I had no way of knowing when I was 8 years old that my attachment to my little black rabbit, Peter, was too strong. I did not know that because of the abuse I suffered from my mother that my attachment to my grandmother before we left Los Angeles before my 6th birthday was too strong, either.
How can attachments be too strong? How can we attach and have too much invested too intensely with too much at stake? When an abused and battered infant or young child is prevented from forming safe and secure attachments to its early caregivers, their innately-wired attachment system in their body-brain-mind is forced to take a detour. For every detour from a secure attachment a price has to be paid. If no early safe and secure human attachments were allowed to form during the proper young brain-body-mind developmental stages, I suspect that EVERY later-forming attachment will be out-of-balance. This happens because the child’s essential attachment system is an insecure one because it was formed under threatening, unsafe and insecure conditions.
Every living organism must have some safe and secure attachment between itself and the world it exists in or it cannot survive. Human attachment needs are as great and complex as we are. If our attachment system – through which we are intended to get our attachment needs fulfilled – is severely altered and therefore damaged as our body-brain-mind was built in the first place, we are at continual risk for further damage for the rest of our lives. Because we formed an insecure attachment system in malevolent conditions in the first place, every attachment we form later on will be anchored in this altered insecure attachment system.
From the time of my birth my mother controlled and interfered with every human attachment I was supposed to be able to make. She did so as she controlled and interfered with everything that had to do with ME as a person separate from herself. I think of a plant that will make every possible effort to grow in spite of the harshest of environments. Yet at the same time it is seeking what it needs, it can never grow to be the same as it would have been if it had been given the best of conditions from its start.
An abused infant and child will do the same thing as it seeks to form attachments in any way that it can. The more a child is and has been deprived of getting its necessary attachment needs met, the more it will be forced to overly invest in what little attachment opportunities it can access. Because its fundamental attachment system has been forced to be an insecure one, every attachment it forms will be an insecure one, no matter how ‘secure’ it might appear to be.
Such children (as well as the adults they grow into) are always threatened. The fewer attachments they have been able to make, the more at risk they are for harm should something happen to any attachment they have managed to make. As the attachment experts would say, their attachment system is never able to turn itself off. Their attachment needs will never be met because every attachment they have is an insecure one. This is the paradoxical price that is paid by managing to survive in an unsurvivable world.
I know this now as I look back down the corridor of my life and see that the insecure attachment system I was forced to form in my very early life still operates today. How I experience the events of my life today are directly connected to how I experienced events when I was a child. My current relationship breakup and threat of losing my home with a completely unknown and uncertain future follows the same pattern as losing my black rabbit, Peter when I was 8. It follows the same pattern as did what happened to me when my youngest child left home when I was 51. It follows the same pattern as what happened to me when I lost my insecure yet essential connection to my grandmother when she stayed behind as we moved to Alaska when I was 5.
I have never before today seen that every attachment I have ever formed was essentially an insecure one – because I formed them and I have an insecure attachment system. Having a body-brain-mind-self formed in a safe and secure early environment gives a person a safe, secure attachment system that operates from the same kind of attachment formed at the core of who that person is.
Who and what such a person forms an attachment to is secondary, not primary, to the self that forms that safe and secure attachment. Early safe and secure attachment experiences enabled such a person to form a primary attachment with their own early-forming and continuing-to-form own self. That solid self can then form safe and secure attachments throughout life whose demise will not threaten their own existence as a SELF. Their very life does not have to depend on any attachment except the one that they have with their own self.
I can feel myself treading on unsafe and insecure inner ground here as I write this because my thoughts are heading into that same kind of unsafe and insecure territory in the process. I am thinking now of what I have read about Borderline Personality Disorder (my mother) and about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (my ‘ex’). Both of these conditions exist in part because the early connection between the self and the self was damaged. As a result, their later connection between their un-self and the world was forced to become a resulting dis-connection. Both of these disorders imply the fundamental use of projection. Their invisible self can only see itself as existing at all as it projects itself out into the world and has returned back to it the visible expression of these projections, outside of themselves, as they see them in the world around them.
