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Attachment - What Makes Us Who We Are

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

Mental health professionals today believe that healthy attachments to other people are essential for good mental health and fulfilling relationships, they also agree that healthy attachments begin in life with primary caregivers. Researchers have developed ingenious ways of figuring out what kinds of attachments people have, moreover, that attachment styles in childhood lead to attachment types in adulthood.

John Bowlby, a psychoanalyst who researched the effects of separation between infants and their parents created an identification model for attachment styles. He suggested that extreme behaviours upon separation were evolutionary mechanisms reinforced through natural selection designed to enhance the chances of survival, however, some environments cause an individual to be stuck in survival mode or fight or flight. Environments, whether they be healthy, or dysfunctional mold a person for a lifetime. Bowlby witnessed securely attached infants become distressed upon separation, then sought comfort, and were easily comforted when their parents returned. Further research Bowlby conducted revealed another type of attachment style he called Anxious-Resistant where children experienced greater levels of distress when parents left, then seemed to "punish" the parent for leaving. Children he labelled with Avoidant Attachment showed no distress, or minimal distress upon separation from their parents, or either ignored their parents upon reuniting, or actively avoided their parents when reunited. Children learn what they live, then they become adults carrying the scars of the past.

Securely attached adults seem to be the most satisfied in relationship, as they are more likely to feel secure, and connected without the need to socialize all the time. Their relationships feature honesty, support, independence, and deep emotional connections with inherent emotional regulation skill. In contrast, relationships with a dismissive-avoidant (anxious-avoidant) type may be difficult because this type of individual will keep to themselves. They may feel they do not need human interaction to survive or thrive. They insist on maintaining their independence and isolation from others. These individuals may seem aloof and may appear "shut down" emotionally when potentially hurtful scenarios arise, but do not be deceived, they do not have a heart of steel, they are wounded.

The anxious-preoccupied (anxious-resistant) attached individual may need a partner to feel complete. They may be perceived as "clingy." Mood swings, and unpredictable emotional responses may be inherent in this type, as they may be pre-disposed to fear of getting hurt, as a result of this catharsis they are drawn to relationship, and fear intimacy at the same time. These behaviours result in a push-pull dynamic that becomes a roller-coaster ride for everyone involved.

On the other hand, the classic and well known "Borderline Personality Disorder" describes the Fearful-Avoidant type, or what Bowlby termed Disorganized Attachment style. People with this attachment style are ambivalent towards relationship. "Confusion" describes their relationship towards their caregiver. The classic mindset of a borderline is black and white thinking which likely develops during the infancy stage of trust versus mistrust when an infant must decide very simply whether their primary caregiver, or caregivers are safe, or unsafe, good, or bad. When serious abuse occurs, the decision of good, or safety never occurs, so individuals live on a perpetual scale that tips their opinion in one way, or another. Disorganized children fail to develop a strategy for coping with separation, which results in displays of aggression, disruptive behaviours, and social isolation. They see others as threats, rather than sources of support, so they switch between social withdrawal, and socially aggressive behaviours. Infants with this style show conflicting responses to their mother, and alternate between avoiding, or resisting contact with her, then seeking closeness. These children seem dazed, confused, and apprehensive. They exhibit the classic, "deer in the headlights look," of dissociation. Children with this attachment style quite likely live in invalidating environments where they are told their feelings and thoughts are invalid, unreasonable, not understandable, or untrue. These children may also get punished, ignored, or criticized for being upset, this emotional invalidation is a pathway that leads too emotionally dysregulated adults.

Emotionally dysregulated adults do not understand their own emotions, because their primary caregiver, or caregivers did not assist in mirroring emotion back to them, the fundamental act in creating children that are emotionally regulated. When a relationship does not produce emotional regulation, it is unhealthy, and toxic. To begin the process of regulation in relationship, one must first be regulated themselves, for example, imagine you are a child and you come home from school feeling angry because another child was bullying you, and threw out your lunch. If your mother provided accurate mirroring of emotion she would tell you that you looked angry, and ask you what happened to make you feel that way. On the other hand, if your mother laughed at you, and said you were scared, this would probably confuse you, and you would go on feeling misunderstood. This would make it harder for you to understand what anger is and how it feels in the body. Children learn to develop a solid sense of self through accurate mirroring of emotion in relationships, however, if this environment is lacking, disorganized attachment may result followed by BPD. In fact, a symptom of BPD is polarized thinking, a process of switching thoughts or opinions from good too bad, or black and white. Another symptom is feeling confused in relationship, or having conflicting feelings that cannot be reconciled.

The bottom line is that the first fundamental relationship sets the tone for future relationships because we attract the same thing. If our fundamental relationship did not assist in regulation, we will attract those people who cannot help with regulation, the outcome will be perpetual confusion about oneself, and the environment.

The good news is there is help available. Mindfulness practice, along with CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy), DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy), and Mentalization based treatment is successful in treating behavioural disorders associated with emotional dysregulation. Excellent educational material for children age four and older includes Touch and Learn, an App designed to assist with facial recognition of emotion. If you or someone you know suffers with BPD, or emotional dysregulation seek the advice of a professional, or medical doctor. Seek Bindu - the point of creation.


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