Today I’ve been reflecting on secure attachment. Some of you may be aware of that term and others may be wondering what I’m talking about.
There are different types of attachment styles that we can develop as a human being in relationships with others. We can have secure attachment where we have had the experience, according to researcher Ed Tronick, a pioneer in the field of developmental psychology, who’s work shows that if we had attunement with our main caregiver at least 30% of the time, then we would develop secure attachment.
I want to recognize how important it is that we experience what is known as attunement, and what that looks like. If we didn’t experience that in relationships with others then we could possibly develop what’s known as avoidant attachment, or ambivalent attachment, or some of us develop disorganized attachment. But for the purpose of this video, we will focus on secure attachment. Because regardless of what type of attachment we may have experienced in our life, we have neuroplastic cells, and it’s possible to lay down new pathways to have earned secure attachment.
I was working with a client the other day, and this really stood out to me, this cycle that we can go on in our life. The cycle for this one was something about having an experience that pops up, without realizing it was going to, where it felt like there was a little detachment that happens. It’s a type of dissociation, all of a sudden not being as fully present as you just were.
The default mode network, the automatic chatter box we have inside of us, it begins to say something like, “I am not worth it.” It spirals around clockwise from; I am not worth it, it’s my fault, I don’t matter, I can’t say anything, or it will make it worse, and, no one understands. Right about there, it moves from this deep grief, and the energy starts to build up, and its angry energy.
I want to pause and acknowledge that underneath the fuel of anger, is an acknowledgment that there are a lot of needs that are not being met in this moment. It’s a red alert to take time to pay attention to what is happening inside of us. When the anger comes up, then it comes out as, “I am just too much trouble!” Then it starts moving through the spiral again.
Many times, this pattern could start to loop around due to separation anxiety. Maybe, when you were little, you weren’t ready for your caregiver to leave wherever they needed to go, and it was so distressful. Or, there are some of us that didn’t receive that 30% attunement as much as our nervous system needed, and we were left on our own so much more.
When this distress comes up, and our PANIC/GRIEF circuitry takes a hit. I’m suspecting in this scenario that when the emotions move around from separation anxiety and panic and grief, we ignite the anger in an attempt to support ourselves. Because, when we are little, we are not able to self-sooth on our own. We need accompaniment, we need attunement from another; to feel the heartbeat and have skin to skin contact, in order to sync up the rhythm of our heart and breath with the other person and find our way back to calm. We need that repeatedly, in order to know how to self-sooth.
If that is not what we have experienced, then we have this escalated spiral that comes in and blind-sides us in the middle of our day. We are needing so much to have an experience of attunement. What might that look like? Well, I drew out a picture with clockwise arrows showing the different thought clouds that would come around. It showed how they spiraled, and came into the anger, in order to try to rescue or protect self. The anger would make a type of insulation that would encompass this being.
This is a representation of a type of dissociation, so they aren’t feeling. But when we go into a type of “not feeling” we don’t feel any of the “good stuff” in our life either. We’ve disconnected from that.
To have an experience where there is someone you trust that tunes into you and can actually begin to name what your experience might be with resonant warmth and care, and a kind eye gaze. You can begin to notice your body coming back. So, I drew little clouds on the spiral, they represented clouds of care that would come in and encircle each of the mental chatters that were going on.
“I’m just not worth it.” Gently encircling it, bringing in some warmth, and some care, and some gentleness. “It’s all my fault.” Put another warm cloud around that. “I don’t matter.” Just really staying with that felt experience of not mattering, of I can’t say anything, or it will make it worse! So, there is fear activated there, and then “No one understands” followed ca-boom an implosion or explosion inside of “I’m just too much trouble.”
The body is actually crying for help, can anybody hear me? Does anyone understand me? So desperately needing this. Then, the final one, “I’m not worth it.” That inner experience of not being worthy. Needing relationships in our lives that we have the experience of, “I am worthy. I do matter. I am able to freely express my truth, and it’s a contribution in my world. I am understood with compassion. Life with me is easy.”
We need to begin to have connections we can trust, even when you are physically in a different place, to know there is a heart connection that stays with you no matter where you go. When we get to have that experience repeatedly, we build a bridge of trust from our heart, to another’s heart. Once we have that type of a secure connection, we can then start to reach out and build a new bridge of trust with another person. We can start to kindle those bridges of trust in our world. This is really important work.