Chapter twenty three 23
adult attachment preoccupied
Researchers discover a “violation of quantity, manor and relevance” in the narrations of preoccupied adults during the Adult Attachment Interview.
These people have too easy an access to their childhood memories. It is as if the memories HAVE them, not that they have their memories. The adult is in effect being held hostage by their own memories. The memories possess them. It is supposed to be the other way around – people are supposed to possess their own memories.
In the case of adults severely abused as infants, who remained in chronic peritrauma, the implicit memory of these experiences formed the brain, but because a self never originated to “rule the roost,” or as my daughter said when she was a little over 2 years old, the mind never became the “boss.”
If no self develops, and there is no “boss” to organize and discipline the memories, then the memories BECOME the person. This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of “trauma rules.” The person IS an enactment of their peritraumas. Just as we use clocks and calendars and seasons to delineate and differentiate the passage of time, the SELF is meant to appear at the proper and necessary stage of human development to be the moderator and the mediator of experience. This would be particularly an essential process for people who have already, in their very young lives, been overwhelmed in every possible way by the intense, terrifying, and painful experiences they have endured.
But it is with these people that the nature of the experience of trauma – peritrauma – prevents them from obtaining what they most essentially need. It is like putting a person in the middle of an intense fire that is burning them alive. Yet they have no way to escape and no way to put the fire out. Nor will they ever. Unless we find a way to help them. In my mother’s case, it is far far too late. Yet quite fascinatingly, I have in my possession a story that she wrote about fire when she was ten years old.
Siegel states of this easily accessed flood of childhood memory, that they begin to “blend and influence their lives in the present.” When we understand the chronic and devastating effect of infant peritrauma, we will begin to understand that time itself does not exist for these people in ordinary ways. Their developing brain and mind could not access and correctly obtain the “tools” needed to conceptualize or use the concept of time in any meaningful way. The past, present and future are welded together, enmeshed with one another. They have no way to distinguish time from their inner reality. What cannot be truly differentiated cannot be truly integrated, either.
Their state of mind, their state of being, is far different on their inside than it may look to others on the outside. Siegel calls it a “preoccupied state of turmoil centered on their own attachment figures.” In my mother’s case, this was only minimally connected in a “present or past” sense to the being of her mother and/or her grandmother. Her internal nonconscious reality was connected more directly on the implicit memory level, and within the constructions of her brain-mind to her “virtual others.”
We are supposed to develop the ability to reflect on our own minds, our own experiences. It is our SELF that does this job. We are supposed to digest, or integrate our experiences. This is a brain-mind job that is supposed to happen automatically and naturally. When we do not have the experience of having experiences, we are left with MEMORIES OF MEMORIES OF MEMORIES! Writers say of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) that it is a dissociative disorder, and is like being “lost in the mirror.” I believe the mirror world that they are lost in is the one where memories keep having memories, and keep remembering memories, because there is no self in the middle. There is no observer. There is no objective self. When the vital developmental stages of the infant’s brain-mind are missed, no self has appeared in the picture or in the life of that individual. Memories are reflected within the mirror of memories reflected within the mirror of memories.
Siegel says of the adult who is preoccupied with their own memories and with their own attachment figures, that “There is simultaneously a powerful wish for closeness and at times a disabling fear of losing it.” Some people might talk about this as a fear of abandonment, a central concept considered to be near the heart of the BPD condition. Yet I do not believe Siegel is getting his own point clearly. He, in fact and in my opinion, is missing the most important point on this subject entirely!
The key word here, and the key concept is SIMULTANEOUSLY. To an infant being raised in chronic peritrauma, when neither a sense of time or a self ever develops, everything IS simultaneous. Past, present and future are undifferentiated. Therefore memory is not differentiated, for without a time sense nothing from past experience has been integrated into this invisible self, who has no sense of the present, either.
