The deep reciprocal connection co-created between babies and their parents or primary caregivers before 18 months of age
My mother died some short years ago. I wrote the following sentence a couple of months after she had passed:
Some of you may know my mother recently died and some of you may not: enter crazy-land, volcanic grief, and my mind after this life-changing event.
Besides the missing of her that haunts me in a sensorial way, there’s the chaos of the way she did and did not parent me that is somehow now more revealed than as if she was enacting something: ‘Actions without an Actor’.
Attachment is important because it is the relationship system that creates the template for overall functioning in
· Emotional Regulation
· Ability to cope with stress
· Life span relationships
· Physiological processes: cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, respiratory, glucose regulating, and immune systems
My mother was orphaned a couple of times--losing her mother as an infant and then in quick succession, losing one caregiver after another in early childhood. She never fully recovered, and it made ordinary things in my childhood untenable.
Attachment is the dyadic regulation of emotions. The infant grows his brain in response to the mother’s/primary caretaker’s emotional regulatory capacities
I was either brazen or extraordinarily cautious. I was angry at things and myself instead of her for a long time and then finally settled into being angry at her for most of the time.
I have learned, that in the disorganized attachment style of relating, there are two ways children try to manage their parents, by “controlling caretaking”: my tentative cautiousness “let's not disturb Mom, she’s fragile” to “controlling punitive” demonstrated by my brazen disregard for any care from my mother (being angry) or for my own personal safety (anger at self and currying disfavor from her and the world).
Luckily for me, our complicated family practiced all the attachment styles, so besides the current academic advantage of being well-versed in all of them, our family did find ways to connect and bond. We sang together in the car and knew all the words for every protest and labor union ballad under the sun and would have impromptu family dance parties where everyone’s face would be lit up with a thousand smiles.
Secure attachment is the mutual bond that lets you know you matter to someone and that they will honor that they matter to you by actually sharing themselves with you in an age-appropriate way.
My father traveled around the world for work, leaving my mother alone, to raise us. I can tell you at a very young age, that I knew the names of each of my mother’s past boyfriends and their various wiles and ways and how she didn’t know exactly what to do with this one or that one. It somehow kept her painted as a desirable waif-like beauty afloat in a world of suitors as if she was in Gone with the Wind. My young sisters and I knew never to repeat these stories around my father. Our small bit of security depended on his continuing to come home.
Ambivalent--an organized strategy of attachment that overemphasizes the demonstration of closeness and proximity while underemphasizing the exploratory aspects of the relationship. The child seeks to keep an inconsistent caregiver available through a heightened display of emotionality and dependence. This attachment strategy is not considered a risk for significant psychopathology.
We were both more robust, more watchful, and warier when my father was around. He had had a mother and father until he was 10 years old more or less--and was at turns warmer, fragile, heroic, capricious, with-holding, and critical. And absent, he was gone the majority of my childhood.
And yet together, they made a sort of jovial team. They both had gained so much from organized group activities: theater and church for my Mom, political organizing, co-operative housing, and social justice groups for my Dad, that they offered a devoted if unsteady whimsey and genuinely enthusiastic diet of cultural awareness, play, song, and celebration.
And so, I was a part of this positive use of joy as much as part of their absences from my life. I could depend on them insisting we explore and make something of ourselves, and that if we couldn’t securely bond with them that they would provide us with opportunities to bond with the world and heal it as necessary: to turn and expand outwards as they had done.
Avoidant Attachment also called Dismissive—is an organized strategy of attachment that overemphasizes the exploratory aspects of the relationship while underemphasizing the need for emotional closeness and comfort. This strategy allows a child to stay as close as possible to the caregiver while expressing a minimum of emotional need.
But what had they missed? What did I miss in this equation?
It all came home for me when I was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) with my baby son. With alarming dismay and a slow dawning clarity, I realized that the hospital staff was angry at me. They were angry when I was holding my son just to swoon at him. This was a waste of time, a waste of calories, an imposition on their Nervous Systems, requiring them to slow down-someone might die was the implication behind their threat to me each time my son and I melted into each other. If we got too close, too connected, we could kill each other.
Well, I had grown up with the same threat! Both my parents held themselves adrift from us because someone had died, and therefore everyone you bonded with, could die. I knew this fear in my bones, but I also knew my orphaned parents couldn’t help it --but I, raised by them to be sure I had something to offer, I could help my son.
I knew I was helping him each time I held him. I knew because of his response to me. Ironically, I knew because the hospital staff got so angry. I kept asking myself, what are they getting angry at? And it was the primal gestures of secure attachment.
Secure Attachment: The deep reciprocal connection co-created between babies and their parents or primary caregivers.
