Human relationship is one of the most, if not the most important areas of our lives. It is through relationship, in our earliest and formative years, that we learn about ourselves and others. The foundation of our own capacity and trust in others is born and solidified during this time. Each of us, no matter the background of our life story, can have what are known as wounds of mattering. In the world of human relationship these are the wounds (both large and small hurts) that result when attachment figures (those who raised us and for some those who weren’t there to participate in raising) hurt us, let us down, or just weren’t aware enough to see (or help us to see) our inherent worth.
I was first introduced to this concept (wounding through the experience of unmet need by those who most mattered to us) by a past mentor Dr. Kent Hoffman and co-creator of Circle of Security International. This was provided to me through various trainings, and in the context of clinical supervision, which in part focused on understanding the lasting impact of missed connection in one’s childhood. For many years I have worked as an attachment and trauma therapist and have sat with individuals who have endured life’s cruelest betrayals. The incredible strength (within the human psyche) consistently humbles and reminds me, not only, of the lasting pain of childhood wounds but the deep desire and capacity of the human spirit to survive and heal from these deep betrayals.
What I have come to understand, through my work and exposure to this concept, is that these wounds do not only come through cruel actions. They can result through the consistent, most often unintended, experiences of not having attachment needs met. Through time, I began to see, individuals who came to treatment who had not (at surface look) experienced what one might think of as a traumatic experience or experiences. What they (and maybe many of us) experienced was something more subtle. Something that , left unexplored, seemed less impactful but in truth had shaped deep beliefs about ones worth. These deep held beliefs had taken root (as they do) and began to manifest in the many ways defense (self-protection) does. This can come in many forms and, as often written about here, is designed to protect the self (the true self`-beneath the layers of our learning) from this knowledge.
It is these more subtle wounds that can bring individual’s who are seeking to understand and change felt experience to treatment. Often times, a new client will come to treatment identifying that they feel anxious, depressed, are having difficulty in relationship, or have experienced a loss of relationship. When the initial clinical information is gathered, they do not report historical traumatic occurrences (again those we think of this way) and will often say they aren’t sure why they feel the way they do. They say this, as if their feelings are not valid. As we explore early relationships, we will generally find places where relational or attachment needs weren’t met. Again, this generally was not intentional. Most caregivers do not go out of their way to miss opportunity with their children, most are primarily unaware.
Attachment needs are those provided in moments of nurturing, supporting a child’s curiosity and learning, taking an interest in what a child is sharing, comforting small and large hurts, listening, teaching and supporting new skills and eventual independence in those skills, delighting in and celebrating his or her successes, reassuring safety when a child is afraid, accepting and helping a child identify and cope with feelings, and many more moments (interactions between child and caregiver) that happen over and over throughout childhood. It is through these moments that belief and literally the neurobiology of this belief are born and ingrained. Meaning the brain and its automatic responses (neurobiological foundation) become a part of one’s physiology. (In example, the belief goes something like this, when I have a need, it is met or not met, and I do something in response.)
As noted, throughout writing on this blog, our defenses are as individual as we are and are based on our varied histories. They are rooted in the learning, that has become part of our neurobiology and automatic responding. For instance, if a child is sad or scared and his or her caregiver most often stops, listens, validates feelings, reassures of safety, and helps his or her child know how to handle the situation if it arises again ~ trust and security are formed. This child believes he or she is worthy of listening to, protecting, helping, and cherishing. The belief, I matter, results. This belief becomes solidified because he or she has had this experience many times as they were growing and developing.
A child who most often experiences a caregiver who is preoccupied, dismissive, unkind, shaming, harsh, punishing, overly protective or unavailable, in response to his or her feelings (and underlying need) will learn something else. They will learn and begin to internalize (again in their very neurobiological makeup) that these feelings aren’t important . If this response occurs often enough, through time, it will become a generalized belief. A belief that might say, I am not important, I am not good enough, I can’t do anything right ~ I do not matter.
In one of my very first trainings with Circle of Security International (noted above) Dr. Hoffman (also noted above) began the training by asking the participants (mostly new clinicians, social workers, and foster or foster-adopt parents and providers) to write on a 3×5 index card “What describes in you the voice you wish you didn’t have to listen to?” This was difficult, powerful, and telling. (You can hear Dr. Hoffman’s description of this exercise within the context of infinite worth and wounds of mattering in the TED Talk found in the resources that follow). Suffice it to say, this is the belief that has resulted from our early accumulative experiences and the voice that speaks (often harshly) the wounds of our mattering.
It is found, in connected attachment research, that most of us hold negative and hurtful beliefs about ourselves. This was regardless of whether we had been victims or abuse in our childhoods or had what are thought of as attachment wounds. Those accumulative experiences described above.
Overall, in the search for healing and beginning to live fully in our own lives, it is important to recognize our internal dialogue and to begin to understand where it originated. It is through this process that we begin to heal our hurts and see our inherent worth. As noted throughout, it is important to remember these hurts were most often not provided with any intentionality but from those with their own wounds of mattering.
On a final note, because this knowledge often stirs unneeded guilt in parenting, I want to share what is well documented in attachment research. In truth, if we as parents in the absence of abuse , support our children by responding appropriately to need (30% of the time) we raise well adjusted secure children. Children who have trust in self and other and balance life well. This is exceptionally good news. Parenting is difficult work and is most often delivered with love and solid intentionality.
As always, it is my hope that you found something that resonates and stirs thought. I welcome your thoughts.
With deepest care and respect. LaDonna
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National Hotlines: Treatment Referral Helpline: (1-877-726-4727)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-825
A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development. John Bowlby.
Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents. How to Heal From Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents. Lindsay C. Gibson.
Attachment. John Bowlby
Raising A Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting Can Help You Nurture Your Child’s Attachment, Emotional Resilience, and Freedom to Explore. Glen Cooper, Kent Hoffman, and Bert Powell.
The Circle of Security Intervention: Enhancing Attachment in Early Parent-Child Relationships. Glen Cooper, Kent Hoffman, and Bert Powell.