Everything is a ONE THING occurring in “simultaneous time!” As was the case with my mother, she could therefore never differentiate herself from me, either. I was a ONE THING with her, simultaneously WITH her with barely the boundary delineations that I would have had FROM her while I was within her womb. She and I were a ONE THING before I was born. And we remained that way until I left home.
I have often pondered the real reasons that my parents moved us from Lost (typo!) Angeles to Alaska. Today I see the move in light of these impossible separations – my mother from her mother, my mother from me, and my mother’s physical move encompassing vast distance to enforce a separation. I long thought that the move was intended to establish my mother’s ownership of ME, to remove me from my grandmother’s access to me. Now I am beginning to understand that she was also no doubt enacting conflicts between herself and her own mother, as well. My mother and I were separated from her mother post-Alaska via physical distance in space. The separation in TIME would have been much more difficult to accomplish.
One can see that if an infant’s brain is not allowed to develop through necessary natural stages, and a self never originates to mediate or moderate experience, time does not exist. Therefore, the “simultaneous time” of peritrauma, which is also the natural “form” of time sense that an infant is born into, creates an entirely different reality. CONTINGENCY is not possible. There are no reference points. Without contingencies, nothing is left but continuous time. Life is one long continuance continuing and continuing. Again, mirrors reflecting within mirrors reflecting within mirrors.
This is making me think that an important consideration in regard to the nature and quality of interactions that caregivers have with infants is that of “breaking the chain.” For as long as I can remember in my childhood, I had a fascination with mirrors mirroring mirrors. I intuitively knew that if I could line the mirrors up perfectly, they would reflect one another perfectly, and that’s where infinity existed. I worked and worked to angle small hand mirrors facing one another less and less, knowing that I had to angle them always a fraction or my eyes could not “get in there” to see the affects.
Maybe I fundamentally and intuitively knew that this issue was directly connected, somehow, with my own reality. But only now, nearly 50 years later, am I beginning to see the full parameters, the full relevance, the full significance of my childhood fascination. For it is NOT that caregivers need to mirror a child back to itself perfectly. This is NOT a perfect world. In this world the mirror will always be angled. Because there has to be a SELF to do the looking.
Yet the self I had, even say by age eight or nine or ten, was nothing more than the object-person holding those mirrors and endeavoring to discover how to see infinity in them. I wanted to know that secret. Little did I know I was already right smack in the middle of mirrors reflecting mirrors reflecting mirrors, for there was no division between my mother and my self. Nor was there probably one between my mother and her mother, nor maybe one between her mother and her mother’s mother. And thus infinity continues down the generations.
So we must keep in mind our concepts of time while we consider the category that researchers have created for what they call “preoccupied” adults. We must remember that these adults, such as my mother, live in a condition where memory itself has usurped the throne upon which the self should sit. Our implicit memories form our brain. But they should only ever be the worker bees. When they have the throne room built, and the throne is ready, the self is supposed to take its seat – occupy the throne — and rule the kingdom of a person’s life.
When this doesn’t happen, there is chaos in the kingdom. Trauma and its rules have created this situation, and thus, trauma rules. Trauma, armed with its weapons of simultaneous time and perpetual continuity, allows memories to become the henchmen, the tyrants, and the ruling class. No matter that it is not their place to be the determinants of the fates of all concerned. There’s nobody there to stop them, certainly not a sense of time, and certainly not a self!
Siegel states about the parenting “dis-abilities” of preoccupied adults:
“…one way of conceptualizing this preoccupation is that the virtual other of an adult’s attachment figure is so dominant that it distorts the parent’s ability to perceive the child directly. In this way, the child may be repeatedly seen through the filter of the parent’s preoccupations with the dominant virtual other, and thus may be at risk of developing a sense of inauthenticity within the parent-child relationship….such a process may encourage the development of a sense of a “false self” in the child.” (TDM/104)
The first virtual others that our tiny minds have created are our mental representations of our caregivers. These virtual others are created from our implicit memories which have been created from our birth (or from before it) based on all our experiences with our caregivers. If the infant has lived in perpetual peritrauma their virtual others will be “figments” of the reality of their world. By definition these virtual others are distorted figures, as were the experiences and the memories the infant used to create them with in the first place.
Siegel is describing a process whereby these “virtual other” traumatic figures from a parent’s childhood dominate the parent-child relationship. Thus, these figures are the ones interacting with the infant, not the “real” parent. The “real” parent is still stuck from birth on their own “event horizon.” They are invisible. Instead, with mostly their own implicit memories on the throne, the parent’s real self has been displaced, and replaced with the “false self” they developed in their own childhoods.
In my mother’s case, the deviance that occurred in this process manifested itself toward me with a psychotic obsession that I was the devil’s child. It was my mother’s unshakeable believe that this distortion was reality. The false self her false self devised for me was this “virtual other.” I was Satan’s offspring. Not even a human being.
When, where and how did this obsession implant itself in my mother’s brain and mind? I do not know. But it did. Someone, somehow, put it there. Was it her nanny? Her mother or grandmother? Her father or grandfather? Or, did she use the information her early care givers gave her to form conclusions within herself that such a being could exist. And when I was born, that “virtual other” was attached in her mind to me. I had no escape from her delusion or from her distortion. This was so true that by the time I was almost eighteen, I absolutely believed that this “delusion” was real and owned this “false self” as fact. She saw me through this “filter” and I grew to see myself through it, as well.
Earlier on page 104 Siegel noted:
“Mental models of relationships will bias present perceptions and expectations… in such a way that these persons may create their own worst nightmares….. (TDM/104)
He finishes this last sentence by saying, “…of uncertainty in their relationships with others, including their own children.” My reaction? This could hardly be more of an understatement! My mother’s “mental models of relationships” took over her mind toward me completely and absolutely. Her “bias” that I was the devil’s child was fundamental to her. Again, where she got that “worst nightmare” I do not know, though I can certainly imagine.
My mother, therefore, never saw me. I don’t think she ever saw herself. Therefore, I never got to see my own mother, or to see myself. She certainly couldn’t mirror me back to myself because she had no mirror of her own. We were caught in the nightmare world — the world of trauma, the world of peritrauma. She could not escape it, and because I could not escape her, I didn’t escape the peritrauma world either. She was dominated by her distortion, by her psychosis that was “the filter of the parent’s preoccupation.”
And what a dark, dark world it was. She believed the devil sent me to kill her during her labor with me. And she told me, still, the last time I ever broached the subject with her when I was thirty years old, that she still believed this. And also continued to believe that because we survived the childbirth, that the devil sent me as a “curse upon her life.”
Her preoccupation was far far far past and outside what most attachment theorists will consider in the light of the preoccupied designation they give for parents. Their thinking lies for the most part well within the realm of “ordinary.”. And yet I know from experience to what degree a “preoccupied” obsession can control a parent’s mind, and how that obsession can form and control the mind of an offspring. That this preoccupation was formed in my mother’s mind as a result of peritrauma she experienced in her infancy, I have absolutely no doubt.
“…both parent and child become filled with representations of the self and of the other that interfere with contingent, collaborative communication. Their inner worlds may each be dominated by intrusive emotional concerns….”
In considering the severity of distortion in my mother’s relationship with me, I again have to discard the ending Siegel put on this sentence, which reads,
“…(“Am I loved enough? Will I be abandoned?”), which will be activated within a variety of relationships.”
In any consideration of the consequences of severe infant abuse and the infant’s chronic state of acute distress during peritrauma, all the findings of attachment studies have to be stretched to their very possible limits. With this consideration, some of the first part of Siegel’s statement applies, but I consider the rest to be far too limited in its intimations.
When a parent has no self, there is nobody THERE to parent a child. When the abuse is extremely severe, the self of the child will not appear, either. Therefore, the assumptions Siegel is making in the first part of his statement do not truly apply. Any consideration of these ideas must be distorted themselves to fit the reality of the extremity of disconnection that exists between such a damaged parent and her child.