This kind of personality construction operates not unlike a bat’s sonar system would. The invisible self sends out its projection signals. When they come back the invisible self then knows they exist. No person that exists in the world of such a person can ever be real or exist as their separate self, either. We will always be only a reflection of their projection of their invisible self.
So what does this leave me knowing about myself? I’m not at all sure that I even know what it means for anyone outside of my self to be a real, individual person, either. But I don’t think I especially project any part of my own self onto them. I don’t think I was ever allowed to summon enough focused energy around ‘being Linda’ that I could even develop far enough to form even such a ‘disordered’ personality. It might well be that I am stuck so far back where I never got off of the starting line of the race of being-alive-in-a-body-in-the-world that I am STILL completely focused on ONLY the process of trying to form attachments.
I see the image of myself desperately trying to keep myself alive in the middle of a vast ocean. I have nothing substantial enough, safe or secure enough to hang onto to keep myself above water. I desperately grab onto, hold onto and cling to anyone or anything that comes close enough to me that I might think they could prevent me from drowning. As hard as it might be for me to face this and admit it, my body tells me it’s the truth. My body also tells me that up until this exact moment as I write these words, it has always been the best that I could do.
At the same time I know that I don’t have a clue as to how to be any different than I am. Will it help me to somehow change just by truly knowing how essentially unsafe and insecure my attachment to myself and to life actually is and always has been? Who is that drowning Linda in the image in relationship to this one sitting at this keyboard? This one who just walked with bare feet into the kitchen, took a toasted English muffin out of the toaster, spread butter and jam on it and ate it?
Who and where is this Linda that reaches out a finger tip and traces it along the rough crusty surface of a giant star fish sitting on a shelf, who has to force herself to consciously make the connection that I am the one with the finger doing the touching? I live every present moment with some form of dissociation, derealization, depersonalization.
Maybe if I ‘had’ a personality disorder I would never have to consciously know what this feels like. I could be so busy going about the business of actively projecting the whole darn mess ‘out there’ that I wouldn’t ever have to feel anything ‘in here’. Then I wouldn’t have to pay attention to how this insecure of an attachment to myself in the world feels. I could always be distracted from knowing the truth.
The little 8 year old girl I was the evening my black rabbit Peter died was not outside of her body. I was in the middle of that experience, having that experience as it was happening. Once that experience had completed itself it was like a movie had ended. It bore no connection to the Linda that existed before that event, and no connection to the Linda that existed afterwards, any more than I would have been connected to having watched the whole scene in a movie.
What has always been missing is an ongoing ‘felt sense’ of my self in my body in my own ongoing life. It is more like my life has been a series of chapters organized around my assorted attachments. As those attachment situations have changed, they become disconnected from any sense I have of my self in my life – except that I have the memories like I watched the movie.
My children all grew up and left home, so that movie is over. My boyfriend doesn’t want me in his life any more, so that movie ended. I am going to visit family for seven weeks, leaving next Thursday. During that time I will be in the movie of the lives of the people I visit. But I cannot even FEEL what it truly feels like to be in the ongoing movie of my own life. That reality is the consequence of having to survive a malevolent, extremely abusive childhood while my entire body-brain-mind-self was forming. It is the experience of having a disorganized-disoriented insecure attachment disorder from birth. It results in the experience of never having the ability to ever ‘feel felt’.
I go through the motions of being alive in my own life, just as I see now that I have always done. The only thing that holds it all together is that I am not dead yet, and that other people love me and still want me in the movie of their lives. Lest I seem to be extremely negative right now, let me say that I am simply being truthful and realistic. Here again I will say that if anyone thinks a child can be maltreated, battered, terrorized and abused for a very, very long time without their being SERIOUS consequences that impact their quality of life – they are DEAD WRONG!
And how will anybody know what those consequences can be if nobody talks about it and describes it like it IS? How do we know what we are trying to prevent if we don’t take a good look at what the results of severe insecure attachments can be? We are not just talking about surviving the terrors of early child abuse. We are talking about the damage that abuse causes when it destroys QUALITY of life. Is that not life itself?