I knew that people only get angry when they are seeing something that they want and cannot have, (like me with my mother’s love and affection), or because they can have it but won’t let themselves because they are afraid it will hurt too much (like my parents).
And if the hospital staff let me relax and swoon with my baby, what about the hundreds upon hundreds of other babies that they were rushing past lay alone in their plexiglass isolette, waiting to literally have their lives saved?
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit prioritizes survival over connection. Only, it’s all connected. Babies only thrive with love and attention. Their brains grow and develop because we respond to their communications. And they must be alive to thrive. I am extremely grateful to the NICU nurses for helping the babies, and for helping my baby. And they too have struggled in this rushed survivalist-oriented environment with their own hearts as mothers leave depressed after having been rendered inadequate to care for their own challenged child. It is through researching the articles in the nurse's professional journals that I learned there is a much better way than I experienced. In one research study, they discovered that if a nurse sits next to a baffled, traumatized mother as she gazes upon her baby in the isolette, and they say "How can I help you to be the kind of mother you want to be today?" The mothers become more competent and caring and are significantly less depressed when they take their infants home to care for finally. In other words, the nurse practices secure attachment behavior with the mother. I am with you, I got you, I believe in you, and I am a secure base, here to help and delight in your exploratory learning. The study quite simply transforms both the infant's and the mother’s prognosis.
Attachment theory asks us to question all our assumptions about ourselves. It is so central to all our behavior because it asks us to consider how important we are to each other and whether relational qualities are more important than things to us. (Remember how I got mad at things first then later at my mom, and that was actually an improvement from a theoretical attachment perspective-not so easy on our relationship but a kind of hopeful agitation.)
We humans rely on each other from a very young age, we decide if we will survive based on our relationship with our primary caregiver in our first 18 months. We decide unconsciously if we will survive and/or if we will thrive. By directly discovering through somatic exercises whether our behavior is in the ‘thrive’ category or ‘survive’ category we can change what we communicate to the people we want to have be in relationship with us.
I have been told that what I do with people is different than the way other people teach attachment theory.
I learned about it from a somatic embodied embryological perspective, and I learned about it in desperation to help my son recover from being separated from me at birth.
I do know that I am very good at helping people feel their value as they work through this stuff.
And I am especially good at playing!
Think about it, play is going back and forth, relationships are going back and forth and we need motion and movement, and dialogue, and push and pull, reach and grasp, melt and yield---and we need turn-taking and excitement to experience attachment on an embodied level.
Why learn something in your head that is wired in your first 18 months before you can talk?
So, we embody it and play it out, drawing maps of relating, tenderly, enthusiastically, and creatively.
Grief in the relational fields of attachment
I believe you have to let yourself miss people, really feel that you are not connecting--to be willing to change your patterned behavior. It’s not easy being real!
But it’s not theoretical; if you did not have a secure attachment to begin with you will miss signals from people telling you they are available for connection-- or conversely telling you they absolutely cannot connect, and that they would rather bite or eat, you. And most significantly, you will miss your own signals.
I have come to love helping people to connect with their attachment history and then learn about their own capacity to repair and form healthy relationships.
For this, you need your Yes and your No.
Intensive group trainings are ideal for repatterning attachment and isolation patterns. You get to have a lot of Yes’s and No's.
This container allows the group to help individuals and individuals to help the group.
In the group circles, we work deeply while supporting one another and progressively repair attachment wounding with a daily practice of thoughtful materials, experiential learning, and somatic movement.
This frees people to repattern by moving playfully into a variety of ways of inviting connection.
The Embodying Secure Attachment Course at Whole Movement Center is going live and in person this summer at the beautiful campus dance studios of Texas State at San Marcos on July 16th-20th. The dance studios empty out onto the banks of the cool fresh waters of the San Marcos River –and yes, swimming is encouraged at lunchtime and after classes.
The Somatic Child and Family Practitioner Training (formerly The Whole Person Training) is specifically for people who want to work somatically with early development in children and/or adults—but that adult could be yourself. And you are welcome to take individual workshops and to attend because you want to help yourself. In fact, because it is a body-mind hands-on experiential training, everyone will be growing right alongside each other. And this is an opportunity to help yourself to directly learn about your own movement and attachment patterning, as well as prepare you to help others if you are called to do so.
For those that can't attend in person, you can join an online Embodying Secure Attachment Training with live coaching or a self-guided version if you want to tuck up into a cozy nook and explore your attachment history by writing and guided journaling. It's tender and emotional and rewarding---just like good relationships.
And if you want to roll and reach and crawl, join our Developmental Movement Intensive July 22-29th in the San Marcos Texas State Dance Studios as well.
Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more info
and check out https://www.wholemovementcenter.com/the-whole-person for a flavor of the training.
It's About Love,