In addition, it is vital to realize that chronically abused infants NEVER feel loved, and they NEVER feel connected! They, therefore, intrinsically KNOW that they are not loved, so “enough” is not an issue for them. They have also been fundamentally abandoned, so a fear of abandonment is not an issue. Being unloved and being abandoned are core states for these infants. THIS IS THE ISSUE! It is from these “void” states, I believe, that the core damage is done to these infants-growing-into-adults, for they will NEVER “feel felt” and have never connected – not to themselves and not to anyone else. I am searching for, but have yet to find, any suggestion that this condition can be corrected. It is built into the structure and functioning of the brain itself, and therefore IS the condition of the infant-to-be-person’s mind.
When a person forms during peritraumatic infancy, and they have no sense of time, no self, and therefore a distorted mind, there IS no true possibility for them of choosing to be someone different than who they are. Their disabilities most often remain invisible. Yet the damage these people do to their infants is catastrophic. Again and again I will say, we have to stretch our perceptions past the closed doors where these damaged caregivers are raising offspring they can so damage in return.
“A parent’s emotional turmoil and preoccupations with the past and with his own mental state can create repeated patterns of inconsistent attunements with his child. Preoccupations with the past dominating the parenting pattern may also repeatedly lead to an adult’s relation to a child as if he child were a mirror of himself at an earlier age. In this way, entanglements with his own childhood intrude on the way he relates to his child. This may be especially true in one particular subcategory of this adult classification, “preoccupied/overwhelmed by trauma….(TDM/104)”
If I consider infant peritrauma as my mother’s infantile state, I know that the effects of the worst traumas she experienced were “hidden away” in their implicit format within her brain, and that they also formed her brain-mind. The patterns of her adult behavior clearly demonstrated her degree of incoherency and disorganization. If she was seeing me as the mirror of herself, and she saw me as not human and as the devil’s child, then her image of herself was as destroyed as was the one she gave to me.
In somewhat of a contradiction to Siegel’s words, my mother had no “repeated patterns of inconsistent attunements” with me, although she did display this extremely damaging behavior in her interactions with my siblings. She had no self, and none of us existed as separate entities to her. We were all, in effect, “figments of her imagination.” Yet the fact is that I only recently discovered that all my siblings always knew my mother “was nuts,” yet I never did. No one ever told ME! Now I can see that all I ever was for the duration of my childhood, from my birth until I left home a month after my eighteenth birthday, only a figment of her “snapped” inner state of mind. For she evidently could consider that my five siblings were at least human, while I had the distinction of being otherwise.
I make reference, again, to Siegel’s words
“Emotional joining or connecting is a longed-for but inconsistently achieved goal in the minds of ambivalently attached individuals. (ibid)”
Again I will state that for peritraumatized infants, “emotional joining or connecting” never happened. This creates another distortion as the “longed-for” goal is not inconsistently achieved, it has never been nor will it ever be achieved. Such an individual is frozen in time on the “event horizon” they were born on. They “virtually” remain suspended in time and space, unreached and unreachable.
This is, to me, the absolute reality and fundamental fact at the most devastating core of the damage done through abuse to infants. These people are absolutely alone, without even their SELF to connect to. They are the untouched, the untouchables, the unable-to-touch-ables. We MUST realize this fact: There is no ABILITY to either be touched or for them to touch another. It is as if, with the purity of a newborn’s innocence, they were born into this word surrounded by the circle of a halo. But they never got out because nobody else ever got in. THIS is the legacy of infants left alone in the peritrauma state of chronic infant abuse.
What truly awaits us if we become willing to listen into the silence of their lives, if we place ourselves at the end of the long, hollow empty corridor, the tunnel that reaches from the moment of their birth into this world to the “person” such an individual appears to be in the present? We will hear a frozen scream of agony. We will hear the silent wail of their lament. We will hear the frozen-in-time whisperings that hang upon the air between they and us, the self that came into this world with all its willingness to participate in the dance of the circle of life – but never got to make the first sound, never got to take the first step.
Who we see among us, or rather WHAT we see among us, are the shadow selves of these people, the “false selves” that cast no true shadows. They and their shadows are one. They do not have a self, therefore they cannot truly make a choice. They have been denied this right. The fact that they may appear physically intact, may demonstrate mental and emotional abilities, may appear to make choices, take actions, make plans, communicate – is only an illusion. Because THEY are only illusions, and they know it. That is what hurts the most. They know it. .
What matters now is that we allow ourselves to know it, too. Because we have these walking “unborns” among us. These “still-waiting-to-be-borns.” These walking dead among us who never, as tiny newborn infants, ever asked anyone to treat them this way. These infants never had the opportunity to attach. They remain de-attached and unattached. No attachment measurement tool is ever going to be able to classify these people. We MUST wake up to see what it is that we are looking FOR and AT.
Contrary to what the professionals might think, these people are not the “disassociated” ones. They are, rather, the “de-personalized” ones. Having lived their infanthood in a chronic state of peritrauma (and perhaps their entire childhoods, as well), where time only existed as “simultaneous time,” and living as adults with a “self-not-able-to-be-born,” these people have NEVER had a self to use to disassociate with, let alone a self to disassociate from. They have always remained connected to their experiences and exist as a part of them, without differentiation abilities. Yet we cannot with conscience discount their sufferings in any way. They had to FEEL all the traumas done to them as infants. No hope, no escape, no filters. And frozen in their simultaneous time, they will feel this way always.
These people are fundamentally de-attached. They are detached. If an embryo cannot attach it-self to its mother’s uterine wall, it will abort and die. An infant’s parallel attachment that it needs after its birth to survive and grow outside the womb is the attachment it forms with the people who are its primary caregivers. Its experiences with its caregivers, mind-to-mind, are the invisible nutrition that flow through an invisible umbilical cord to feed its building brain-mind-self.
In extreme cases of infant abuse, when detachment becomes the permanent state, these people are left TRYING to attach the rest of their lives. But TRYING to attach and actually accomplishing the act of attachment/attaching are far different things. (Just TRY to take a breath and you will get the picture.) These people, therefore, cannot have their nonexistent attachment styles measured by the strategies professionals have devised and currently use to gather their information.
We need to look harder, think bigger, summon our courage, expand our theories and devise and revise what me might believe about the “cannot classify” categories that we don’t really want to talk about. Because, believe me, there are people “out there” who were severely abuse infants. You might not be one of them, but the person next to you might be. None of us know, because we do not want to truly consider the truth about trauma. It has created a plague among us.
As you read the following words written by Siegel, please don’t be afraid to open your heart along with your mind.
“A parent’s preoccupation with her own past…can continually intrude itself onto her present perceptions. Being with a child can produce the most intense entanglements with these images and ideas from the past within the parent’s mind. The parent enters an old state of mind and can become filled with sensations of fear, rejection, disappointment, or anger, which color her experiences with her own child. The parent often remains unaware of how disabling this preoccupation with the past is to her functioning as an effective parent in the present. (ibid/105)”
I am, of course, taking liberty with Siegel’s words as I make specific personal interpretations based on my experiences. I am using the filter of my past experiences with my mother to illustrate how far toward the abusive end of a continuum of parenting a true distortion can go. In her case, the concept of an ambivalent attachment pattern must be stretched far past anything even resembling any aspect of “normal” or “ordinary.” My mother’s ambivalent states regarding me had only to do with periodic pauses that occurred either after she had satiated and exhausted herself after beating me for hours, or she was in a situation that she perceived as “public.”
This is NOT ambivalence in anything like its usual sense. It did not give me any reprieve from the chronic and constant state of peritrauma and acute distress that her abuse of me created. Nor did I ever escape the chronic state of a sense of foreboding that remains with me today. This is NOT just a lack of a sense of well-being. There was never any intervention that could have possibly given me a change of state during my entire childhood. It was just one long enduring nightmare.
“In memory terms, such parents are being “primed” to recall their childhood experiences in two fundamental ways. Priming is a normal part of memory, in which elements become more likely to be retrieved following certain contextual cues. For preoccupied parents, the context of being with children who may share some of the features of their own childhood…creates a context in which the parents begin to relive their own childhood struggles….(ibid/105)”
Due to the nature of the extreme infant abuse scenarios I am examining, I feel that I have to turn the kaleidoscope of current attachment and parenting research so that the colors and patterns already known become new ones that can be better applied to the unknowns surrounding the peritrauma of infant abuse. In light of Siegel’s words just referenced, I would have to say that what targeted me, as a priming “cue” for my mother’s distorted memory process and its reenactments, was the simple fact that I was born at all, and certainly that I was born a girl. I was not responsible for my breach birth, although my mother believed the devil intended for me to kill her through that aspect of our birthing experience. But I have no doubt that the context of her birth of me caused an overwhelming break in any pattern of mind that had kept her from the “borderline” of psychosis before our event. And one “it” was done, once I had been born, there was no going back. (note: The context of being around “people” other than my attachment figures, is a cue for me that creates extreme discomfort….more on this later)
Siegel’s words, again:
““State-dependent” memory is a term referring to the way in which events encoded in particular mental states will be more likely to be recalled if a person is in a similar state in the future. This normal feature of memory is prominent throughout life and is particularly relevant to how being a parent can induce states resembling those of one’s youth. This happens in everyone, regardless of attachment history. For example, reoccupied parents may be flooded with emotional and behavioral responses within implicit memory. They may begin to remember, both explicitly and implicitly, particular aspects of memories from their own childhoods as they raise their children through the various stages of development. Explicit recollections may return in the form of facts….Implicit recall may take the form of many components of “personality,” including learned behavioral responses, emotional reactions, mental models, attitudes and beliefs, perceptual images, and possibly internal bodily sensations. The activation of implicit memory by itself does not involve a sense of recollection. When situations activate implicit memories without their explicit counterparts, parents merely act, feel, perceive, or sense in the here-and-now. These implicit recollections are not usually subject to a process of self-reflection, as in “Why am I doing this or feeling this way?” Individuals may sense these experiences as just defining who they are. (ibid/105-106)”
I have no reason to think that my mother ever even possessed the ability to EVER consider what defined her as who she was. Without a self, that would have been impossible. In simultaneous time, as an event on an event horizon, as a depersonalized individual, my mother simply was both her memories in the present and her emotions and her behaviors.
She had no responsibility for herself. No self in the first place, and no ability-to-respond due to the damage that was done to her during her own peritraumatic infant development. She was deprived of her abilities to exercise the “reflective function” of her mind, could not and did not have her own “mind in mind.” If she had ever had a glimmering sense of herself, she had lost it by the time I was born. She was left being an actress on her own stage of her own life, and we were all her stagehands, her fill-ins, and her extras. She was a phantom of herself, a shadow of a shadow of a shadow. She became a psychotic bundle of implicit memory reactions, and remained psychotic and paranoid until the time of her sad death.
As a result of my mother’s past, she was incapable of perceiving another person’s signals, or their minds. She was like an overlay, overwhelming everyone and everything around her. I won’t ever know the facts about what happened to her in her childhood. I don’t know her genetic makeup or the specifics of how her infant care giving relationships interacted with her genetic potentials. She obviously had a predisposition for mental illness, but had she not been abused and neglected from her infancy, she may not have developed the disastrous condition that she did. But whatever the abuse and trauma was in her past, everything conspired to make sure my mother was never truly happy. Nobody can be as mean as she was and be happy. She never showed any remorse. If there is no capacity for remorse, there is no capacity for joy.
She lived in a world of pretend and never left it. And because she never lived in “real time,” she never passed a sense of it on to her children, either.
++++ (I will move the details on mother as I know them eventually to another chapter)