication of information regarding these two aspects of being alive in a body on a planet as they have been identified by attachment experts: Can we expect our world to provide us with a safe haven of comfort and support when we are distressed and a secure base for exploration when we are not distressed?
By using the information communicated to us as our body-brain-mind develops during infancy, we are thus preparing for our life in a world that will provide us with some variation of safety and security — or not.
If we are not consciously aware of the patterns that were communicated to us through our early attachment experiences so that we can choose to change them, we will automatically communicate to our own children some version of the same information that was given to us. I now realize, in looking back at my own mothering patterns, that I still directly communicated aspects of my own insecure attachment to the world to my own children even though I did everything I knew at the time not to pass on the abuse that had been done to me.
I was, however, still communicating information to my children about unresolved trauma in an unsafe and insecure world because I carried those patterns unconsciously within me. The information that I passed down to my children impacted their developing bodies, though not nearly as severely as my mother’s interactions with me changed me during my own development. I see now that my patterns influence every interaction I have with the world because I continue to live in the same body that had to be built as I adjusted to live in a malevolent world.
When we shift from looking at infant and child attachment patterns to looking at these same patterns in adults, we find the same underlying kind of information about the world is still being communicated.
“Although the attachment system is likely to be less readily activated in adults than in children, attachment behavior can be seen whenever adults are faced with events that they perceive as stressful or threatening. For example, adults often seek proximity to the significant people in their lives (often romantic partners) in response to stress resulting from physical pain, fatigue, fear of new situations, feelings of attack or rejection by others, achievement problems or failures, and threat of loss. Attachment behavior and an associated increase in desire for care is considered to be the norm in these situations. Moreover, attachment theory emphasizes that the desire for comfort and support during times of adversity is neither childish nor immature.” (Collins et al, 2006, p 151)
The first thing I think of when I read the above is how dangerous an insecure attachment pattern from childhood is for those people living with an abusive partner. When the partner is the one creating the difficulties that activate the attachment system (as described above) of the victim, the victim will be naturally motivated to have their attachment needs met by the same person, their attachment figure, who is the same person who is causing the difficulties in the first place.
I was placed in this same kind of situation from the moment I was born. I had no recourse, and therefore no choice, but to seek care giving from the same person who hurt me. I believe that any person seeking to leave an abusive relationship must be given clear and concise information about what the human attachment system is and how it operates. Only then will they be able to apply conscious choice as they find new, different and better ways to fulfill their attachment system needs. Without this information victims are left with the same automatic and unconscious attachment system patterns that were built into their body-brain-mind in the first place.
When we get down to the essence of how researchers understand the operational patterns of attachment systems, we find they use terms like the following: anxiety, avoidance, preoccupation, fearful-avoidant, and dismissing-avoidant. I encourage readers to obtain a copy of the article I am referencing here and read the information contained on pages 151-153 for a description of the meaning of these terms as they relate to secure and insecure attachment patterns. Otherwise, I have copied this information onto a page to be found through this link: **Attachment Styles from Collin’s Article
In the broadest sense there are really three kinds of attachment patterns: secure, organized-insecure and disorganized-insecure. Researchers seldom talk about the disorganized-insecure pattern. I believe this is because it is too complex a pattern for them to really understand. The terms that I just gave you above are used to describe the individual, separate kinds of patterns that show themselves in the organized-insecure attachment categories. I believe that they ALL are active in the disorganized-insecure attachment pattern.
I also believe that the disorganized-insecure attachment patterns are far more common that researchers recognize and that they correspondingly involve increasingly more complex patterns of dissociation as it was built into the body, brain and mind of people severely maltreated from birth.
All the links are contained together here: +CAREGIVING IN ADULT ATTACHMENT RELATIONSHIPS
Links in the series separately: